Monday, September 29, 2008

Monday knee-jerk: I am trying so, so hard to be happy

Rememberin' the good times, back in the first quarter when things were swell.

It's true: when you follow the ol' college wellness class instruction to take a deep breath and let go of the infuriating failure of the Spread Eagle, the placekicking, the quarterback situation, and those repulsive boos as you slowly exhale, Auburn has given us reasons to be satisfied, reasons to be happy, even, with the win over Tennessee Saturday.

For starters, for all of the Lifetime-quality drama we've gotten from the offense and the separation and eventual reconciliation of Khrisodi Burn-Stodd, five games into the season Auburn's record is 4-1. If in July you expected them to come out of this little two-week jaunt against LSU and Tennessee better than 1-1, you probably also expected Ed McMahon to stop by with your giant novelty check by now for subscribing to Self.

There's the fact that Auburn's defense may be human, but only just so; however intent Jonathan Crompton and the Vol offense may have been at taking careful aim at their own third metatarsal and firing away, it's still fair to label their effort Herculean. It's one thing to keep a blind squirrel from finding more than a single nut, it's another to do it when the offense keeps tossing the squirrel into the damn Planters factory. Sure, there's not much doubt that given the current state of the offense Auburn could lose to anyone on the schedule, but I also don't have any doubt that with this defense Auburn can beat anyone on the schedule. Where there are Markses and Powerses and Colemans and backups who are Josh Byneses, there is hope, and nothing will change that.

Kodi Burns is getting snaps and will continue to get snaps. This is a Step in the Right Direction.

If you keep looking, you can keep finding positives. Mathematics has no gripe with Auburn's SEC West chances, such as they are, not when LSU still all three of the other members of the conference's consensus top four remaining on the schedule. Auburn's ranking is still, somehow, some way*, holding steady inside the country's top 15. As baby buzzard-ugly as both the Mississippi St. and Tennessee wins were, neither one was a statistical fluke--Auburn outgained both. Durst is back and still a revelation. The fumbles have been cut out. Tommy Tuberville is still the Auburn head football coach and no one is expecting a single damn thing from his team anymore, which is generally when Tommy Tuberville does his best work.

And surely, surely, oh please dear God, the offense cannot get any worse. It cannot. It must improve. It will improve. The laws of Nature and logic and statistical probability and all that desperate jazz demand it. Don't they?

I don't know. Probably not. They can only mean so much when sure first-down passes go whizzing directly through the hands of your senior wide receiver. There's only so much improvement to be made when the starting quarterback's arm is clearly, obviously, glaringly shot to pieces and his ability to make up for this with his "legs" is "utterly nonexistent." There are only so many points Auburn can score when it becomes necessary for an offense this rickety to put the ball in the end zone each and every time they reach opposing territory, what with field goals no longer a viable option.

You can only be so happy when after five weeks of his inaugural season, the new offensive coordinator talks about how much he's taking out of the playbook as opposed to how much he's adding in, only so happy when on the same day your team wheezes to a two-point victory over the only team on the planet more discombobulated on offense than your own, your team's archrival goes on the road and tears one of the best teams in the country into tiny, quivering shreds. There's only so much optimism to scrape together when the offensive line that was supposed to hold the unit together while the skill guys worked out the kinks is causing the rot from the inside out, one false start at a time.

And, of course, you can only expect them to work so hard to get better when thousands of their own fat-assed fans choose to honor the hard work they've put in to this point, the countless hours they've spent, sacrifices they've made, etc. by booing the hell out of them.

So, yeah, I'm trying to remember the good things. I'm exhaling nice and slow and repeating Vanderbilt's yardage deficits to myself. But there's only so much good that will do when Auburn seems so irretrievably stuck in the good-but-not-great rut they've been in since New Year's Day 2006, when the only thing that would redeem that monotony--an Iron Bowl victory--seems to grow less and less likely every week.

Yes, I have hope. Yes, I have belief. But only so much of it these days.

Three Stars

Wait ... I have to have three?

Josh Bynes. There are many, many things I would like to go back in time and make a wager on--$100 on "Lee Corso will predict Alabama will defeat Georgia on the road and be correct" would probably have turned a tidy profit--but I bet I could have gotten some hella good odds on "Tray Blackmon will become arguably Auburn's second-best middle linebacker" in the preseason. That's not to say I think Blackmon ought to lose his starting job, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't face facts: Bynes made more of an impact Saturday than Blackmon has in any game this season.

The secondary, collectively. Crompton played as poor a game at quarterback as you can possibly play without being intercepted, but it wasn't entirely by accident, not when you've got Tennessee's more-than-serviceable crop of receivers and you finish averaging 2.8 yards per passing attempt. Powers, Etheridge, McNeil, McFadden, Thorpe: we salute you.

Clinton Durst. Not eye-popping numbers in Saturn V's return (43.7 a kick gross, 36.1 net, no fair catches), but a shank on any single punt in the fourth quarter would have meant a field goal try at least and quite possibly defeat no matter how stoutly the defense held. A shank might have even been sorta forgivable, given that we're talking about a guy who's playing his fourth-ever career football game and the first one at home with anything approaching this kind of pressure. The shank never came anyway.

Three opportunities for improvement

Placekicking. This team as currently constructed simply cannot afford to have a liability at placekicker. Unfortunately, that hasn't kept Wes Byrum from officially becoming a liability. 3-of-7 from 20-45 yards is not good enough. It's not even really close to good enough.

Hmmmmmmm, maybe the passing. The run game sort of secretly picked up a bit this week--I know that overall 2.6 per-carry mark is uggggggggly, but Tate and Fannin combined for 93 yards on 23 carries, up over 4 a pop--but the passing game that looked so worthwhile against LSU went face-first into the toilet this week. As in "4.4 yards an attempt with a devastating pick" face-first. Take away the one touchdown drive and Todd finishes 10-19 for 51 yards (or 2.68 an attempt). Some of that is drops, some of it is Tennessee's excellent secondary, and I do have some sympathy with the fact that getting yanked and reinserted isn't easy ... but this is still just bad, bad quarterbacking from Todd.

Offensive line penalties. On Auburn's first five possessions alone, the Tigers were flagged for three false starts and two holds. As if the rest of the offense needed the extra degree-of-difficulty just to make it challenging. Cripes.

Numbers of importance

7, 47, 6.7. Number of offensive touches for Mario Fannin, number of yards gained on those touches, and the average gain on those touches. Please please please let the talk this week about his shoulder just now getting truly healthy be true, because if our offensive coaching staff didn't realize "Hey, this guy's pretty good, why don't we try getting the ball in his hands and see what happens" until this week--or if this becomes a one-game fluke as opposed to a trend--I can't imagine it's a positive sign.

7. Consecutive combined three-and-outs for both teams in the fourth quarter. I'd always wondered what it would look like if you could somehow translate the 1990 World Cup into a game of college football, and now I know.**

4.04; 6. Todd's and Burns's yards-per-pass attempt, respectively. Make of it what you will.

Your bottom line

All those who looked at the 2008 schedule over the summer and thought "That Vanderbilt game could very well prove to be the one that defines Auburn's season" raise your hand. That's what I thought. And you there, in the back: either you misheard me or you're a liar.

Nonetheless, that's where we are. If Auburn can get out of Nashville with their hide intact, it seems pretty gosh-darned likely they'll be able to survive the catastrophic Hogs at home (as if Tubby's willingness to sell his soul for that one didn't make it likely already) and escape into their bye week at 6-1. From there the road trips to Morgantown and Oxford will each be a colossal pain-in-the-arse, but Auburn will at least have extra preparation time for both. IF the Tigers win Saturday, it will seem entirely possible (if not likely, exactly, depending on how close Franklin appears to solving the offensive woes) that the Tigers will head into Amen Corner 9-1 and maybe even in control of their SEC West destiny.

Lose Saturday, and of course all of those wonderful dreams dissipate as quickly as the one you had this morning, just before you woke up, where Auburn won a big SEC game by more than the skin of their teeth.

*That way is called "Wake Forest losing to Navy and East Carolina falling apart."

**I'm well aware that like two people will get this, and I do apologize to the rest of you, but I really think those two people will be like "Oh, dude, totally."


bovinekid said...

I think your "booing the hell out of [the team]" comment is intellectually dishonest. And this fact bothers me a lot, mostly because 1) every media source, from the AP, to bloggers, to callers on local radio shows are mentioning how the "fans booed the team" and 2) whilst sitting in the stadium hearing the boos, I knew this would happen even though it's not true.

The simple FACT is that fans were booing the coaches/playcalling, not the players. And it's hard to blame them during what was probably the most poorly managed game I've ever seen. When the OC is calling plays apparently designed to milk the clock rather than pick up first downs with 8 minutes left in the game and only a 2 point lead from his own 10 yard line, and continues to do this for 2-3 consecutive possessions each resulting in a 3-and-out, someone has to let him know this is unacceptable.

I was not one of the people booing, but not because I thought it was inappropriate. I wasn't booing because I knew that the aftermath and reaction would be misinterpreted and I didn't want to contribute to it. (This is the reason I never boo anyone other the the refs; more on this shortly.) With true Auburn fans like yourself reacting the way you are, I can only imagine how the bammers and people like rabble rousers whose names aren't welcome at JCCW will choose to spin it.

I've already heard the "the players don't know who the boos are targeting" argument, and I'm afraid it doesn't fly. When we boo the refs for a questionable pass interference call, does the DB know we're booing the call and not him for committing a stupid penalty? Unless he's David Irons, he does. My point is supported by Tony Franklin's comment in today's Birmingham News that he deserved the boos. Clearly, even on the field, it is obvious where the boos are being directed. To argue to the contrary is disingenuous.

Sullivan013 said...

I too went looking for solace on Sunday. I thought I had it, if only for a moment. I looked at the stats for the last four UT possessions and gleefully saw a quarterback go 0 for 6 and an offense with a net gain of 12 yards for 12 plays.

Beautiful! Outstanding! Praise Rhoads' name to the far ends of the world!

Then I looked at Auburn's last four possessions NOT COUNTING the obligatory losses from the 'victory formation.' Same 12 plays....

10 net yards. Only the broken last game-saving pass for a first down by Burns kept the offense (and Auburn's fortunes) from being completed dead.

Other depressing numbers from the statiscal record. According to the number of punts (a somewhat unusual but fair measure of offensive production) in the SEC, we've beaten the only two other teams with anywhere close to the number of punts per game that we have - MSU and UT. We have 35 in five games, or an average of seven drives per game that did not even reach field goal range. Alabama, Florida and LSU average 4 per game.

Please let Vandy be our saving grace once again. Let the mojo of the first two quarters at Vandy be our season turning point
(2001, 2003).


Jerry Hinnen said...

BK, I'm going to rewatch the second half probably first thing tomorrow, but I feel fairly certain the first time I remember hearing the boos over the CBS broadcast clearly was when Todd missed Fannin on the little swing pass to bring up fourth down. You're telling me as Todd and the offense walk off the field and hear a cascade of boos--again, clear as a bell over the TV--that they're assuming those are meant for Franklin rather than on them for not converting the third down? No way. And even if they are making that assumption--you're telling me they're still going to feel peachy keen for having been the reason their new (and by every account I've read, likeable) coach has just gotten a resounding round of boos? Again: don't buy that for a second. If you're frustrated with the coaches and leaving a comment at a blog or a message board doesn't cut it, you act like a grown-up and write the administration a letter instead of taking the chance you're going to take your frustration out on the kids on the field.

I may write more about this this week, but there's no excuse for booing at a college game. None. We're not Alabama fans and I really wish we'd act like it.

Jerry Hinnen said...

Sully: yeah, it's not encouraging. I'm sorta hopeful that the pattern of poor offensive performance / better offensive performance will repeat itself in Nashville and then, uh, stop after that.

Acid Reign said...

.....I have to agree with Jerry. Don't boo. Just don't! They were booing Todd. No doubt. And Franklin, too. Just don't do it!

auburn guy said...

jerry i don't like the booing so much either but its just a reality of modern day college football. you mention the distinction between us and the bammers -- i think that one reason the au nation is so overwhelmingly frustrated is that we've been subjected to the incessant yammering of the bammers ever since $aban came on board and we were so looking forward to having something special at auburn this year. now, rather than steamrolling our way to atlanta our offense is pretty much the laughingstock of college football. it is bringing out the worst in people.

either way, i think the players can probably figure out where the boos are directed.

also, best way to not get booed is to not suck.

The Pigskin Pathos said...

I was sitting in the student section and the boos seemed to radiate from there. I personally did not boo, and made sure my friends didn't, but what can you do, we are an increasingly impatient generation.

"The simple FACT is that fans were booing the coaches/playcalling, not the players."

I like the use of caps lock, but I find your intentions to be disingenuous. The students in my section were booing Chris Todd. Especially in the 4th quarter. And even more especially after the missed 3rd down swing pass to Mario Fannin.

Some people were booing Franklin and the playcalling I am sure, but the drunk frat guys and those lovely girls that wear sun dresses (God bless them) were booing Chris Todd.

Joe Blow said...

To those who are surprised by the conservative play-calling late in the game, where have you been during Tuberville's tenure!?! Hasn't that been the same dance over the years? Unless there's nothing anyone can do to slow down the offense (see 04), Tuberville is going to put on the breaks when he has the lead. I don't like that style of play too much, but you can't really argue with results. And you have to admit, it keeps you on the edge of your seat until the final whistle.

cost per head said...

I have to admit hat you are looking into the bright side of things. They are doing good but they should be doing better.