Tiger-Eye Review – Week 1
SECond thoughts on games of interest
How we play the game Edition
The Tiger-Eye Review looks at the games that all SEC teams play throughout the season. For those of you who followed my previous ‘Dirty Dozen‘ and Cafe Malzahn series, this is my new take on an old format. I’ll review the week’s games, highlight points of interest, tendencies and potential issues for the remaining season for the premier conference of NCAA football and any future games these teams may play against the Auburn Tigers.
It’s hard to judge a team by its opening game. So many factors are in play: the relative quality of the opposition, newness of schemes both offensive and defensive, new starters, often new coaching staffs and, in the case of several SEC teams, the disciplinary suspension of significant numbers of players. Preseason rankings are fine and good, but the bottom of any rational analysis will be how teams performed in their first action. Some teams played highly ranked and dangerous teams, others played cupcakes. Some showed wild swings of ability between halves and, sometimes, even individual possessions.
For some the results were spectacular. For others, disturbing. Some fan bases are celebrating last-second wins against the odds, and others are wondering where it all went wrong and starting to question the choices of their respective coaching staffs. All in all, the start of the season in the SEC has a been a sight to see.
Sifting through the welter of confusing reports and games, I tend to fall back to the numbers. Just how well did SEC teams play this week?
Overall in terms of results, fairly well. As a league we played no fewer than five power-5 conference teams and won three of those games. We lost another by a single point. The only team that lost by multiple touchdowns was also missing no fewer than 11 players from the roster. All other games against SunBelt, FCS, independents and Conference USA were easy wins.
Not bad, but when you start to look at the Cafe Malzahn criteria, the picture starts to clear a bit on just how well or poorly individual teams played.
If you remember, these are the stats that make the difference between exceptional, marginal and poor teams.
How did the various teams perform on offense this week?
Let’s take a look.
Let’s look at the SEC West.
Well if there was any lack of scoring in the West, it didn’t show except in a couple of games. Alabama played against a powerful and swarming FSU defense that hampered its new offense all night. LSU and Auburn struggled at times, either in points scored or third-down conversions, but neither game was ever really in doubt. TAMU, however, was a study of two halves. For 30 minutes of clock time, the Aggies seemed to be firing on all cylinders, marching down the field time and again into the third quarter. Then a couple of minor injuries and an adjustment by the UCLA defense and suddenly, they couldn’t seem to gain a yard. Running back Trayveon Williams had 188 yards in the first half and just 15 in the second.
But in the East…
It was another story. Missouri had nearly four furlongs of offense, almost half a mile. But it was the ONLY SEC East team to rack up over 400 yards of offense. Additionally, most East teams struggled to establish a balanced offensive attack. Other than Mizzou, each team showed a disturbing singularity, either rushing or passing. They did one or the other, but not both.
However, as usual, it was the defense that separated the good from the bad (or ugly) in the conference.
Except for the Aggies, the West stood tall in every game. Ole Miss struggled a bit with a scrappy South Alabama team, but except for the second half of the Texas A&M game, each team established the idea that the strength of West is defensive play.
Not so in the East. When Vandy and Kentucky are leading the division in defensive play, something is fundamentally WRONG in your style and quality of play. Georgia played well and had their game in hand early, but App State showed a disturbing success against their depth of position. Not quite the Beast of the East they should have been.
But that was the only bright spot among the historically strong teams of the SEC East. All the rest were downright BAD defensively against their opponents. Tennessee couldn’t tackle, Missouri got burned badly by a FCS team that hasn’t had a winning season in five years, and South Carolina allowed double the number of passing and rushing yards its own offense was able to generate.
What does this all mean? Is it a valid measure of the games that were played? Can we really say that Florida State was equal in any way to Missouri State, Appalachian State or North Carolina State?
Not at all, and it would be unreasonable for me to state that the opposition in those games was anywhere close to being equal. But in another sense, if you look at the numbers solely as a grade of how WELL each of these teams played the game this week, it starts to make sense. It’s better if you pose the numbers to answer a specific question:
Which teams were able to play to their game plans on offense and defense against their opponent?
When you consider who won by multiple touchdowns, who played a marginal game and who lost badly, the numbers are clear and evident. Auburn and most of the SEC West played the most complete games on the schedule, top to bottom, and Florida and the rest of the East struggled to find any sort of consistency. The two teams that lost failed miserably on one side of the ball—failing to show any measurable skill in the face of what the opposing team brought to the game.
I fully understand that more, and more diverse, data is required to show whether these trends are accurate or not, and head-to-head play will sort out some of the wild swings in the different levels of quality among opponents. I expect that by the end of the season the conference champion won’t come as a surprise to anyone who looks closely at its efficiency across all twelve games.
But for now this is what the numbers are showing us, and it is an intriguing glimpse of what this season will be like. From this Tiger’s-eye view, we’re looking pretty good.
The tiger continues to watch and wait for prey to make a fateful error.