TigerEye Review—Week 6
One Mississippi, Two Mississippi Edition
So much for the Magnolia State. After collectively winning five games and losing one over the first three weeks of the season while scoring 253 points and holding all opponents to 105 points, the Rebel Bears and Bullies have lost four games over the last two weeks by a combined score of 190 to just 39. A faster peak and crash for two SEC West teams I don’t ever remember witnessing before.
It may not end there. Vandy, LSU and Arkansas all come visiting Oxford in October, and after BYU and a potent Kentucky team come calling, Mullen and Co. take a trip to College Station. I will be surprised if either team makes it to November above .500. Not at all what these teams were planning in the early season. It reminds me of a snatch of poetry from my misspent youth reading the Bored of the Rings parody by Harvard Lampoon.
“…For Fortune strums a mournful tune
For those whose campaigns peak too soon”
However bad that seems, it sure beats what’s happening in Knoxville and Columbia. Neither fan base there should be under any illusion about how this season is likely to end. I think Butch Jones is coaching his last season in the Southeastern Conference. I just don’t see him staying very long after the 2017 season ends, not with the amount of talent recruited and suited on that team the last three years. Barry Odom might get another year to sort things out at Mizzou, but make no mistake, he’ll be on borrowed time in 2018.
The rest of the SEC? Like I said last week, there are three quality teams, a couple of spoilers and some deeply flawed teams that make up the rest of the conference. I’m sure more will pan out these next few weeks, but I’m not expecting much difference in this outlook for the remainder of the month.
Let’s get to the numbers.
A very respectful “War Eagle” to the Bald Eagle (YA Tittle). Farewell to a tough competitor
Auburn’s offense is steadily improving into one of the best to ever grace the Plains. While the Tigers are still dealing with the horrendous numbers of the Clemson game, overall they are playing at the highest level in all the categories these last few games and will probably tip the scale into green this weekend. Alabama is still playing tough and is scoring on both steady drives and big plays, but that third down rate is still an issue. Arkansas and Texas A&M are both potent offenses, but the Hogs just lack a supporting defense to round out that team. Ole Miss and MSU are in free fall, and unless LSU can turn it around offensively, it is likely going to continue to suffer embarrassing losses if it doesn’t find a way to be more productive offensively.
Alabama’s defense is without question the best in the SEC and possibly the nation. Auburn’s depth of talent is evidently not at the same level as witnessed by the garbage-time TDs scored in our games. But the starters are playing lights-out ball. The only question is the injury rate and how that might affect the Tigers for the rest of the season. MSU and LSU still have good defenses, but those two teams are fast learning the pains that the late Tuberville teams did at Auburn—without an offense that can score, a good defense can only do so much to salvage a season. Arkansas and Ole Miss are learning the obverse—without a defense that can hold off the opposing team’s drives, you’re likely going to lose most games in a shootout. Balance is the key to victory.
If it is indeed true that the key to victory is balance, then every team but the Dawgs in the East is most assuredly unbalanced. No one can seem to average one touchdown per quarter except Georgia this season. Going back to last season, this was the flavor for the punchless SEC East then. No one can manage to move the ball. No one can stay on the field for more than 3–6 plays at a time, and the scoring paucity of TD’s in the red zone is getting bad. If you get inside the 20, you need to be able to get it across the goal line consistently. Other than Georgia, the East simply can’t be relied upon to do that. Both Florida’s and Vandy’s numbers are from ridiculously low instances of even being in the red zone (26 times total —equal to just Auburn alone).
Defensively, the East still looks formidable, but that is illusion at best. No doubt the Gator defense is playing well, and South Carolina and Kentucky seem to be decent teams at times, but none are balancing this with achievement on the other side of the line. Vandy’s defense was in free fall the last couple of weeks, and neither Tennessee nor Missouri have gotten up off the mat, yet, and are likely going to need life support soon. If you read sometime this next month that either team has hired an adviser to help, don’t be surprised if the guy’s nickname becomes “Coach Defibrillator” almost as soon as he’s announced.
State of the Conference
Here we are at midseason, but the situation hasn’t changed all that much. Three teams at the top, a couple of spoilers with severe problems on one side or the other of the ball, and all the rest are devout [late, great] Tom Petty fans “free falling” to the basement. Barring any misstep or upset along the way, I expect this three-way fight to play out in November among what may very well be three top ten or even top five teams, with all the related press coverage that will involve.
Good deal all around for Auburn fans. All we need to do is to keep up this pace and take care of business, first in Baton Rouge this weekend, then Fayetteville and College Station. We are well placed and primed to win all of these games handily.
And the horse you rode in on!