Tiger Eye Review – Film Noir Edition
So the first week of the 2020 Southeastern Conference football season is officially in the history books, and what a weekend it was. No fewer than three teams threw for over 400 yards in a game, and the two teams from the state of Mississippi combined for over a thousand yards of passing in a single afternoon, after each team averaged less than 200 yards per game all last year. Kyle Trask threw for more yards last Saturday than any Florida quarterback has thrown since Tim Tebow suited up and came within just 39 yards of eclipsing even that player’s best game. Offensive power football has definitely entered conference play.
Or has it?
Because what I’m seeing in the numbers this week is an entirely different story line. One that is filled with what the Tiger Eye Preview last week anticipated might be the case at least in several of the games. Miscues, penalties, turnovers, poor discipline, new coaching staffs, new players, lack of preparation all impacted various teams throughout the league in such a way that to take the yardage numbers at face value may prove to be an illusion.
Like a film noir classic, what has been presented this week is a version of SEC football with artificially contrasting divisions between light and dark, lacking all subtlety or depth of focus. We only see the bold, sharp lines and deep, soul-crushing shadows wherein madness dwells, ready to snatch us from the what little light is available. To delve deep into that shadowy gloom is the role of the grim, practical and cynical detective. One whose worldliness and world weariness allow him to slip in and out of the shadows, whose ingenuity transcends the law and tip-toes on the razor’s edge of legality but who’s soul is still untarnished and true.
What is needed is a Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe: a sort of a Tiger “Private Eye Review,” if you will.
That is why I’m choosing for this year’s Tiger-Eye Review theme the gritty, darkly cynical world of post World War II Hollywood classic crime novellas and story lines where every frame of every picture is a study of contrast and brilliance that few genres have shown before or since that entrancing golden age of cinema.
Come with me now into the shadowy backdrop and steamy streets and alleyways of the conference that never sleeps.
As always, the standards of excellence are below:
SEC West Offense
MSU’s seeming offensive juggernaut in the LSU game came from 15 plays of 20 yards or more. Seven of those went for more than 30 yards. That is more than a quarter of what the relatively average LSU defense gave up in all of 2019. So it would seem the issue isn’t so much that Mike Leach’s offense has arrived, but that Bo Pelini’s defense hasn’t yet. Looking even closer into the numbers alongside those of the Florida Gators this weekend, the disparity becomes even more apparent. Both teams put up fantastic numbers, but whereas Florida scored 34 of its 51 points from the red zone, the Bullies managed less than half that. Just one touchdown resulted from the four MSU drives inside the LSU 20-yard line.
Likewise, the Lane Train had similar problems in the red zone. Are both Mississippi teams capable of the Big Play? Sure, and in Oxford and Starkville these are both very welcome changes. Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach have always pushed that envelope. But don’t read too much into the gaudy yardage numbers from Saturday. In the seven games Mike Leach’s teams have passed for more than 600 yards in the last decade, this is only his second win.
Know who had the most consistent and productive offense? Alabama under Mac Jones—dammit. Despite all the hoopla over Leach and Lane, I believe the Tide is the front runner in offensive talent this year. Everyone else? All works in progress.
SEC West Defense
Hoo boy, where to start? I didn’t think I would see a worse defensive outing than LSU, but Ole Miss not only reached rock bottom, it then began to dig. Everything that Florida tried seemed to work for an average of two first downs for every three plays run. Don’t read too much into how good Arkansas looked as the first half of the Georgia game was yet another stunning revelation on how poorly prepared their freshman quarterback was.
There is definitely a paucity of defensive discipline in the SEC West this year. Maybe this is just first game mistakes, errors and unpreparedness, but it seemed across the board with the possible exception of Auburn, Texas A&M, and (of course) Alabama.
It will be interesting how this season progresses from the first few games, but something better happen quick in the states of Mississippi and Louisiana, else thise disparity of offensive explosion and defensive implosion will have just one end, usually in the middle of the night with a bus ticket out of town.
SEC East Offense
Unlike the Mississippi teams, one of whom it faced, this Florida offense seems to have hit pay dirt in every facet of its game and of all the would-be Brady-Burrow clones seems to have come closest to the 2019 original. Granted, it just may have been against what is now the worst SEC West defensive squad, but that remains to be seen.
Georgia might want to eye-bleach away the first half of the Arkansas game, and the Dawgs did improve offensive production with a change in quarterback in the second half. But the fact remains the quarterback it put in wasn’t who they planned to lead them in their first four games this season That one fact above all others spells trouble as Georgia’s steepest competition is in the next three weeks, beginning with the game against Auburn.
Likewise, except for Florida and the second half of the Georgia game, few other SEC East teams caused much excitement on the offensive side of the ball. If you do not know about the effect of sildenafil on the athlete, you can read here. Tennessee’s third down conversion rate and South Carolina’s turnovers were the reason that game was as close as it was. Of the two, South Carolina’s issues seem to be the easier to fix. Again, time will tell, but if Tennessee is going to build on that first win, it has to move the ball in steady drives.
SEC East Defense
Again, it’s difficult to read into anything about Georgia’s effort as there were so many big plays off of miscues, mistakes, poor technique and indiscipline. Could it be that Florida is so capable on offense but is also so incredibly porous on defense, or is it just a matter of the same types of issues? It is very hard to determine from this first set of data as both Ole Miss and the Gators seemed to be on the field against each other’s scout squads.
It remains to be seen if there will be any defensive play in the East this year. I just don’t have a good grasp on what any of the teams outside of Athens is capable of. Is that third-down conversion rate a Tennessee problem or a South Carolina strength? Is the second best defense in the East the Kentucky Wildcats? It is just too difficult to determine based on the data from a single game. We’ll know more after this week’s games, but these early results are intriguing.
State of the Conference
Maybe it’s something in the water. Because when it gets right down to the nitty gritty, only two teams in the Southeastern Conference even seem to be above average. Of those two the most explosive on offense seems the most suspect defensively. There really doesn’t seem to be a balanced “good” team in the SEC that showed up last week. While this is understandable in the situation where most of college football finds itself, I believe that the team that balances the fastest will be the most successful. Some teams are going to find it more difficult to correct inefficiencies as the season progresses. The difficulty is that the clock is ticking VERY fast as there are only nine or ten weeks left in the season to accomplish those corrections.
In previous years, teams found out such issues in their Spring games and had all summer and fall camp to work them out. Not so in the year 2020. The challenge that most teams are having is to correct these problems on the fly as they compete in their very real and very present conference schedules. In this respect, teams with early easy games are going to have a slight advantage, but the real advantage will come from solid game preparation and personnel adjustments. I believe coaching staff experience and depth of bench talent are advantages that few teams are bringing to the table, especially on defense, as there seems to be a huge advantage on the offensive side of the game in this first week of games.
Watch this space going forward. In an offensive flurry, the teams with solid defensive corps, excellent defensive staffs and adaptive game plans will have the key to survival in this dimly lit, shadowy alleyway we now find ourselves in.
It won’t be the first quick shot that matters, but the steady hand on the gun returning fire that will make all the difference.
Else You’ll Find Yourself Narrating the 2020 Season in a Flashback from Face Down in a Swimming Pool
Film reference: Sunset Boulevard (1950) with William Holden and Gloria Swanson, directed by Billy Wilder.
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