Sunday, August 31, 2008

Back To The Future

One of Auburn's questions was answered Saturday night, at least as well as such a thing could be answered against a Louisiana-Monroe: you can have a power running game from "the spread." Running the ball was not a problem. Brad Lester, Ben Tate and newcomer Eric Smith were all able to move the ball on the ground, amassing over 300 rushing yards on the night. Passing, on the other hand...

The first (okay, first and a half) version of the Tony Franklin offense looked an awful lot like the last crippled couple of years of the Al Borges offense: lots of screens with no blocking support, nobody getting open for longer balls, and thus an inability to... wait for it... spread the field. Now, tell me, what hasn't changed here? (*COUGH* "inside receivers" coach *COUGH*). Third and long conversions were, to polite, not good.

As Tommy Tuberville noted at halftime, the much-ballyhooed feature of this offense to speed up the game's tempo was missing in action Saturday night. Kodi Burns rarely threw down the field, and the one time he did attempt a long pass, it bounced off the hands of the receiver. Talk about deja-vu. Chris Todd's standard play was to check about a receiver and a half and then try to scramble. News flash--he's not a scrambler. Teach him to step up in the pocket and/or get rid of the ball. It didn't help either quarterback that pass protection--against LAMO, mind you, not LSU--was downright awful in the first half, something Franklin noted in a Quentin-Riggins-reported chewing out of the rest of the offensive staff at halftime. Said chewing did seem to help; protection was notably better in the second half.

Let's hope we've seen the last of alternating series for the quarterbacks. That's fine for A-Day (and what was this opener, if not a glorified A-Day?), but it's not going to fly against the rest of the schedule. Pick one, preferably Burns. Leave him in, and let him establish something. It's very telling to me that the one time Todd looked good was in the Tigers' last scoring drive, after Burns had left the game and Todd was able to stay in for several series by default (Burns turned out to have a laceration on his leg, and should be fine). The long pass to Rod Smith and follow-up baseline dart to Slaughter were easily Todd's best plays of the night.

On the other side of the ball, it's hard to criticize a shutout that opens with a defensive touchdown. Antonio Coleman has inherited not only Quentin Groves' position (which Coleman actually won and didn't give up midway through last season), but also the miasma of fear generated by Auburn's weakside defensive end over the last several seasons. Jerraud Powers had a couple of outstanding pass breakups, and the hit of the night came courtesy of freshman DB Neiko Thorpe, midway through the fourth quarter.

The kicking game was something of a mixed bag. I think I'm safe in saying that nobody knew what to make of preseason all-SEC punter Ryan Shoemaker losing his position to Clinton Durst, a guy who'd never played football before Saturday night. That impression was enhanced when Durst shanked a punt in the middle of the game, but that flub didn't keep Durst from racking up a decent 43-yard average on seven kicks, with one 58-yard boomer. Robert Dunn's punt return for a touchdown was obviously a great run--but then Dunn reminded everybody why he drives us all up the wall by losing yardage on his next reception. AU's kickoff coverage is still depressingly bad.

So, a first game, a warmup. As such things go, it wasn't great, but it could have been a whole lot worse. With a solid defense and the running game still there, there's reason for optimism going forward, but let's be honest here: Auburn was emphatically not ready to play anybody much better than LAMO on Saturday.

Disclaimer: this is not by any stretch a prediction. But. Four years ago, I wrote this about an Auburn opening against... LAMO:

On the one hand, you've got a workmanlike shutout of (let's face it) one of the worst football teams in the country. To their great credit, Louisiana Monroe's players didn't show a lot of give-up on Saturday, but they also didn't show a whole lot of ability. Auburn substituted all the way into the scout team by the fourth quarter, and the closest LA-MO ever got to scoring was a couple of missed field goals. On the other hand...

Look, it's obvious that the AU coaches went into this game intending to show future opponents absolutely nothing of use, and it's safe to say that they succeeded. "Vanilla" doesn't begin to describe the blandness of the formations and plays displayed on Saturday. Try "tasteless and odorless," or maybe "invisible."

... With that understood, there are still worries. Either La-Mo's defensive line has gotten a lot better since last October (entirely possible; they were big and quick, easily the best-looking athletes as a group that the Indians fielded), or Hugh Nall still has a lot of work to do up front. Run blocking was hit-and-miss (sometimes literally), and pass blocking was downright bad a lot of the time. And don't get me started on the reappearance of last year's bugaboo, the dreaded slanting defenders. More than once, a friend sitting nearby said, "It's a good thing they suck, or we'd be in trouble."

I would also be remiss if I didn't admit that Jason Campbell's play was not encouraging. Whether by habit, design, or just happenstance, Campbell is still locking in on his first guy and not seeing open receivers down the field, he's throwing behind the receiver too often, and his two turnovers were flat-out awful, the kind of stuff you expect from a freshman, not a fifth-year senior.

Sounds kind of familiar, doesn't it?

Now, once again--not a prediction, or anything remotely like it. I'm not expecting, anticipating, or even wildly dreaming about a 2004-ish run for this team. But it's still comforting, in an odd and nostalgic kind of way, that the best Auburn season in recent history also started against LAMO, and not with a bang, but with a "What the--?"

Friday, August 29, 2008

New And Improved

FTB's new look (and the old look, for that matter) is courtesy of my old bud Lein Shory, who learns how to do this stuff so I don't have to. It also helps that he has actual artistic talent and taste--again, so I don't have to. If you're in need of site design, drop me a line, and I'll be glad to pass it on to him.

Thanks, Lein. Great job, as usual.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Geoffrey Norman:
We were supposed to be talking politics but we couldn't help ourselves. It was hot. It is always hot in the black belt of Alabama in the middle of August, and it feels like it will be hot for all eternity. So we talked about sports for some relief.

"You know," the man said wearily, "I just can't wait until they kick it off again. I mean, I feel like if I can just make it for another two or three weeks, then they'll be playing football again and then everything will be okay."
Hallelujah, Amen.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Exodus: Jay Mariotti

In a bombshell announcement in the world of sports journalism, star columnist Jay Mariotti has abruptly resigned from the Chicago Sun-Times.

The Sun-Times says Mariotti left to "pursue other opportunities."

But Mariotti told the Chicago Tribune he decided to quit after covering the Olympics in Beijing because newspapers are in serious trouble, and he did not want to go down with the ship.

"I'm a competitor and I get the sense this marketplace doesn't compete," he said in the Tribune story. "Everyone is hanging on for dear life at both papers.

"To see what has happened in this business. … I don't want to go down with it."

Mariotti said he plans to pursue opportunities on the Web, and continue his regular appearances as a panelist on ESPN's "Around the Horn."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Fair Warning

Blogging is liable to be very light for the next week or so--even by my standards. All apologies; the circumstances are quite beyond my control. I'll certainly be making every effort to get some preseason stuff up between now and the first SEC game next Thursday, but I can't promise anything at all at this point.

Fortunately, things will be back to normal by the time the season actually kicks off...

Friday, August 15, 2008


Kevin Scarbinsky of the Birmingham News weighs in on Alabama coach Nick "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach" Saban, this week's Forbes cover boy. This might be the most brutal thing I've ever read in that paper about a not-days-away-from-being-fired UAT coach, and Scarbinsky doesn't have to do much more than recite the cold facts:

Nick Saban is the most powerful coach in sports ... who's lost four of his last five games.

Saban is the most powerful coach in sports ... who's one game over .500 at his current job.

Saban is the most powerful coach in sports ... who hasn't had a winning regular season in three years.

... and it gets (a lot) tougher from there. Read the whole thing.

Scarbinsky probably ought to have a bomb-sniffing dog check out his car before he drives home tonight. This one isn't going to go over so well with all the Kool-Aid drinkers in Bamaham--which certainly includes a massive crimson cheering section at the Bamaham News...

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Oh, great. The SEC just announced that we're stuck with Can't Broadcast Sports as the conference's broadcast TV partner for another fifteen years.

How wonderful. Fifteen years of lousy kickoff times, terrible announcers, and a commercial every ten seconds. Whoo-pee.

And I don't care how big the check is--FIFTEEN YEARS?!? Live sports are one of the only things left on broadcast TV that are DVR-proof, meaning they're only going to get more valuable as advertising dollars for "regular" television dry up. How much future money just got taken off the table by over-committing to such a long term deal?

Dumb move, Slive. Next thing you know, the SEC will commit to a 50-year deal with the Three Idiots Named Dave...

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Chris Bertelli in Sacramento, CA...

... you owe me a beer.

(For the rest of you, check out Chris's email, as read on the air by Ivan Maisel in the last minute or so of the August 6, 2008 ESPN College Football Podcast.)

Friday, August 08, 2008

Simpson Pepper, RIP

Simpson Pepper, who was Alabama's stadium announcer during the 1970's, 80's, and 90's, and who also worked Legion Field games for UAB in this decade, died yesterday at age 79.

I feel quite safe in assuming that Pepper was decidely not on Auburn's side, but he was from the "old school" of PA guys who took pride in being absolute professionals on the mike, much like Auburn's own recently-retired Carl Stephens. There are too many schools in the SEC today (LSU, Georgia and Florida, I'm talking to you) whose stadium announcers could learn a lot from the examples of Pepper and Stephens.

Speaking for myself, I will always remember (and not a little fondly) hearing Pepper make the familiar call: "Time out for... Alabamaaaaaa."


Monday, August 04, 2008

Exodus: Tony Barnhart

Following up on last week's post regarding the ongoing exodus of top talent from newspapers comes today's news that the only remaining reason to read the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is on his way out the door. Per several online reports, Tony Barnhart has accepted a "voluntary" buyout and will leave the paper.

Barnhart, a near-universal pick as the best college football reporter in the country, will certainly have a new job (hopefully in the new media) before the ink is dry on his buyout check, if not sooner. As far as I'm concerned, this completes the AJC's descent into irrelevance (an impression confirmed by the realization that Terence Moore and Mark Bradley are apparently staying on).

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Christmas In August For EDSBS


Long snapper Jeff Henson and backup safety Donavon Baldwin were suspended indefinitely Saturday night by Georgia head coach Mark Richt for unrelated incidents.

Henson was arrested by Athens-Clarke County police early Saturday morning for public defecation and public intoxication, while Baldwin, a backup safety, was involved in an altercation outside a downtown Athens bar.

After all, housetraining problems are inevitable with young Dawgs. Over to you, Orson...