Tiger-Eye Review—Redeeming Time Edition
I’ll so offend, to make offence a skill, redeeming time when men think least I will.
Prince Hal- Henry IV Part 1 by William Shakespeare
Offense *is* a skill. One that all but a very few SEC teams are just beginning to realize. Defense is a skill too, and the evidence that we’re gleaning from this week’s games is that prodigious offensive output week after week in the early season is not a sure recipe for success against teams who can successfully defend against your strengths.
The difference in the LSU–Georgia game was the bottling up of the Dawg’s run game. Jake Fromm’s exceptional 70% completion rate dropped to just 47% once he was forced to throw more than 25 times in a game under pressure. On the flip side of that equation, Auburn’s loss to Tennessee was due primarily to the Volunteer line protecting Jarrett Guarantano just long enough for his receivers to complete their routes on the outside, burning Auburn on nearly every 3rd and long situation. Auburn’s offensive line could not do the same for Jarrett Stidham.
Additionally, some other teams are showing surprising missteps on offense. Four of Alabama’s nine scoring drives against a rather mediocre Missouri defense resulted in field goal attempts. That’s not a misprint. Two of those were gifted short-field turnovers. A third was from a safety scored by the defense. Texas A&M’s excellent early season running game has a tendency to evaporate against good defensive lines. Luckily, Kellen Mond has proven more than successful in getting them out in front of their conference opponents.
But those gaudy early numbers on offense are getting fewer and further between now that the conference defenses have begun to make their mark. Which gives rise to one of the age-old adages of “defense wins championships” or as a wise head coach once opined in a halftime speech: “Guys, if they can’t score, they can’t win.”
Can a season of frustration be redeemed by solid defensive play? Can a successful run of incredible scoring suddenly be challenged by a brick wall and some lucky breaks? In my humble opinion based upon the numbers I’m seeing, I think we’re about to find out.
The tale of two seasons – a last minute defensive pass interference call on 3rd and 11
SEC West Offense
The most remarkable thing I see this week is the wide disparity between the praise being heaped upon Ed Orgeron, the LSU offense, and quarterback Joe Burrow, and what is being dished out in the press about Gus Malzahn, Auburn and Jarrett Stidham. You would think there would be clear distinctions between the two teams—one sitting at 6–1, ranked in the top ten nationally with a clear shot at the division and conference championships and a bid for the playoff, and the other at a disappointing 4—3 and already being referred to as a “hot seat” disgrace.
But that just isn’t the case. When you look at the numbers, the teams are almost identical in offensive production, and Jarrett Stidham has even played marginally better than Joe Burrow in the last seven games.
Likewise the offensive numbers for the two Mississippi teams would seem to belie the fact that they both have two conference losses and are virtually out of the race for the division. With the exception of scoring, they compare quite well with the conference-leading Alabama team in all other respects of offensive efficiency. And highly ranked Texas A&M? Rather pedestrian in nearly every quality. Whatever its success, it isn’t really reflected in the offensive numbers.
SEC West Defense
Again, the nearly mirrored LSU and Auburn numbers are astonishing, considering the diametrically different slants taken by popular media. Additionally, Alabama is showing some small cracks defensively, and Mississippi and TAMU are showing some rather big ones. And, there stands Mississippi State, arguably the stoutest defense in the Southeastern Conference. With a visit to Baton Rouge this week and a visiting Aggie team the next week, we’ll see how State performs against the rest of the division. By the time November comes around, you might see some interesting possibilities in the division race.
SEC East Offense
Georgia and Florida, with surprisingly equal numbers, are both followed offensively by everyone, especially on yards per play. The lines between the top and bottom teams in the East is blurring quite a bit on that side of the ball. Now that the division games have begun, it will be interesting how the teams adjust in the following weeks with suddenly open play for the division title. With some surprising upsets of Western teams, the dynamics of the conference are now changing rapidly.
These next couple of weeks are going to be interesting.
SEC East Defense
Saturday’s loss shows as a huge drop off for Georgia’s numbers, the greatest difference in efficiency this week. LSU hit the gas at just the right time and left the dawgs bruised and bleeding badly. With Florida rising and Georgia falling, the end-of-the-month game in Jacksonville looms very large. I said that the East was Georgia’s to lose, and it looks like it just might do exactly that. Kentucky has taken a hit with the loss to Texas A&M, but that hurts much less now that Georgia showed itself to be vulnerable to a good defense.
State of the Conference
This last weekend should illustrate a key truth in the Southeastern Conference: There are no sure things. The expected results for any team are never as dark nor as rosy as they appear based upon early games. Something always happens to upset the expected path of the conference, and this year is no exception.
The best two teams in the conference by the numbers? A universally ranked number-one undefeated team and a two-loss team that is only ranked in the lower twenties on one national poll. In between are five other SEC teams who at best could be deemed marginal candidates for winning their respective divisions. The top scoring defense and the second best scoring offense in the conference belong to two teams that are UNranked in the Coaches Poll. Not to mention, a top-five ranked team and the rags-to-riches success story of the SEC West is actually in the bottom half of the conference in BOTH offense and defensive production statistics.
Expectations are a tricky thing. Sports media tends to have a very short memory about games and events that occur in the season. A close win over a marginal team, an errant flag here or there, a key fumble or interception, or a poor weekly performance against a nonpower 5 out-of conference team is swept under the rug all too soon.
How close are Auburn’s and LSU’s seasons at this point in time? About one inch away from each other. If an Auburn defensive back’s hand was just one inch off the jersey of a LSU receiver, he likely wouldn’t have been called for pass interference on a third-and-long play in the last minute of the game on September 15th. That play extended LSU’s final drive to allow for a last-second field goal to win the game.
Were it not for that one inch, Auburn and LSU would each have one division loss, one cross conference loss and would be almost dead equal in all respects statistically on offense and defense, with W-L records of 5–2.