Tiger Eye Review—WYSIWYG Edition
The Tiger-Eye Review looks at the games that all SEC teams play throughout the season. I’ll review the week’s games and 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.
Coaches and their staffs spend most of the summer months looking forward to the season opener. This effort is not just for the particular game preparation related to their opponent’s strength and weaknesses, the film review of previous games or even the scripted offensive plan for the first two series. Oftentimes the real benefit of the first game of the season is the opportunity to achieve a “big picture first look” at how their teams can interact with one other, deal with live game situations, and if they are lucky enough, how they rise to adversity and challenge.
Are they disciplined enough to stay focused, do they act as they have been coached in drills, set plays and scrimmages? Do they run their routes, block their men, perform their function on the field with precision? How is their specific task execution? Can they cover their man without drawing a penalty? Can they tackle abruptly and with good form? Is everyone blocking with proper technique and timing? Is the ball handled well, passed efficiently, held onto upon being tackled? All of this is under their gaze in a true “live ball” gam, with a clock and referee oversight in the noisy embrace of 85,000 fans.
Additionally, their future opponents are an ever-present focus concerning this vision. How a team plays against the opponent today is a key measure to be judged for the future. Do they take their tasks seriously even if their opponent is unranked? Can they been seen applying themselves to the preparatory tasks and still execute regardless of the what the opposing side does? These are the questions every coach collects in his mind’s eye from the first day back from the recruiting trail until the opening kickoff on that first day of the season.
For some teams whose offense and defense showed near perfection and efficiency against an unranked opponent far inferior in talent, the coaches this week were still able to collect valuable insight into that potential. To view what their offensive and defensive schemes were capable of is still a measure of achievement and an accountable return on investment of their time and energy all summer. While not a true test of their full potential, talent and capabilities, it is still a chance to extend the August scrimmages into an early season warmup under game conditions. Teams like Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and LSU fall into this category, and for the most part the visual test of each of these teams confirms their and most fan’s expectations—a couple of hiccups, but overall highly successful.
For other teams, mistakes and miscues against a nonconference team allowed a glimpse at more critical weaknesses that might be significant in a noticeable way during game conditions but were not severe enough to allow an upset. Kentucky and Mississippi State fall here, and both their coaching staffs have much to review. All things being equal, both teams learned a wealth of information by which they can work to improve.
Coaching staffs at Auburn and Florida had much different observation opportunities. Yes, they had the luxury of victory and clear views of severe problems on both sides of the ball. But inherent in both team’s weathering mistake-prone games with clutch plays and last second heroics are rare glimpses of player potential and resolve when game and season are on the line. While there is much to be said of avoiding the miscues that put them in those critical situations, having knowledge of heart, steadfastness and toughness on a team-wide basis is also a key insight into the character of a team. I’m pretty sure Dan Mullen and Gus Malzhan both know this and are already leveraging this in approaching this week’s practices and for followon games throughout the season. It is a golden opportunity for both coaching squads.
The next teams to consider are those in obvious turmoil, who through a narrow win or a catastrophic loss in which they held an commanding lead only to watch it evaporate puts an additioanal burden on the coaching vision. Those staffs now have to deal with disunion and dismay by their players at having games slip away to teams they should have outmatched entirely. Arkansas, Missouri, South Carolina, and Ole Miss fall into this category. While some aspects of their games were worthy of note, other critical failings allowed the players to be overwhelmed in the moment. This now impacts every facet of their focus to such a degree that the path back to confidence will take a monumental effort of leadership and coaching acumen to accomplish. It is usually a very hard path for teams to follow in order to recover from early losses or narrow victories, and exquisite care is needed if the season is to have any success at all. All other considerations and concerns for the season are now blurred while this loss is the entire focal point of time and effort in team preparation.
And then far back in the dim distance is Tennessee.
Watching the Volunteers play before a home crowd at that level of ineptitude was simply shocking, no matter how problematic the Tennessee program has become in the last two decades of scandal, coaching changes and disappointment. With the level of talent visible on its roster sheet and the game on the line, it is inconceivable that this team would allow an opposing running back to go from the line of scrimmage outside the 20-yard line into the end zone in the fourth quarter untouched by any defender.
With BYU visiting next week, and a string of four ranked teams in five weeks on the schedule starting the 21st of September, I’m having serious doubts whether Coach Pruitt will finish the season wearing orange. As one commentator mentioned after seeing the fans walk out of Neyland Stadium before the fourth quarter even started, “There is one A-word concerning fans most feared by all administrations in college football, and it isn’t anger. It’s apathy.”* As Neyland stadium emptied in those last few minutes Saturday, that might be the epitaph on Coach Pruitt’s stay in Knoxville. We shall see as the season progresses.
The standard of excellence
Now you see me, now you don’t