Tuesday, September 09, 2008

SECond look, Week 2

Good omen or Clemson-hangover fluke? Please be the former ...

Man oh man oh man oh man, do I wish Alabama had been playing somebody halfway-decent last weekend. Vanderbilt, let's say. Wouldn't have been weird to play Vandy week 2. Ole Miss. Southern Miss. Hells bells, maybe even Larry Blakeney's band of misfit renegades at Troy.

Because if the Tide had performed the way they performed Saturday against anyone who wasn't, well, Tulane, they'd have lost. Look at this box score: total yards, 318-172, Tulane. First downs, 18-11, Tulane. Total offensive plays, 82-49, Tulane. Yards-per-play, time-of-possession, yards-per-passing-attempt--where the allegedly resurgent J.P. Wilson averaged a hopelessly anemic 3.2 a try, even before you account for the Green Waves' four sacks--all finished in favor of Tulane.

Remember: Tulane. The team that spent a big chunk of its practice week running away from a hurricane. The team that, unlike its opponent, was playing its first game of the season. The team that, by consensus, is headed for a fifth- or sixth-place finish in the C-USA East. I'm telling you: if Auburn had been outgained by 140 yards by Tulane or some other Tulane equivalent (SMU? Akron? *cough* Louisiana-Monroe?), I'd be wearing sackcloth and ashes and at this very moment Tony Franklin would be sitting in the middle of an old-fashioned carnival dunk-tank, but with sharks and alligators and Paul Finebaum waiting for him below and all of Auburn lined up, tickets in hand, to take their shots.

Strangely, though, the widespread response from Tide country seems to be a shrug of the shoulders and a point towards one of their (admittedly somewhat reasonable) excuses: the upheaval along the offensive line, the lack of motivation after the two early special teams TDs, the inevitable letdown after the Clemson win. And it's true that a defense that goes eight quarters without allowing an offensive touchdown probably has something going for it.

But where the sane response at this point is probably something just short of panic, the only honest beacon of sanity out there I've found is (not entirely unsurprisingly) RBR, where Todd takes a clear view of the numbers and writes:
Overall it was a disappointing display, and the Girl summed up the mood at my place Saturday night best when she said "It feels like we lost." The hard truth here is that we easily could have and probably should have.
Please, somebody: show me the last SEC champion (or even divisional champion) who you could make a completely legitimate argument "probably should have" lost during the season to a team of the caliber of Tulane, for any reason. You could make an argument that it's the second coming of the ULM loss, but there's a problem with that: Alabama was actually nearly 300 net yards better in that loss to the Warhawks than they were against the Green Wave. Yes, there's the Clemson win to consider when evaluating the Tide, but there was the Tennessee blowout to think about last year, too, wasn't there?

To be clear, I'm in no way writing off the Tide's chances; given the shock-and-awe of Week 1, the absence of Andre Smith and Marlon Davis on Saturday, and sheer forward momentum from what was unquestionably an, ahem, productive offseason, it's possible Alabama's going to be just that schizophrenic. A near-loss to Tulane and an SEC title could happen in the same season, certainly. But after Saturday, if it happens, it'll be a much bigger surprise than it was the week before.

Attention Rich Brooks: the reason your team is not ranked is because your offense gained around 17 yards in Week 1 and you played Norfolk St. in Week 2. This isn't really so difficult to figure out, is it?

This isn't going to be easy. The worst fears of the rest of the SEC West were confirmed Saturday: Jevan Snead is real, real good and Ole Miss is going to pull off at least one big, big upset in the SEC. The Rebels were playing one of the better-coached teams in America at their place, turned the ball over three times, caught a couple of bad breaks in the officiating, and still were in a position to win until Wake did their "We win close games because that's just what we do" Wake thing. The Rebs can't stay in my top 25 for now, given how many 2-0 teams with better wins are out there, but I have no doubt they'll be back. (One incidental thing: I *heart* the Red Solo Cup, but what's with the industrial-strength post-game whining? Yeah, the officials blew a couple, but it's not like that pass interference call that went the Rebs' way on their final TD drive was exactly cut-and-dry.)

Because we needed one, another reason to worry. As ATVS pointed out already, lost in the immediate reaction to the Hogs' second consecutive Great Escape from an alleged tomato can is that their offense was actually pretty damn good: 506 total yards, 323 more for Casey Dick through the air, and 5.1 a carry on the ground. Apparently they're in need of a kicker, though: their first two possessions went for 53 and 71 yards, respectively, before Alex Tejada missed from both 45 and 25 (!) yards out.

All right, time to move on to this week's ...

1. Georgia. Ho-hum, just another merciless slaughter of a team that should have been able to hang with them for at least a half. No. 1 with a bullet, a bullet that apparently would bounce off of Knowshon Moreno as he leapt over various tall buildings in ... well, you can guess the number of bounds.

2. Florida. You remember how sometimes your childhood See-N-Say would get stuck and just point to the same damn cow and/or duck every single freaking time? I just get the feeling Dan Mullen's up in the coordinators' booth with one of those things, and every time he pulls the string he hears "The Tebow says ... IT'S GREAT BEING IN THE PHILIPPINES."

3. Auburn. Noted Southern Miss fan Dr. Saturday's impressions of Auburn: "USM is lucky to have scored at all. You know, Auburn looks like Auburn ..."

4. LSU. Between the early Week 1 kickoff and postponement last Saturday, it seems like that Appy St. game took place, oh, sometime in mid-July.

5. Alabama. Yardage totals admittedly aren't going to mean quite so much when you have an unholy terror like Javier Arenas roaming around on punt returns.

6. Ole Miss. It might not be fair leaving them here over a team like Vandy that actually has an SEC win, but then again, I'd pick them in a junkie heartbeat over every team south of here, so there you go.

7. Vanderbilt. Phil Steele had to be gnashing his teeth Thursday, watching the team he picked third in the SEC East go down in flames to the one he thought would go 0-8 in the league.

8. Tennessee. Anyone want a wager on whether or not Fulmer spent the bye strapping Clawson to a chair Clockwork Orange-style and forcing him to watch clips of Montario Hardesty running the ball for seven yards a pop?

9. Kentucky. I had the 'Cats ahead of the Vols last week, but Kentucky fans--Kentucky fans!--booing a kid making his second-ever start in a game against Norfolk State--Norfolk State!--makes me think there's some pretty severe karmic backlash coming.

10. South Carolina. Unless the 'Cocks come out on fire against the 'Dawgs, you can probably start the Spurrier Retirement countdown somewhere around halftime Saturday.

11. Arkansas. Rather confused why so many other SECPP voters have Miss. St. 11th when the Hogs won their battle against a Louisiana-based mid-major also-ran.

12. Miss. St. I really, really should put these guys somewhere other than last for this week. I should have learned my lesson about taunting State's gods of fate last year. This is dumb. Damn honest appraisals.


Will Collier said...

Please, somebody: show me the last SEC champion (or even divisional champion) who you can make a completely legitimate argument "probably should have" lost to a team of the caliber of Tulane, for any reason.

Actually, there was a run of several years in the 90's when the SEC West champion finished dead last the following year ('95-'98, at least). But that was admittedly a while back...

Jerry Hinnen said...

Well, I meant "probably should have lost that same season," i.e. en route to their division title. Post has been edited for clarity.

Will Collier said...

In that case, the Turds lost to La Tech in '99 (same day Auburn destroyed LSU in Red Stick, if my memory serves).

Jerry Hinnen said...

An excellent point. I scanned my memory back to about '01, whiffed, and just went forward. C'est la vie.

Though I'd argue those high-flying La. Tech squads were much, much better than the current edition of Tulane