Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Works, Tray's slip-slidin' away-style

There's a thousand words I could write and a dozen YouTube clips I could pick out to explain why the loss of Tray Blackmon for the year after a disappointing--yes, that's the word for it, I hate it but that's it--seven-game campaign is so unaccountably depressing, but I think this one gets it across just fine:

You just don't find that kind of explosive power in linebackers of Blackmon's Auburn-appropriate size very often, but that's the problem: we've also not found that kind of explosive power in Blackmon very often, despite the fact we can see it clearly right there. As Goldberg summarizes:
Blackmon has been limited to mostly special teams duty since suffering the injury in the third game of the year His season ends with 21 tackles. Blackmon has played in only 21 of a possible 33 games in his career because of injuries or suspensions.
And now he's got one season left to try and salvage something out of this stuttering, tantalizing mess of an Auburn career he's endured, 12 more games to avoid becoming one of those Tigers who we forever remember as the One That Got Away even though he was here the whole time. Good luck, Tray. Or better luck, at the very least.

Oh that's why. Razorback Expats revels the shocking reason Auburn's season has gone so wrong: Tubby was suspected as a candidate for the Arkansas head job. It's been a grim season for anyone cursed by the same association, as they explain:
Tommy Bowden: canned from Clemson after a disappointing 3-3 start

Lane Kiffin: fired by the Raiders, then publicly emasculated by a possibly senile old despot

Tommy Tuberville: is rumored to be hanging by a thread after a humiliating loss to the Hogs

Those three you probably knew about. But what about some of the lesser-known victims?

Jim Grobe: afflicted with irritable bowel syndrome ...

Norm Chow: sometimes feels an existential angst that he can neither explain nor resolve
So at least we've got our explanation. Finally. (I also suggest you discover the fate of the other candidates; good stuff.)

So that's how you do it. Apparently, the key to getting coachbots to let their wiring down and open up their rattling tin hearts for a moment or two is to ask them about an offense they miss but don't run. Why, you can almost see the tears of oil glinting in Saban's eyes as he mourns the loss of his human childhood and the ruthless, steel-like efficiency of ground games past. It's quite a read.

It also reminds me: hey, where has the "War Eagle Formation" gone? It's not like Fannin's gotten plenty of touches without it and if we're not going to break out the ace or I sets--I've done my best to block out the Arkansas game from my memory, but we didn't see them against the Hogs, did we?--wouldn't some kind of change-of-pace be nice? Especially now that we're attempting to run a spread offense (theoretically--I wouldn't be surprised if we see some big honkin' changes now that Nallsminger have a bye week to work with rather than two days) without any spread guys on the staff, having a set that plays more closely into the staff's strengths and finds a way to get Fannin the ball would be helpful, yesno?

Surprise, surprise. I don't really remember the Press-Register's Evan Woodberry being a beacon of shrewd columnry (yes, I made that word up) in the past, but this piece on the financial and political difficulties of Auburn kissing Tubby good-bye is well worth a read. Money grafs:
Buying out the remainder of Tuberville's contract would cost $6 million. It would also require paying Tuberville's assistants, some of whom are on two-year contracts. Auburn is already paying two offensive coordinators (Al Borges and Tony Franklin) not to coach.

There's also an ex-baseball coach and his assistant being paid this year. Fans grumbling about Jeff Lebo and the men's basketball team should be aware that it would cost $2 million or more to buy out his contract, and it would take an equally large sum to lure a big-name coach to take his place.

The basketball teams will move into a new arena in a couple years, and the athletic department needs money to pay for up-front costs now and bond debts in the future ...

And, of course, all of this is happening in the midst of one of the country's worst economic climates in decades.

Can Auburn raise the money needed to do all of the above? Of course. But should it? Is it really worth raising an obscene amount of money to oust a coach who has one of the league's best records since the last time he was almost fired in 2003?
As I wrote earlier this week, a 5-7 season might create the sort of climate around the program where it would be. But I'm with Woodberry in firmly believing that's what's best for Auburn--financially, ethically, common-sensically--is that Tubby deserves a mulligan.

Yep. The mystery reporter from the Palm Bach Post who drew Tubby's ire yesterday was in fact, Ben Volin. The sure heir to Frank Deford's seat at Sports Illustrated introduces himself at the start of the audio clip, which surfaced at War Eagle Extra.

Someone tell me. Seriously, if anyone's got coaching experience, I'd like to know if this--
Kodi Burns, Neil Caudle and Barrett Trotter all got equal repetitions in practice Wednesday, while Chris Todd rested his sore shoulder.

Tuberville wouldn’t offer much insight into the quarterback battle, other than verifying that it was, in fact, taking place.
--is in any indicative of one quarterback being a clearcut starter or can in any way help the alleged clearcut starter become better at his job. I feel like I don't know enough about football coaching to say "If Burns really is our starter and the future, he should be getting the majority of the reps," so I'm asking. But I'll be damned if that's not the way this rubs me.

Building for the future. Jeff Lebo's current roster for his make-or-break season looks like so:
The Tigers return just seven players from last year’s roster. Lebo has filled those vacancies with four junior-college transfers, one freshman on scholarship and two more freshmen walk-ons.
JUCOs: the quintessential building blocks of long-term success! Or possibly the last-gasp Hail Mary of a coach desperate to keep his job and devoid of other options. One or the other.

Etc. Remember when I said Auburn ought to consider Louisiana-Lafayette's Rickey Bustle for the vacant OC job? Well, I don't really expect you to, since it was just idle name-dropping, but hey, I might have had a point anyway ... we're not in full-on WVU mode yet, but it's encouraging they have not one but two injured quarterbacks, unfortunate as it may be for them ... Paul Johnson is either a little dumb or has a Miles-sized pair of cojones. I'm go with the latter.


Acid Reign said...

.....I have to tell you, I was really disappointed this morning, got up, and read that quote about the quarterbacks from Tuberville. Every one of those guys practicing has a different throwing style, different arc on the ball, and it's going to be really difficult getting the timing down...

.....On the other hand, power football and eating the clock is way to beat WVA, this year, with a little play-action on first down. They're fast in the back seven, but not very big. Can we block a game-long smash-fest? I'm not sure we can hold up, up front, nor am I sure that our banged up backs will last.

jdinmacon said...


Don't knock Lebo bringing in JUCO players. Auburn's best basketball player since Charles Barkley was a JUCO transfer...Chris Porter anyone?

I think Lebo's strategy is to get some success in the SEC and to do that he needed some big guys to bang away down on the blocks - help rest Barber. If we can show some SEC success + a fancy new arena, this will help with recruiting.

Vot, Robertson and Barrett will form the core of this years team. All 3 have loads of experience. Vot was dominating until he broke his hand last year. Q is one of the more underrated guards in the league IMO. Barrett has had his moments, but would ride the bench on most SEC teams.

I'll be most interested to see how the JUCO guys do, as well as the kid from Uniontown who won 5 state championships (pretty much on his own from what I've read).

Jerry Hinnen said...

Acid, good questions.

JD, you've got something of a point mentioning Porter, but his reliance on JUCOs was always one of the reasons Cliff Ellis yo-yoed between losing records and Sweet 16 berths his entire Auburn tenure. Honestly, I don't really blame Lebo for going this route and though I'm not as optimistic as you are--as good as Barber, Robertson, and Barrett are, I don't see where they're getting much help--it's probably Lebo's best shot at saving his job. It's just that this isn't the way to build a strong, consistent program. It's more a symptom of how badly he's failed to build the program over the last several seasons, and that's the point I was trying to make in as little space as possible.

As for Frankie Sullivan, I had the good fortune of covering his sophomore title run for the Demopolis paper. While he was without question the go-to guy, I'm not sure I'd say he won those titles by himself--R.C. Hatch had some phenomenal high school basketball players alongside him, even if they weren't quite DI caliber. In fact, if there was a gripe to be made about Sullivan's game in the season I saw, it was that he didn't defer to his teammates as often as he coul/should have. He's got every one of the required physical gifts, no doubt, and a sweet, sweet stroke. But after being The Man for so long, I do worry he's not going to be able to integrate himself into the rest of the team as smoothly as we'd hope. We'll see.

Sullivan013 said...


Your post on Tray Blackmon's Auburn career of half-seasons brought back memories of other fan-favorite players who either had games but not seasons or incredible Auburn seasons, but short or non-existant pro careers.

Maybe it's my love of the underdog, but I always look back with great affection for these players. They will never be known outside of a few die hard fans like me, but they once thrilled the crowd at Jordan Hare if only for a few moments over the years.

Pat Sullivan - While well known in the state, he never really got a chance in the NFL to show what made him great at Auburn: the ability to roll out of the pocket and find the reciever who slipped past his man into the open field. He played for Norm van Brocklin at Atlanta, who never let Sullivan leave the pocket. With Atlanta's laughably porous line at the time, it meant that Sullivan was destined to get sacked time and again.

Terry Beasley - Sullivan's favorite target. His elusiveness and ability to eventually shed his cover, given time dovetailed perfectly with Sullivan's rollout skills. It was nearly an unbeatable combination, and the statistics show it.

Joe Sullivan - lesser know little brother of Pat Sullivan, I remember seeing him engineer an 80 yard drive to clinch a win over LSU in 1981, our first over the Bengals since 1942.

Tre Smith - who could forget the hero of the 2002 Iron Bowl and the touchdown after the blocked punt against Florida in 2006? Yet for all his ability, he was a good back behind two great ones: Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams.

Aundray Bruce - The terror of the conference, the first of a series of blistering fast defensive ends that seem to gravitate into Auburn's orbit.

Brandon Johnson - How can you not like a guy who played fullback and mike linebacker with equally brutal intensity? Undersized in body but never in heart, he played every down at Auburn like it was the Super Bowl. That intensity may be why he never played in the NFL - a series of self inflicted concussions ended his career.

Dameyune Craig - one of the best broken play quarterbacks I ever saw. When Auburn absolutely positively needed a first down or a touchdown in a game, he was the man. In game after game, he would engineer a late drive that would catch your breath, and whether he made it or not, he always gave you hope that he could pull it off by shear will. More often than not, he did.

Brandon Cox - Should have been nicknamed 'Iceman' for his unflappability. Even being benched during a game in his senior season didn't faze this kid. He would quietly win his way back into the lineup, and our hearts with his gutsy, gritty play, and his uncanny ability to make 1 or two yards on a qb sneak, every time, no matter how many opposing players were 'in the box'. One word describes his career at Auburn: Toughness.

Carl Stewart - One of the best blocking fullbacks I ever remember watching at Auburn (and I've seen quite a few). I don't think I ever saw him miss a block, or fail in his assignment. Slightly undersized, he made up for it by his uncanny precision.

Tray Blackmon - When he gets a chance to play? Breathtaking. But half-seasons of achievement and undersized, it is doubtful he will ever make it in the NFL, no matter how hard he hits. But he will live on in our memory for hits like the one in the clip. Let's hope his senior season is complete and he is able to leave Jordan Hare with the roar of the crowd still echoing in his memory.

There are many, many more, some of whom I barely remember, who once carried my hope on their shoulders through nailbiter games in the past. War Damn Eagle, fellas. It was fun watching you play.