Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Review of DEATH: the pre-season

"Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it."
--Some old dude

I'm not sure that proverb is always one hundred percent accurate--I forgot for a while where I'd put my car keys, and until I remembered where they were I couldn't put them anywhere, much less in the same place--but I do think that after enduring a traumatic experience, it's worth looking at how one wound up enduring said experience in the effort to avoid enduring that experience a second time.

And as experiences haven't come any more traumatic for Auburn fans than the Season of DEATH, the JCCW is going to take a week-by-week look back at Auburn's 2008 campaign to figure out what exactly went so wrong and in turn, hopefully, where they might go right in 2009. We're going to start with the preseason, move on to the UL-Monroe game next, and go all the way through to the Chizik hire. That's the plan anyway.

What we expected: Primarily, having two new coordinators meant that fall camp was a chance to keep polishing up the systems and schemes that Tony Franklin and Paul Rhoads had installed during spring practice--or, in Franklin's case, started to install way back before the bowl game. On the individual player level, there were a couple of position switches--Mario Fannin to wide receiver, Gabe McKenzie to defensive end--we hoped would work out for the best. After Tubby had warned us at media days that the true freshman cornerbacks would see major time, Neiko Thorpe and D'Anoine Hood were expected to make things happen. A replacement for Chaz Ramsey would be found and Tez Doolittle would return from injury. Tray Blackmon would come into his own as the starting middle linebacker.

And oh yeah--Franklin would pick himself out a quarterback from the favored incumbent, Kodi Burns, and the hand-picked challenger Chris Todd. While I think it's fair to say we expected a battle between the two, I think we also expected some kind of resolution--probably in Burns's favor--by the start of the season.

What happened: Well, for starters, the Auburner came up with this:

'Round these parts we referred to the above as Khrisodi Burn-Stodd, but however you sliced it the issue was the same: Auburn went into the season with two quarterbacks rather than one, while Franklin assured us it was "the best problem I think I've had in my life" and that everything would work out OK.

There were other issues that seemed relatively minor at the time. Deron Furr, one of the precious few bright spots from the 2008 recruiting class, left the team after just one practice in which he got into a fight with the rest of the defensive backs. Supposedly unstoppable juco DE Raven Gray showed up hurt and stayed that way. There were more fights in practice, though we got some brilliance from TWER out of it, at least. Oh, and in the "not minor whatsoever" category, Aairon Savage tore his ACL to put even more pressure on Hood and Thorpe.

As for positive developments, well, the players were still raving about Franklin's offense, no one saw any reason other than the shallowness in the secondary to expect less than Auburn's usual dominant defense, and despite being picked first in the West at media days Auburn was still under the radar on the national level.

The vibe when all was said and done: Auburn fans remained a little nervous about the QB situation, Franklin's devotion to the run, and the secondary depth, but overall the atmosphere surrounding the team was still overwhelmingly positive. Franklin's offense had proven itself in the bowl game, the defense looked poised to kick all sorts, Florida was off the schedule while LSU and Georgia both had to come to Jordan-Hare. It looked like it was time to make another serious run at Atlanta.

The JCCW, looking prescient for once: From August 29:
"How will this offense operate in the red zone? When there's so much less field to spread out, is it really going to be able to shift gears and plow forward for those final six yards on second-and-goal from the, uh, six? I have next-to-no-doubt the Spread Eagle is going to move from 20 to 20 with near-maximum effectiveness. I'm less confident the result of those drives will be consistent touchdowns rather than a parade of Wes Byrum field goals when we're asking James Swinton to block. We'll see."
OK, so I was obviously far more confident than I should have been in the Spread Eagle's ability to move the ball, but the red zone concerns ended up 100 percent valid; Auburn finished dead last in the country in the percentage of red zone possessions that ended in a touchdown.

The JCCW, looking as foolish as usual: A "binding prediction" from August 30:
"As a believer in Franklin's spread, in Auburn's depth, and Tubby's general excellence, I'm going to hew closer to the best-case scenario than the worst. My orange-and-blue glasses aren't so thick I'm going to expect to sweep those potential upsets listed above--it's happened once under Tubby and this probably isn't the sort of juggernaut that can pull it off a second time--but I don't think it's unreasonable at all to expect a split against LSU and the Dawgs and a win over an overrated Big East team after a bye. So call it 10-2. Enough for an SEC West title? Yeah, what the hell: LSU had their turn. Now it's ours."
Oh my, that does not sound like the thought process of a rational fan, does it?

What we learned about 2008: That the secondary really was going to have to rely on true freshmen as soon as we needed a nickel, that the quarterback situation was probably going to stay a big deal at least a couple of weeks into the situation, that Raven Gray wasn't going to swoop in and solve our depth problems along the defensive line, unfortunately.

What we hopefully learned about 2009: Malzahn doesn't seem likely to make the same mistake of his predecessor, but seriously: Pick a quarterback, and pick him as early as you can. Coaches as friendly with the media as Franklin can, in fact, use that friendliness to sell the fanbase the proverbial bill of goods. Fights in practice might not be the end of the world, but when kids are transferring out and they happen repeatedly, it's probably not a good omen for the upcoming season ... so the new coaching staff will hopefully keep a tighter lid on that. And though a) we shouldn't have needed the reminder and b) it's not really going to be a problem in 2009, we did find out, once again, that positive preseason expectations are always always always not to be trusted. Hopefully we'll remember that next time.

Next time on Review of DEATH: the UL-Monroe game deceives us all.


Philip Arnold said...

I feel your 10-2 prediction isn't that absurd as whenever I look back on the 2008 season 5 of those 7 loses could have been wins. To me that is the most disheartening aspect of last season; just how close that team was to being a conference contender and yet how far away they were as well. I remember thinking to myself numerous times, "the 2007 team would have won that game" and they weren't much better. Oh well...

Jerry Hinnen said...

I dunno, Philip. It's true, we could have won 5 of those 7 losses without TOO much more effort, but a) that's still a lot of losses b) we were also a missed Miss. St. FG and a Tennessee fumble into their end zone away from being 0-8 in the SEC c) it's not like we outgained or outplayed LSU, Arkansas, Georgia, etc. I think 5-7 was a pretty accurate measure of how good our team was.

easyedwin said...

OH THE PAIN OF SEENG YOUR GIRLFRIEND WALK AWAY FOR GOOD. 2008 was painful. Thank God it has walked away for good. Sometimes, however, I scratch my head and think WTF season was that??

I am hoping you can explain WHY!!

Marmot said...

Looking back at last season, it really looks like our problems were largely coaching related. Sure, we had personnel issues, but those issues will be even worse in 2009 (O-line, linebackers, receivers, D-line), and yet I'm somehow optimistic that we will be a much better team because the coaching seems much more up to the task (or maybe I should say "pulling in the same direction" or "enthusiastic").

The only personnel upgrade I think we have this year is with Onterio's home run threat (which was non-existent last year since apparently Tate was wearing ankle weights all season) and Benton at his specific wideout position. I should note that if Benton had been on the team last season, it wouldn't have mattered since the quarterback coaching was atrocious. So once again, all my hopes are on improved coaching to do much much more with a little bit less.

Marmot said...

In keeping with my "Ben Tate was wearing ankle weights last season" comment, I submit the first third of the 'Rock Lee vs Gaara' Naruto episode. Sorry it's so long. Go to the 4:25 point to see what I imagine Ben Tate did just before the A-Day game this spring.


Ben said...


"I should note that if Benton had been on the team last season, it wouldn't have mattered since the quarterback coaching was atrocious."

I am cherry-picking here, but I think we can all, maybe perhaps, agree that—while the coaching might have been terrible—the quarterbacks were equally bad.

Todd and Burns were both atrocious. Hard to damn Ensminger and Franklin for all of their shortcomings. (well, maybe Ensminger, screw that guy)

J.D. said...

If it makes you feel any better, I said we'd go 12-2, with losses at UGA and vs. UF in the SECCG, and win the Capital One Bowl over Ohio State...