God girl grill gridiron

Monday, September 22, 2008

Everything is new. Black is white. Orange is blue.

What just happened? Am I the only one who didn't expect any of that? Hello?

I mean, just look at it. We couldn't run but we could really throw. The defense got bricked off at the point of attack and wore out over the course of the game. Special teams sucked. The offensive line was mortalized from the get-go. A relatively high-scoring game was lost by Auburn in the trenches. What resemblance does this bear to the Violence Bowl, or even to Auburn football?

The Offense
a fourth team takes the field?

Brace yourself: Auburn University ran for 1.9 yards a carry. Even minus Chris Todd's sackery, Brad and Ben combined for 71 yards on 26 carries. 2.7 yards a carry is just the cloud of dust. And we tried everything out of the backfield. The IONARZR. The actual zone read. The smash. The power. And it all got flattened.

Brace yourself again: it didn't really matter. Because of the bizarrely effective passing game. We have wide receivers. Correct me if I'm wrong but we actually caught us some damn balls and had none of the aneurysm-inducing drops so commonplace just a week ago. We gave the ball to four different guys and two backs, and tried to throw to Tommy Trott at least twice. We threw for a score, 250 yards (that's 7.8 an attempt and 14.7 a completion.) We have a quarterback who'll make good throws, read matchups, and show aplomb under pressure from the platonic ideal of a defensive line. None of this, dare I say, was expected in the slightest.

This is likely not the team most Auburn fans will be happy to see. Myself, I'm happy for the spread because of the old option run meeting the modern shotgun and propelling our backs into open grass. But my father was yelling himself hoarse the entire game, bellowing "Bring back Pat Dye! Bring back Pat Dye!" into his cellphone. "Oh GOD! Five wide means you're desperate! We've got to run the ball!" he roared, despondent as we screen-ed and ZR-ed our way downfield. "You really want to anoint this guy?" he said incredulously of Chris Todd as we got another first down. Yeah, I thought, watching the Spread Eagle stretching her wings. It's the classic pincer movement, like at Cannae in 216 BC, give the middle and destroy the flanks. Of course, moments later, Chris Todd would throw the interception of the game.

Speaking of Chris Todd, his emergence was especially unexpected - though he remains inconsistent. On the one hand, there's the gutsy Chris Todd who'll actually put a helmet down on the zone read and pick up yards, who'll maintain composure as he is flushed out of the pocket by a Bayou Colossus and hit the out route across his body for a first, who'll loft beautiful flags for touchdowns, improvise with his receivers, and shake an LSU defensive end before identifying Tommy Trott, wide open and hungry. This man is a freakin' quarterback. And then, there's the Chris Todd who floats passes and allows that same pass to Trott to be picked off by an LSU defender who started 10 yards to the middle of the field, who throws a spectacular fade over the Auburn receiver, into the waiting arms of the right cornerback. The first-half interception was recoverable, but the floater to Trott gave up a huge TD and critical momentum. If he'd put just a little more zip on it... we'd have had our field goal at the very least and by God I think we'd have won that ball game.

I don't know what I'm supposed to think. Is this the continuation of Brandon Cox's Jekyll n' Hydery, those unexorcised presences haunting Pat Dye field and preying on our quarterbacks? Was that one backbreaking pick merely the adrenaline rush pouring into his blood after somehow dodging a rampaging left end, and then seeing Tommy Trott's breadbasket a glorious twenty yards downfield? What about the wildly overthrown post to Frogger Dunn on third-and-heartbreak, followed immediately by a sideline-hugging strike into coverage on the rollout a split second before being clobbered? Is it even worthwhile or just to assess his mistakes against an LSU defense that annihilated our line and our backs from the first snap?

Whoever he is, I think we've sunk all our eggs in his basket(s).

What was a little less surprising, but more infuriating: the offensive line totally caved. The running game's struggles can be laid entirely at their feet. Pass protection was a constant struggle, and at the end of the game, it became absolutely lethal. Say what you will about roughing the passer on that last drive - the bastard in me says that 9 times out of 10 Alem would have and should have blasted Todd - but the bottom line is that Lee Ziemba completely failed to protect his quarterback on two consecutive plays. The chinks in the armor that showed against Mississippi State were completely exposed by LSU. Our line just plain crippled us. We're told that late in the game, Hugh Nall cradled each of their faces in his hands in a fatherly display of affection, as Lord Cardigan may have done for his cavalrymen as they looked into their doom in Balaclava.

But again... look at what we did. We moved downfield and we scored. We could have done it three times, even four, without the picks. There wasn't much glitz and flash, other than the play-action fake-screen post and the double-play-action shake-the-RE Trotterception, but there didn't have to be. We moved the ball and we did it with passes at all levels, with planned routes and adjustments on the fly. I still have faith in this offense - in what is the most unexpected thing of all, I think it almost won the game for us.

The Defense
that was the sound of my heart breaking

When are we going to stop ANOINTING QUARTERBACKS? CFN called him "General Lee." &*$%. Isn't it enough that Charles Scott roared through our lines for 9 and 12 yards at a time? #$%&. Why couldn't we successfully pressure Lee, just make him think twice about anything? @*#$.

It all has to start with the running game. Charles Scott blasted us when we didn't get the playcall exactly right. Our D-line played well but they just wore down, and by the second half we were missing tackles and getting blown off the line. And don't give me no guff about depth: ESPN made a big fat deal of LSU rotating six defensive linemen in, but I count seven tigers - Coleman, Carter, Doolittle, Marks, Blanc, McKenzie and Goggans.

Our front seven just couldn't hold up and we just gave out as the game progressed. The secondary played really well for a group so green, especially when our safeties stopped Scott for only 9 yards after he shot through the line like a freight train, but they gave up huge plays in the second half - including two corner routes to LaFell for gaping chunks of yardage on consecutive plays, and a poorly-defended out route for a waltzing touch. I'm willing to cut 'em slack because we had to put our safeties into mismatches to load up the box. It all starts and ends with Scott.

Sure, individual players had awesome nights. Coleman was brilliant. Doolittle, apparently, had the game of his life and earned a starting spot at the nose. Gabe McKenzie got his tight end on. Jerraud Powers had his revenge. But on the whole, they gave it up.

Was it momentum? Did we get outcoached? Were we simply unable to withstand the onslaught? I just don't know. All I know is that the defense was no longer its hellish, jawbreaking self. And it was really heartbreaking to see.

Special Teams
where the $%& is Saturn V?

35.4 yards a punt is completely unacceptable. Abysmal. The best thing you can say about it is that we didn't let Holliday get going. And our punt blocking was non-existent. Dunn was swarmed by white jerseys before the ball got past its zenith. Covered like a Stuka in the Battle of Britain. Zilch. Our kickoff returns were fine, whatever, though Hull didn't force a touchback in any of four kicks. And Byrum never had to kick a field goal. Who cares.

Clinton Durst better have cured cancer last Saturday night because we needed him bad.

I hate the Hat

It's not really that he coached his team so well, that they came out in the second half rared up and ready to hit, or that he out-Tubby'ed Tubby with the surprise onside kick and the speed option pitch halfback pass over Mike McNeil to the near side. It's that he did all that and then barfed out some inane string of loosely-associated crazy talk to the sideline reporter after the game. It hurts to get outcoached and outplayed and thoroughly beaten by a man so demonstrably nuts.

Offensively, I think that we did great. We didn't give up on the run entirely, we called good plays that went the distance, and were arguably three decisions by Todd away from a win. And while Franklin didn't have his fancy pants on, we tried an awful lot of different plays out there. Everyone got the ball and usually did something with it.

Defensively, I just don't know. It was clear from the beginning that if the right play was called, it was lights-out for the LSU offense, but when the wrong play was called Scott was a-rompin' or LaFell was comin' free. I think this is pretty evident, too, by the way we tightened up in the second quarter but lost our grip in the second half. Rhoads is still our man to live or die by, but I think we just couldn't handle the pistol-spread shotgun-power I offense for the full game long. Thankfully, we probably won't have to face three offenses simultaneously ever again.

What's the bottom line?
  1. The offense worked, aside from the running game, the line collapsing, and two horrible decisions by an otherwise-respectable quarterback.
  2. The defense got its stiffest test to date and couldn't hang on.
  3. We need Durst. And I miss touchbacks.

* Disastrously.

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