Tiger-Eye Review—Who Shot Whom Edition
Midseason high-ranked matchups are fun. What’s even more entertaining than the spectacular games played is often the incessant hand wringing, worrying and blind panic they seem to incite in the various fan bases. It often seems that the closer these games get, the more extravagant the fan response. If a team gets blown off the line, blown down the field or blown out of the stadium by seven touchdowns, the response is often muted. But let a team lose a close one by a final-minute score or missed chances, and the caterwauling begins to rise among the so-called “faithful” fans of the team. Florida loses in Baton Rouge by two touchdowns? Florida fans are hopeful that their team showed promise. Auburn loses to the same team in the same place by three points? Catastrophe.
It happened to Auburn’s opponents earlier this year. Go back to the Oregon fan sites after the first week’s last-nine-second loss. The amount of dispirited doubting and questioning of players, coaches, coordinators was almost at tsunami levels. Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher was rumored to be on the hot seat, not after losing to the former national champion Clemson by two touchdowns but when the Aggies lost to undefeated Auburn by a mere eight points.
Want to see it again? Wait until Saturday night. After Georgia and Florida play, one of those top-ten ranked teams will finish the day with two conference losses. Let me make a prediction—if the game ends close, do a Google search with the terms “Fire Mullen!” or “Fire Smart!” and count the number of responses you see. If you get fewer than twenty five individual websites, I’ll be surprised. If the game is close, double that number.
Is this vocalization valid? Who knows? But it will happen. You can bet the bank on it.
Here at Tiger-Eye Review, we spend time in other pursuits, namely in monitoring the potential of each Southeastern Conference team and point out who is playing at what level of efficiency throughout the season. Hopefully, the numbers will help point out why.
The standard of excellence.
Who’s going to take down the mad dog in this town?
SEC West Offense
With a second loss by Auburn, only the LSU and Alabama offenses remain at championship levels. Auburn’s outstanding defensive effort, stopping LSU in the red zone for the very first time this season, and doing it twice, had absolutely no effect on the Bayou Bengals’ overall numbers. This is indicative just how outstanding this Tiger offense is, Despite the near upset close win and the team’s difficulty scoring for the very first time this year, it still has out played and out performed everyone else in the SEC.
Alabama can move the ball and score on the big play, but its numbers inside the 20 are troubling when you consider whom they play after this bye week.
Everyone else is struggling. A&M, Auburn, and Ole Miss are flawed in different ways and struggle to score consistently. But the real surprise is the free-fall by Mississippi State to the bottom to rival Arkansas as the most inept offense in the division. This was not expected at all based upon talent level and preseason expectations.
SEC West Defense
The surprise in this table is the narrowing of the differences between the top three teams. LSU and Auburn are nearly identical, with similar numbers in each category and a surprising number of common opponents. Alabama has a few common opponents but hasn’t played the level of talent that the two Tiger teams have, but yet has surprising slippage on third down and the red zone.
Everyone else is struggling mightily. Huge chunks of yards and touchdowns are falling like a ton of bricks on these teams. Many can make a good stop from time to time, but missed assignments, missed tackles on key plays have burned them badly, over and over again.
SEC East Offense
Beyond the Georgia-Florida Classic game, there really isn’t much of a show in the East. The winner waltz into Atlanta even if it loses another conference game. Check the remaining schedules. Whoever wins this game can stand another conference loss and still represent the division as champion. Everyone else has two or more conference losses. But Georgia has the more stable offensive numbers. Florida can pull a big play, but it is not as efficient as the Dawgs, game per game.
Missouri failed to show up two weeks in a row, losing to teams that shouldn’t have even sniffed a first down more than one for every two possessions. But it did, and the Tigers are going down fast. Tennessee is seeing a surge in capability, but it still has not crossed the average line in the cumulative statistics and will remain in question in the post season, just like South Carolina.
SEC East Defense
Georgia’s defense is still top of the conference, even with the loss to South Carolina and, I expect, to Florida. Can it suffer an occasional big play? Sure, but if you were to follow the Dawgs drive by drive, you’ll see they are remarkably capable game after game. Florida’s defense is excellent too, and despite a surprising number of yards given up, can still play extraordinarily well. The match between the two offenses and defenses will be very entertaining this week.
Missouri is still potent on defense, but turnovers and field position are not reflected here, so the quality of play doesn’t always illustrate why they’ve lost two straight. Vanderbilt and South Carolina are still dangerous defensively (just ask Georgia and Missouri), but I just don’t see either of them doing much more than playing spoiler now and again.
State of the Conference
Both divisions are now displaying a seeming two-team race for the division championships. But don’t be too sure these will be the only players going forward. There is a chance of a nightmare scenario.
Another loss by the leading East teams will punt them well out of playoff discussions, and a loss by the West in the game in Atlanta could lead to the potential of a single one-loss SEC team that did not play for the conference championship game being selected into the College Football Championship and the ultimate SEC champion (with two or more losses) being left out.
Don’t laugh. It could easily happen. If LSU loses a close one to Bama and Auburn leverages its home-field advantage in the Iron Bowl, a wounded Bama team might face a two-loss Florida or Georgia team and lose. The top four teams in the SEC would be one-loss LSU and three two-loss teams, one of whom LSU would have already beaten.
I’m not predicting this in the least. I am merely pointing out that a whole lot of football is still to be played this year. Even when the two monumental UF–UGA and UA–LSU games are resolved, the conference will still have to weather the remainder of the season. As we have seen, just about anything can and will happen on any given Saturday in the sport we all love.
Now that we’re home, let’s unpack from that road trip
Side note: For those critical of the play calling and offensive scheme of Auburn. Take a good long look at what the SMU ponies are doing this year, now undefeated at 7–0. Rhett Lashlee is calling nearly identical plays as his mentor with nearly identical schemes, formations and game plan.