Tiger Eye Review – Witness Edition
Sometimes it is difficult to know what we’ve just witnessed. Wisdom and experience tell us that expectations and reality are hardly ever synchronized until events play out in front of our eyes, but even that knowledge won’t overcome our innate prejudices at times, and we slowly adapt to the facts and evidence as they are presented to us.
This has been a known fact in the criminal court system for years. A jury trial has an audience with a host of experience brought into the courtroom that needs to be introduced to a set of circumstances and evidence in such a way as to overcome jurors’ thought tendencies and present the facts of the case in order to arrive a verdict for the prosecution or the defense. It is the job of the lawyers to present their respective cases slowly enough for the jury to take in and reasonably enough not just to sway but to convince. In that manner, solid evidence is paramount in order to provide perspective.
Our entire criminal legal system is based upon this, but that doesn’t mean it is an easy task. As the great John Adams said in the defense of the Boston Massacre, “Facts are stubborn things.”
Likewise, judging the qualities of a given football team requires evidence not just in results but how the results were achieved. Here at the Tiger Eye Review, we attempt to do just that. You’ve likely seen or read the scores of conference games while watching with your own eyes what transpired in, at least, the Auburn game and several others that interest you. But a deep dive into the numbers of each of those games often gives surprising results, and even I have to admit that my prejudices and expectations are being shaken in this 2020 season in a manner that has rarely happened in the past.
Perhaps it is time to reassess and re-examine those prejudices and expectations once again under the standard of excellence below.
Evidence and Witnesses Need to be Expertly Screened before a Trial Begins
SEC West Offense
The first thing that strikes you about the above is that there are a couple of really good offensive teams in the SEC West, and the Auburn Tigers aren’t among them. Neither are the returning National Champion Tigers from LSU. The reasons are varied, but it is clear from the first two games that Auburn’s efforts against two SEC East teams were only marginally different due to the quality of opponent, which means consistency between two data points and, therefore, hints at a trend.
And not a very good trend at that.
Unlike that sobering trend, the fall from grace of the Mississippi State miracle offense smacks of a too-soon-to-determine set of data that will require further investigation before judgment. Either that, or another sobering reality might be in the works, which brings me to the next set of data.
SEC West Defense
It’s OK to rub your eyes and look at the table again. I know I had to. That’s right, after two in-conference games, the best defensive team in the entire SEC Western Division—the division that prides itself on a long history of defensive prowess—is the Arkansas Razorbacks, who just won their first conference game in nearly two seasons under a new defensive coordinator who has had limited time with his team. Now if this trend continues to midseason, I say we hand Barry Odom the Broyles award outright. He will have more than earned it.
Alabama, Auburn and LSU? A surprising and disturbing fall to mediocrity in the first two games. And don’t even talk to me about Ole Miss and Texas A&M. The days of defensive slog-fests in the West might be over if these numbers hold as the 2020 season unfolds.
SEC East Offense
Florida is still hammering along at a frightening pace, and we know that Georgia can steadily move the ball when it has to. Kentucky is up there as well, fielding a potent if not terrific offense. But the rest of the division is in dire need of some spark or boost. I doubt if any but Florida will likely be able to challenge Georgia for the title, and even then, it will come down to what happens on the other side of the ball.
The surprise in this remains the Tennessee Volunteers. By rights, Tennessee should be a decent offense, returning quality athletes with experience at nearly every position, a solid coaching staff and some decent results. But that third down measurement is just too significant to overlook. What will happen against the likes of a Georgia or Kentucky defense that makes you pay heavily for every yard? Not a good prospect. We’ll see more this weekend as the Vols and the Dawgs square off, but the numbers point to potentially a very long game for Rocky Top.
SEC East Defense
The Georgia defense is championship quality, the most significant indication being those red-zone numbers. In two games, the Dawgs have yet to allow a touchdown from inside the 20-yard line. Watch this space going forward, as this might be the lone great defense in the entire conference by the end of the season. The rest of the teams in both divisions are surprisingly porous on defense, especially the Gators. With their offense firing on all cylinders, this might not be so much of a hindrance to their aspirations this season, but once that Georgia defensive unit is in front of them, it might not end as well as they expect.
The rest of the SEC East still has to display some semblance of talent before we can honestly say they’ll either contend or disrupt that showdown between the Gators and Dawgs that has historically defined the East Division race.
State of the Conference
The results of this analysis show a very different result than what my expectations were from a purely in-conference playing schedule. Frankly, I expected more balanced teams and more ability than what we’ve witnessed these first few games. I knew and expected that limited practice time and a disrupted schedule of spring, summer and fall Camps would have an impact, just not this severe, team by team.
The fact that the second best defense in the league could be a Razorback team that has been an “easy win” for nearly a decade or that a Florida or Mississippi offensive power could show such ineptitude on defense is frankly astonishing to me. Even Alabama’s defense, while still potent, is still not generating the numbers one normally associates with that program.
This next week may shed better light on the subject as we’ll add another week of data, but there aren’t that many weeks left before these numbers solidify into perceivable trends that will likely carry us through the rest of the season. The future changes to these numbers will dampen with time, and we’ll be faced with the reality of the evidence in front of us and have to determine a verdict for the season.
Let’s hope it is different that what we’re seeing now, because if these facts are further verified, the quality of the play in the Southeastern Conference has definitely taken an Agatha Christie-type turn in the story.
We May Need to Change Our Perception in Order to Adjust to the New Reality
Note: Billy Wilder’s 1957 adaptation of the Agatha Christie story/play of Witness for the Prosecution is still the best version of the theme of this week’s Tiger Eye Review. In the film, Charles Laughton is matched with his real-life wife Elsa Lanchester as his pestering nurse, and the part of the enigmatic witness is played by the great Marlene Dietrich, who renders a Cockney accent in the movie that would make Michael Caine sit up and notice. A favorite classic film.