Friday, August 29, 2008

2008 A-U Pre-view: Offense, pros and cons

First: some of this sort of material is already out there on the Interwebs at RollBamaRoll, where I was able to ring Todd up for the SEC blogosphere's first-ever and last-ever podcast in which one of the participants was phoning in from Munising, Michigan. I haven't been able to listen to it, but I'm sure it's chockful of error-y and omission-y goodness. Also I make a really dumb political joke that sounded sharp in my head.

Otherwise, no time for pleasantries: here's 10 reasons Auburn's offense should work this season, ranked in order of least important to most, followed by five it won't.

10. Robert Dunn. Fine, he's in the doghouse. It's just going to make this guy's five consecutive "6 receptions, 110 yards, 1 TD, 77 tackles broken, 4 pints blood shed straining for the first" success in the spread a redemption story instead of a "story." This offense was made for guys who thrive on yards-after-catch, and what Dunn showed at the tail end of last year was that he's ready to YACcity YAC it up all over the place. Work hard and come back to us soon, Robert.

9. Lee Ziemba's Baadassss Song. One knock on the Spread Eagle is that it's too "soft" to work in the SEC. Fortunately, the guy leading the Spread Eagle up front is so hard he damn near ripped the head off of one of his own teammates. This is a less-than-admirable quality when you're practicing and your teammates are the only "opponents" you can find, but now that the guys on the other side of the line are wearing unis of a different color ... well, godspeed, Lee. Somehow I don't think our opponents are going to think of our offense as "soft" once you're through with them.

8. Evil Brandon and the Treacherous Fumblin' Hands of Mario Fannin are no more. Covered to some extent last post, but assuming a) Khrisodi Burn-Stodd doesn't share Evil Brandon's illicit thrill in throwing passes directly to defenders three times a game and that b) whatever disease that caused the skin on Fannin's palms to secrete a greasy, slick substance that made it difficult to maintain a grip on a football has been cured, this offense should turn the ball over less. And thereby, score more.

7. The spread hasn't slipped from the cutting edge yet. There's been some talk this offseason about how the spread won't have any innovative advantage over defenses when everyone's running it, and that might be true to an extent (particularly in the Big 10, where more than half the league is running some version of it) but right now, that's not the environment in the SEC. Florida kinda does. Kentucky kinda does. That's it. This is essentially a brand-new offense being introduced to the conference, and when you look at what some other new and skeptically-received offenses have done in this league (Spurrier's, Borges's, Meyer's though it took Tebow's arrival), there are some pretty big historical reasons for optimism.

6. The hordes at WR. Have you noticed there are 27 different guys or so on Auburn's three-deep at wideout? Maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but between Tommy "Not a blocking tight end, because he's barely a tight end at all anymore" Trott and Fannin listed out there and the endless parade of Tim Hawthorne's, Terrell Zachary's, James Swinton's, and Chris Slaughter's lining up, it sure seems like it. Between Rod Smith, (hopefully) Dunn, and Trott, that's three guys I'd feel comfortable with at wideout--and with so many other candidates available, it seems exceedingly likely at least one or two of them will wind up being the kind of solid contributors Auburn needs to turn the Spread Eagle into something that really does force a defense to defend all parts of the field at all times. (My money's on Hawthorne and Slaughter emerging, for no real reason.)

5. Brad Lester. Or someone else. I've already said I think Brad Lester needs to be The Man at tailback for Auburn: he's the guy with the All-SEC explosiveness, he's the guy who can exploit the spread's seams most effectively, he's the guy who most looks the part of the Auburn Running Back that terrorizes defenses and tears past corners and winds up with his picture in the stadium and all us orange-and-blue folk cheering him on on Sundays. But: if that doesn't happen, there's not a damn thing wrong with a bull like Ben Tate and his five-yards-a-carry, nothing wrong if Mario Fannin's shoulder cooperates enough for him to take handoffs. Hell, there's even the chance the Theory of Tristan Davis could make a reappearance. The point: running back will be a strength. Again.

4. Khrisodi Burn-Stodd. Frankly, I'm surprised I'm not more worried about who's the freaking starting quarterback being a game-time decision. It's a general assumption of mine that if there's a two-man QB battle and neither guy has won, neither guy has been that good. But over and over and over again, Tony Franklin--not a guy who seems the sort to sugarcoat things--has told us it's not a case of the two of them simultaneously shrinking from the challenge; they're simultaneously rising to it. Assuming he and Tubby are being honest, maybe in this case having two starting-quality quarterbacks really does mean two starting quarterbacks rather than none. Just to keep the team's psychology uncomplicated I'd still much rather have a 1A and a 1B guy rather than co-No. 1's, but right now the signs point towards both guys pushing each other to success rather than dragging each other down towards failure.

3. Deep and wide. There could still be a little more, shall we say, "top-end" talent at WR. Unless Lester's even better than we think, there's no Cadillac or James Brooks in the backfield. The two quarterbacks have combined for one start at this level. But this is nonetheless perhaps the deepest Auburn offense I can remember. As I said earlier, there's a dozen receivers who allegedly have enough potential to make an impact. There are three, maybe four guys who could take handoffs without any substantial dropoff. After three years of Auburn being one injury to a statuesque quarterback away from disaster, a QB injury won't cause anything but a momentary flinch. The line, perhaps most importantly, is loaded. As the season grinds on and other teams slow down as their various parts fall by the wayside, this offense should continue to churn along just as effectively--if not moreso--than it will in the season's first few weeks.

2. The line. I'm assuming Chaz Ramsey isn't coming back, but even if he doesn't: four returning starters, two future first-rounders in Ziemba and Green, a senior at center, the two-deep filled completely with guys the coaches rave about and that have game experience, and perhaps Auburn's best position coach overseeing it all. With a new offense and general inexpereince, our QB's and receivers are going to need a little slack from time to time. This line will give it to them, or no line could.

1. Tony Franklin is a smart man. I try to avoid placing blind faith in my team's coaches--it doesn't make for interesting reading, if you ask me, and I'll cop to a certain ingrained cynical streak when it comes to football--but something about Franklin just makes me believe, wholeheartedly, he's going to make this work. This is a coach who was blackballed and worked every angle, every edge, to haul himself up by his bootstraps back into the game and give himself this, his greatest opportunity. He's not going to waste it. He's too resourceful. He's too creative. Yes, there will be unfortunate surprises in store for his offense, shrewd game-planning on the other side of the ball. But I just don't see a coach this determined allowing this offense, his offense to fail.

The Cons, briefly. 1. Khrisodi Burn-Stodd has never been a starting quarterback before, and until they/he are, we have as much idea as to what will happen when they/he are as we do how our television really works. 2. The Spread Eagle will also need to be the Stretch Eagle from time to time and find a way to work the ball downfield--but are any of the wideouts up to this task? Rod Smith was our best deep threat last year, not because of his speed or breakaway acceleration, but just because he could win an occasional jumpball. Someone will need to be a legitimate saftey-worrying threat. 3. General first-year-in-the-offense confusion. It shouldn't be a big problem, given that it ran OK after nine practices against Clemson, but nonetheless we can't expect everything to be smooth as silk in a new OC's first season. 4. Chaz Ramsey's gone, dammit.

and the big one ....

5. How will this offense operate in the red zone? When there's so much less field to spread out, is it really going to be able to shift gears and plow forward for those final six yards on second-and-goal from the, uh, six? I have next-to-no-doubt the Spread Eagle is going to move from 20 to 20 with near-maximum effectiveness. I'm less confident the result of those drives will be consistent touchdowns rather than a parade of Wes Byrum field goals when we're asking James Swinton to block. We'll see.

OK, that's it for now. I get home late tonight and--how needs sleep--will have defense and predictions up first thing tomorrow a.m.

We're almost there. War Eagle.


Anonymous said...

RE: #8

I expect lower INTs on a % basis, but a higher number. More chances to fail and all. Still a net positive, since the same principle applies to completions to the right color jersey as well.

thewareaglereader said...

The Theory of Tristan Davis -- brilliant.