War Eagle, everybody! It’s another Auburn football game week, and anticipation is in the air. Or is it anticipation? Anxiety is much more like it. Auburn’s in a bit of a no-win situation this week, where fans are concerned. Should the Tigers regress, Arkansas get its act together, and Arkansas win, there will be howls. The sky will be falling, and the Auburn interwebs will be filled with Armageddon talk. Should Auburn win, and especially win handily, folks will just say that Arkansas is clearly no good.
We’ve seen a similar dichotomy throughout head coach Gene Chizik’s tenure. If the team loses, it’s because of poor coaching. If they win, well, it’s because they inherited great players. Or were lucky. Or something. West Virginia gave the game away. Chizik inherited Ben Tate. Clemson choked. Spurrier threw the game away when he yanked Garcia. Bama let off the gas. Oh that guy Cam, he made Chizik. I’d imagine coach Chizik’s sick of it. He gets no credit when the team wins, and all the blame on losses.
That said, I’d like see a number of things improve this week, and hopefully with a few extra days to regroup and prepare, we’ll see things get a lot better. Without further ado, here’s the top five little things I’d like to see Auburn accomplish this week, in addition to getting the win.
Cut down on turnovers! We may not be very good on offense, but we can stop giving the other team the ball. Auburn basically leads the nation in turnovers, averaging one every twenty offensive plays. Just living to punt would be an improvement.
Call a better game on offense. Seriously. If nothing else, I’d like to see Scot Loeffler’s head actually in the game. If the defense is letting Trovon Reed and Travante Stallworth run loose, have the ball thrown that way. After an initial look towards Blake, of course. Don’t call deep handoffs from your own one yard line. Don’t bench your lead blockers when you try to run the ball. If Sammie Coates beats the defender, then drops the ball, try it again later. That goes with any successful play. If it works, go back to it. Give Tre Mason more than ten carries, unless he’s got broken bones!
Re-train punt returners on the basics. Yes, I know. Quan Bray is suspended this week. Trovon Reed has done it before. No fielding the punt inside the ten yard line. Just get away. If a defender’s within five yards, fair-catch. You’re not going to see much return blocking with this unit. They’re going after the kick. Auburn’s blocked three kicks this year.
Front Seven, run through people. No reaching, diving, grabbing for ankles. Keep your head up, run through, and wrap up.
Coaching staff: play to win, don’t play not to lose. Have Frazier throw on first down, from the I. Or from the wildcat. Don’t telegraph the play with the formation and personnel. If you’re past midfield and it’s less than 4th and 5, go for it. Play to win. If you’re gonna lose, and take the heat, go down swinging. And no 3rd and 12 screen passes to the short side of the field. That really makes a coordinator look stupid, especially as poorly as our receivers block.
I call on the Auburn faithful to show up early and make some noise. We can certainly help this team out with our enthusiasm, and make life difficult for the Razorbacks. I plan to be behind the Razorback bench screaming my lungs out!
And now, we’ll take a quick look around the league. A third of the regular season has gone by, and we’re into the second season of the two thousand-teens.
Who’s trending up, and who’s trending down? (After the jump)
Missouri’s new to the league, but they had a recent history in the Big 12 as being a dangerous team. Not a dominant one, but a consistent bowl team good for at least one upset of the big boys a year. This year, they’ve hit a pothole with offensive line injuries, and resulting offensive inconsistency. I’d say their trend is inconclusive.
Vanderbilt’s history in recent decades is to usually be in contention for last place. In a typical year, they challenge in a few games. About once every five years, the Commodores rise up and beat some folks, and either come close to bowling, or actually make it. In the past five seasons, Vandy has actually gone bowling twice. So I’d say the general trend is slightly up, but this year’s team has reverted to mean.
For much of the past two decades, Kentucky and Vanderbilt have traded places for the conference cellar, but Kentucky’s had a little more sustained success for a couple of short periods. With coach Rich Brooks in the 2000’s, the Wildcats had become a consistent lower-tier bowl team, but those days are fading fast. This past week’s tenacious first half against South Carolina not withstanding, Kentucky’s trending downward, and resembles some of Bill Curry’s teams in the early 1990s.
South Carolina’s tended toward respectability in many of the past 20 years, but suffered a couple of apocalyptic dives under Sparky Woods and Brad Scott. It’s been a gradual process, but Steve Spurrier’s squad has improved little by little, and they’ve had a division title, then eleven wins, and this year they are undefeated and very much in the Eastern Division race. Gamecocks are trending strongly upward, these days.
Georgia was wildly up and down in the 1990s, and a consistent SEC power for the first two thirds of the 2000’s. Then a malaise set in, and Georgia slid down the tubes over several seasons to a 6-7 finish in 2010. The Dawgs rebounded in a big way last season, with a division title, and this year they are undefeated and are still considered the front-runner for the title this year. Georgia is trending back upward, if injuries will cooperate. Georgia has had pretty horrible injury and dismissal luck the past few years.
Tennessee played runner-up to Florida for much of the 1990s, and was the league’s second best team in that era. In the 2000’s, there was some slippage, although the Vols still made it to Atlanta three times. The brain trust in Knoxville made changes, bringing in Lane Kiffen and Derrick Dooley, and Tennessee has managed only a 21-22 record since. The Vols have slid to the bottom half of the league in recent years.
Florida spent the Spurrier years dominating the league, and basically never worse than third place overall. Things dipped under the three years of Ron Zook, but Urban Meyer added two national titles in his first four years. Then the wheels started coming off in the last year of the ‘aughts. Now, it’s looking like the Gator “rock bottom” was last year’s 7-6 record, and Will Muschamp has Florida storming back. The Gators are still in the deepest valley of the modern era, but there’s reason to believe the worst is behind Florida.
Texas A&M was once a Southwest Conference heavyweight, and made noise from time to time in the Big 12. However in recent years, they’ve become more noted for big collapses. With the move to the SEC this season, it’s a fresh start for the Aggies, if nothing else. After stalling against Florida in the opener, the Aggies got their first blow-out SEC win at the expense of old SWC foe Arkansas. While the fans in College Station are enjoying their 3-1 start, it’s way too early to suggest that the Arkansas score is a trend.
LSU was crazily inconsistent in the 1990s, but they’ve been a staple in the upper echelon of the SEC West for the last dozen years. As incredulous as it may sound, LSU’s been the most consistent winner in the SEC over the past decade. Some say that LSU’s not very good this year, and is a disappointment. I say, let’s reserve judgment till they actually start losing games.
When Houston Nutt was hired in 1998 at Arkansas, the Razorbacks quickly served notice that they were no longer among the SEC have-nots. While Arkansas never quite made it to elite level under Nutt, they were frequent mid-tier bowl material. With Bobby Petrino, Arkansas climbed to double-digit win levels. With Petrino’s ouster, Arkansas is in the process of cratering. Sure, the Razorbacks could beat Auburn, run the table, and end up in Atlanta in December. It’s highly unlikely, at this point. Arkansas is trending significantly downward.
For much of the past two decades, Mississippi State has been a lower-echelon team. The Bulldogs did put together a run in the late 1990s under Jackie Sherrill, but collapsed even quicker. In the 4th season of Dan Mullen, Mississippi State is on the verge of putting together a surge even better than what Sherrill produced. After back to back bowl-winning seasons, MSU has a good chance of putting together at least an eight win season, and possibly as much as ten wins. Any way you cut it, the Bullies are trending upward. They just have to stay healthy.
Ole Miss entered the 1990s as the perennial Independence Bowl team. They were wounded by NCAA sanctions, but quickly returned to that level under Tommy Tuberville and David Cutcliffe. Since Cutcliffe and Eli Manning won a share of the SEC West in 2003, it’s been a comedy of errors. Houston Nutt did produce a couple of Cotton Bowl winners in the late ‘aughts, but more was expected with fairly talent-laden squads. The past two years, Ole Miss basically drove off a cliff. Hugh Freeze has installed a new attitude and a nifty spread offense, but again we have no idea if it can lift Ole Miss out of the bottom quarter of the league.
Alabama spent the early 1990s as one of the top three in the SEC, till the NCAA started slashing away, inflicting multiple festering, ongoing wounds. In the 2000’s, Bama alternated seasons of promise, with seasons of disaster. Things changed the last two years of the decade, as Alabama vaulted from Independence Bowl level to SEC title contender in the second year of Nick Saban. Now, with two national titles in the past three seasons, it’s pretty much impossible for Alabama to be trending upwards. With cracks showing against Ole Miss, and the value of Alabama’s wins this season declining every week, one could ask: is Alabama trending downward? Again, like the LSU situation, they haven’t lost. No one’s even been close to beating them. We’ll reserve judgment.
Auburn was king of the league in the 1980s, but was knocked unceremoniously off the top of the hill by the one-two punch of Steve Spurrier, and the NCAA early in the 1990s. Terry Bowden came out of nowhere, and sent Auburn on a high rainbow arc that ended lower than the late Dye years. Tommy Tuberville built Auburn back into a title contender. Auburn won or shared the SEC West title in five of Tub’s ten years. Things trended downwards, though, through the second half of the ‘aughts. Gene Chizik regrouped the Tuberville team, and vaulted them to a national title to close out the 2000’s. Since then the Tigers have suffered defections, arrests, and a half-dozen or more embarrassing losses on the field. There’s no two ways about it, Auburn is trending downwards at this time, and even a win over Arkansas won’t change that.
The Tigers will try to start a new trend Saturday, and that’s winning out till Amen Corner. I think this talented team can do it, but they need their coaches’ help. It’s imperative that this staff puts the team in a position to win.
We’ll have an open thread up very early Saturday morning for the Arkansas game. I’ll be absent for any play by play, as I’ll be in the stands at Jordan Hare screaming and yelling. As always, though, feel free to chime in and cheer on the team. It will be interesting to see how the new platform performs. I should be back at the keyboard for most of the rest of the season, except for the Texas A&M game, which I also plan to attend. War Eagle, folks! Let’s beat the Razorbacks!