Tiger-Eye Review—A Road Less Traveled Edition
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by… Robert Frost
The Tiger-Eye Review looks at the games that all SEC teams play throughout the season. I’ll review each week’s games, highlight points of interest, tendencies and potential issues for the premier conference of NCAA football and any future games these teams may play against the Auburn Tigers. I use in my analysis a decade-long culmination of championship SEC teams in five distinct categories on both sides of the ball and compare and contrast the various game totals throughout the season. I’ll then discuss what I’ve seen and calculated to explore the merits and failings of the two divisions.
For 2018 the numbers are slightly changed, especially in scoring and 3rd down conversions, but the overall process is the same as I’ve done throughout the Cafe Malzahn series of articles and last year’s Tiger-Eye Reviews.
As hard as it is to judge a team by its opening game, it’s even harder when that team is paired with an opponent who is clearly outmatched in player quality, size, speed and coaching talent. Even when early-season mishaps invariably arise, these are often masked by superior athleticism that a heavily favored team is able to bring to bear, especially in substitution with a deep bench.
Such was the case in the Southeastern Conference games this opening week. Of the fourteen games played, there were thirteen victories, many of which featured high-scoring SEC teams with in excess of 50 points against rather pitiful outputs of any of their opponents. Only three SEC teams even trailed at any point of their games—Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee. Seven of the league’s teams didn’t even allow their opponents to score a touchdown in the first half of their games, while they themselves scored between three and six touchdowns each.
What is the result of this whirlwind of points and defensive prowess? In the long run, probably not much. Because when more meaningful games are played against better teams, such output will be tempered by some other data that better describes what these teams do on a regular basis.
But in the short run, these are all the numbers we have, so we must analyze what we have and see if it shows us anything at all.
It was a cross country showdown
Let’s look first at the SEC West
The first thing you notice about this table is the wealth of really high statistical output all but a couple of teams were able to show. On the one hand, this bodes well for many fan bases and coaching staffs. The SEC West accounted for an incredible 41 touchdowns and zero interceptions in its seven games, and the other offensive stats seem to show a deep talent base that was well coached with few nagging issues. There are occasional troubling points, such as Ole Miss’s third-down conversion and red zone touchdown issues, but for the most part, only LSU and Auburn show any serious shortcomings from this first game.
Likewise, on defense the SEC West did very well in its games. Other than Auburn’s game with Washington, no team opposing SEC West teams was even close by halftime, and even if some of their numbers slipped at times, it was after very large leads were established and the SEC teams began to substitute from their benches. For the most part, everyone did remarkably well.
In the East, only Tennessee’s disastrous game with West Virginia and Central Michigan’s refusal to lie down quietly at Kentucky marred what looked like a glorified scout-team scrimmage across the board. Only the Volunteers failed to score at least five touchdowns, and only they, Kentucky and Missouri allowed more than one touchdown by their opponents. The only SEC quarterback to throw any interceptions, Terry Wilson, also added a fumble to his turnover total, but those three were the only turnovers in all of the games that were the result of quarterback play. Absolutely remarkable.
Again, the quality of play against these particular opponents seemed to show the remarkable ability of each SEC East team not wearing orange to put up some truly remarkable defensive numbers. Two teams never allowed their opponents to cross more than a couple of yards past midfield, and the yards-per-play and 3rd-down-conversion rates are all spectacular.
But at Knoxville, yeesh, that was ugly.
So why is this happening for all but three teams in the Southeastern Conference? When you break down the raw numbers it looks like the beginning of a banner year for the conference across the board outside of Knoxville with some real coaching ability and athletic talent at all points of the compass.
Perhaps. But then again, if we add just two more columns into our final table, it all starts to make some sense. When I add the preseason ranking and the win total each of these opposing teams for 2017, those outstanding numbers and statistics seem to fade just a trifle.
Both LSU and Auburn played and won against top-ten talent with teams that had 10 wins the previous year and a boatload of experience and ability. The Baton Rouge Tigers were perhaps the most surprising winners as that game was virtually decided by halftime against a very good but mistake-prone Miami team. This is especially true when you look at what LSU replaced on offense.
Nevertheless, the talent level of the opposing teams makes these other SEC team numbers look considerably less convincing. It will remain to be seen if the teams who registered them can meet those same totals week by week as they reach the meat of their SEC schedule. LSU and Auburn will both be able to pad these numbers for a week before the showdown at Auburn on September 15th, and THAT game’s numbers will be the ones to pay attention to.
As any old soldier will tell you, Battle Ready is a far cry from Battle Tested.
Both SEC West Tigers have proven their mettle.