Tiger Eye Preview of the 2020 Season

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Tiger Eye Preview of the 2020 Season

In this strange, half started season of college football, the Southeastern Conference finally begins play this week in closed session. Like other conferences have shown, the extended protocols call for extraordinary measures that have changed the entire fan experience like few other events in history. Gone are such regular features like tailgating, Tiger Walk, full stadiums, nostalgic strolls through the campus on the way to the stadium, just about everything that makes the in-person game day a memorable occasion.

But what will we see between the sidelines these first few games? From the style of play that other programs have shown in the early season, even in the few limited games that have been played, teams are at wildly different levels of preparation depending on a number of factors – numbers of returning starters, turnover of coaching staffs, length and levels of practice during camps, numbers of interruptions due to protocol restrictions, etc. With such limited sets of data, scant public information released and even so few games actually played, it will be difficult to rate any team’s results with any sort of accuracy on the root cause or impact of reasons for success or failure.

How does this affect the Tiger Eye Review for the season? In this article I’ve tried to classify and discuss these factors.

One thing to note first off. While there will be no distinct change in the analysis I do, there is the fact that now that the season is purely conference play, the numbers generated will be relevant much, much faster than in any previous year. My expectation is that there will not be many (or any) ‘throwaway’ games in which statistics have less value than others. In this respect, ALL the games and their numbers will matter a great deal in a way that I haven’t seen in any other season I’ve analyzed. So rather than waiting until the third or fourth game of the season for relevant results, I think the first two of the schedule might be significant in analyzing what we’re likely going to see as we progress.

To start the discussion I should point out what you won’t see impacting games this year.

Home field advantage There is a new dynamic in 2020 to each and every game – absolute field neutrality. With limited fans in the seats, the dread of places like The Swamp, Jordan-Hare, Bryant-Denny, Baton Rouge will be lost on visiting teams. There will be fewer distractions, less hoopla, and almost scrimmage-like games. I believe this will mean the play will be faster, with greater substitutions and an increase emphasis on the conditioning of the players and depth of rosters. Fast paced teams will have a distinct advantage, in my opinion.

And there won’t be any blasted Cow bells.

That being said, I think certain aspects of game play will be heightened due to several factors concerning this abnormal pre-season both in the Spring, Summer drills and Fall camps. Things that will matter only in 2020 after the break.

Off season Coaching changes Newer coaches have had far less time with all their players in organized practices and drills. Veteran coaches have longer relationships with their returning players and that might tip the balance up, but no-one has had much time or experience to give to new Freshmen and transfer players.

Special Teams play The first casualty of lack of practice is usually special teams especially on coverage for punts and kickoffs. These are generally your younger or second/third string players and by and large they will be relatively poor early on.

Mistakes  Broken plays, Missed blocking assignments, gap miscues on defense, penalties – the lack of which are the hallmark of disciplined, well practiced squads on both sides of the ball. However, when practices are limited like they are for all teams, these all have the potential for greater impact game to game early on.

Schedule strength and timing Some teams are starting their seasons with a bang with early heavy games (UGA, Ole Miss), Others are alternating light and heavy games throughout (AU, TAMU), and still others seem to have their most difficult games a little later in the season (LSU, UA). All of this will sharply impact how well their seasons go and those that survive early ‘big’ games will have hopefully navigated the above hurdles.

Lastly, I expect there will be individual impact by some key personnel

Flash and Dash Better athletes may play extraordinarily better in such games. Think of Jaylen Waddle in last year’s Iron Bowl, or if you want a more Auburn friendly example, Cam Newton in his single season. When you have weaknesses in discipline, lots of mistakes, poor decision making, lack of practice, and other such concerns these gifted individuals tend to have their talents just explode on the field. And along with those explosions, teams will have added difficulty adjusting, due to many of those same limitations from pre-season practices.

Experience matters Whether it is on your bench, prior experience at key positions, length of time for coaching staffs either with their teams or in long careers witnessing a wide range of situations, I believe all of that will impact the 2020 season to a much greater respect than in previous years.

Note: Want to find out about how well Chad Morris and Kevin Steele work together? Take a gander at two significant examples on YouTube – the Auburn-Clemson games in 2010 and 2011. Kevin Steele was Clemson’s defensive coordinator both years, and Chad Morris was their offensive coordinator in 2011. I’ve watched both games several times. What struck me most was how many times on the zone read play Cam Newton faced a perfectly placed tackler in the hole in 2010, and how effective the 2011 Clemson offense was when it pummeled Auburn in 2011, especially in the second half.

In sickness and in health You can go ahead and add ‘Covid Positive’ above what used to be called ‘The Injury Bug’ in analyzing team play this year. I believe it will have a greater impact on games and schedules and may very well contribute significantly to the Playoff discussion – especially if you have teams with a ten or more game season and you have a Big Ten champion that has only gotten to play potentially as few as SIX games.

If you don’t hear the whining now, just give it a couple of weeks.

All in all, this is going to be one nutty season this year. Who will rise and fall as the season progresses will be those teams, individuals and coaches with the ability to overcome adversity, who take advantage of opportunities and make bold, dynamic decisions from the sidelines and on the field of play. Now, it may seem obvious that this is the exact case for winning teams every year, but I think the test of 2020 is that whatever those contributions have had in the past will be but a pale shell of the scale of their impact in this year. As the Southeastern Conference loves to advertise in their television commercials year after year.

“It just matters more.”

If there was ever a season when that line was most applicable, it would have to be in 2020.


War Damn Eagle! Let’s play some Football, Bo!

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