Monday, October 04, 2010

New at Rivals: So Far, So Very Good

Here's a link to my post-game column on Louisiana-Monroe for Rivals' A preview:
In my mind, the real measure of a team and its coaches lies in whether they can build on what they've done week-to-week and continue to improve. That's why I like this team, and why I liked Saturday's game. Sure, we're talking about Louisiana-Monroe here, a fourth-rate program that no self-respecting SEC team and/or coach should ever be threatened by, much less lose to. Beating La-Mo soundly in a checkbook game isn't anything to be inordinately proud of, but how you do so can be a measure of where your program is at that moment in your season.

The sportswriter cliche for this one is, Auburn took care of business. The War Hawks were effectively dispatched in four offensive plays totaling less than a minute of possession time, for two early Tiger touchdowns. But anybody with a pulse already knew Cam Newton and company can move the ball and score; what impressed me Saturday was how seriously the defense took its job, and how well they played through to the end. The '09 Auburn defense, once substitutions began in earnest, would probably have given up a score or three to La-Mo's dink-and-dunk attack. That didn't happen Saturday; a first-quarter field goal was the beginning and end of their points.

I liked that a lot. A year ago the subs gave up four second-half touchdowns to Furman, which in and of itself wasn't meaningful (Auburn still won going away), but the late defensive slump spoke poorly--and accurately--of AU's lack of defensive depth. This year, Ted Roof was able to substitute all the way off the printed roster and still maintain a three-quarter shutout. Nearly blanking La-Mo won't win any awards, but following through is a big deal in football, and something Auburn wasn't able to do often enough last season. Again, in a word: improvement.

I also like the way the staff approached this game offensively: as a live practice for diversifying the offense. Gus Malzahn has griped a bit (mostly good-naturedly) about Newton's being the team's leading rusher over the first four contests. I'm guessing Newton was probably told if he ran the ball any Saturday, he could count on doing some additional running on Sunday--as punishment. Obligingly, "Godzilla" stayed in the backfield and led the offense like a traditional quarterback, moving the ball around to a plethora of receivers and running backs.

Malzahn was not completely without mercy--or a sense of humor--of course. Newton made his first contribution to yet another line on the Auburn stat tables Saturday with his first (and let's hope, last) punt--the one and only Auburn punt of the day.
The rest is on the subscription side, but Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB. 

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