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Opponent: Auburn Tigers
Kickoff: 3:30 PM
Alright, the stars aligned and now we simply need to take down Auburn and Kentucky and the SEC East title is ours. Onward…
About the NMSt game…
Not much sense in talking about this one too much. We completely dominated an overmatched team. Granted it was a team that had beaten Minnesota, who nearly took down Michigan State, but last Saturday they were simply outclassed. I can’t imagine what kind of yardage Crowell would’ve gone for. I don’t know that I can recall seeing a gap in speed between two teams that was more defined. The offense showed up. The defense showed up. Heck, we didn’t even have a special teams meltdown.
- Gone is #1 overall draft pick Cam Newton. With him went most of Auburn’s offensive potency. OK, that’s not fair, AU lost a lot more than just Newton from last year’s team, including the bulk of their OL. They’ve struggled to regain the same effectiveness they had last year, especially through the air, but after some indecision at QB, they’ve settled down and appear to have gotten some things sorted out. Still, the stats aren’t pretty, as they currently rank 108th in passing offense and while their run offense is 2nd in the SEC, overall, they’re in the bottom half in both total O and scoring O.
- After Barrett Trotter proved ineffective, AU turned to Clint Moseley, who has sparked the offense somewhat. He came on against UF and led the Tigers to a win. It wasn’t really his fault in the debacle against LSU, as he only threw 1 INT (returned for a TD) and completed 60% of his passes. He was super efficient against Ole Miss in their best offensive performance to date. A big kid, he’s not going to run the ball effectively but he looks to be pretty darn accurate. Freshman Kiehl Frazier is their resident wildcat guy. He can throw it and came in as a highly decorated passer but so far he’s nearly got as many INTs (2) as he does completions (5). It wouldn’t shock me to see a wrinkle this week with him throwing more.
- The AU ground attack sports 2 solid backs but Michael Dyer is the clear leader back there. He’s only listed at 207 but he’s short and keeps his legs moving, delivering far more power than most 207 pounders. He’s got great speed and has been solid all year. After scoring 2 TDs in each of the 3 opening games, he’s been keyed on more and kinda dinged up, only picking up 3 TDs over the last 6 games combined. He’s been held below 75 yards in 4 games but they won 3 of those, so he’s not the end all of their offense. Speedster Ontario McCalebb has less than half the carries of Dyer so far but has the same average per carry. He’s a nice change of pace to Dyer, with pure speed and slash to Dyer’s speed-power combo. Where Dyer only has 2 catches this season, McCalebb has reeled in 23 on the year.
- At WR, the Tigers have really struggled. Emory Blake is the clear #1 option and has 24 grabs on the year to lead the team despite missing 3 games with an ankle injury. He’s caught a TD pass in all but 1 game he’s played in this year (technically he played one play against UF but was limited). A solid WR at 6-1, 200, he’s obviously got a knack for getting open and makes clutch catches. His stats are almost dead on those of Malcolm Mitchell only with more TDs, so that should give you a frame of reference. No one else is a consistent threat at WR but when they get in scoring territory, look for Philip Lutzenkirchen. Buddy Ryan’s infamous quote about Chris Carter, “all that guy does is catch TDs,” could easily apply to this guy. He just makes big plays. He has 12 career TDs on 37 career receptions. I think I’ve seen every TD grab as I would’ve thought he had even more.
- The Auburn OL lost a ton of experience with 111 career starts heading into 2010 dropping to a mere 15 going into this year. The two tackles are the most experienced while the inside of the line is younger and certainly learning the ropes. It shows, as they are 81st nationally in sacks allowed at over 2 per game. Much of the pressure folks have gotten has been up the middle from what I’ve seen of them.
- Bottom Line: I think it was probably a little telling this week when Clint Moseley said he felt like they could tire us out a little. I think Malzahn probably knows it’s going to be really tough sledding going straight at the teeth of our defense with their OL against the beef we can stack up front. I expect you’ll see a lot of jet sweep stuff with McCalebb while showing Dyer up the middle. Dyer is a stout RB and we’ll be keying on him as he’s their best weapon but I think they’ll want to get us moving side to side as much as possible because they’ve struggled to move the ball against strong fronts. They aren’t a great passing team but the more effective their running game is, the more dangerous they get through the air. While Moseley has played well since coming on, LSU got to him early and often, sacking him 6 times, so I’m not sure how adept he is at handling pressure and I feel confident he’s going to be seeing lots from UGA. Auburn getting positive yardage on 1st and 2nd down is going to be vital for them as much of their offensive gameplan is built on the run/pass threat and when they have to go strictly passing, the fact that they don’t really have personnel ideally suited for that becomes more apparent.
- Key matchup to watch when they have the ball: I can’t wait to see Ogletree and our other ILBs versus Dyer. Dyer is as dynamic a runner as there is in the conference and something tells me that if Ogletree had been healthy all year, he’d be his defensive equivalent. He’s just now getting back in the groove on defense so I can’t wait to see how he does against a premier back.
- The 2010 AU defense wasn’t nearly of the caliber of recent top notch SEC championship defenses, but they didn’t have to be because Cam Newton was that good. That group lost a lot of talent, particularly along the DL and in the secondary, and it shows. This ain’t the typical AU defense, as they’re 84th in rush defense and 50th in pass defense, 10th and 11th in the conference in those categories respectively. They’re also 11th in scoring defense. They’ve given up 34 points 5 times this season (although to their credit, only twice in the last 6 games and both of those were to teams in the top 10, LSU and Arkansas).
- Gone are a pair of beefy senior starters inside, Nick Fairley in particular, who had perhaps the most infamous game against UGA since Reynoch Thompson cheap-shotted Michael Greer in Athens way back when. The 4 listed starters along the DL for the Tigers are all sophomores, hammering home the fact that this is a young group. In fact, on the entire DL 2-deep there isn’t an upperclassman listed. These guys are young and learning. They bowed up to Lattimore and SC though in easily their best defensive performance of the year. DE Corey Lemonier is having an All-SEC type season with 6.5 sacks.
- Where the Tiger DL is young, the Tiger LB unit is small. None of their listed starters cracks 6’ tall and none weighs in at even 230 pounds. That’s safety sized. In fact, RLB Daren Bates is a converted safety but has yet to bulk up, coming in at 5-11, 205. As expected they’re a quick bunch but Figgins at 270 rumbling ahead of our RBs might very well kill one of them.
- The Auburn secondary boasts 4 of the team’s top 5 tacklers, which means either the guys up front are struggling to make plays or the DBs are getting passed on. It appears to be a mixture of both. Neiko Thorpe has settled in at FS after playing solid CB on last year’s team. This group has pretty good size but has struggled to contain pure speed at the WR spot as both Sammy Watkins of Clemson and Reuben Randle of LSU went over 100 yards and 2 TDs each. Maybe Mitchell can return to be that guy for us, assuming his hamstring is 100%.
- Bottom Line: Auburn’s defense is hard to figure. They started out absolutely horrible, I mean beyond bad, averaging giving up over 35 ppg after 3 games and giving up at least 34 in each (including Utah State). Since then they’ve improved steadily with the notable exceptions being at Arkansas and at LSU. The high spot was holding SC to a mere 13 points and a Brantley-less UF offense to just 2 FGs. The fact is they’re still struggling in some regards. They gave up 220 yards on the ground to Ole Miss (we gave up 34) in their most recent win. Given their youth up front and their lack of heft at the LB spot, I’m tempted to just say run it right at them and make them stop us, but we haven’t had much success doing that all year really and SC certainly didn’t although our offense is considerably more balanced than SC’s (which was basically run, run, chunk it deep to Jeffrey). Murray is on a bit of a roll and if he can play under control, he’s got the weapons developing around him to move the ball. If he can manage to avoid the big, costly mistakes that marred the SC game, we should be OK.
- Key matchup to watch when we have the ball: Isaiah Crowell versus himself. I can’t remember a RB that was easier to read emotionally than Crowell. He’s toned down the chatter a good bit since those first few games but when he’s amped, it’s really obvious and when he’s down, it’s even more obvious. I know he’s a freshman and when I was 18 I wasn’t exactly “mature” or “super dependable” but he’s got to learn how to control his emotions and bring some solid effort on each and every play. It’s odd. Usually with guys who struggle with effort as freshmen it’s in things like pass pro but Crowell genuinely seems to enjoy that aspect of the game. I’m just not sure how much he likes to get hit. That means he’s sane I guess. Turns out SEC defenses hit a lot harder than HS kids. Whenever we get him back involved as a receiver out of the backfield he’s going to be deadly.
The AU Game Overall
This game is tough to figure. While Auburn has certainly looked pretty bad at times, they’ve also managed to pull out wins more often than not, with their only losses this season being to Arkansas, LSU and Clemson, all top 10 teams, all on the road. That’s a pretty strong list of losses. You can’t label them as a team that doesn’t travel well either, as they beat SC in Columbia (although to be honest, SC’s 45 points in Athens is the aberration on their schedule, as they only put up 21 vs Vandy, 13 vs AU and 14 each to MSU and UT). This is a group that needed a near miracle to beat Utah State. You can however label them as a team that when they get beat, they really get beat. Their 3 losses were by an average of more than 24 with a minimum (Clemson) of 2 TDs.
I honestly have no idea what to expect out of either team at this point. I’m not used to being this far into a season and honestly saying that about both teams. For further proof, there is absolutely zero consistency in common opponent games. We’ve shared 4 opponents (MSU, Ole Miss, UF and SC). Their game with SC was extremely low scoring. Ours wasn’t at all. Our game with MSU was pretty low scoring, theirs was a shootout. The UF game isn’t worth comparing because without Brantley apparently Charlie Weis reverts to Tecmo Bowl 4-play offense. Ole Miss was pretty comparable with their game being a little more high-scoring but the differential being about the same. Despite the fact that nearly half the games we’ve played to date have been against common opponents, I still can’t say with anything approaching certainty what to expect.
I rarely discuss Special Teams because even good special teams can have off days and vice versa, even moreso than the other aspects of the game but I will say it’s about time our special teams played up to their capabilities.
In the end, it’s Auburn. As much as potentially playing for a spot in the SEC championship game means, beating Auburn just by itself is always huge. Throw in how chippy that game got last year and it just gets that much bigger. I’m thinking seniors like Ben Jones and Cordy Glenn who were on the field for the late hits probably take this one pretty personally and have had it circled on the calendar. While most of the opposition has moved on, it doesn’t change the fact that it was Auburn and while they’ve played nice in the media, you have to know that a win Saturday will be that much sweeter. If UF manages to right the ship and knock off SC then a win Saturday becomes legendary.
- Sure Aaron Murray isn’t perfect, but with 23 TDs on the year, he’s only 2 away from tying the individual season record (Stafford with 25). That’s with 3 games to play in the regular season plus a bowl game and potentially a SEC title game. With 4 more TDs he’ll tie Stafford for career TDs in only 2 years. The most impressive thing is he’s still developing and he’s got a promising group of skill players around him. When he does head out of Athens, he’ll be sporting a ton of UGA records and quite possibly a few SEC ones as well.
- Speaking of the WR corps, Chris Conley’s emergence in the absence of Mitchell has been really amazing to watch. He looks so smooth and appears to have really, really good hands. That freshman 3-some of Conley, Mitchell and Bennett is going to be really fun to watch progress together because they all complement each other so well.
- As well as Ogletree is playing right now, I don’t envy having to decide who amongst Herrera, Gilliard and Robinson gets the nod at the other ILB spot. Herrera seems to have started getting time at OLB in certain formations. It’s hard to believe that with the graduation of Dent and Gamble and the transfer of Marcus Dowtin that ILB would be the strength that it’s become.
- Our CBs have really played well in recent weeks but we really need for them to make plays on the ball. We’ve had a couple of glimpses but I want to see a few picks. As well as this D is playing, you’d think our CBs would have more INTs.
- Yes, I know Brandon Harton looked great last week and he’s certainly earned our admiration and respect but in a game the magnitude of this one, I don’t think it’s fair to him to put him out there right out of the gate. He fumbled his first carry last week. Do you know the backlash Richt would get if he did the same this week?
- Speaking of Brando(e)ns, how about a big pat on the back to our starting CBs who both scored a TD out of the offensive backfield last week. Mike Bobo gets a lot of flack and honestly gets a fair amount for lack of ingenuity but with his top 4 RBs out he managed to produce 14 points out of his CBs. Not bad.
- I don’t typically pay much attention to the betting lines, but in looking at ours this week (a surprising 13), I was really stumped when I saw that Kansas State was a 5 pt underdog at home to Texas A&M. I feel like this is preemptive SEC bias. Kansas State just barely lost to Ok State on the road and TAMU just lost their starting RB for the season. Weird.
- So Missouri rounds out the revamped SEC. Good. I had no interest in trying to figure out how the SEC office had screwed us with the 13-game schedule but I figure with the schedule we’ve had this year, I knew there was going to be backlash. I fully expect to somehow play at Bama, LSU, TAMU (on a Thursday) and Arkansas (on the Saturday immediately following that Thursday) in consecutive weeks next year going into Jacksonville or some such foolishness.
- I can’t wrap my head around the Penn State mess but I feel comfortable saying that no matter what his involvement, JoePa’s legacy just changed monumentally.
- That LSU-Bama game actually lived up to exactly what I expected. 2 superior defenses and 2 pedestrian offenses that made the superior defenses look that much more superior. Bama’s weak out of conference scheduling this season is going to hurt them though. Yeah, they travelled to Penn State, but after them the next best OOC foe they have might be Georgia Southern. After the famous Punt, Bama, Punt game, I wonder if this one will go down as Kick, Bama, Kick? I suppose Kick, Bama, Kick, Kick, Kick is more appropriate.
- That LSU-Arkansas game is sure going to be interesting to watch. LSU’s offense leaves a lot to be desired and I’m pretty sure that Arkansas showed they can score in bunches against a pretty good defense in SC. I fully expect LSU to win, but it wouldn’t floor me to see Arkansas pull it out.
- Of the last 7 times we’ve faced Auburn where both teams were ranked, we’re a mere 2-5 going all the way back to that miserable 1997 game where we came off a drubbing of UF to get demolished at home. We did win the last matchup we were both ranked though…the Blackout game of 2007. Man that was a glorious night.
- Is it just me or did this season go by really, really fast? We’re already ¾ of the way through it. I guess that tends to happen when you do your best to pretend the first two weeks didn’t happen.
- Oklahoma State has 31 forced turnovers on the season. 31. Through 9 games. Unreal.
Have a safe weekend,