Tiger Eye Review – WYSIWYG Edition

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Tiger Eye Review – WYSIWYG Edition

What you see is what you get

The Tiger-Eye Review looks at the games that all SEC teams play throughout the season.  I’ll review the week’s games, 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 foward 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 each 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 man, 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 tackling? All of this is under their gaze in a true ‘live ball’ game, with a clock, referee oversight in the noisy embrace of 85,000 fans.

It is for each coaching staff, after a lengthy off-season of limited scope the first real view at their team’s potential. 

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. 
As such, this first view is some of the most important visual information he will have for the rest of the season.

For some teams whose offense and defense showed near perfection and efficiency against an un-ranked opponent far inferior in talent, the coaches this week were still were 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 their August scrimmages into an early season warm-up under game conditions. Teams like Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and LSU fall into this category this week 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 non-conference team allowed a glimpse at more critical weaknesses that might be significant in a noticeable way during game conditions, but were still 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 their teams 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 of mistake prone games with clutch plays and last second heroics, are rare glimpses of player potential and resolve when the 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 that 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 on their approach to this week’s practices and for follow on 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 there is an added 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 like these 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 all 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 their roster sheet 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 the game on the line. 
When it happened twice in successive possessions? There is simply is no way to unsee that. With that lasting vision burned in the retinas of the fans and administration, Jeremy Pruitt might have just as well given his one month’s notice. Both he and they would have to be blind not to be aware of it.

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 still 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
Second half adjustments make all the difference at this level
SEC West Offense
The good news is the top three SEC West offenses are playing strong and fast behind returning starting quarterbacks. The bad news is the top three SEC West offenses are playing strong and fast behind returning starting quarterbacks. Gus Malzahn’s influence in terms of pace, zone read, deep passing and downhill running has had a growing effect on the SEC West. This season there is the addition of the Brady-Ensminger offense joining the ranks of Texas A&M and Alabama as those most-likely-to-copy-the-Gus-Bus-at-Auburn-under-Cam-Newton in the West. Case in point, Joe Burrow just tied the LSU record for passing touchdowns, in little more than 30 minutes of game time without a single huddle on the field. 
It worked here and it’s now working there and seemingly everywhere.
The rest of the West? Questionable, to include the two Mississippi teams and Arkansas. Where does Auburn fit? Only time will tell. Bo and Company have passed their first test, but there are more and harder tests on the current schedule and much work to be done before the clear picture of potential and impact emerges. Watch this space.
SEC West Defense
With the exception of a strange performance by the Mississippi State Bulldogs, the SEC West defenses performed much to the expected standard, even in the case of Arkansas.  Auburn played a very capable offensive talent and still shut the door in the second half with authority. So did most of the other teams, albeit against much less quality opponents. 
But the Bullies? Tough as nails one play and then whiffing tackles or coverage the next. The Ragin Cajuns burned them so badly on play after play in late game scoring drives that it’s hard to say they were dominant. They could be, but just weren’t at key moments in that first game. Again, watch this space as the season progresses. Starkville isn’t Knoxville, but let this tendency play out, and it could be.
SEC East Offense
Hoo-boy. Look what the cat dragged in. Of all the statistics I had to look at this weekend, this was the butt-ugliest of them all. Guess which team had above a 50% third down conversion rate in the East last weekend? If you said the the Volunteers without checking the stats sheet above, I’ll give you a green bean, and a first class reservation at Bellvue with your own padded room. This is just that crazy.
Granted, Georgia’s numbers are skewed by the fact they didn’t have too many third down conversions to make as they seemed to make first downs at two-play intervals throughout the game, but if the Commodores ever put them in a third down situation Georgia punted just about every time. Will it be enough to win the East? Probably, without even breaking a sweat. But if this continues, don’t count on the Dawgs getting to the CFP this year, as they won’t stand a chance at this rate, even with an easy schedule. Watch this space too.
SEC East Defense
Where to begin? Outside of Georgia and Florida,five of seven SEC East teams had more than three touchdowns scored on their defenses. This is equal to the pitiful ACC Coastal Division with only the Mountain West Mountain Division out of the entire FBS division structure being worse in that respect. Of course, both of those other divisions contain teams that upset an SEC East opponent this week –  North Carolina and Wyoming, respectfully. 
And to add insult to injury, the Sun Belt West Division had fewer 21+ point defensive performances, a better opening day division won-loss record than the SEC East and yes, a surprise upset over an SEC East team (Georgia State). Thank you, Knoxville.
State of the Conference
There isn’t really much to crow about in the Southeastern Conference as a whole this week. When you start the season off just 20 seconds shy and 10 points away from losing half your opening day games (11 seconds and 4 points in the UF-UM game, 9 seconds and 6 points in the AU-OU game), there isn’t much credence to the mantra that the SEC is the top conference in college football top to bottom. The surprise losses all point to a sad reality that there is a short list of premier teams in the league that sit at the top, a small handful of contending teams scrambling at the next tier and a host of deeply troubled teams that are already in a tailspin weeks before conference play even begins to heat up. 
Only one victory this week was against a ranked team and three of the five losses were against un-ranked teams from non-Power Five conferences. That level of have and have-not in the Southeastern Conference has never been so wide in the time I’ve been tracking these numbers (2013 to present). It is potentially a very disturbing development that if it plays out as the season progresses will have severe consequences in the race for the College Football Playoff, and more importantly in next year’s recruiting.
I realize this is just the first week. I’ve said before the first few weekly numbers won’t really pan out as a true picture of the conference until inter-conference play heats up in late September and early October. However, this year’s season start wasn’t that great and if it continues on this current trajectory, look to see the various fan bases and administrations come to the similar conclusions for those coaching staffs across the league that are struggling to find answers after a tumultuous beginning.
Like that  commentator said about Knoxville, the scary word is apathy, not anger.

Now you see me, now you don’t

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