Thursday, October 18, 2007

Wish List: LSU

One More Time, Wes.

When Auburn has the ball

1. That Auburn keeps pounding, chipping away. That Cox keeps his head up after one or two bad plays. Statistically speaking, there are no chinks, no flaws, no imperfections in the LSU defensive machine. They allow the fifth-least yards-per-carry in the country. Opposing passers have a lower rating against LSU than any other team in the country. Only Ohio St. allows fewer yards-per-play, period, and what's most impressive about this resum-ay is that it's been compiled playing the likes of Tebow and Woodson and Henig, as opposed to, say, whoever's quarterbacking Minnesota these days. There is no weakness to pinpoint, no magic bullet, against this group. Even looking at the Kentucky game doesn't seem like it'll help much. We're all back on the Cox ... well, it never graduated to "bandwagon" status, did it? Let's say we're all back on the Cox Radio Flyer. But even sitting in our beautiful little red wagon that suddenly accelerates to 60 miles-an-hour with three minutes to play in the game, we're not going to ask our quarterback to throw 38 times. Because he's not going to complete 21 for 3 TDs and, well, isn't a first-round All-American.

But Kentucky did something besides let Woodson rip, and that's the something Auburn can peel from the Wildcat "blueprint"--they stuck with the run, even with no Rafael Little, even with precious little success. They finished 41-135, an average of dead-on three a carry. It wouldn't be accurate to say they exactly "wore down" LSU, either. They rushed six times for four yards in OT.

But they had to keep rushing, because there is no way a one-dimensional offense survives against LSU. Just rush the ball, you're going nowhere (ask Va. Tech). Just pass and you're begging for Sack-Fumble or a pick. Balance is always nice; against a D like LSU's it's mandatory. Even if Tate and Lester keep getting swallowed alive by Dorsey, Borges should keep handing off. Even if Cox slips into early-season inexplicability for a play or two, he should keep taking his shots. Giving up on either the running or passing game is a sure way to give up on the offense as a whole.

Because they have Andre Woodson, Kentucky could get away with throwing the ball 38 times. My hunch is that if they'd asked him to throw it 50-55 times, they might have gained a few more yards, but they'd have watched him get crushed a time or two, get picked one more time, and they'd have lost the game. Balance, balance, balance, Auburn.

A quick little note here about the run game: As good as his reputation is, I'd run right at Tyson Jackson. Look at the right side of the Tigers' d-line: Dorsey has 34 tackles (fifth on the team, a crazy number for a defensive tackle ... by comparison, as well as Pat Sims has played this year, he's 13th on the Auburn list) and right end Kirston Pittman has 40. Jackson, however, and left tackle Marlon Favorite have only combined for 32. Jackson's obviously a great speed rusher, but just coming into this season I'd have told opposing teams facing Auburn to run at Groves, I wonder if some space can be carved out on that side of the line. As with last week: King Dunlap, it's now or never.

2. That Borges leaves nothing in the playbook. For two weeks I've asked to see Kodi Burns do anything other than take the snap and start running around, and we're still waiting. The only reason I haven't been angrier about this--and believe me, when we're talking about wasting a year of a five-star next-Jason-Campbell QB's eligibility to have him run around three times a game, I am starting to grow very angry indeed--is the hope that the Auburn coaching staff has kept him under wraps for this game. Whatever Burns-based tricks we've got, whatever snazzy fake end-arounds or middle screens or flea flicker reverses Borges has stashed away, now's the time to pull them out.

Alabama is, yes, still the most important game on the schedule, but this one is almost certainly Auburn's most difficult. LSU's defense is too good to not have them at least a little worried about the threat of some chicanery. As fantastic a job as they did against Florida and Vandy, our offense is still led by Brandon Cox, will start two true freshman (fantastic as they are) on the offensive line and a hobbled center, and does not possess a deep threat at wide receiver. It's an extension of the first wish, really: If LSU is not kept off-balance, they will grind Auburn's offense to dust.

3. That Auburn commits no turnovers in LSU territory. None.
I wished the opposite against the Gators a couple weeks back, because in the Swamp it was the offense that was the elite unit and had to be given every disadvantage. In Baton Rouge? Every single point is beyond precious. Neither team has scored more than 17 points in regulation in the last three years of this rivalry and given that these may very well be the two best defenses in the country (seriously, look at the total defense rankings, and tell me which teams in the top 15 have faced the slate Auburn and LSU have. Please don't make any comparisons between what Auburn's D did against New Mexico St. and what Boise's did, though. Thanks for your cooperation) I expect that to continue. Despite his Duval-esque hangover last week, Byrum deserves the benefit of the doubt and if trying a 40-yard field goal means running a draw on 3rd-and-14 from the LSU 23, I for one am OK with that. Winning 9-7 games in back-to-back weeks is fine and dandy with me, sir. But if Auburn fumbles inside the 10 again and misses two field goals, or Cox reverts to his USF-era "Screw the dump-off, I'm going for six even though my guy couldn't be more covered if he was a Waffle House hash brown" madness, even nine points will seem like a fairy tale.

Conversely, if Auburn does turn the ball over in our own territory, I kind of like our defense's odds of coming up with a stop and their kicker appears eminently more crappy than ours. Unlike against the Gators, it's more important for the offense to take advantage of short-field opportunities than it is to limit theirs.

I usually stop at three, but one more quick wish for the offense:

4. That Auburn limits three-and-outs.
There's only so much that can be done against that D, but as against Florida, the more time Auburn milks off the clock the less involved that nutzoid crowd gets and the fewer possessions each team gets and the more random bounces of the ball matter and the less time LSU's overall talent and experience advantage--yes, it's there ... aside from running back and probably kicker, which of LSU's units isn't at least equal to Auburn's in pure ability? more on this in a second--gets to pay off. 1-for-13 on third down isn't going to cut it this week. I don't expect Auburn to go on the sort of 80-yard marches they pulled off against Florida, but the defense has to at least get a first down's worth of wind-sucking on the bench or the burden of winning this game--which certainly falls on them--will wear them down.

When Auburn is on special teams

5. That whoever punts for Auburn doesn't suck this week.
I don't think I have to go in-depth about how important field position is in a 13-7ish game; it's a lesson I think we all learned in vivid color against Miss. St. Losing 10 yards of it every time we drop back to punt is unacceptable.

When LSU has the ball

6. That if the game's throat is available, Auburn seizes it. It happened again last week. An opposing quarterback threw directly into the arms of a member of the Auburn secondary--I think it was Etheridge--with nothing but wide open spaces and six glorious points in front of him. And the ball slipped to the turf.

I would guess I'm more forgiving of these kinds of plays than most fans. Defenders aren't necessarily expecting to have the ball thrown at them, they don't have the hands of their offensive counterparts, a ball that slips through their fingers usually means that they were in the correct position and did something very right even if they didn't add the proverbial cherry on top.

This week? If the opportunity arises those plays must be made. Getting six points of our defense--hell, just getting the opportunity to kick a field goal--in a first-to-17-wins game would go beyond the terminology of "big play" and "huge" and most likely go straight to "play that determines the outcome of both team's seasons." The best news is that based on Matt Flynn's play against a Kentucky defense nowhere near Auburn's capabilities--try 17-35 for 130, a mindblowingly-awful 3.7 yards per attempt that doesn't take an ugly pick and three sacks into account--the opportunity for that kind of play will be there. Make it, Auburn.

BONUS 7. That they come after Flynn. I'm not always the biggest fan of blitzing. Do it against any halfway decent QB, don't get there, and either he's off and running through broken contain or he's found someone in man-to-man. With Doucet back, as good as Powers, Lee, and Wilhite have been, the little red "DANGER" light is going to be blinking any time more than four Tigers cross the line.

But Muschamp should bring the heat anyway. As mentioned, LSU gave up three sacks to Kentucky--the same Kentucky that recorded zero against a Florida Atlantic team that threw just as often. Tulane--Tulane!--got to Flynn six times. I might not say the same were the game on the Plains, but Auburn's defense doesn't just need to hold LSU down in this game. They need to help the offense. And as vulnerable as LSU's pass protection has looked in recent weeks, forcing Flynn into panic mode (or just applying the Josh Freeman Heimlich Maneuver) looks like the most convenient way to force the turnovers that will accomplish that.

Closing thoughts

Like Ryan at the Auburner (though maybe not with quite so much the LOL-worthy sputtering rage), I wish LSU had pulled out the Kentucky game, breathed a sigh of relief all week, and arrived Saturday unprepared for how Auburn's defense will hit them. We know now thats' not going to happen.

But this game has become important enough--I daresay with the demise of LSU's traditional rivalries against Texas A&M and Ole Miss, Auburn may be their public enemy No. 1--that I don't think the loss to Kentucky really makes all that much difference. LSU was going to be ready regardless. Auburn was going to be ready regardless.

Which means it comes down to the teams, the coaching staffs, and that soul-destroying edifice and the corndog-scented manimals that inhabit it. Remember: it is the one environment even Tubby, Road Game Mind Ninja, has been unable to figure out.

Both defenses have major advantages over the offenses; I would say LSU's experience on the offensive line, overall talent, and success in running the ball means they match up slightly better vs. our defense than our offense (who really could have used an explosive wideout in a game like this) does vs. theirs. So that's two ways I would give LSU the slimmest of edges.

But Auburn has a trump card. They approach this game as a sizable underdog, with everything at stake, the complete redemption from the Crooming within grasp--and there is no coaching staff in America that has proven itself better at preparing for a game with these kinds of elements at work than Auburn's. No one's. As we all know, Tubby is 9 of 10 against top 10 teams, and here is his chance to erase that one smudge on the record.

I said last time that the odds are long enough that I cannot bring myself to expect him to do it. But I would never, ever, bet against him.

War Eagle.

(Two p.s.'s: One, you should check out And the Valley Shook for your LSU blogging needs. Two, there's one more post to go here before the game, maybe this afternoon, more likely tomorrow a.m. Do check back.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

as my friend Iggy says,
"Squeaky Clean"... good stuff..
I smell corn dogs...