Monday, November 28, 2011

New at Rivals: Season of Struggle

My Monday-morning column for the Alabama game is up at Rivals'  A preview:

I think a coach at Auburn or Alabama has to lose that game at a point after they've won it at least once to really appreciate the position they're in. Very few coaches win it in their debut seasons, so pretty much all of them (who aren't named Bill Curry) get a pass on that first loss, especially if their team played well in defeat. Nobody at Auburn held the 1981, 1999 or 2009 losses against Pat Dye, Tommy Tuberville or Gene Chizik, and nobody serious at Alabama held the 2007 game against Nick Saban.

But that free pass is only good once. When Dye flubbed consecutive games he should have won in 1984-85 and Tuberville's 2001 team completely imploded against Alabama, the heat came on immediately. Last year, Saban had the cushion of coming off an undefeated season (as does Chizik today), but even so, few failed to note that Auburn's comeback marked the second straight time Saban and his staff had been decidedly outcoached by Chizik and company.

Saturday night, besides the obvious advantages Alabama enjoyed in terms of deep, experienced talent, that shoe was on the other foot. Alabama leveled pinpoint attacks at pretty much all of Auburn's deficiencies, most notably in pass coverage and up front on both sides of the ball, but they also got a lot of help from arguably the worst game Gus Malzahn has ever called.

Time after time, Auburn would come into a convertable down situation only to blow the opportunity with a goofy trick play, the very worst example being the terrible Wildcat call--after a timeout, no less--on fourth-and-a-foot late in the third quarter. It was an inexplicable decision. Alabama has a great defense, but you put Michael Dyer in a standard formation with a blocker in front of him, he's going to get a foot 49 times out of 50. "Getting too cute" is an accusation that's been leveled against Malzahn a lot this season, and it was never more appropriate than Saturday against the Tide.
The rest is on the subscription side. Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.

Monday, November 21, 2011

New at Rivals: You Are What You Are

My Monday-morning Rivals column for the Samford game is up at  A preview:

Under normal circumstances, Homecoming gives a team a chance to get the starters a decent workout in the first half, then clear the benches all the way down to the waterboys by the fourth quarter, giving every long-suffering walk-on a chance to get at least a few snaps.

This being 2011, things didn't work out that way. Auburn never trailed against Samford, and was never in serious danger of losing the game, but played such lackadaisical and ugly football that the Tigers couldn't really declare victory and pull the starters until well into the fourth quarter. Coming after one of the most awful losses in the modern history of the program, it wasn't the kind of game to give AU fans a great deal of confidence for the season closer next week.

I could spend a few more paragraphs running down the issues in this team's roster, but the reality is, after eleven games, you are what you are. What Auburn is right now is, unfortunately, about what they were in the opener: mediocre and inconsistent. And while you can certainly point to holes at the "skill" positions (particularly at receiver and in the secondary), it still all starts and ends up front.

From the very first game against Utah State, the Tigers have struggled to win in the trenches, and with a few exceptions--the South Carolina game accounting for most of them--those struggles haven't yielded much success. Put bluntly, Auburn still has a lot of trouble blocking on offense, and a lot of trouble getting off of blocks on defense. That's not a great combination.
The rest is on the subscription side. Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.

I didn't write a column for the Georgia game; my mom passed away that Friday, and football hasn't been much on my mind since.