Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tommy Tuberville, starring in "Conspiracy Theory"

"Now, see this formation, guys? This is how tightly to the vest we're going to be playing things tonight ... "

Let me start by saying this: if Tubby and/or Tony Franklin "restricted" (for lack of a better word) in any fashion their offensive gameplan for Mississippi St. in the hopes of giving LSU less indication of what the Bayou Bengals will be facing this Saturday, I seriously doubt they restricted it much.

This was Auburn's first road game of the year. Their first SEC game of the year. A first road SEC game against a team that finished 2007 8-5. A first road SEC game against an 8-5 team that counted Auburn as one of those eight wins. There's no way Tubby would have seen this as anything but the most difficult test of his team thus far this year. There's no way he'd risk a loss so embarrassingly devastating to his team's SEC hopes, so devastatingly embarrassing to a program still striving to be seen as a national power. Why would he pull punches?

Wellllllll ... because even if Damon Duval's not sprinting around right end every other 4th-and-7, you and I both know Tubby's always going to have a touch of the Riverboat Gambler in him. It's possible the all-in gamble of intentionally lowering his odds against State in order to up them against LSU was too much to resist. Hell, it might even make some kind of logical sense: if we hypothesize that Auburn A) had a 90 percent chance of beating State if they held nothing back, but that that choice left their chances of beating LSU at, say, 30 percent B) still had an 80 percent chance of beating State while shortchanging the gameplan, but that that choice increased their chances of beating LSU to 60 percent, the odds of winning both games increases dramatically in scenario B even with the shorter odds of winning against State.

Those numbers were derived by a rigorous scientific process known as "pulling them out of my ass" and should be taken with the appropriate seriousness, but regardless I think they illustrate why Tubby might at least consider playing some rope-a-dope where LSU's concerned. Again: my belief is that the game in Starkville was too important--and, in the second half, too close--for even Tubby to do much punch-pulling, if any.

But as even more important as the LSU game is and as fond of mind-games as we know Tubby to be, is it worth at least looking at the available evidence, in favor of both Tubby-as-Scheming-Conspiracist and Tubby-as-Simple-Hirer-of-Well-meaning-but-Questionably-Capable-Offensive-Coordinator? Yes, yes it is.

EVIDENCE IN FAVOR

1. Les Miles is convinced. You would think if anyone would be able to recognize a coach who's intentionally keeping certain aspects of his offense under wraps, it would be another coach who's just taken a good, long look at the tape. Your verdict, coach Miles:
"I think he held down some of the options that he had," the LSU coach said Monday. "Maybe," Miles added, Tuberville didn't "show everything that he has."
Believe him or don't, but if Miles thought Auburn was simply incompetent against the Bulldogs, wouldn't we have gotten something along the lines of "I'm sure that's just some of the growing pains of switching over to a new system. We'll see their best effort Saturday" rather than a soundbite that seems just a touch confrontational?

2. Tubby sort of sounds like someone who hasn't shown all his cards yet. Grotus' Acorn summarizes the offense's sputtering and Tubby's reaction thusly:
It's strange... but it's almost too strange. I'm hoping that it turns out to be eerily strange, if you'll permit that. Take, for instance, Tuberville's post-game comments:

* I never really felt threatened last night of losing that ballgame once we got ahead 3-0.*JGT
* Had we opened it up a little more, [Chris Todd] would have done a little more.JGT
* [The team gets] an A+ for winning.JGT

What we have so far is one game in which we run the ball, but only before and after we run the ball. A second game in which we pass nearly as much. And a third in which we basically play special teams and defense. And every account there of has come back as "Hasn't quite opened up yet."
I have to admit that "A+ for winning" sounds like standard coachspeak to me, but the other noises Tubby's made have sounded remarkably like a guy who was never going to mind winning a game already legendary for its ugliness. (Well, save maybe that "back to the drawing board" comment, though even that seems understated if what his offense put forth was genuinely its best effort.) As for Franklin, he politely fell on his sword again, of course. But what else he could do, either way? Neither "Oh, we were just bluffing for LSU, don't pay it any attention" nor "Whaddya mean, 'legendarily ugly'? I thought we looked great!" was exactly going to fly.

3. The Clemson game. Look, we know what we saw that night. We don't know why we haven't seen it since.

4. The Mysterious Case of Kodi Burns. Seriously: what the hell does--
"I thought putting him in a situation where our back was to the wall a lot in certain situations -- I wanted it to be a positive note when he goes back in the game. He was ready to go. He's a team player. And we've got to find the right situation."
-- even mean? What positive note? Would "Auburn is on the 11-yard line and obviously needs some kind of help from the quarterback to score" not be positive enough, still not be the "right situation"? You're telling me that in those nine practices last fall, Franklin was convinced that Burns would be a better red-zone option at QB than Brandon Cox, but between then and now Burns has somehow become worse of a red zone option than Chris Todd? Now, when it's more important than ever for the coaching staff to show they still have faith in Burns's abilities, now is the time to bench him completely?

This is still far and away the most baffling development out of all the baffling developments that have emerged during these first three games. The reason every single Auburn fan you know is saying "Why not put Burns in? This makes no sense" is because it makes no sense--unless Tubby's intention is to make LSU worry just that much less about him. Burns's absence, to me, is more persuasive by itself than all of the other evidence above that in some ways Tubby really might have approached the Mississippi St. game as a glorified tune-up for the LSU game.

EVIDENCE AGAINST

1. The importance of the Mississippi St. game. As noted above: as much was at stake Saturday night, it would take cojones the size of grapefruits to willingly risk a loss in the present just in the name of making a win in the future slightly more likely. Tubby's not as conservative as most Southern football coaches, but as conservative a breed as Southern football coaches generally are, that's only saying so much.

2. Tubby did not look entirely happy with how things were transpiring the other night. Even during the first-half punt-a-thon, much less before the second half blown-7-yard-FG-and-fumble-a-thon, our Fearless Leader did not exactly wear the expression of composed stoicism that might indicate an inner monologue along the lines of "Yes, yes, this is all proceeding just as we discussed ..."

3. OK, that last bit of "evidence" was a little flimsy. Let's say instead that ... uh ... trying to think of a creative play call they might have wanted to "save" if they actually were keeping things buttoned-down ... gimme a sec ... um, nevermind, let's go with "Miss. St. has an experienced, solid defense that could easily explain Auburn's offensive troubles." Which it does--thought not why Auburn's running game never got more complicated than "off-tackle left."

Honestly, common sense and that big No. 1 under "Evidence Against" are probably all we need to decide that if Tubby did order Auburn into the "vanilla" offense for a week, it was likely vanilla with chocolate swirls and M&M pieces and Oreo crumbles and even a Gummi bear tossed in here and there.

But admit it: looking at the evidence in favor, you have to consider the possibility Tubby very well could be saving a stash of sprinkles and crushed nuts for LSU, too.

5 comments:

bovinekid said...

I sure hope so, Jerry. Personally, I haven't the slightest clue what's going to happen on Saturday. I can't even guess.

reed said...

jerry, here's what you and the first two minutes of tuberville's review show have in common: you always know what to say to make me feel better. my only concern is that i'm having a hard time getting myself to believe that he's confident/devious/scheme-y enough to have gone as far as to have scripted all of the fumbles and 94 yards worth of penalties to make the case that much more convincing. but, here's to hoping that was all part of the plan as well, because i've got a feeling that handing 94 yards and the football to lsu is going to prove problematic.

Anonymous said...

Dear Proprietor of the Joe Cribbs Car Wash; I always enjoy the Auburn analysis, but that white text on black background effectively destroys my eye sight for an hour after reading.

Please reconsider.

Thanks:
Loyal Reader

Anonymous said...

Stop drinking the koolaid. The spread is in deep doo-doo and Tubs knows it.

Exposure occurs in T-minus 4 days...

Jerry Hinnen said...

Loyal Reader: after the LSU game, I'm putting the blogging on hold just long enough to switch over to a new template. Sorry for the corneal (?) distress; it's a problem I should have corrected over the summer.