Monday, October 12, 2009

But I Don't Like Spam

When the game time for Arkansas was announced late last weekend, I had a mind to put up a short post linking to previous early-kickoff debacles against the Razorbacks. I never had the time to go chase down the links (last week was exceptionally busy in the real world), but it would have looked something like this:
So the Arkansas game will be kicking off at 11AM. What could possibly go wrong?
... and, of course, this Saturday's game wound up being yet another can of rancid Spam for breakfast.

I could try and be cool here and rant about how I don't get how this keeps happening, but the truth is really pretty plain: Auburn just doesn't take playing lightly-regarded Arkansas teams seriously, and as you can see by perusing the above links (to which I could have added 1992 and 1995, even though the latter wasn't a day game), the results of that casual disdain are usually pretty ugly.

Arkansas 2009 was fundamentally no different from those embarrassments of years past. Auburn sauntered in to an early-kickoff game against an SEC opponent (in this case, on the road to boot), played uninspired, lackadaisical ball, and got killed.

Give all the credit where it's deserved: Arkansas had its act together on Saturday. They had a great game plan and they executed it well. Ryan Mallett, bereft of the pressure that had hounded him in a couple of bad outings, played like the NFL prospect he's so highly touted to be, and his receivers caught everything in their time zones. Better still for the Hogs, their defense completely stifled Auburn in the first half, and the successful passing game along with the big lead let the running game get on track for really the first time this season. It was as complete a win as you're likely to see.

Auburn, on the other hand, seemed to be looking for ways to screw up, and the Tigers generally found what they were looking for. Neither line played worth a damn; Chris Todd rarely had time to throw, and in the first half none of the backs had holes to run through. The defense took a huge step backwards in general. There was no pass rush to speak of, tackling was lousy again after showing marked improvement against Tennessee, and the secondary drew more pass intereference calls than I care to remember (some of them were even deserved).

Watching Auburn play Saturday was like a live demonstration of Murphy's Law: every dumb thing that could happen, did. Critical fumbles, stupid penalties, blown assignments. The two most productive players on the offense, Todd and Ben Tate, both blew plays that could have put the Tigers back in the game: Todd overthrew a nobody-near-him Terrell Zackery in the first half, and Tate fumbled inside the five in the third quarter.

The game was a gigantic misfire for the new coaching staff. No team as young and thin as Auburn has any business taking an SEC opponent lightly, and it was up to the coaches to get the team ready to play with intensity. Suffice to say, that didn't happen.

That's not to bury Gene Chizik and his staff just half-a-dozen games into their tenure. There isn't a coach in the world who hasn't had the same problem; Auburn's previous regime was rather infamous for it. The real question is whether the staff and the team will be able to learn from the loss, and have the ability to not repeat the same mistakes again.

I've heard more than a bit of grousing directed at defensive coordinator Ted Roof. While Roof certainly doesn't deserve a pass for what turned out to be a very poor game plan, it ought to be recalled that the guy really doesn't have a lot to work with this year. Auburn is way short of a solid two-deep on defense, and in terms of legitimate SEC players, the numbers are probably even worse than that. Roof had been doing a pretty fair job of working with mirrors to date; some of those mirrors are now just glittering shards on the fake turf of Razorback Stadium. It's going to be a serious challenge for Roof and his boss to patch things up for the rest of the season.


Rich Edmondson said...

Will, I don't necessarily think the defense took a huge step backward. All year when the other team executed on offense the Auburn defense provided almost no friction for them. The bulk of our defensive successes to date have been related to opposing offensive miscues. To whit, when UT finally started throwing decent passes and not dropping them they moved the ball at will on us. In the first half of that game Crompton rarely threw a catchable ball, and when he did it was often dropped. Oftentimes those things happened with no pressure and with no coverage near the receiver, yet we were able to get the defense off the field quickly as a result.

aubtigerman said...

Good artical and as usual right on the money. I had the Arkansas early game curse in my mind all week but never voiced it to anyone(as if that would keep it from happening).
However I feel like the biggest problem we have is the previous staff left the cupboard pretty bare. I hope the coaches and team can learn from this poor performance and still pull off some more wins this season. Wins that will be inspite of injuries and the lack of recruiting for the last couple of years.

GridWizard said...

Is this an excuse?

Will Collier said...

Certainly not an excuse, but an excuse is not the same thing as a reason.

I think I understand how Florida folks feel about us now...

GridWizard said...

The way Florida feels about Auburn is the way most people feel about mosquitoes. Kind of annoying, occasionally dangerous but for the most part of no real consequence.

When Auburn fans, coaches and administration demand that the Auburn football team consistently vie for the SEC and the National titles, maybe then will they be relevant .

Xavier said...

buck up little camper, a little SPAM is good for ya. :-) Builds character... and an appreciation/desire for finer things. Let's hope it does the same with these Tigers.