Tiger-Eye Review—Shoot, Don’t Talk Edition
There are few feelings in the sporting world better than your team winning the last regular season game, especially in college football. Whatever the results of the season before it, whatever the trials or pitfalls or successes in other venues, there is a satisfying sensation of that final victory that buoys you for many days, weeks or even months afterwards, even if it’s an ugly win.
In the Southeastern Conference it can even extend to years.
This is especially true if there is a tendency for the other team to do something innocent like complain to the referee or engage in a mistimed or misjudged celebration. Think that Ole Miss player will live down that immature gesture anytime soon? Probably not. Neither is it likely that Nick Saban will be able to avoid years of jokes or Internet memes about his conduct or decisions in the various Iron Bowls his team has lost. Especially when he uses words like “unfair” when he knows full well he has more 4-star recruiting talent on his bench than most of his opponents can manage to find to start.
Unfair. What a laugh.
I would be remiss if I didn’t add the best one-liners I heard recently.
Q. Ever wonder why Nick Saban was such a good fit to star with that duck in commercials?
A. He’s got a pretty good Waddle,….
Ah, well, on to the discussion. The standards this season are as follows.
I’m pretty sure these numbers will change upward for next year once this year’s champion is decided.
Suddenly with success in his grasp, Nick Saban noticed those goal posts looked different for his kicker
SEC West Offense
It turns out that both Alabama and Auburn’s offenses are exactly what the numbers above state they were. Alabama was just one doinked field goal away from its season average in the Iron Bowl, and Auburn scored exactly its season average, no more, no less. Likewise, LSU scored within two points of its average.
Everyone else was within a touchdown of their season averages, and just about what they’ve showed on third down the entire season.
Except Texas A&M. You can point at those three interceptions, but the first one wasn’t thrown until the second half when the Aggies were down five scores (then six-seven-eight scores). Whatever pressure was on Jimbo Fisher’s term with the Aggies, it just doubled or trebled. Losing by a touchdown or even two in a tight game is one thing. Getting curb-stomped by a division rival isn’t going to cut it for long.
SEC West Defense
Auburn still has the best defense in the division, and while very good, it is not showing the caliber of other teams in the East division. Maybe this is a function of the differences between the East schedules and Auburn’s schedule, but maybe not. As good as Auburn is, Alabama scored 45 on that best defense, and every other ranked team it faced scored around three touchdowns. Now, Alabama had both ranked teams it played score over 45 points, nearly every SEC opponent scored four or more touchdowns on the Alabama defense, and LSU was even worse in some games.
Case in point: Vanderbilt’s offense scored 38 points in only two games this year—against LSU and against East Tennessee State.
Bottom line? The SEC West isn’t banking on defense anymore. It’s gone fully over to power offense, and those doing it best are at the top of the division.
SEC East Offense
In the East, both Georgia and Florida are playing well, and everyone else is really struggling. Granted, Kentucky is a special case with its multiple quarterback injuries, and what Mark Stoops has done with his remarkable wide-receiver-turned-running-quarterback is a reflection of just how gifted a coach he is. When you can have a turnaround like that with a new offense at mid-season, there is no doubt you’ve got your program and personnel in the right spot.
Few will likely agree while LSU soars, but if I could vote on SEC coach of the year, it would surely be for Mark Stoops.
But the rest of the division is really having problems. No one is scoring, driving or seeing any success in the red zone. If this continues, expect Kentucky to be the only chance as a spoiler for the annual Gator-Dawg race for the East title. So long as Stoops stays, the Wildcats have a chance, but I doubt they’ll accomplish it more than once every couple of years. They just don’t have the recruiting base that the other two do.
SEC East Defense
Here’s where I begin to suspect the numbers and the problems in the East. Both Florida and Georgia are highly capable on defense. But can we really grant that the next best nearly-as-good defense is Missouri? This is what the numbers above would indicate. Then again, it’s not like they are that far above the rest of the division. Nearly everyone shows some meaningful ability in the red Zzone, but keep in mind this doesn’t account for the big play scores from outside the red zone.
Good defenses don’t normally allow them often enough to be statistically impactful, except this year, of course, in the case of LSU, who will line up against that “best in conference” defense from Georgia.
Something’s got to give in that “Unstoppable Force and Immovable Object” contest, and my impression is that Georgia will be the one that will move because I just don’t see this LSU team even slowing down that much these days.
State of the Conference
I’ve bemoaned all season that there was a growing gap between the top six and bottom eight in the SEC. Let me admit my mistake, it isn’t that way at all.
Instead, it’s between the top five and bottom nine. Like I said, Kentucky has shown tremendous improvement and grit in bouncing back from its injuries to really put on a show the last few games. But that’s not where the ‘Cats were earlier in the year, and the results above are cumulative.
Five teams failed to make the postseason this year. In their final games Kentucky and the top five all scored at least 40 points in their last games and averaged 46.7 points among them. The rest? None scored above 28, and together they averaged just over 15 points. This is the current chasm between the elite teams in the conference and the rest of the bunch.
As we reach the end of the 2019 season, these numbers won’t change all that much in the championship, bowl or playoff games. We know of at least three coaching changes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see many other teams below the top five contemplating coordinator and other staff changes in the near future. This type of disparity in the Southeastern conference is simply too much of a threat to fan and administration expectations to be allowed to continue.
This is where we are, this year.