Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday preview: Arkansas

Fill in the blank to complete the cheap and utterly tasteless joke at the pictured Arkansas quarterback's expense: This weekend, Auburn will _________

1. get the short end of the Dick
2. get totally Dicked over
3. win only if Arkansas's too busy Dicking around
4. lose. But hey, their QB's last name is Dick! Ha! Ha ha!

Ha! Ha ha ... ha ... Eh. That wasn't as much fun as I'd hoped, and now I've probably lost a lot of your respect and I have to apologize to my mother. Sorry, Mom.

The thing is, if stop with the Dick jokes I have to start writing about the actual game, and every time I think for longer than a couple of seconds about Auburn's offense attempting to play an actual game of football I start to cry.

Oh well. It'll be shorter than usual, but here's the JCCW's Tear-Stained Letter Preview anyway:

At stake: For Arkansas, not much, really. I'm sure it'd be nice for Petrino to silence the tiny minority of doubters and to cut short the outside possibility of "2-10 with the two wins over Western Illinois and ULM," but this season is primarily about getting ready for next season and a loss to Auburn doesn't do much to change that.

For Auburn ... well, it's my understanding that Tuberville has some sort of personal history with the gentleman coaching on other sideline. It's also my understanding said history won't be of too much concern should Auburn lose, since it will--without question--mark the lowest point for the program since Terry Bowden departed.* If Auburn cannot beat Arkansas at home, the odds they will finish the season with even so much as a winning record will be longer than I'd care to calculate. No, I don't think Tubby's job is one the line. But to be frank: it might retroactively be, if he loses here and then can't save himself at the Amen Corner.

When Arkansas has the ball: it might not be what you think. The story at the start of the Hogs' season was all about Casey Dick, he of the fourth-quarter comebacks and staggering yardage totals and hilarious last name.

But something interesting happened when Arkansas started playing real competition: Dick went back to being a slightly more composed version the same liability he'd always been. Dick was brutal against the Tide, finishing with an average of only 4.7 yards over his 46 attempts and with four devastating interceptions. He was better against Texas before going into the tank again against Florida, watching the yards-per-completion dip under 10 again and repeatedly failing to make the key throw needed to turn the Hogs' long drives into Florida territory into actual points. Remember, too that this was against a Florida secondary that turned Jevan Snead into a hero for a week.

However, there was a giant flashing bright spot for the Hogs against the Gators in the form of RB Michael Smith and the Hog rushing attack, which plowed through a previously-stiff Gator front seven for a stunning 5.6 a carry, enough for the Hog offense as a whole to average 5.7 a play. This was a quantum leap forward from the Texas game, where the Hogs carried 26 times for 11 yards. But as the 'Horns took Dick down for seven sacks in that contest, those numbers are a little skewed; there's enough evidence to suggest the Hogs will be more dangerous on the ground.

And, in fact, given their beef up front and the number of walking wounded along Auburn's front seven, they'll probably make some hay that way. The key for Auburn will be stopping Dick on third-down conversions and plays in Auburn territory when the ground game stalls, and with Powers out and the freshmen on the field for longer and longer stretches, that's easier said than done. As phenomenal as Auburn's defense has been, in its current battered shape and with Arkansas due to start converting its many yards into points--they were a sinkhole against Texas, but they've moved the ball with some level of success against every other team they've played, even the Tide--methinks we're going to see a performance closer to LSU's or Vandy's against the Auburn defense than Miss. St'.'s or Tennessee's.

When Auburn has the ball: you're going to see a truly bad defense on the field. The Hogs currently rank 88th in the country overall, and that's with both Alabama and Texas playing run-run-run-punt the entire second half. The Louisiana-Monroe team Auburn shut out gained 341 yards on the Hogs and had drives of 55, 78, 53, and 42 yards. Their pass defense is a mediocre 63rd in the country ranked by yards-per-attempt (more accurate than the gross total, since there wasn't any need for Texas or the Tide to throw the ball), but even that looks like great shakes compared to their staggeringly awful run defense, somehow 114th in the country in opponent's yards-per-rush despite 2/5ths of their games coming against Western Illinois and Louisiana-Monroe. Any competent offense would tear through these guys like tissue paper.

But ah, this is where we come to Auburn's offense and where I avoid the sweet, sweet temptation of prescription narcotics. I'll say this: if Auburn comes out in the old-fashioned Borges base and grinds away at the Hogs, they might get somewhere, where "getting somewhere" is adjusted to expectations to mean "14ish points, 17ish if Byrum wakes up on the right side of the bed, finally."

But who knows what Auburn's going to do, or if they're in any prepared to do it? Quoting your own post from earlier the same day is awful blogging form, but I'm doing it anyway: This time when Ensminger takes over the playcalling, the offense will have practiced something completely different for the last 10 months, has no starting quarterback, will allegedly have its plays called from a playbook Ensminger has no experience with, and won't have the services of Jason Campbell, Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown, Marcus McNeill, etc. Aside from all of that, though, it'll be just like 2003 all over again!

Please: shoot me.

When special teams are on the field: Neither placekicker can make a kick, there aren't any returners of note with Dunn and Davis hobbled, with Durst looking somewhat human vs. Vandy there's no advantage there either. (Look, Auburn and Arkansas both average 41.18 yards a punt. Whooppee!) There's nothing to see here. (Which is why the Hogs will spring a kickoff return or something.)

Intangible reason to worry: There are no reasons to worry. None I can think of, anyway.

Intangible reason for confidence: Surely the football gods wouldn't reward the slimeball Petrino with a potential death knell-type victory over the guy whose back still bear the stab wounds he inflicted, right? Right?

Three Wishes: 1. Kodi Burns; I have a feeling I may finally get this one granted! 2. No fumbles; I'm expecting a heavier dose of Tate, Lester, Davis, maybe even Smith this go-round, and Auburn's offense simply can't afford in any way, shape, or form to give away possessions on low-risk plows into the line. 3. No drops in the secondary; likewise, Dick's liable to make a few bad throws, and the Auburn secondary has to come up with the big play they've whiffed on a few times thus far this season.

Success is / failure is: A win / a loss. Nothing else matters at this point.

Your bottom line: Even as lustily as the Arkansas defense has drank from the River Suck this season, frankly, I have more faith in Petrino's offense to move the ball and score than I do Ensminger's--for reasons that ought to be made plenty clear by the shuddering reaction you, Auburn fan, just experienced to seeing those two last names contrasted like that. I expect Arkansas to find some holes in the Auburn defense. I expect Arkansas to outgain Auburn. I expect Arkansas to have the lead at various points in the game.

What do I expect from Auburn? I don't know. At all. I would say "They'll be so angry!" but the events of this week surely, inevitably, have been a huge anger-draining distraction. I would say "Tubby's back is against the wall!" but Tubby's also coming into this game with Auburn a double-digit favorite the general populace expects to rumble past their "feeble" opponents with relative ease. I would say "Last week was rock bottom, oh please dear sweet Lord tell us that was rock bottom," but after Wednesday, I'm not all that confident in saying that.

This is the hope: Antonio Coleman. And Zac Etheridge. And Merrill Johnson. And Ben Tate. And Tyronne Green. And Tez Doolittle, who didn't come back from a shredded Achilles tendon for a sixth year for this. And Rod Smith and Brad Lester and Tray Blackmon and the career he ought to have that slips, slips away every week.

Hand me a blindfold: if I cannot bring myself to have faith in these men with my eyes open, then I will have my faith with my eyes closed. But damn it all, even after the events of this week this is Auburn. I'm going to keep my faith.

And so, in one final attempt to look spectacularly wrong ...

Auburn 24, Arkansas 23


Sullivan013 said...

You know? Tuberville always shows up when the worst is expected. I have a vision of a 400 yard game and....

Auburn 35 Arkansas 3

Optimism? Perhaps, but don't underestimate this team or its coach, especially when everyone in the world thinks otherwise.

Jerry Hinnen said...

Sully, I'd think more closely along those lines if the worst was actually expected--but I think the expectations in general are that Auburn will bulldoze their way past the Hogs en route to the ship-stabilizin' bye week.

Doesn't mean I don't wish I had your confidence. Here's to hoping you're right.