Sunday, November 11, 2007

Blindsided

What ... the hell?



I don't even know how I'm supposed to react to a loss like that. Auburn claws back from 17-3 down, we're up 20-17 and have the Dawgs in second-and-long deep in their own territory, and in what seems like the blink of an eye it's yet another outright embarrassment to add to Tubby's annually-increasing stockpile of them.

It all happened so fast, even after sleeping on it, I'm left to wonder what the appropriate response is. I figure my choices are:

1) Orson-style unholy stream of profanity. (Seriously, don't click there unless you are over the age of 18 and un-offended by pornographic references to Wilford Brimley.)

2) Joining the Wolverine fans a few blocks over in downing buckets o' alcohol.



3) Zen-like acceptance of Georgia's sudden buzzsaw-like properties, a toss of the hands in the air, a quick "Well, what can you do?" and a 23rd review of the 'Bama highlights with an eye towards two weeks from now.

4) Uncontrolled sobbing.

5) Cold and calculated heads-"will almost certainly"-roll rage.

I think in the end I'm going with 6) All of the Above. I'll give Georgia credit: they dominated our purported impregnable-or-just-short defense, particularly up front. Their running back is the second coming of Cadillac, at the minimum. Their quarterback throws a perfectly-thrown bomb for each of his occasional bubbleheaded mistakes. If there's any slightest glimmer of a silver lining from this abomination, it's that it came at the hands of a very good team.

But Auburn's beaten (or at the very least challenged) oodles of very good teams--and very good Georgia teams--over the course of Tubby's tenure. A performance like Saturday's over the final 25 minutes is flat unacceptable and it's even less acceptable--into, like, the negative realms of accpetability--given that the exact same thing happened in this game last season.

What specifically fell below the level of acceptability yesterday? Oh, so many things:

--Evil Brandon was back and as lethal as ever. I was deeply troubled when that very first pass was a solid yard behind an intended receiver who was well-covered to begin with; when Cox threw a gentle, friendly, "Please pick me! I'm ever so tempting!" 3rd-and-9 lob squarely off his back foot into the middle of the field on the second-quarter touchdown drive (that it happened to fall into the arms of Billings was 100% pure USDA-approved luck) I knew Auburn would need the sort of miracles it took to get the Tigers into OT vs. USF. Such miracles don't happen twice in a season.

--Four consecutive second-half drives for Georgia went thusly: 4 plays, 68 yards, touchdown; 6 plays, 48 yards, touchdown; 3 plays, 65 yards, touchdown; 9 plays, 59 yards, touchdown. 10.9 yards (10.9 yards!) a play over that stretch. Ye gods. Georgia also finished 8-of-13 on third down conversions, half of them 7 yards or longer, and converted on 2nd-and-18 and 2nd-and-11 as well. How on earth was this the same defense we saw against USF, Arkansas, Ole Miss, etc.? How?

--Three sacks and another half-dozen hurries, average 2.4 yards-per-rush against the same defense that Troy torched the week before. 216 total yards. 216! 216! Unbelievable (and quite fortunate) Auburn even got 20 on the board. 18 first downs, sure, but Auburn couldn't have provided a better small-play visual counterpoint to Georgia's big-play success if they'd tried. Auburn's longest play from scrimmage covered 17 yards; Georgia has seven plays longer than that. A miserable offensive performance.

--The lack of big play ability was shared by the Auburn defenders. One sack, the one pick, a fumble recovery long after the game had been decided. The style of buttoned-down offense Auburn runs means that the defense and special teams (irrelevant at best again, Byrum excluded) must provide the big plays. Didn't happen. Not for the first time this year, I might add.

--As Jay pointed out, there was not even a fraction of Georgia's fire on the opposite sideline. Pulling a Blackout stunt the day Auburn comes into Athens should have been reason for our team to react with bile and spittle and rage. Instead they reacted with a shrug of the shoulders and tackled Moreno six yards downfield again.

The bottom line is that this cannot, cannot, cannot go on. I say "go on" because this is two years now that our offense has flopped and thrashed its way about the field and only occasionally falling into scores; two years now our defense has looked like the '86 Bears one week and the Bad News Bears (um, the football kind) the next. The progress of 2004 and 2005--when this same quarterback led our offense to 506 yards and our defense ravaged a good team for 11 sacks a week later--is over. The 33-5 run is over. Oh, there was hope in the games at Florida and LSU, but after Saturday, it's safe to say Auburn is back to 2003 and the previous roller coaster years until further notice.

That notice will not come two weeks from now, but a) it could be a step in the right direction, I suppose b) who cares. It's the Iron Bowl. Alabama. Saban. The Tide.

This is the good news for Auburn. They will have two weeks to salvage the season, to make it something other than a terrific win over Florida, the promise of which went unfulfilled, and six other empty victories. With a win over the Tide, 2007 won't exactly be a smashing success, but it will at least be something of value, the kind of season that perhaps one day we look back on as a necessarily cruel stepping stone to better things. And the season, of course, Auburn beat the Tide for a sixth straight year, something worth celebrating a whole off-season all by itself.

Such is the importance of the Iron Bowl that not only do I feel unsure of the proper reaction to the Georgia loss, I feel that reaction isn't even complete. Prelude to the most painful loss of Tubby's tenure? Or maddeningly difficult one-off in a season-ending surge? We don't know. And I feel the same about Tubby, his coaching staff, Cox, Groves and the other defensive seniors: we don't know. The most important part of the story is yet to be written.

We'll find out in two weeks. They promise to be the longest two weeks this football program has endured since ... you know, I'm not sure of that either.

12 comments:

TideDruid said...

Nothings better than an Iron Bowl between two 7-4 teams.... right?

Acid Reign said...

    What a stinker game! I couldn't sleep afterwards. I sat up till 3 AM analyzing it, while downing somewhere around 30 shots of Cuervo. The good liquor helped not at all. This was a terrible, terrible performance. I've only sat through two worse in my 47+ years: both in Gainesville. There was the 48-7 1990 debacle, and the 51-10 1996 tank-job. 1996 was marginally excusable, against a national champion Gator team. We had exactly two scholarship defensive lineman available for that game. Again, in 1990, both our line and secondary were suspect. This year, how in God's name did Josh Thompson, SenDerrick Marks, Quentin Groves and especially Pat Sims, play so horribly? Kudos to Antonio Coleman, for going it alone. He was the absolute lone bright spot for the D.

    We absolutely tanked. Gave up. Quit. Unless we're saving it all for a massive explosion against the Tide, it's inexcusable.

    I've been giving Al Borges the benefit of the doubt for a long time, now, and I've frankly been a bit irritated at his critics. Upon further review last night, I'm going to have to jump on that wagon. Our offense is a mess. Has been a mess. Without huge, veteran receivers, it's probably the most inept unit in the SEC. We can't adequately use our young stars, because Al's got us bogged down in formations, shifts, procedure, and useless shell games. Guys have to pass the 4th semester of calculus-level playbook, before they're allowed maybe one chance every four games to make a play.

    Case in point: Mario Fannin. He's probably our most electric, speedy player on offense. We've been working for two weeks prior, setting him up, getting him in different positions, using his ability to exploit defenses. This week, he had two touches, one went for a touchdown. Two touches. They didn't even use him as a decoy. End around thing? No fakes, no gives, nothing. Didn't even run it. After Borges coaching Brandon Cox for FOUR YEARS, we have unnecessary sacks, throws up for grabs and no one allowed to throw the ball more than 20 yards downfield. Georgia played safety Kelin Johnson in the box most snaps. Borges/Cox never recognized it, never tried to exploit it.

    Meanwhile, Richt understands that it starts with the toss sweep, and the 5-yard hitch. If they can't stop those, run 'em all day. Auburn DID decide to stop the hitch, so Richt dialed up vertical routes all day. Parade-o-touchdowns. Borges was still running endless shifts, lackluster runs up the middle most first downs, or a 25-level quarterback progression. We wasted pretty decent protection. Awful. Maybe that junk works in the PAC-10, where no one can tackle, but in the SEC, we're last. We're worse than the Croom offense. It's bad, folks.

    So where are we left? If we lose the Iron Bowl, recruiting will fall into the toilet this year. What's most alarming is that we've successfully recruited nobody at QB since Jason Campbell 8 years ago. Sure, we've got some ok guys. We don't have a big-time SEC guy, though. No Ainge. No Woodson. No Tebow. No Stafford.

    Kodi Burns? Well, maybe. He's got a world of talent. Will he ever master the encyclopedic Borges playbook? He's sure struggling now. He's thinking too much, and has lost his fundamentals. It's pretty criminal how it's gone for him, this fall. He's out there running basically two plays against SEC defenses. That's an 18-year-old being thrown to the dogs. If he's not a basket case by now, I'm shocked. The way it's going, Burns is going to be wasted. They're going to decide he can't handle it, and he's going to be transferred to the scout team secondary, to either toil in obscurity for his entire career, or to transfer elsewhere. Boy, I so hope I'm wrong about all of this, but...

    You can run a successful offense with 6 routes, and a good running game, if you have lineman and a strong arm. This complication has helped nothing. Come on, Al. We want better!

    Frankly, we're at the mercy of John Parker Wilson, this Iron Bowl. He's a Jeckle and Hyde guy, just like Brandon Cox. If Wilson hits his throws, we'll get a result like 2001. We've got to be a LOT better with our front 4, and force him into some mistakes. Bama's not terrible strong up front on D, but they mask it by bringing a lot of people. We won't be able to just pound it. It's up to Brandon Cox not to be evil, and Al HAS to dial up a package that can exploit suspect safeties and linebackers. Bama's two starting corners are good. I'm just not very confident, right now. A combination of Good J. P. Wilson and Evil Brandon could well produce the worst Iron Bowl blowout in history.

    And folks, that's where we are now. Time for some soul-searching...

Mark said...

Great post. But here's a question:

How to reconcile the return of 2003-style "roller coaster years" (and I totally agree, by the way) with all the talk of Tubs going to A&M or somewhere else? Why would anyone want him, especially with his high price tag, when 33-5 is looking increasingly like an anomaly and 2001-03 is looking like the future?

The whole drumbeat of Tubs leaving has confused me from the start.

Your thoughts?

Mark said...

(For the record, "great post" applied to Jerry's original blog post, not acid reign's comment above.)

Why blame Borges when it's clear the real problem is Tubs' instinctive conservatism?

Four different offensive coordinators have displayed the same questions: An irrational obsession with ineffective short runs and a refusal to take downfield shots. Over such a long stretch of time, players change, so it's not about the players. And the OCs have changed too, so it's not about them.

The offensive problems are familiar, and they were even a problem at times in 2004, when a truly awesome defense bailed the offense out several times.

In short, blame Tubs! Take the good with the bad, etc.

Acid Reign said...

    While I named Al Borges, I do recognize that his hands may be tied. Tied or not, Tuberville, as head coach, is ultimately responsible. As I said, we've not recruited an all-SEC type QB since 2000/Campbell, and no all-SEC type receivers since the 2002 foursome. Recruiting responsibility HAS to go back to the head coach. Absolutely rght, Mark.

    If nothing else, we've sure gotten a different spin on the Tubs to TAMU situation. If they watched, they have to be having second thoughts. That showing in Athens may have been VERY costly for TT!

Sullivan013 said...

Granted, the 4th quarter stunk up the place. UGA came to play, and Auburn didn't seem to want to after going down for two scores for the second time.

But stop the back biting long enough to realize the facts: This is a young team, with lots of freshmen and sophomores. Our projected finish was around 8-4 by the most optimistic pre-season pundits. Our road schedule was considered the hardest path in the SEC this year.

This is the first loss that did NOT go down to the last play. Given a break or two like last year and this team could just as easily have been 9-2 or even 10-1.

Quit whining.

Tuberville and Borges are still good coaches. Brandon Cox is still as good as his record shows. Our defense is still tough and this team can still win and win big in the Iron Bowl. Like 11 sacks on Brodie Croyle big.

They're certainly hungry enough.

War Eagle!

Chip said...

I totally disagree with the assessment that we've not recruited any "All-SEC" quarterbacks since JCam. You can argue that we've not developed an All-SEC QB, but Brandon Cox was coveted by Spurrier at FL and had offers from us, UF, and LSU. Neil Caudle and Kodi Burns were also highly thought of. And people also seem to forget that until Jason's last season he hadn't exactly lived up to his billing.

Cox just never developed into the quarterback most thought he would be. He's a solid quarterback, but not a game changer. Whether this is the result of his muscle disease, or just the best he can be is pretty irrelevant at this point. One thing you can't fault Brandon for is a lack of heart. The kid has balls of steel.

Between Cox/Caudle, we signed Kelcy Luke, Calvin Booker, and Blake Field. I don't think Luke was signed with the intention of him staying at qb. Booker was a bit of a project, and ended up transferring (to Ga Tech I think), and for Field who knows.

The only real glaring hole I see in our qb recruiting is our lack of signing a blue chipper in the '05 signing class. You would think that coming off the 13-0 season and Jason graduating that we would have been able to sign a top qb. I don't remember who (if any) we were in on that year but if we'd gotten a quality qb in the '05 class (or if Caudle weren't as fragile an 80 year-old woman with osteoporosis) we wouldn't have had to burn a year of Burns' eligibility.

I'm not really sure what the problem is. The offense seems to need a total overhaul, which is not something that is going to happen between now and kick-off against bammer. The offensive line has played pretty well. The running backs are above average. two areas that leave me perplexed are the disappearance of Gabe McKenzie and Mario Fanin. McKenzie looked like he was developing into a legit weapon early on, but he has disappeared. Has he even caught a pass in the last 5 games? It would seem those little drag routes to the TE would be a high percentage play we'd want to run more often. Our TEs (well, Gabe anyway) are big and athletic and would be a mismatch against safeties and OLBs. And Fanin has been persona non grata since Lester has come back. It seems like the coaches recognize his potential, but he still doesn't get any touches.

Buford T. Justice said...

Were you really blindsided? Honestly? I think I saw it posted somewhere that about every eight games, we have a blowout loss (loss by more than 17 points). Since the Georgia game last year, it hadn't happened, so we were due. And yes, I understand the sentiment that we all thought we were past that phase.

I really can't add anything that hasn't already been said. Defense stunk. Offense stunk. Special teams stunk. Coaching stunk. I think fatigue was a factor and the way the fourth quarter went down bears that out. I really thought when we clawed back to take a 20-17 lead we might actually pull it out.

I'm still perplexed by the offense. We struggle to do much over ten yards. The West Coast offense isn't designed to have a huge vertical passing element. However, what Borges did in 2004 contained that element. I still come back to inadequate arm strength from Cox and poor wide receiver play. And the blame is shared by players and coaches alike. The coaches haven't developed those wide receivers and the players aren't executing properly. Yeah there isn't much Cox can do about his arm strength, but he could improve his decision making. Although, I think he is just trying to do too much. And hey, I'm not blaming the guy for anything, he has been a warrior. He just lacks the arm strength to consistently deliver the football past 15 yards down the field. It really is as simple as that. Well that little fact combined with the reluctance to go to anyone else because of experience.

And yes, Jerry, I’m waiting on the offensive explosion that I have predicted all season long. Please, please, please, let it be against Alabama and not against Wake Forest in the Peach Bowl.

Richard said...

I'm still recovering from that. Jerry, your points are right on the money. That game was the Hindenburg all over again. But when I go back and think some more about what I witnessed (not a pleasant thing to do, so after this post, I'm not doing it anymore), the crash-and-burn in the 3rd qtr should not have been a surprise. We played consistently badly that entire game and much of the credit for the 20 we did manage to put on the board goes to Georgia shooting themselves in the foot with penalties.
JC was right when he said 'this team has issues'. I'm just not sure what they are. Yes they are young, but they've shown before they can overcome that. The Tubby/A&M rumors? Maybe, if that was keeping him from focusing on getting this team ready, it could make sense. Then there is CWM's freaky record against Georgia, that JC points out. Not making conspiracy theory style accusations here, just saying. Why did our defense totally collapse, when they have been the one bright spot for us all season?
This team just isn't improving as the season goes on. Something you had better do in the SEC. It's 2 steps forward and 3 steps back.
Well, I'm going with reaction option 3 for now. 'Well, what can you do?'. I've been thru 3 of the other 4 already (we don't have many Wolverines in SC).

War Eagle!

SCTiger

KennyBanya said...

I am not trying to pile-on our current quarterback, but I think the offense can take big leaps next year (assuming the coaches will let it) once a QB with better than average arm strength is in the game.

Think about what a disadvantage our receivers have - when they get to the line of scrimmage and the guy across from them knows for a FACT that they will not be running a route more than 15 yards. All they really need to do is read the direction of the cut, Rod Smith is going to run a quick out or a quick slant 90% of the time. Cox simply doesn't have the physical tools to keep a CB or Safety honest. As an added bonus, this also crowds the line of scrimmage more and hurts the run game.

The only long completion I remember to a receiver was the 3rd down conversion by Billings. That ball was a borderline hail mary thrown falling backwards. Every other nice passing gain was a weak-side flare pass to the TE.

Sorry, you just can't compete in the modern day SEC with this offense unless you are very very lucky (see 2006).

Tubs, if he's staying, has a big decision to make in the offseason. Focust on re-vamping his offensive philosophy and bringing AU up to speed with the UF, UGA, USC, Oklahoma's of the world (offensively) OR continue his conservative, rely on defense, and try to win the close game with kicking philosophy.

KennyBanya said...

Follow-up:

The winner of the BCS Championship has averaged 35.6 points in the title game since 2000.

You can still win consistently with great defense, I just think its hard to jump to the next level without an explosive offense.

Mark said...

Lots of great points being made here.

One quibble: I don't ever want to take shots at a player or question his heart, and I certainly wouldn't do it with Brandon Cox. But there's ABSOLUTELY no doubt that he's shell-shocked, and has been for a while.

At least a half dozen times against Georgia, and several times in previous games, Cox seems to duck or curl up just after releasing the ball.

That's something I'd be embarrassed to see from a high school quarterback. To see it from a guy every Auburn fan thought was a huge omission from the O'Brian watch list at the start of the season is awful.

If the offense can only go as far as the quarterback, and the quarterback, for all his toughness, isn't mentally strong enough to stand up to the physicality of the game...well, what then?

And anyone who was in the stands for Kodi Burns' game against Tenn. Tech should be very, very, VERY worried about the future at quarterback.