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The Good, the Bad, the UGAly

By on November 17th, 2016 in Football 10 Comments »
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Courtesy of United Artists

As the leaves fall and the weather cools, with only two more games to go in the regular season it’s time to look back before the finale and see how far we’ve come since those first weeks of September.  Before my final Café Malzahn post of the year, we’ve got a special treat of a pre-dinner theater. It’s a gorgeous cinematic classic landmark in filmmaking with a rich blend of breathtaking visual and musical presentation that energized a bored public and created new fans for a genre of film that seemed to be on the verge of dying out.

In many ways, Auburn’s season mirrors this film’s impact. Just when many Auburn fans had all but given up on achieving Tiger defenses of yesteryear, Kevin Steele and the student athletes in in his charge have transformed the Auburn defense into a new force on the landscape of the Southeastern Conference.

Likewise, despite some troubling recent setbacks, on the whole the Auburn offense has revived under a sophomore single signal caller whose overall efficiency rating is in the top tier of the conference, and whose passing efficiency is in the top 20 in all of college football. Another sophomore on the team leads the conference in rushing yards, despite having only played in eight of ten games. That very same running back was third or fourth on the depth chart in the spring, but his numbers when healthy have been outstanding.

Auburn is currently in the top 10% in the nation in rushing offense and the top 25% in total defense for the year. The Tigers came within a single interception of having a chance to enter the Iron Bowl with the prospect of going to the conference championship with a win. This despite the pre-season judgment that the team would be lucky to have a .500 season and attend any bowl game.

The only limitation for this team seems to be the number of injuries sustained over the last two months, severely limiting the play of some key contributors to the lineup and has hampering the team in this last stretch. But even that has its own storyline.

Across the team roster, the most striking feature one sees is the youth spread across multiple positions. Underclassmen fill the ranks of Auburn’s depth chart, sometimes two and three deep in either redshirt freshmen or true freshmen. In nearly every respect this team seems to be overachieving against the cream of the Southeastern Conference, winning five of seven contests, losing one because of a single untimely turnover and playing until the very end of the fourth quarter in the other, down only a touchdown. In the out-of-conference loss, Auburn played to the very last second with a dropped pass in the end zone being the difference against the current number-four team in the nation.

In nearly every respect, this team has overachieved on a tremendous scale, despite low pre-season expectations and early season losses. The youth across the depth chart means that Auburn’s potential in coming years will be off the charts. We’re witnessing the development of what looks like a very special bunch of players who likely will vie for championships in the coming years.

So what is the reaction of the Auburn fan base to this turn of events?

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Framing our expectations properly is a challenge, especially when perspective is everything

Surprisingly, there has been severe criticism of the team, the offensive coordinator and the head coach. In the harsh light of expectations over this season, somehow this level of achievement doesn’t meet the criteria of what the fans want to see. Those same fans weren’t anywhere near such expectations at the start of the season or even after the first month.

So what has caused this reaction? It;s the quality of play of this team against SEC West competition in the month of October. When healthy, this group of underclassmen and the sprinkling of veterans has the potential to flip any team on its head and seemingly score with abandon from any part of the field. This defense seems to have the ability to stop anyone from scoring and make life hell for quarterbacks of every level of ability.

This is a special team. These are good young players, a great offense and a terrific defense when everything is clicking. Despite their youth and inexperience, they have special drive and capability, given the obvious talent across the roster. That same youth and inexperience has played into the game decisions of those players to push themselves further and harder than a more practical and rational decision that would be made by more mature players to let the coaches know when they’ve hit their limit and need to be replaced in a game.

But you know, I can’t bring myself to find too much fault with this.

Rather than viewing this as a failing in a single game, I see this rather as an indication of the dedication that each of these players is bringing to his play on the field. Poor judgment, possibly, but certainly not a lack of passion, intensity or drive to succeed. Of all the possible player reactions and decisions, I find that this is the least of my worries for this team.

This is exactly the type of spirit I like to see in players. This is a truly special and inspired group of student athletes playing like a team of veterans. That doesn’t happen by accident. To achieve this level of play at such a young age is a mark of not only talent of the athletes also of but the quality of the coaching staff that chose, trained and leads them.  

Far from changing any portion of the coaching staff, I think it’s time we pay attention and give tribute to what is really happening on the field before us. Our very high expectations are a product of what these men achieved with these young men in every position in the organization, from new contributors such as Kodi Burns to the Old Guard such as Kevin Steele, in an extremely short time span.

Well done, gentlemen. Looking forward to what these young men achieve this season and in the coming years. I think they’re on the verge of greatness.

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Take care of Angel Eyes and Tuco at the end, and all will be forgiven

 

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Especially Tuco. That guy needs be taught a lesson.

War Eagle!

10 Comments

  1. AUjason says:

    Good stuff Sully.
    I particularly agree with the statement, "In nearly every respect, this team has over achieved on a tremendous scale, despite the low pre-season expectations and early season losses."

    Would I liked to have beaten Ga.? Damn right I would have but NO one in the preseason gave Auburn a chance to be 2nd in the west this late in the season. I'm proud of what they have accomplished. WDE!

  2. PortCouncil PortCouncil says:

    I agree that AU has over achieved when compared to the pundit pre-season expectations. In my opinion, though, AU has underachieved considering what we now know. "One of the best backs in the country" rode the pine while AU's offense gave the Clemson game away. An unconvinced Malzahn proceeded to use a similar offensive plan against an A&M team.

    AU's offense certainly under achieved in the GA game, particularly the second half. I'm also excited about the talented youth we have, but I don't see how our O and D line don't take a step back after all the losses to the draft. I'm generally an optimist and will never let a disappointing AU team affect my attitude, but I see an underachieving team. A disappointing team. I put little to none of this critique on the shoulders of any student athlete.

    Things will be MUCH tougher next year. Bama will be better with a sophomore qb. LSU will be better, as we've seen, without Miles. GA will be in the second year of a regime with a sophomore qb that beat AU as a freshman. So, seems to me to be a bit of a disappointing, wasteful year. Always enjoy your articles. Thanks for letting me share.

  3. audad says:

    The over-achieving vs. under-achieving discussion is a fascinating one, not to mention how much things can change in a flash. A week ago a 10-2 season was considered possible with a birth in the SEC championship and possible national playoffs. Now 8-4 looks more likely and then finishing up with a noon kickoff on New Year’s Day in Tampa. Even 9-3 looked very probable a week ago, which would have probably meant a prime time kickoff on Jan. 2nd in New Orleans. With a 1-2 record three weeks into the season, none of those three possibilities looked likely. At 7-2 a week ago the better two of those three possibilities all of a sudden looked likely. So I’d say this team has over-achieved and under-achieved. It’s just a matter of timing and perspective. How’s that for a politician’s answer? Which I am not.

  4. AUJTJarhead AUJTJarhead says:

    The fact that this team has both “under” and “over” achieved is exactly the maddening state of temperament among the fan base. That, is less likely players and more coaches not evaluating the talent before them. Some of coaching and play calling has defied my imagination. I get the injuries, but, the inconsistent play of the offensive line has borne witness. Coaching, talent, both… I wonder.

  5. sullivan013 sullivan013 says:

    I normally don’t argue with many responses to my articles, but in this case I feel I have to say this:

    Keep in mind when setting your bar for over/under achievement that you consider this year just two passes from Sean White, one caught, the other dropped are the sole difference between this team being 9-1 and 7-3 at this point in the season. And that “Freshman Georgia quarterback” only engineered six points last Saturday.

    If your bar is in between those two plays as a measurement of ‘brilliant coaching’ or ‘off with his head’, don’t ever re-watch the last half of the Kentucky game or the first half of the Iron Bowl from 2010 (Note: Kirby Smart knows his way around a football both then and now), or the last two home games from 2013, as you might brush up against that bar a bit in doing both.

    That pigskin tends not to bounce the same way twice. Look at where this team was placed in all of those games I mention. We’re not as bad as the record shows. Not by a long shot.

  6. AUJTJarhead AUJTJarhead says:

    You must be joking. You mean to tell me that No AU coach saw that SW couldn’t push a football over a pebble at all during the Georgia Practice week? give me the facts to disprove that? I am open to correction, so please.

    • zotus zotus says:

      As usual, Jarhead, you’re spot on.

      Some folks must think that dog will hunt around here. Or, maybe some think it’s OK for the Auburn Coach (presumably with the backing of the Auburn AD) to stand up in public a dish out such nonsense.

      I’ve mentioned on this forum before, that IMHO Ol’ Gus did an unconscionable wrong to Sean White by playing him in the second half of the Vandy game, given that Sean White had an injury that had keep him from being in the game about an hour earlier.

      Was it a marvelous recovery? Was it determined to be a medical misdiagnosis that was corrected at halftime? What was it?

      What did Ol’ Gus say after the game? Ol’ Gus said that he put Sean White in the game because Sean White said that he “could go” in the 2nd half. Huh? Say, what? What the hell does that mean? Looked to me like maybe Ol’ Gus was trying to get the public to buy into the absolute nonsense that Team Coaches and Team Doctors look to football players to make decisions concerning football related injuries.

      I don’t know for sure why Ol’ Gus said this. But, I do know this: whatever Ol’ Gus was trying to accomplish by shifting the responsibility of his decision to Sean White was, IMHO, immoral, unethical and unprofessional.

      Ol’ Gus, followed that piece of coaching malfeasance by, then, unconscionably starting Sean White in the game against UGA. From the jump, it was obvious that Sean White’s injury that kept him from starting the Vandy game had, by the time of the UGA game, gone from serious to debilitating. Sean White had no business playing in the UGA game. Period.

      What did Ol’ Gus say after the UGA game? Ol’ Gus said that Sean White was not forthcoming, with his coaches, about the extent of Sean White’s injuries. Huh? Say, what? Looked to me like maybe Ol’ Gus was trying to get the public to buy into the absolute nonsense that Team Coaches look to football players to give Team Coaches enough information so that Team Coaches can make decisions concerning football related injuries.

      I don’t know for sure why Ol’ Gus said this. But, I do know this: whatever Ol’ Gus was trying to accomplish by shifting the responsibility of his unconscionable decision off Gus and onto Sean White, with this direct attack on Sean White’s integrity character was, IMHO, worse than immoral, unethical and unprofessional. Much worse.

      Coach Gus Malzahn threw Sean White under the bus. Period. However you want to cut it, it was and remains inexcusable.

      Anybody on the planet, who has ever been to a doctor with this kind of muscle or joint issue (and I have, and millions of other people have as well) know that the patient will be asked about the patients level of pain, as the doctor goes through his initial range of motion tests. But the doctor will NOT ask the patient to do the bloody diagnosis.

      Look, this is not Rocket Science!

      Auburn is fortunate enough to have, in Dr. James Andrews, one of the best Sports Injury & Orthopedic Doctors on the planet. Dr. Andrews is on the sideline at every Auburn football game.

      Gus, I’ve got some questions for you. Do you think for a minute that there is anyone, in the range of your intellectually dishonest sophistry, who believes that Dr. Andrews misdiagnosed the extent of Sean White’s injury before the UGA game? Or, failed the tell the Auburn Coaches what may happen to the injury if a player played with such an injury? Or, Kam Pettway’s injury before the Vandy game for that matter? Or, that whatever Sean White said (or didn’t say) to coaches about his level of pain before the UGA game, would cause Dr. Andrews to misdiagnose the level of Sean White’s underlying injury prior to the UGA game?

      Stop it Gus, you’re embarrassing yourself.

      Sean White and Kam Pettway deserve better.

      And, so does Auburn University.

      • sullivan013 sullivan013 says:

        I’ve never been on the sidelines or in the training rooms before a game. But a soft-tissue injury, even with the finest doctor on the planet all comes down to the individual being asked ‘Are you OK to play?’ and the subsequent answer from that individual.

        Does the coach have the final say? Sure he does. However, depending on his style of coaching, he may impose a decision or let the player decide for himself and extend that trust to him.

        But be that as it may, players play dinged up all the time, always on the verge of whether they can receive a further hurt or play less effectively at a reduced capability. It’s a judgement call if their skill/drive/capability will be OK or if it will be a detriment to the team. Evidently, Gus extends that decision to his players and you don’t feel he should.

        And that’s OK. You’re free to express and relate your feelings about it. In fact, I encourage you to do it here and any other venue.

        But tell me truthfully and honestly – If that interception was dropped by the Georgia player, and that Hail Mary pass against Clemson was caught for a last second touchdown, would you be bringing this issue to the table if we were 9-1 and about to play Alabama for the SEC West?

        Two plays – just like the Prayer at Jordan Hare and the Kick Six. Two plays.

        • zotus zotus says:

          This is a reply to sullivan013.

          I see you have posted a comment directly to me concerning the comment that I posted directly to AUJTJarhead.

          AUJTJarhead’s post (as I read it) was on the subject of : What did Gus Malzahn know and when did he know it, concerning Sean White’s (yet to heal) shoulder injury that occurred at some point in time prior to Auburn’s recent game with Vandy.

          My comments to AUJTJarhead addressed: What did Gus Malzahn know and when did he know it, concerning Sean White’s aforementioned shoulder injury. In addition, I also made comments relating to what Gus Malzahn SAID in public … and, made comments relating to what Gus Malzahn DID in public about Sean White’s yet to heal shoulder injury.

          I stand by my comments on this subject … and, will be happy to discuss any comment that I made on its merit with you, if you desire.

          But let me tell you, ahem, “truthfully and honestly” … in context (of my post to AUJTJarhead) I’m at a loss to make heads or tails out of your post directed at me. So, if you wish to have a dialog with me, would you please start over? Thank you.

  7. Tiger4Life says:

    We didn’t make a first down in the 2nd HALF……………………………………..can we let this sink in?…………………………..We did not advance the ball more than 9.9 yards with three tries for half a football game AFTER we could make “halftime adjustments”…. How can you be the 4th ranked team in the NCAA in RUSHING, and not make a first down? I’ll tell you– because when a Defense DARES you to throw (and you can’t)….or receivers drop the ball (because they are so scarcely called on to pick up first downs to maintain possession)….or you don’t start two of the most sought after WR’s in the country (Davis & Craig-Myers)– then this is what you have…
    I know it like like heresy to SAY it, but Kiffins offense exudes CREATIVITY (running and throwing)…You’ve got to stretch the field and keep a defense honest…