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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Auburn vs ULM. Postgame

That was the weirdest Auburn football game I have ever seen.

Start with what's easy:

The Defense
never-ending psychological trauma

Would-be skill players beware: the Auburn defense is an unending chain of demons whose only joy in life is the ruin of dreams, a bottomless pit of ravenous beasts, ever thirsting for the precious liquor they will wring from your soul. God help the soon-to-be-Croyle'd quarterback dumb enough to take a snap across from their eager maw. Mothers: send your sons to Auburn or teach them to play soccer. Your love demands no less.

I think everyone had a good night here. The freshman in the secondary may have given up some yards, but never gave up a huge play. Granted, on occasion that was due to the poor play of some warhawk receiver - but not bad for an unsettlingly young corps of CB's. Damned if they didn't lay down the hammer on some receivers. I don't want anyone to be seriously hurt out there, but someone's gonna get what Reggie Brown got if this keeps up. The D-Line maintained its usual standard of wrack and ruin. The linebackers were all over the damn field and loving it. The only think lacking is more of Blackmon, who had a nice lick on the QB early on, but was pretty quiet afterwards. Bynes took a lot of snaps - hopefully Tray is ok.

I was scared at first, I will admit. The first few series hearkened back to the elastic-tastic defenses of David Gibbs. But after the half, we neither bent nor broke.

Now, what is almost as obvious:

Special Teams
artillery at its finest

Tubby's got a serious knack for finding kickers, and Clinton Durst is his next greatest find. We're gonna have to put a blinking red light on that football from now on. Ditto Morgan Hull, who took over for Wes Byrum and ended the ULM kick return game single-handedly. And Byrum can be forgiven for his one miss - after all, he earned it last year. I'm cool with three kickers, one to blast kickoffs, one to sink field goals, and one to bounce footballs off low-flying aircraft.

We returned a punt for a touchdown, something that in my youth I don't remember actually having ever occurred (not even when Cadillac was risking his fragile tibiae.) If you believe the commentators, it's been 12 years. Nothing really needs to be said about Robert Dunn's electrifying return. It was simply amazing. He got a little fancy-schmancy after that (forgivably so) after the punt coverage tightened up, but he started making good decisions. Out of the doghouse he came. Our punt return blocking could probably have been better as the game went on, but I really can't complain.

Kick returns - well, there was only one of them, so that's still basically an unknown (ha!) PPL looked ok, but regrettably wasn't heard from after that. Guess we'll have to wait another week to see Frenchy in action. Kickoff coverage started out pretty poorly, as the Warhawks were able to wedge their way ahead for upwards of 20 yards almost with impunity. Thankfully, we have Spencer Pybus, who just hates that kind of insolence and stopped putting up with it to the tune of a forced fumble. The kick returns crept backward after that, until the final one left a stunned group of Warhawks staggering off the field on the 15.

And what is obviously unsettled:

The Offense
spam, spam, bacon, spam, spam, eggs, spam and spam
hold the bacon and eggs

Don't get me wrong. I would never think to complain about 321 yards rushing. But wha-? 321 yards rushing? Three hundred and twenty-one. What did we get through the air? 85? Oh. Right.

On one hand, war damn eagle! Run that ball right down they throat! Keep goin' to the well! If the run is to the tune of 5-10 yards a snap, there is no way in hell you throw that ball. And I was happy to see our stable of backs in full force. Ben Tate was a'comin' down the damn mountain with a full load of pain and justice. Eric Smith looked like a raw version of Kenny Irons, making men miss or making them pay (real fast first step, too.) Super Mario Fannin just had him some damn fun out there. Ironically, Brad built-for-the-spread Lester didn't do all that well. I don't know if the defense was just keying on him or what, but he did a whole lot of fancy-feeting. Not to Brad: when you catch the option pitch you have to immediately, immediately burst forward. Only women dance backward. He'll redeem himself, I'm sure, and he'll realize that the best gains he got were the slashing, committed bursts into the hole. On the whole, it was extremely satisfying to see our backs running wild in '04 style.

Moreover, Kodi did a great job picking up ground. That one play where he ran into the vacuum behind deep-routed trey set was brilliantly easy. All yards are good, Tigers. Chris Todd ran like a white statue, though, and didn't really sell out on the zone read. And honestly, I don't know why we even ran the zone-read with Todd in the backfield - it's clear that there is only one option in that situation and it ain't the white boy. The one time he actually had to run the keeper, he Cox-crumbled into the LOS. Thbbt. Whatever, though - Kodi is certainly the future of our offense.

On the other hand, where were the receivers? We didn't spread a damn thing for most of the game - ULM had 7 and 8 men in the box way more than we should have allowed. Even when they got the ball, it was painful to watch them drop it over and over. By the last drive they'd cleaned up their act and we could actually run the offense, but what the hell? That is a very, very ominous sign.

One reason I'm so excited for the Spread Eagle is the potential for the running game. If the receivers can just get in the way of the LB's split out to cover them, it's OG vs LB and HB vs safety. Cue the youtube for what HB vs safety looks like. That is freakin' Cambell's soup right there. But it doesn't happen unless the receivers can pick up ground. Not even YAC, just get completions. I don't think we even have to take shots downfield if we can just spread the defense horizontally with speed-outs and play action - which is why you must, must, must catch the speed out and the quick slant. Which we didn't. Maybe it was the playcalling (the warhawks were well-coached.) Maybe the receivers were demoralized by the early loss of their dimunitive, nay, Napoleonic leader-in-heart PPL. But whatever the reason, they were a non-factor until the last couple drives.

The O-line took some time to gel and all, but they took care of business eventually. I think this was a good tune-up game for them. More or less there's not much to say: 321 rushing yards against Lamo doesn't really tell you much about how the line will hold up against SEC defenses. I've got faith in 'em, though.

The quarterbacks looked just about as could be expected, given poor receiver play. Both threw basically catchable balls, and both were at times flummoxed. Thankfully, both of them often made good decisions to throw the ball away when appropriate. And both had a couple of well-placed deep balls. If you adjust for the relative green-ness of our quarterbacks, I can see why Franklin and Tubby have raved about them all summer, and why the quarterback derby has continued so long. But Kodi is definitely the future of our offense. When Kodi found that he had nothing good to throw, he took off and ran and got positive yards. When Todd found himself in a similar situation, he looked... disquietingly Coxian. Don't misunderstand: Brandon Cox captained the good ship Borges safely into port, e'en though it was taking on water all season long, and he did it with dignity. But we can't have no more of that nonsense. The receivers have to step up if Todd's going to play. Also, the aforementioned silliness of Chris Todd running the zone read. If Kodi Burns was running the incredibly obvious quarterback draws last year, Chris Todd is running the incredibly obvious zone read to whomever is not Chris Todd. It may have worked tonight vs. Lamo, but it won't cut the mustard against our SEC foes.

Moreover, Chris threw three interceptions, two of which were politely declined. Genteel though he is rumored to be, Eric Berry isn't going to drop that ball when Evil Chris Todd throws it to him. To his credit, he had a short memory and led our team down the field to score on its best-looking drive all night. When he settled down, we did great - it's clear that even though he can't run, he can run the offense with poise.

So Khrisodi Burn-Stodd lives on unexorcised. We'll have to wait and see.

All in all, a good game that started out frustrating but ended up a hell lot of fun. And at the same time, a game that was pretty uninformative, other than to demonstrate that we will remain Running Back University for a long, long time.

War Damn Eagle!

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