Alright, despite the loss to UF under this new formatting, I’m going to have to go ahead with it until I figure out how to get the standard formatting back on my template. Anyway, yes, I took a week off from the writeups because I figured no one really cared about Idaho State and I was right. Now, on to the Auburn Tigers.
Also, please note that this was done assuming Newton will play. I have every confidence in the NCAA that even if he is ultimately ruled ineligible, they’ll figure out a way to let him play this weekend and make him sit against Bama.
Overall – On paper, we don’t stand a chance. They’ve only been held to less than 35 points 3 times this year, against Clemson (27), LSU (24) and MSU (17). That MSU game was the 2nd one of the season though and they were still getting their feet wet, basically the same thing with Clemson. The only real weakness they have might not be a weakness at all really, as they simply haven’t had to pass the ball a whole lot. Their ground game has been good enough that they just keep doing that enough and throw an occasional pass. They’re 10-0 so obviously they’ve figured something out. They’ve got the best offense we’ve faced all year. 4th nationally in rushing offense and 6th in total offense? Super. Pair that with the 6th ranked scoring offense (42+ ppg) and you’ve got a prolific scoring and possession offense. Double super.
QB – As much hype as Newton has received this year, it’s all deserved. He’s completing 67% of his passes and thrown 19 TDs to only 5 INTs (although only 7 of his TDs have been in SEC play). Those numbers alone would qualify as a great year, but that’s just the start with this guy, as he also leads the team in rushing with over 1,100 yards and a sparkly little 6.5 ypc avg. Add in the 15 rushing TDs and you see why the guy is the legitimate #1 contender for the Heisman. Debate the off-field issues all you want, on the field, this guy is flat scary. At 6-6, 250 he can move like a WR (oh yeah, he’s also caught a TD) and is tough enough to sustain 25 carries against SC and another 28 against LSU, two pretty physical defenses, without missing a beat. Given our issues with mobile QBs and the fact that no one has come close to slowing him down, I’m not excited about facing him Saturday.
RB – As if dealing with Newton wasn’t enough on the ground, Auburn sports a bevy of options in the backfield. Marcus Lattimore gets a lot of publicity as a talented freshman SEC RB but I think Auburn’s Michael Dyer is better. He’s more explosive. He’s strong, fast, and built like a tank already. His 6.4 ypc avg seems gaudy until you realize it’s the lowest of Auburn’s top 4 ball carriers (all of whom will get touches Saturday). While Dyer is the phenom, Onterio McCalebb is just pure speed and quicks. If he gets a hole, he’s gone. Ask LSU. On the season he’s averaging 9.3 ypc. Most folks would be clamoring for him to have more touches but when they take the ball away from Dyer and Newton it just makes no sense. Add in the veteran Mario Fannin and you have a loaded backfield. Fannin is a pass catching threat but McCalebb only has 2 catches on the year and Dyer 1.
WR – Early on this season, Auburn’s passing attack was essentially just Darvin Adams, but as well as he was playing, it made sense. The Jr from Kennesaw has had an incredible year although it’s a step back statistically from last season’s 10 TD effort. That’s largely just a result of the efficiency of Auburn’s ground game. Adams is a threat down the field and makes clutch plays. Sr. Terrell Zachary has come on as of late and added another option to the mix.
OL – As if the rest of the stuff I’ve talked about on their offense wasn’t enough, they start 4 seniors and a junior on the OL. Coming into the season, the 2 OLs with the most starting experience in the SEC were Auburn and us. Auburn’s OL has played like they’re experienced. OUrs, not so much. LT Lee Ziemba has started since his freshman year and is a massive, prototype LT. Ryan Pugh is a smart, experienced center. Not a lot to get excited about here (for us anyway).
Overall – Auburn will score points. I feel comfortable saying that as long as Newton plays. It’s a tough unit to figure out though. Clemson had some success slowing them by dominating along the line of scrimmage but Clemson has one of the best DLs in college football. Mississippi State just uglied them to near death (which they actually pulled off against us). LSU gave them fits because LSU has a really good defense. The one that’s interesting to look at is Kentucky. Up 31-17 at the half, Auburn struggled offensively (and defensively) out of the gates in the 2nd half, starting with an INT and 2 3 and outs, allowing UK back in it before they went straight up grind-mode and gave the ball to Newton for 2 4th quarter FGs, each of which gave AU the lead with the final one coming on the last play of the game. I imagine we’ll be watching that tape closely to establish our gameplan. For a run-based offense, they spread the field a lot in the base set, making it harder to load the box, but I think we’ll put 8 in there often, bringing a safety down, trying to force Newton to throw. He’s by no means a bad passer, in fact, he’s very good, he’s just so lethal running the ball (as is the rest of their backfield) that I think we’d rather roll the dice with him throwing it than controlling the game on the ground.
Matchup – Akeem Dent is having an excellent senior season and it’ll be interesting watching him chase Newton all over the field. If we’re going to win, he’s going to need a lot of tackles, but I think the key to the game is going to be the play of our secondary. Can our CBs play good coverage without a lot of help? Can our safeties come up and make the big plays that it seems like they’ve missed on more than one occasion this year?
Overall – The Auburn defense has a ton of talent and frankly should be much better than their stats indicate but honestly, they haven’t had to be the dominant Auburn defenses you’ve come to expect. The great Auburn teams of the past always seemed to be characterized by ferocious defenses. This one, while inconsistent, might be as much about complacency as anything. They know their offense is going to put up 40 or so, so they can afford to give up some plays. Ted Roof is known for that. Ask a GT fan about it. THe honest ones (or football literate ones) will roll their eyes at the mention of his name. Stout against the run (18th nationally and 3rd in the SEC) but struggling against the pass (95th nationally and 11th in the SEC), this defense is tough to figure.
DL – You could make a strong argument that the best defensive player in the SEC this season is Auburn DT Nick Fairley. At 6-5, 300, he’s got ideal size and he’s really figured out how to use it this season, racking up a whopping 18 TFLs (to lead the team by 11) including 7.5 sacks (leading the team by 4). Just for fun, add in a team-leading 15 QB hurries and you can see why this guy has shot up the draft charts of NFL scouts and is now projected as a top 15 pick. Fellow DT Zach Clayton doesn’t get near the pub mainly because he doesn’t put up near the stats, but he’s a very effective interior guy, especially with Fairley commanding double teams. Antoine Carter is the best option at DE but only has 3.5 sacks on the year.
LB – Sr. MLB Josh Bynes is leading the team in tackles and putting together a nice season. He’s managed to snag 3 INTs on the season and I think they all came off of Arkansas’ backup in the span of about 30 seconds of the 4th quarter, turning a close game into a complete debacle. Flanked by fellow senior Craig Stevens, Auburn has gotten good LB play, particularly in run support.
DB – Despite some considerable talent back there, the Auburn secondary has really struggled against the pass. As mentioned before, they currently rank 95th nationally and 11th in the SEC giving up over 240 ypg. CB Neiko Thorpe is talented with good size but too often seems to give up big plays. S Zac Etheridge is a good story coming off a scary injury last year to reclaim his starting spot and nearly leads the team in tackles.
Overall Defense – Look at the stats, Auburn appears to be very good against the run and not so good against the pass. I think that’s a bit misleading. With an offense as stout as they have, they’ve been up on folks a pretty good bit, forcing those teams to abandon the run a bit just because. Teams down by 3 TDs don’t make it a habit of running the ball a lot, so I think those stats are distorted a bit. On the flip side, they did completely shut down Lattimore and Arkansas’ backup QB threw for more than 330 yards in 2.5 quarters, so maybe they really are that good and that bad. Whatever the case, I think our best chance to win revolves around AJ Green and the other passing weapons we have. Orson Charles certainly seems to have found his groove and will present matchup problems for their LBs. We’re going to have to run at some point though and that means dealing with Fairley.
Matchup to watch – Man it’s really hard to say. Auburn plays a lot of zone coverages so you can’t really watch AJ versus any one DB or Orson versus a LB, so I’d say watching Fairley vs. our interior is going to be key. If they get pressure without having to blitz, we’ll have trouble all day getting anything going.
Overall Thoughts -
On paper, we don’t stand a chance. Did I mention that earlier? The offense they put on the field is loaded producing like few we’ve seen in the SEC. We’re a .500 football team that lost to a team that fired its coach. In fact, we lost to a Colorado team that has more SEC wins (1) on the season than Big XII wins (0).
Unfortunately for Auburn though, this massive game where they could clinch their first SEC division title since 2004 comes amidst a swarm of controversy. Newton has been battered from every side this week and if anyone tells you they know how he’ll react, they’re trying to convince themselves as much as you. Last weekend he played well while the rumors were starting to swirl but he was playing a completely outmatched opponent. As much as UGA has struggled this year, they are still a dangerous football team, especially if their opponent is a bit distracted.
Fortunately for Auburn they have the fact that they can knock off UGA and clinch the West. That should certainly be enough to keep the team focused. If that’s not enough, the coaching staff can simply remind them that they’ve lost 4 in a row to UGA, meaning, unless there’s a 6th year medical redshirt on the team, no one on Auburn’s team has experienced a win over UGA (outside of Newton who was technically on the 2008 UF team that destroyed UGA, he was redshirting though). Given the considerable number of Georgia natives that annually comprise the Auburn depth chart, that’s not an insignificant fact.
One last thing, Murray has started off incredibly slow the last two weeks. I don’t know if it’s nerves, cold or what, but this week we cant afford a similar start to last week as Auburn could be up 3 scores early if we don’t protect the ball. Up until the UF game, Murray had largely played like a veteran. He’s shown some rookie mistakes lately but has impressively rallied to put the team in a position to win (UF) or outright dominate (ISU). Come to think of it, it’s about time Newton played like a kid without much college experience. Auburn fans would take a shaky performance this week if it means they get his A-game against Bama. I would too.
-Kris Durham returns to provide more depth and stretch-the-field-ability. After watching him go after the ball against UF I realized how much we’re going to miss him next year.
-Alec Ogletree’s development has apparently landed him as a starter. Richt seemed very pleased with the results of the freshman after the Idaho State game. He seems to be very instinctive and doesn’t miss a tackle when he gets a shot. Two solid features from your safety.
-I mentioned Dent earlier but we’ll need big days from both MLBs, be it Robinson or Dowtin opposite Dent, in order to slow this Auburn ground game. That mesh read play scares the mess out of me and when the other guys getting the ball are as talented as their RBs are, your LBs better come ready to play.
-Umm, you ever hear the phrase, where there’s smoke there’s fire? Well, somebody apparently set off a few smoke bombs in Auburn this past weekend. My guess is that someone is Nick Saban. According to the stuff I’ve read, the SEC office knew about the MSU allegations in January and have been “investigating” since then. I wouldn’t be shocked (and I know Auburn fans pretty much expect it) to find that Saban somehow got wind of it through improper channels and ordered the code red. Of course he wasn’t expecting to wet the bed against SC and LSU to spoil his chance at another division title, but he can’t really sit back and let Auburn grab momentum in HIS state, can he?
-Yeah, I know, UGA is 5-5. Look around though. Texas is sub-.500. Tennessee is a disaster of epic proportions. FSU is a mediocre 6-3 and perennial powers (at least at one point) Notre Dame and Michigan are shadows of their former selves. I guess that’s why we’re seriously looking at the chance of Boise State and TCU playing for the title.
-Oregon is really good, but it wouldn’t shock me at all to see them stumble against Oregon State.
-The hypocrisy of ESPN discussing LSU for a shot at the title despite possibly not winning their division is disgusting. They wouldn’t even remotely consider UGA under that same scenario in 2007. Les freakin’ Miles. I’m still shocked that with all the chaos, Ohio State hasn’t somehow re-emerged as a title contender.
-OK, TV. Boardwalk Empire is still really good. Community is having a serious sophomore slump after being really good last year. I miss Parks & Recreation. The Office is not close to what it used to be. I’m kinda in a TV funk right now. I blame the UGA football season.
-So basketball season is upon us. I’m fired up about this season and it’s not just because our football season went in the tank. We have a legit shot at being very good. Lots of talent on the team and we’re so much more watchable than we were under the previous regime it’s not even comparable.
have a safe weekend.