Tiger-Eye Review–Prometheism Edition
Jupiter – What art thou? Speak!
Demogorgon – Eternity. Demand no direr name.
Descend, and follow me down the abyss.
Percy Bysshe Shelley–Prometheus Unbound
A strange title, for a strange time. I alluded to this week prior to the season in my first review: Urkatastrophe Edition. Back then I wondered what the coaching changes over the last four years had done to the Southeastern Conference. Now the numbers are being tabulated for the final couple of weeks, and it turns out that my anticipated result has almost come to full fruition.
The term Prometheism was given to the spread of independence movements in Eastern Europe following the fall of four empires in World War I that had vied for dominance over the previous century or so: the Hapsburg Empire (Austria-Hungary), the Romanov Empire (Russia), the Ottoman Empire and the newly minted, Prussian- dominated child of Bismark, the Hollenzollern Empire of Germany. What resulted from the fracturing of former Imperial territories was a series of short-lived independence movements amongst the turmoil of the Russian Revolution.
But however heartfelt, determined, and popular these movements were, they never resulted in strong or viable governments or political allies that could withstand the rising powers of a resurgent Germany or a viable Bolshevik state that became the USSR. Despite the hope and efforts to bolster these new states from the west, they eventually became mere satellites, ever in the wake of their two powerful neighbors to the East and West or merely their victims. Often, it was hard to determine which.
Change in this respect was not a good thing. Even the phrase had a double meaning: the hope of a fire-bearing messenger, whose ultimate fate is to be tortured eternally.
So goes the fallout of the coaching changes across the Southeastern Conference. While full of hope and determination, they haven’t resulted in many improvements that any single team can point to, by and large. In fact, when looking back at 2017, I notice a slide in the numbers for all but one team in 2018. When you look at the state of the conference at the end of 2014, it becomes even more dramatic.
We are often victims of our own poor perspective
SEC West Offense
The most remarkable result of Saturday was not that Alabama beat Mississippi State, but that the best defense in the Southeastern Conference failed even to make a dent in the Alabama offense until Tua Tagovailoa went down with an injury. Then, things seemed to come to a halt for the Tide.
Elsewhere, most of the division stayed on par with their numbers except that Ole Miss took a nose dive in the face of the Aggie defense. What results across the board are some fairly punchless offensive units in the West outside of Tuscaloosa, and even there, without their star quarterback, there doesn’t seem to be much else.
Whatever anyone says about the lack of production from the Gus Bus, without Tua no one else is racing around the track of the Western Division.
SEC West Defense
Take a good look at the Mississippi State defensive numbers. They are still the best defense in the conference. The only problem is, their offense was also facing a championship-level defense in Alabama and could make no headway whatsoever. Whatever was happening in Tuscaloosa earlier in the season on defense seems to have been corrected. LSU and MSU combined had fewer yards against the Tide defense than lowly Arkansas had in early October. Both of those teams had two fewer yards per play and combined for just 19 first downs. The winless Razorbacks had 22 against Alabama.
The rest of the division took a step backward in efficiency on defense. LSU and A&M won, but it wasn’t with defense, per se. It took offensive strikes to distance themselves from their opponents. The biggest weakness across the board? Big plays both in yards and scoring. No one outside of Alabama is exempt in this respect.
SEC East Offense
The other remarkable thing about this week is the incremental slide that several SEC East teams took in the last few games. Despite its victory, Georgia’s numbers came down in both scoring and the red zone, and Kentucky and Florida have become shells of what they were achieving earlier in the season.
South Carolina is improving, but not by much, and the Missouri offense can’t seem to take it to the next level against division opponents. It’s good but not great. As for the entire state of Tennessee, better luck next year, or decade, as the case may be.
SEC East Defense
Here’s where the rubber meets the road, and the road seems to be winning. None of these teams other than Georgia and Kentucky can boast about anything on defense. They are all in deep trouble when it comes to stopping an opponent. The yards per play and red one numbers are truly frightening when you consider the upcoming bowl season.
Even Georgia seems to be having trouble, the kind of trouble that Alabama has been dishing out on a regular basis across the span of the season. If these numbers stay stable into the championship game, don’t be surprised if you find yourself switching stations about the middle of the third quarter.
State of the Conference
So here we are at the dawn of a new age of SEC football. What does the sunlight show us today around the league?
A rather flat and unremarkable landscape. One championship team is left in the conference. The next two teams are so far behind, with deep flaws on one or the other side of the ball, as to warrant the question of whether they should even be matched against the leading team.
In the case of Mississippi State, that question was already answered: “No”. In the case of Georgia, we’ll have to see in a few weeks.
As for the rest? Crickets are what I hear.
Gone are the days of six or more good-to great-teams that could compete on any given Saturday. What I’m seeing from the rest of the conference is what most people used to complain (myself included) about other Power Five conferences such as the Pac-12 or the ACC: they had just one or two power teams, and the rest were simply paid sparring partners who took one punch and began to look around for soft places on the mat on which to fall down.
With as much vitriolic commentary on Auburn’s issues that has gone on since the beginning of the season, I can’t help but look around at the rest of the conference and realize that other than Alabama NO ONE is playing all that well in the Southeastern Conference. It isn’t just Auburn that has taken a step or two back. Nearly every other team has done so as well, perhaps not to the same degree, but certainly to almost the same level of performance.
This is what has become the SEC in the years following 2014. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the table below from the end of the 2013 season when I made the same argument about whether FSU had faced the same level of talent that the 2013 Auburn team had seen.
See what I mean? Outside of Tuscaloosa, the SEC has become the ACC. Even Georgia has regressed considerably from last year. A few teams have improved, but not from good to great, only from bad to mediocre.
Still think that a change of coaching staff will improve the lot of any single team? The numbers and the history of our conference changes in the last five years don’t bear this out in the slightest. Don’t look for a new Prometheus to save the day. In the shadow of the coaching changes since 2013, about the best any new guy can do is simply bolster the sad fate of his team.
We must lay in wait and ambush the unwary