Friday, September 12, 2008

The Works, freedom of choice-style

Tristan Davis can serve as the usual visual accompaniment for this post, but we're also going with a little musical* accompaniment here, because ...

Freedom of choice -- is what you got / Freedom from choice -- is what you want, at least when it comes to Auburn's running back situation. Perhaps. Or so argues Track'Em's War Eagle Atlanta, who looks at Auburn's past ground games vis a vis the number of tailbacks involved in those ground games and writes:
(L)ook at the last two years, 2006-2007. The average rushing yards from those two seasons fell by almost 500 yards per year from the average of the previous four. The per game average dropped from 191 during 2002-2005 all the way to 153 for 2006-2007. That's a decline of 20%. What do those two years have in common? A platoon of RBs. The three top backs for the season put up real similar numbers. Is a decline in rushing yards the culprit for a lackluster offense? You can't say definitively, but I think it's at least a symptom. And is rush by committee necessarily what's fueling a diminished rushing attack? Again, hard to say. It calls for much speculation.
WEA concludes that his "gut feeling" tells him it's better to stick with two 1A and 1B guys rather than working with a larger platoon, for the announcer-approved purposes of "momentum" and "swagger." While I might usually scoff at that kind of intangi-chatter, I wonder if in this case there's something to it: when we're talking about a position where effort and drive are this important, the sense that you're the one carrying the team on your back could very well lead to just that extra little churn of the legs that makes the difference between 1st-and-10 or turning the ball over on downs. (Not to mention--this is a total guess, but I'm guessing it anyway--I would expect the first hit after you come off the bench to be the worst, the most jarring. The more times a guy is coming off the bench into a game, the more of those hits there are.)

But as WEA admits, there's not really any hard statistical basis to go with that "gut feeling" and even if you assume a regular two-back platoon is the way to go, in Auburn's current particular situation--with four or even five guys in Lester, Tate, Davis, Fannin, and Smith who look worthy of carries--how do you whittle it to two backs? This is one area where I sure as hell don't envy Auburn's coaching staff--there just aren't enough touches out there to give all those guys the spotlight they deserve. My personal preference would be to cut Smith out as long as Davis is healthy, give the ball to Fannin on the end-around/bubble screen as often as possible, split the bulk of carries evenly between Tate and Lester, and bring in Davis for a couple of random change-ups a game ... but even that plan sounds so convoluted it strikes me as functional only if a hurricane strikes and they move the rest of Auburn's schedule to CandyLand. Seeing how Tubby and Franklin navigate these stormy waters as we move into SEC play is every bit as intriguing to yours truly as the QB battle.

The theme of "too many options" also works for The Works today, as there's been a huge build-up of quality links over the last week. Moving quickly:

Chillin'. I embedded this video for two reasons: 1. To show how crazy relaxed in an interview Tubby is; he could be on Valium and still be able to recite most of his go-to cliches here; 2. He's still happy with Burns's attitude, a subject upon which the JCCW is happy to hear all the good news he can get.

Gabe McKenzie gets the thumbs-up. That's the subtext to the news that A.J. Greene is getting moved onto the offensive line; I can't think Auburn's coaches would shorten their depth at DE if they didn't think McKenzie could produce if called on. Basically, he's been over at DE for, what, three weeks? And it looks from here it's only taken him that long to beat Greene out.

Hooray, more position-based "controversy." Lots of talk I'm sure you've read this week about how much PT Josh Bynes has gotten at Blackmon's spot, and why: Paul Rhoads says it's as simple as keeping Blackmon fresh for the games that matter, but the always straighforward Jay Tate notes that Bynes's superior play in pass coverage probably has something to do with it, too. Tubby doesn't exactly dispel that notion when admitting that Blackmon's going to see more of the field taking on traditional two-back teams. If you want a positive out of this situation--other than the fact that choosing between the two, based on Bynes's play thus far, is like choosing between a Chick-Fil-A sandwich and a Chick-Fil-A sandwich with bacon**--it's that Blackmon ("I think he deserves the right to play") sounds okey-dokey with things.

Whoa. A pretty stunning note on the spread transplant:
Auburn has run 148 plays this season. A staggering 146 have been out of the shotgun, and the two that weren't shouldn't even count, considering Chris Todd went down on a knee each time to run out the clock.
Most of that article is an interesting discussion with Eddie Gran about running out of the spread: Gran says it's not any tougher to run from it than out of the I, but does stop noticeably short of saying the offense is an improvement.

Do it. Good column from Mike Herndon this week about why Auburn and Alabama play out-of-state patsies rather than keeping the patsy fans' patsy-watchin' dollars in-state. Herndon talks to Larry Blakeney, but Troy's the one team in this discussion I don't want Auburn playing--there's nothing to gain there. But as long as UAB is this mediocre, I don't see any reason why we couldn't play them instead of, say, Louisiana-Monroe; as long as we're looking for a I-AA punching bag, I really don't see any reason why it can't be Samford (though it will be in 2011). If there's no danger of losing--and with the current incarnations of UAB and Samford, there's not--the positives outweigh the negatives.

Miss. St. bits. Croom doesn't want to kick to Dunn, for obvious reasons; Tubby seemed unusually pleased with Wednesday's practice, and said Swinton should be back on the field Saturday; Auburn has beaten Miss. St. more times than any other team; the Chris Todd Arm Strength Watch remains ongoing, even to Chris Todd; and as if I couldn't admire him anymore Dunn apparently celebrated his non-TD against State by pretending to work an old-school Atari joystick and has given himself the nickname "Frogger." As someone who still has recurring nightmares in which I jump on to a log in a rushing river only to discover it's actually a sleeping alligator, I salute you, Robert "Frogger" Dunn.

Bloggity. I don't really buy the "Auburn remembers last year and they'll be out for blood revenge!" storyline as we approach Saturday--we should've wanted revenge against Georgia last November and came out as flat as we did all year, and of course last week South Carolina showed how badly they wanted revenge on Vanderbilt by handing them the game.

Strange, then, how seriously I do take the Coulter-Krugman Award at the Blogpoll, given to the blog who has their own team rated higher vis a vis the poll-at-large than any other voter. The CK Award foreshadowed a whole host of losses for the affiliated team in 2007 (including Alabama, in highly amusing fashion) and the "winners" thus far in 2008 have been a Michigan State blog (result: painful loss to Cal) and Boston College (result: painful, inexplicable loss to Georgia Tech). So it's with trepidation that I relate to you The Auburner took home this week's award. The good news? As these things go, ranking Auburn fifth is pretty mild; it's far less objectionable than the BC guys who had the toothless Eagles in their top 15. Also, the Auburner writes things like so:
Recall the injury that caused Burns to lose the starting job this last week. He didn’t sustain a traditional injury; a defensive back didn’t blindside him against Louisiana Monroe, his arm wasn’t crushed while jumping forward in a quarterback sneak. No, Kodi Burns sustained his leg injury because he accidently kicked a cornerback in the face, a cornerback Burns just bulldozed over, after running for 20+ yards. That’s hardcore. That’s the kind of quarterback who can win championships. It’s a shame that Burns is being punished for being awesome – but that’s how life works sometimes.

It was surprising to hear Burns actually bled real blood after being injured. When Auburn’s defensive players or running backs are cut, they bleed a bubbly green acidic substance or motor oil.
and are probably due for leniency from the wrath blog gods.

Etc.: Something like this makes me want to say "Thank goodness the AP isn't part of the BCS anymore," except of course that the coaches and Harris voters are even worse; in a ranking of the state of Alabama's men's hoops programs, Auburn (appropriately) comes in behind two mid-majors; if you missed it, Arkansas's schedule now goes Alabama-Texas-Florida-Auburn over a four week stretch, so, hey, good news for us; the Red Solo Cup highlights an amusing interview with a Mississippi St. commit, "amusing" in this case meaning "he openly mocks the same Mississippi St. team he's committed to."

*I *heart* the hell out of this song--it was the first ringtone I ever bought--but even I don't really recommend trying to watch the video unless you're a skateboarding fan or enjoy '80s weirdness for weirdness's sake.

**I take mine without, personally. And yes, I'm going to attempt to eat my weight in the things in a week's time.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the continued AU-some work. Safe travels on your cross-country trek next week. What's your take on C. Todd's chances this week? I think he looked much more comfortable last week, and look for more improvement this week. Just in time for the rumble in the jungle in 8 days! War Eagle,
Josh S.
B'ham, AL

Jerry Hinnen said...

I hope we see improvement, but to be honest I'm not sure Todd can play a whole lot better--hard to think of any real poor decisions vs. USM and most of his throws were accurate. He could have stretched the field more, but other than that, this is about his ceiling--60-65 percent completion percentage, no picks, lots of throws underneath. I'll take it, certainly, but this is why so many people are behind Burns--he can probably give you that much with a little more experience, plus a stronger arm and his ability to run. We'll see what Todd does on the road tonight.