Monday, October 31, 2011

New at Rivals: Consistency Still Needed

My Monday-morning column on the Ole Miss game is up at Rivals' A preview:

For all the griping about poor tackling or bad play-calling or the lack of this or that factor on either side of the football, Auburn's overarching problem this season is inconsistency. The Ole Miss game marked the third time in 2011 that the Tigers have jumped up to a 14-0 lead, only to see the other guys wipe out that margin while still in the first half.

I thought Auburn improved a good bit against Ole Miss, even given all the aforementioned buffoonery, but the Tigers still couldn't put together a four-quarter game.

The best of Saturday: Auburn's passing game finally reappeared after a four-plus-game absence. Clint Moseley had an excellent second start at quarterback, going 12-for-15 and four touchdowns, and Philip Lutzenkirchen added to his "human highlight reel" reputation with that ridiculous Lawyer-Tillman-flashback catch for Auburn's last score, but the straw that stirred the drink was Emory Blake.

Let's take it as a given that Ole Miss does not have a great defense, but the difference for Auburn with Blake in the game was still blindingly obvious.
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Thursday, October 27, 2011

More of Pete Thamel's BS Exposed

Remember little Petey Thamel's breathless NY Times story about how Gene Chizik had a shouting match with NCAA enforcement honcho Julie Roe Lach?  Like most of Thamel's "reporting," the story was an innuendo-heavy piece sourced mostly by people with axes to grind against Auburn.  Also like most of Thamel's "work," it wasn't remotely accurate. 

Lach, interviewed recently by CBS Sports' Brian Fischer, had this to say:

Fischer: The SEC meetings, do you regret the run-in with Gene Chizik?

Lach: I have no regrets. I think a run-in is really a mischaracterization, it was a discussion.
Thamel, of course, made the exchange out to be an ominous sign of Auburn's impending doom at the hands of the NCAA. Instead, AU was exonerated by the NCAA a few months later. Oopsie.

Obviously, we're talking about the New York Times here, where editorializing and innuendo in the service of a pre-selected "narrative" is the order of the day, but one of these days, little Petey's penchant for exaggeration and innuendo is going to catch up with him.

Writing like he's working for the National College Football Enquirer is working for Petey, and his editors obviously don't care enough to correct him, but the real shame is that Thamel's buddies in the sportswriting world don't have the guts or the character to call him out when he runs this kind of garbage.

(Sort Of) New at Rivals: Dominated Up Front

My bad for not posting my Monday-morning Rivals column on the LSU game. It's been a hectic week. Here's the link and a preview:

It doesn't take detailed play-by-play analysis to see why Auburn couldn't hang with LSU on Saturday. All it took was seeing a couple of series: the Red Stick Tigers were just a whole lot better up front, on both sides of the ball.

For all the hoopla over Cam Newton, the real difference between the 2010 and 2011 Tiger Bowls was the relative performance of the offensive and defensive lines. Last year, Auburn owned the trenches; this year, it was LSU's turn to be dominant up front. The rest, as they say, is commentary.

But since commentary is sort of the whole point of this gig, here goes: the Auburn offensive line couldn't stop LSU's front four, most particularly end Sam Montgomery. At all.

Clint Moseley had somebody in his face the entire game, and running room was a rare occurrence for either Michael Dyer or Onterrio McCalebb. Give the level of pressure up front and a left tackle who would have had a great performance if he'd been a matador, I'm actually a bit impressed that Moseley only had one pick-six.
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Monday, October 17, 2011

New at Rivals: Ugly, But Winning

My Monday-morning column on the Florida game for Rivals' is up. A preview:

The recurring meme in the wake of Auburn's 17-6 win over Florida is, "winning ugly." I must object: anybody who tries to tell you that notching a third-consecutive win (and fourth of the last five) against an ancient rival like Florida isn't a pretty sight obviously missed the second half of the 1990's.

There's no such thing as a bad win over the Gators, no matter what the score or stats sheet might look like after the clock runs out.

But yeah, okay, if you want to get all picky and aesthetic about it, this wasn't the kind of game you'd want to have on a permanent replay in your football museum. For all the 21st Century trappings, Auburn-Florida 2011 looked an awful lot like both teams, at least on offense, had slipped into a time machine set for 1989.
Other highlights include a gratuitous shot at Charlie The Hutt, aka Mr. "Decided Schematic Advantage."

The rest is on the subscription side. Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Clean Bill Of Health

Kevin Scarbinsky, in the Birmingham News:

Instead of being swayed by public misinformation, the NCAA did what the NCAA is supposed to do. It assigned to the Newton case a bulldog of a lead investigator, Jackie Thurnes, whose previous work included the Derrick Rose-Memphis basketball case that cost the Tigers 38 victories and a national runner-up finish, and turned her loose.

Consider a list of states where the NCAA put actual boots on the ground to sniff around on Newton, the HBO 4 and beyond: Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and Arkansas.

Now contemplate the multiple fronts covered by a wide-ranging investigation that, according to Thurnes' "It's over" letter to Auburn AD Jay Jacobs, "was not limited to" Newton and the HBO 4.

According to people who were interviewed by the NCAA, the probe looked into everything from the repairs that were done on Cecil Newton's church to the suits that Cam Newton wore in New York during Heisman week. They asked questions about everyone from an alleged street agent in Louisiana to an alleged street agent in Arkansas.

They combed through bank, tax and phone records of Auburn players, coaches, officials and trustees. They requested and were provided some records that went back almost two years.

Did I say requested? Demanded is more like it. The NCAA made it clear that, if those records weren't turned over, the NCAA would consider that suspicious and might find Auburn guilty of failure to cooperate.

What did the NCAA find after 13 months of that kind of determined digging? Not enough to substantiate any of the potential violations it examined. Auburn's unofficial probation ended, not only without sanctions, but without a single formal charge brought against the school.

It's extraordinary for the NCAA not to find something somewhere to charge a school with when it invests this kind of time and money. People who've been involved in infractions cases will tell you. When the enforcement staff turns over this many rocks, it expects to find some serious dirt.

Auburn expected to come out clean, but it didn't expect to get the detailed letter it received that was signed by Thurnes. There probably isn't a more rare and valuable document in the possession of any athletic department in the country today.
Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

BREAKING: NCAA Formally Clears Auburn

For nearly a year now, haters from coast to coast--but especially in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Starkville and Gainesville--have been predicting that Auburn would receive a letter from the NCAA.  This afternoon, that prediction came true.  Problem for them is, the letter exonerates AU. The NCAA's public statement says:

After conducting more than 80 interviews, the NCAA has concluded its investigation into Auburn University. The NCAA enforcement staff is committed to a fair and thorough investigative process. As such, any allegations of major rules violations must meet a burden of proof, which is a higher standard than rampant public speculation online and in the media. The allegations must be based on credible and persuasive information and includes a good-faith belief that the Committee on Infractions could make a finding. As with any case, should the enforcement staff become aware of additional credible information, it will review the information to determine whether further investigation is warranted.

A few excerpts from the letter, which is addressed to Jay Jacobs:

[D]uring the past 13 months the enforcement staff and Auburn University have reviewed a number of allegations regarding the football program's compliance with NCAA legislation, including, but not limited to, allegations involving football student-athletes Cam Newton, Raven Gray, Stanley McClover, Chaz Ramsey and Troy Reddick.

Regarding Mr. Newton, the enforcement staff and the university conducted over 50 interviews regarding an alleged pay-for-play scheme.  Additionally, an extensive number of documents including, but not limited to, bank records, personal IRS tax documents, telephone records and e-mail messages, were obtained and reviewed as part of that inquiry.  As reflected in the university's November 30, 2010, self-report, it was determined that a violation of amateurism legislation occurred when Mr. Newton's father and an owner of a scouting service [Mississippi State booster and former player Kenny Rogers --ed] worked together to actively market Mr. Newton for compensation.  NCAA Bylaw 12.3.3 prohibits individuals or entities from representing a prospective student-athlete for compensation to a school or athletics scholarship.  It was also determined that Mr. Newton and university representatives were not aware of that activity. Based on the information currently available, the enforcement staff has not substantiated any other violations involving Mr. Newton...

Regarding Mr. Gray... The enforcement staff and the university conducted multiple interviews, including those of Mr. Gray and Mr. Gray's family, friends and others.  Ultimately, Mr. Gray's allegations were not substantiated, and in some instances were disputed by others...

Regarding Mr. McClover, Mr. Ramsey and Mr. Reddick... even though the enforcement staff made several attempts to interview those individuals, they refused to cooperate.  Therefore, the allegations made during the HBO show have not been substantiated...

The enforcement staff appreciates the university's cooperation in these matters.  If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me.  Thank you.

Sincerely, Jackie A. Thurnes, Associate Director of Enforcement

Pete Thamel (hey Pete, NOW we know it's over), Thayer Evans, Joe Schad, Mark Schlabach, Chris Low, Spencer Hall, Matt Hinton, Danny Sheridan, Paul Finebaum, Dan Mullen, Megan Mullen, Urban Meyer, Jody Wright and a host of other goons who did their damnedest to do to Auburn off the field what Auburn did to their teams on the field in 2010 were not immediately available for comment.

So: despite the uncountable amounts of ink, pixels and bandwidth spent predicting doom upon the Plains, there will be no probation. There will be no vacations, no forfeits, no returned trophies, and no asterisks. The 2010 season will remain what it always was: glorious.

Boys, you can pick up your crow at Cam's house. He'll be glad to serve it to you... at high velocity.

Monday, October 10, 2011

New at Rivals: Similar Feelings to '09

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

Years ago, inimitable football-analyst-emeritus Beano Cook observed of the Arkansas Razorbacks, "They're like the Russian Army: terrible on the road, unbeatable at home."

That hasn't always been the case for Auburn, which was actually one game over .500 in Fayetteville going into Saturday, but the Tigers' long collapse against the Razorbacks still felt equally familiar and frustrating.

For what seemed like the umpteenth time (although AU has only lost 9 games to Arkansas in its history), the Hogs exposed every missing piece in the Tigers' squad, and left the visitors to slog home with more questions than answers.

One much-asked question that did get answered Saturday night was, "Why aren't they letting Kiehl Frazier throw the ball?" The answer--obvious then and now--is, "Because you don't do that to a true freshman." Frazier is a tremendous football player, but he's also five months removed from high school. As his last couple of series showed, calling on him to outfox grown men in an SEC secondary, on the road, is at least a year premature.

Watching the offense struggle Saturday night brought on a strong sense of deja vu from the last time the Tigers tripped over their tails in Arkansas, in 2009. Once again, the offense lacked any resemblance of a downfield passing threat, allowing the Hogs to key on the running game in the early downs and pin their ears back on obvious passing downs.
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Monday, October 03, 2011

New at Rivals: Chicken Soup for the Auburn Soul

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

The defense that couldn't get Utah State off the field allowed only two third-down conversions against Carolina. The secondary that had spent four games with its backs to the line of scrimmage suddenly turned around to look for the football, allowing only nine completions and reeling in two interceptions. Linemen and linebackers who'd been diving at feet and clutching at air were now wrapping up and gang-tackling, holding the remarkable Marcus Lattimore well below the century mark for the third time in 12 months.

To call it a turnaround would constitute a landmark of understatement. How completely bottled up was South Carolina? This much: Prior to their last, desperation drive, the Gamecocks snapped the ball in Auburn territory exactly once; although to be fair, that one play was Lattimore's only notable run of the day, the 15-yard third quarter touchdown scamper through most of the AU defense.

The rest of the day, Carolina was playing with their backs in close proximity to their own end zone, and while the Tiger defense can take justifiable pride in keeping the Gamecocks backed up, I'd wager they don't have a bit of a problem in complementing the stellar day had by punter Steven Clark and his special teams compatriots.

Carolina had exactly one kick return (and it was on a kickoff) the entire game. For old-line Auburn, having suffered through the ridiculous surrendered yardage and points of September, play and numbers like that were a soothing tonic.
 The rest is on the subscription side.  Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.