A Look Back, and Ahead.

Friday, January 17, 2020

A Look Back, and Ahead.

There is some apprehension about the year ahead.
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! As the bleak midwinter settles in with frost and northern winds, it is time to assess recent events in football and beyond. A year of excitement and disappointment in football has passed. Despite a loss last Wednesday at Tuscaloosa, Auburn has a Top Ten basketball program. And how about that Auburn gymnastics team? Prior to last week, Auburn had not won a match against Alabama since Jimmy Carter was president of the USA.

     I watched most of the basketball game against Alabama last Wednesday night. Auburn did a good job guarding a hot-shooting team. Alabama just got too many points off turnovers. Auburn had been doing a very good job of not giving the ball away up to that game, but turnovers really were the difference in this one. That, and Alabama was able to render both Auburn guards a non-factor with the ball. That has not happened all year, but you can bet Florida was taking notes. Auburn will have a tough matchup in Gainesville this Saturday trying to get back on the winning track.

     I have avoided posting about the Outback Bowl mainly because I just did not have anything positive to say about that game. I have not seen Auburn pushed around like that in years on both lines of scrimmage. Just looking at the numbers, it is hard to believe Auburn lost that game by just 7 points.

     To find a worse defensive performance by Auburn, one would have to go back to the 2015 game at LSU. That would be the game where Auburn defenders were trying to avoid Leonard Fournette, and running away. On offense, it was clear that the coaching staff was worried about Minnesota’s defensive front seven. Auburn ran a very screen-heavy set of plays in the first half, to get away from the blitzing up front. That was not bad strategy, except that Auburn could not block cornerbacks and safeties at all. Auburn would screen the ball out wide, and the cornerback would run through the blocker and blow up the play. I don’t think I saw a successful wide receiver block all day long. Auburn’s star running back JaTarvious Whitlow was hardly on the field in the first half.

     As far as Auburn’s future in football, the main thing I can think of is those lines of scrimmage. Auburn loses 3 out of 4 starters on the defensive line, and 4 out of 5 starters on the offensive line. I’ve heard it opined that we have better players on the bench on the offensive line. If that is true, why weren’t they playing this season?

     I’m cautiously optimistic that Auburn will be ok up front on defense. Line coach Rodney Garner seems to produce capable lines every year, no matter who leaves. Auburn has recruited well on the defensive line, and development will be key. What worries me is replacing 4 starters out of 5 in the secondary. Next season, we will have offenses like Alabama, LSU, Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach slinging the ball at the Auburn secondary, and that is just in the Western Division. Offensive coordinators will quickly take advantage of any coverage issues, and take advantage of the weakest coverage guy, just like in the past season.

     Offensively, there is less reason for optimism. Auburn has a pretty good quarterback returning, but will have to adjust to a new offensive coordinator and line coach. We’ve heard optimism from the Auburn camp when new coordinators and line coaches are brought in. The new guys can bring in some new wrinkles, but in the end Auburn still likes to line up 3 and 4 wide receivers and waste a down running up the middle against an 8 man box. We’ve again been told that things will be different this time, but I have my doubts after the last 5 seasons.

     This off-season will be critical in developing a cohesive front. I’m hoping Auburn’s receivers are healthier going into the off-season, and can work on timing and routes. Chemistry on the offensive staff will be critical, as well. If there is friction in the staff meetings, the results on the field could be disastrous.

     I do have a glass half-full side of my views, as well. With coach Gus Malzahn as a coordinator or head coach, Auburn has beaten Alabama and Nick Saban 4 times in the past 10 seasons. Nationally, only 4 teams outside the SEC have beaten Alabama. Those are Oklahoma (2013), Ohio State (2014) and Clemson twice (2016 and 2018). The SEC East has just 1 (ONE!) victory against the Tide in the past 10 years. That was Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks in 2010.

     The SEC West hasn’t done much better. LSU has 3 wins (2010, 2011 and 2019.) Ole Miss has 2 (2014 and 2015). Texas A&M has 1 win, in 2012. Arkansas and Mississippi State have not beaten Alabama at all, since 2007. Measured by that standard, Gus Malzahn has done better than any other coach Alabama has played against.

     Going forward, both teams have some rebuilding to do. Guys leaving early for the NFL or the transfer portal continues to be a challenge for both teams. I think Alabama had more issues on this that Auburn did. Auburn had Noah Igbinoghene and Arryn Siposs decide to go out early. I would not be surprised to see a running back or two decide to leave, as well. It’s going to be hard to give out enough carries to make all those guys happy. I’m not sure at all about the decision by Siposs to leave for the NFL draft. By and large, the NFL does not draft punters, and even if they did, there are several punters who would be ahead of him on the board. It may be possible to pick up a job in free agency. I think Igbinoghene probably did make the right decision. He has everything the NFL looks for in a cornerback, and he’ll land somewhere with a bright future.

     I apologize for the gloom and doom in this post, but at least we aren’t LSU! They lost big-time coaches on the offense and defense, their Heisman quarterback has graduated, and their roster has a lot of holes thanks to the NFL draft and the transfer portal. On top of that, I don’t think we’ve heard the last of the $100 bill handouts, either. LSU also has some issues apparently, with the NOPD. There were arrest threats over victory cigar smoking, and $100 bill-man Odell Beckham Jr. now has an arrest warrant out on him for assault on an officer. Wow. Some messes for the Bengal Tigers to clean up, to be sure!

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