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.

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