Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The 2014 Iron Bowl Preview

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Hard to believe it's almost been a year since the fateful November 30th showdown, which may go down as the most amazing ending is the modern sports era. Yet, Revenge Week is only 2.5 weeks away. As an Auburn fan, the past few weeks have been extremely sobering, changing my outlook on Auburn football. Though I call this part of my blog The Auburn Realist, I let the hype leading into the 2014 season get the better of me. Like many, if not most, Auburn fans, the unrealized expectations have destroyed our outlook on 2014, even with the most important game still ahead.

Way back when, I had a series of posts called The Waayyy Too Early Predictions. In this series of posts, I said that Auburn would have 1 loss going into the Iron Bowl 2014, suffered at the hands of the UGA Bulldogs. While they did assuage the guilt of handing the Tigers a miracle finish in 2013 by destroying Auburn in Athens, I didn't see (nor many people) the losses against Mississippi State and Texas A&M. Certainly many people expected State to be a good team, as Prescott came along late in the year. By the time of the showdown in Starkville, people were well aware that the State team was much better than anticipated. But many people thought TAMU would take a series step back in 2014. And while they did loose a 3 game set, the introduction of Kyle Allen has kick started this team. Yet, no one saw Auburn laying the proverbial egg at home against TAMU. 

So, Auburn will limp into the Iron Bowl....literally....as one of the bigger failures in the 2014 college football season, up there with UCLA, which I predicted in my Top 10 Teams as the most overrated team in America. While I could wax poetic about the how and why of Auburn's skid, we all came here to talk about the Iron Bowl. 

Here is what I had to say way back before the season kicked off in my Waay Too Early Predictions: Iron Bowl. The edges in the matchups between the Auburn and Alabama units have both swung back towards Alabama. As much as I love a good chuckle, and I had several when I wrote The Tide Name Starting QB, I have to admit that I am blown away by Sims' play. It's amazing to me that he continues to be under-appreciated, even by Tide fans. If OJ Howard would have made an actual attempt to catch the ball in The Grove, Bama would be undefeated right now. While the RB tandem (or triple attack?) has been "Meh" for most of the year, Amari Cooper has taken up the slack in impressive fashion. How Bama can manage to get 2 kids in 10 years with such talent on the outside...well....because Saban, I reckon. On defense, the Tide has been good enough. When they put their 100% effort into preparation, they have destroyed competition. But, I have to point out that in the three most impressive wins (Tennessee, Florida, TAMU), these teams went on to start a different QB and found immediate and lasting success. Regardless, they have been solid and have lived up to the billing, though not quite the electric units that won Alabama's last few titles. So, yes, the defense is great. Infallible? No. 

Auburn, however, started out the season just as they needed to do. The offense looked like it was going to live up to it's Cloud 9 billing behind the Unstoppable Marshall. Duke Williams was exactly who we thought he would be. After the LSU game, it appeared that both the Auburn units had evolved into exactly what was needed to make a playoff run. That ended on the first snap of the Mississippi State game. Though Auburn rebounded off the bye week to beat Ole Miss, neither team were truly who they were in the first half of the season. When TAMU came to town, both units looked completely out of synch. Although the offense found success in the second half, penalties and fumbled cost the game. Completely overlooked by most people was the fact that the defense was incapable of stopping opposing offenses, but it wasn't completely obvious since the offense kept the game close. By the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry, it was obvious that the Auburn team was a complete shell of the high expectation laden team from September. It was simply the worst game I have watched Auburn play, because I know what this team is capable of and where it SHOULD be. The loss caused me to look back over the early season. What it showed was a defense that was in retrograde from week 1. Over the past 12 weeks, the defense has not only been unable to win 1-on-1 battles, but has lost all fundamentals and discipline. 

And how about those special teams? Bama still struggles kicking field goals. Auburn has had trouble holding on to the ball during returns. 

So this game is in Bryant-Denny, as you all well know. Across the country, people cringe at the thought of playing in BDS, but the average football fan (heck, average Alabama fan as well)  discounts the fact that Auburn is 5-2 while playing in BDS. That isn't a bad record to have, all things considered. This is why I wrote House of Cards some months back. 

Now, I won't lie to you: Auburn looked like a different team in the preseason. Before the first snap was taken, Auburn looked to be a sizeable favorite over Alabama. Only the fact that Auburn was playing in BDS against Nick Saban kept this game from looking like the first major underdog fight while under the modern Saban. After the first few weeks of the season, it appeared that I was going to be dead-on. But Bama has improved each week and Auburn his slid. 

It's an interesting dynamic because both teams have multiple modes of motivation. Both have pride/revenge at stake. But Bama has something more to play for, which makes things very interesting. Last year was all about making it to Atlanta for both teams, though Auburn was still smarting off of an epi beat down in BDS. While Bama still has that in front of them, they surely look to rebound from Kick 6. Auburn, on the other hand, finds it in a spoiler situation....a desperate place to be for a team that had final 4 aspirations. As formerly stated, this game is so similar to the 2009 Iron Bowl, except for the location. Alabama was all but headed to Atlanta, regardless of what became of the Iron Bowl. Auburn was riding a 5-7 game slide after starting the year hot. Riding the motivation, Auburn jumped out to a huge first half lead. After halftime, the lead slowly deteriorated and Bama won in the waning minutes. 

The differences between those two Auburn teams comes down to the over all talent. Auburn's offense had begun to struggle because of the lack of depth of playmakers and the lack of a dynamic player in the backfield. While Ben Tate was and still is an NFL-caliber back, he was not a threat to house a run on any play. And, if it was 3rd and short, you knew where the ball was going. This Auburn team has as talented a group of playmakers as they have ever fielded, but has been plagued as of late with penalties and costly turnovers. 

On defense, the 2014 squad is deeper in overall talent, but something is simply missing. Obviously the lack of a pass rush is the overall catalyst for the lack of production. It's just the "why" of it that baffles all of us. Sure, Dee Ford leaving for the NFL combined with Lawson's and Whitaker's injuries had expected drawbacks, but where is the freshman standout Adams? Where is Gabe Wright, who came on so hot at the end of 2013? While the 4 Horsemen of the Sackocalpyse never showed up, why has the tackling been so poor? Where is the dynamic player, Therezie? So many of these seniors who have had such fabulous careers to this point have been silent on the field. One has to question the coaching, but despite the constant flux of coordinators since Tuberville left the Plains, Auburn's defense has been poor.  

Let's match them up.

Auburn's Defense vs Alabama's Offense
Same verse, different year. Though Alabama isn't quite the between the tackles running team it has been in the past, Henry and Yeldon are still terrific backs that offer different complements of skills. Perhaps the most underrated back of the bunch is Fowler, who seems to sneak in a critical TD in every meaningful game. Just when defenses key in on the back and their respective running style, Sims hits Fowler for a big gainer. But, overall, this team isn't the same units of old that could (and would) line up and run it for 11-of-14 play drives. On the outside, the Bama receiving core has been very quiet behind Cooper, though they feature Christian Jones and DeAndrew White, who would be top flight players on any spread team. Though they certainly do great things with the ball in their hands, they don't see it often enough. Cooper, on the other hand, has to have over 6 catches a game. The stat is, Bama wins when he has 6 or more touches. If you limit him, you limit the Tide's ability to stretch the field. Any time you can force an offense to play multiple 3rd downs per drive, you will eventually win some....even through blind luck. But, this Bama offense makes its hay with Sims' ability to run, which is something they haven't had in the past. He isn't the best runner, but let's not forget he has had some 40+ runs this year. I don't put him in the category of Marshall, who can pick up a 1st down against all odds, but when it's there, he can make it. Overall, this unit is more balanced, which gives it an edge. But, shutting down Cooper could be a gamebreaker. 

Throughout the back half of the year, Johnathan Jones has emerged as the Tiger's top coverage man. He has done extremely well against some of the prototypical WRs in the SEC like Treadwell(Ole Miss) and Wilson(Mississippi State). He did so without having veteran Jermaine Whitehead to help, who returned last week but had fairly negligible impact. Then again, the Auburn secondary did little aside from miss open field tackles against Chubb and Gurley. Whitehead is a good player, and with 2 games, he should be back into form. This is a big deal when trying to cover a guy like Cooper. The only way to stop him is to roll coverage to his side to prevent down field throws, and to have sure tackles on the bubble screens. Auburn can handle the former, but I am not sure about the latter. With what I have seen so far, I tend to doubt it. Regardless of if it is Jones or Mincy who line up, they must be nearly perfect...even in run support. Auburn's corners have been terrible at getting off of perimeter blocks. 

As we have stated, Auburn has been unable to find a pass rush. They have mixed and matched down linemen in every conceivable way, brought edge blitzes, even gone to a 3 man front against UGA (which I still don't get) to free up more LBs. The outcome has been the same regardless of the personnel. Auburn is in the bottom of QB pressure in all categories....in the nation. That is a major issue against mobile QBs, but even more so against QBs who are patient and unwilling to make bad decisions, as Sims has shown to be. Sims hasn't been perfect, but he has been good enough to sit in the pocket and wait for openings. As I mentioned above, he is scary when he runs. Let's recall that he is a former RB, after all. It's his ability to bail on a 3rd and long throw and scramble for a first down that should worry Ellis Johnson. But, as I pointed out...Auburn doesn't have to shut down the Tide completely. It just needs to do it a few times and hope the offense shows up. Speaking of....

Auburn's Offense vs Alabama's Defense
I guess it's easy for us Auburn fans to have the last two games stuck in our heads and forget who is on the sidelines. Well, let me take that back...lets add the Mississippi State game to the mix. The last time we saw a Malzahn offense struggle this much was in 2011, which was a unit completely depleted of talent. That unit struggled moving the chains, not having game blowing fumbles. It's no secret that in the 3 Auburn losses, Auburn has committed some mind-blowing mistakes. However, it was the UGA game that was particularly scary. It was the first time that a Malzahn-led offense simply crumbled. It looked like 2012 all over again, leading many fans to question whether this Tiger Team was already headed for the exits. 

After a first drive TD, the Auburn offense was simply awful, from the drops to the redzone interception that sealed the game. In the other two losses (and even going back past years), you always had a little hope that the offense could flip a switch and score enough points to win. After the UGA game, fans such as myself lost faith that outscoring anyone was an option. Against Bama, you need all of those dynamic play makers operating at a high level. You must make Smart and Saban account for everything. In the back half of the season, Auburn has not been operating near that level. Duke is out. Sammie isn't full speed and has been unable to catch pedestrian throws. Corey Grant has been a complete non-factor in 2014, which has been a startling development. Louis still can't catch a ball, so when he is in the game, rest assured that it's probably a reverse or jet sweep. Meanwhile, guys like Ray and Marcus Davis, who have been clutch continue to sit the bench. Take Roc Thomas as another example. He has been amazing when he is in the game....which is about 3 plays. CAP has been terrific, but Auburn's inability to throw the ball has limited him, big time. 

Additionally, Auburn's line has really struggled in the last few weeks in pass protection. Though there were multiple holds called against UGA, there were so many holds that weren't called. If they struggled against TAMU and UGA, there is little chance of stopping the star-studded Tide defense. The Bama front 7 are truly amazing. I wouldn't be surprised if all of them, and their backups, play some NFL ball. 

I have to confess something that will seem like blasphemy. Malzahn has built a reputation as being an offensive genius. A man who revolutionizes the game. This year has looked nothing like that. I sometimes wonder if he is becoming a victim of his own success. It seems like he found success from innovative play calls and has continued to ride those same plays, even when opposing defenses have figured them out. After all, the SEC has the best defensive minds in the game. If you quit being innovative, they will figure you out. After all, if I can guess the play 80% of the time, I am sure the defensive coordinator can as well. Malzahn has done an exceptional job in the past with finding his offense's identity and playing to it. This unit looks like it has been pressed into an assumed identity. 

But, if there is anyone who can circle one game on a schedule, review and analyze an opponent and put together a strategy, Gus is the man. It will be  ragged edge, very similar to the 2009 Iron Bowl when his play calling in the first half blew the doors off the Tide. He is certainly capable of doing that. The 2014 Tide defense is great, but it is not as good as the 2009 unit, which struggled against a Gus at his best. 

What does he have to do to win in BDS? This Tide defense is built to attack downhill between the tackles. It is made to stuff runs up the middle. The secondary is built to defend against deep throws, using athleticism to break on it, or to ball-hawk errant throws due to pressure. As we saw last year, they do not play well against perimeter passing, ironically the exact offense they field against their foes with Cooper. If Auburn can get Bray, Louis, and Coates involved with quick hits to the outside, it will discombobulate the defense just enough to open up the rest of Auburn's game. Marshall hasn't been nearly the threat he was last year, mainly because the defense has been able to stop the run game, which defenses could not do in 2013. Marshall excels as a "second fiddle" runner and not as a primary weapon. 

In summation, the Auburn offense has to be perfect to win against the Tide in BDS, a tall order. All the Tide defense needs to be is "good." 

Special Teams
Yeahh.....so......Auburn hasn't had much of any kick return game. They have muffed punts and dropped kickoffs. They've had shanked punts.  They have had blocked field goals for TDs. They let Gurley return one on them last week, which was called back. Wouldn't it be sweet revenge to beat Auburn in the kicking game? At least Auburn has a field goal kicker. Bama has proven that it can make you pay for kicking game mishaps, a la LSU. Honestly, Alabama has the edge here simply because of the sheer amount of kicking errors Auburn has had in 2014. 

Players of the Game
Mincy/Jones-Whoever is playing on Cooper must have the game of their life. That means in pass coverage, tackling, and getting off blocks. The later is something that the Auburn secondary have been unable to do. 

Frost/McKinzy-Talk about pressure. All they have to do is stuff the run, or watch Yeldon/Fowler/Henry out of the backfield, keep OJ Howard from going up the seams, or stop Sims from running. No problems there, right? The issue is that they have struggled with ALL of these things. They were unable to pick up Evan Engram, the Ole Miss TE nor the TEs from Arkansas in the opener. They couldn't stop Prescott up the middle even when they knew it was coming. Against big backs like Henry, they have shown a knack for avoiding every down contact. Now we are asking them to do all of these things plus take on Yeldon who is as dangerous out of the backfield as anyone. But, hey, anything is possible. 

The Auburn Offensive Line-Alabama is a force in the front 7. Auburn has struggled down the stretch against even bottom rung SEC defensive lines like TAMU, who surprised everyone against the Tigers. If Auburn is to win, they must play above their pay grade against future NFL talent. That's a tough duty for anyone.  If they can improve in the next week, they will give Auburn's playmakers their chances to win this game. Something they CAN do. 

Conclusion
Auburn still owns Alabama at BDS. That may not stand for much to most people, but it does to me.  Before the season began, I thought this was a LOCK for Auburn. I'm glad I didn't bet on it. The drop in production for both sides of the ball for Auburn has been mystifying while the Tide seem to be peaking at the right moment, shades of 2013 except the teams are reversed. I think the perception is that people think Auburn will be doing good to keep the spread under 21, due to the poor performances in previous weeks. As we have seen with Alabama, they struggle mightily against teams that they believe are inferior. If the Tide prepares and carries the mindset that this is truly a revenge game AND an elimination game, I don't see how Auburn can win. But, let's not discount the possibility of the Tide looking forward a week to a tough game in Atlanta.  It's the Iron Bowl and anything can happen. 
Bama 35-17

Deer Hunting 11/17/2014

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My dad bought me a muzzle loader for my birthday last year, though it was after the muzzle loader season (well, the week between just muzzle loader vs gun).

But, we did dial in the iron sites on it, which I have to admit, CVA does a good job on the iron site selection. Afterwards, the gun was put in a case and left.

Muzzle loader season opened this past Monday. After getting work done, I was able to slip out and head towards the mountain. My dad had built a new shooting house in an all new location that I thought was going to be perfect, especially considering the 10 mile and hour wind that was pelting the west side of the mountain. Located on the lower south east side, it would offer me some protection. Well, I should say, it offered my scent some protection from any sniffing deer. I climbed the steps in to the shooting house and buckled down. In Zach terms, that means I read a book.

It was obvious that I had under-dressed. Most of my stuff is packed away in the attic still. I thought I could get away with a single Under Armour layer, jeans, and coveralls. My gloves and hat were still in my fishing stuff, left over from the travesty that was Fishing on 11/15/14.

As I read "The Martian", I was afraid that my fears were confirmed: the high wind was keeping all the deer at bay. The temperature was beginning to fall and the weathermen had suggested it would hit the high 20s. I definitely could feel it starting to bite. I like to hear the woods, so I keep the windows open, which means....you guessed it....I get cold.

But I am a big boy and I dealt with it, especially as I watched two of the biggest squirrels play on the tree next to me, wishing I had my 10/22 so I could wear them out as I had last week in my Squirrel Hunts. Instead, I just watched their interesting lives and how they go about them, wondering how their little minds worked. And as I followed one as it ran across a woods road, I saw a deer slip from one side to the other.

It was amazing that I ever saw the deer. I would be a liar if I said that I sometimes wonder just how many deer I have not seen in the woods, and just what percentage I see on dumb luck. This was just another situation where luck led my eyes. But as soon as I saw the deer, it slipped into a pine tree thicket, which we had planted after the F5 tornado in the late 90s. But, I kinda knew where it was going. The shooting house sits on the crossroads of two woods roads, one leading down the mountain and one leading north/south. But, only 50 yards from the crossroads is a food plot. I figured that was where the deer was heading, though I would catch glimpses of it rooting around. I was surprised that it seemed to be alone. I already knew it was a smaller deer, but with it being alone, it might be a button buck. Chances were, that's exactly what it was.

But almost as soon as I had dismissed the deer on these assumptions, another deer came walking down the road at the edge of the food plot. This one was obviously a mature doe.

We enjoy eating our deer and the freezer was almost empty. I was really hoping to fill it before devoting time to a buck. After all, it's been a few years since I killed a buck.

I setup the GoPro and hefted the muzzle loader, picking a spot between trees. I admit that I didn't really consider the range. I am so used to hunting with a rifle that the range isn't an issue. This was every bit of a 50 yard shot. Not terribly difficult for a muzzle loader, but certainly on the outside of the envelope with iron sites. But again, we had sited it in, so I wasn't too worried.

I picked a spot between two trees and the deer trucked right on towards them. When the deer came full broadside in between the trees, I let one rip.

Then something smacked me in the face. Hard. And I thought: "OMG THE GUN JUST BLEW UP IN MY FACE!"

Eventually I figured out that my head was still intact and on top of my neck. The deer had taken off and it was obvious that I hadn't hit it. After all, you hit something with a 50 cal, it's going down. Now, it may get back up eventually, but it might need a Peter Griffin moment.

After looking around, I found what had been knocked off. It was my read dovetail site. Apparently it had been knocked loose at some point during the last year. Who knows where I shot!

Well, it's back to last years post about Understanding Your Firearms Performance. Ugh. Right back to where we were in 2013.

Anyway, enjoy the vid!


Monday, November 17, 2014

The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry Review

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The last time I turned an Auburn game "off" was the Iron Bowl in 2012. But, I have never been as disgusted with Auburn football as I was this weekend. At least in 2012 it was my 30th birthday and I had friends and family to hang with. And, to be fair, I had given up on that season a few weeks earlier when TAMU ran the Johnny Football Freight Train through Jordan-Hare. It might have even been the laugher at Vanderbilt that I turned a blind eye.

Don't misunderstand or take me for a band wagon fan. It's just that watching gameplay that we are seeing is so bad, it has become bad for my health. I blame a few things: the expectations of this squad and the complete breakdown of fundamentals. 

Losing I can take. Honestly, losing is something each and every real Auburn fan understands. Even if you didn't live through the 70s, you still remember some of those painful years. It's always the ones with high expectations that hurt the worst. 2003 comes to mind.  And, I guess I should be happy that we didn't start out 0-2 like the 2003 team did, but I am willing to bet that if we played Arkansas right now, we might just be on the losing end.  But, this club reminds me more of the 2009 squad, which rattled off a 5-0 record before losing 5 of it's next 7 games. 

That skid started against Arkansas on the road and was courtesy of some timely turnovers and Auburn simply couldn't get off the mat.  They rebounded to beat a ranked Ole Miss team before dropping 2 of the last 3 against their major rivals. Sound familiar? Auburn started off 5-0 before dropping an SEC West showdown with Mississippi State in Starkville, thanks to turnovers. They rebound against Ole Miss and have dropped 2 straight, a first in the Malzahn Era. 

Much like the 2009 squad, the offense came out on fire the first half of the season. The defense wasn't very good, but was kept under wraps by the amount of points the offense put up. Down the stretch, the offense wilted as SEC coaches were learning about the tendencies of the offenses. And, they are there if you look for them. The resulting pressure on the defense was too much and they could not stop anyone when it mattered. 

The difference is, Auburn played Georgia and Bama close in 2009, losing both games with a combined 12 points. I do believe Auburn can play Bama close, but the dumpster fire that was put on display Saturday in Athens has me really aggravated and concerned. 

Did I expect Auburn to win? Nope. Not only did I call for Auburn to lose this in my Deep South's Oldest Rivalry Preview, but I called this loss 6 months ago in my Way Too Early Predictions. Now, back then, I called it for UGA simply on the revenge aspect, and also because it would tie the series 55-55-1 and the game was in Athens. It was fitting. As Auburn limped out of the TAMU game, it was painfully obvious that UGA would win this game. If you didn't think it was going to happen, you need to get your orange and blue shades checked for a new prescription. 
So, let's talk about this game, that is, unless your behind is still tender...cause mine is. But I can talk about it because, well, I knew it was going to happen. So Gurley came back and shared time with Chubb, but that didn't seem to matter as both of them torched the Auburn defense. The most notable thing was obviously the rushing statistics. They ran up 280 yards between the two of them. And, as I stated, the backs were deadly from the backfield. Chubb was the leading receiver with 48 yards though Mitchell had a TD catch. 

There for a moment, it looked like the Auburn D had shown up as it forced a 3 and out on two straight possessions to open the game. But, you almost felt like the D was held together by a band-aid and bubble gum, which seemed to have let loose when Quan Bray committed (what I think) the game ending play with 3:17 left in the first when he muffed a punt. Let me go on a rant here...what happened to our return game? I mean, the obvious answer is that Chris Davis left for the NFL, but the last 5 years have been a who's-who of fumbling kicks or botching fair catches. There for half a minute, Bray looked to be "the man" for punt return duties. Corey Grant has been fantastic his entire career and has been a non-factor (like, at all) when back catching kicks.  

Ok. Back to the defense. After a fairly solid first quarter of play, Auburn's defense looked like it didn't want to hit Chubb or Gurley. No. I mean that. I saw more "Olay!" arm tackles and dives from the would be tacklers than I care to comment about. Other than to say that they made it obvious to even an untrained eye that they were either 1) out of position horribly 2)didn't want to hit 3)combination of 1) and 2). But, I have a theory. 

I am ashamed that I even took the time to write about the 4 Horsemen of the Sackocalypse. This defensive front 4 has been perhaps the biggest bust of a unit that I can remember in my 20+ years of watching Auburn football. I think I am a pretty could evaluator of talent and execution and they have made a travesty of the preseason expectations. And yes, I know they lost Dee Ford and Carl Lawson. They have been unable to shift the line of scrimmage at any point this season. Despite the billing of almost all of these players as 4 and 5 star recruits, they have not supplied the expected talent. The UGA offensive line spent little effort blowing the Auburn front 4 off the ball and getting to the LBs, who struggled to get off blocks and fill gaps. The few times they had opportunities to make plays, the UGA backs simply cut it up the middle. The secondary played decent, but struggled bringing the UGA backs down. Overall, I place another loss at the feet of the defensive line. The first few weeks of struggling led to more frequent blitzes, which led to a lot of 1-on-1 battles with the secondary, starting at MSU. I understood why TAMU had great yardage through the air as the AU backs where faced into tight coverage with their backs to the ball. 

But Mike Bobo and the UGA offensive line made a mockery of Ellis Johnson by picking up the 5 and 6 man blitzes and running the ball right down the Tiger's throats. Mason existed in the time it took to take the snap and hand it off, managing a hundred yards and a TD. In the meantime, the UGA backs juked, jived, and ran over each and every Auburn player who couldn't manage to conveniently jump out of the way or arm tackle. Now, if you didn't watch the game and just watched or read the press conference with defensive coordinator Johnson, you might be tempted to believe that the defense played well on "all but about 15 plays" as Johnson suggested.  What a joke. Missed tackle after missed tackle. And then the next play of missed tackles. My wife and I counted up to 5 missed tackles on multiple plays. Mason even did a Brett Favre impersonation, side stepping what little penetration Auburn did get before he moved the chains with an effortless throw. I know Auburn isn't in the business of pointing fingers, especially at players, but to tell us that the defense is in any shape an SEC unit is a mockery. 

Offensively, Auburn came out and threw the ball on the first 4 plays of the game before riding CAP into the endzone. It was one of the most complete drives I had seen to date in 2014. What followed was inspired defense by UGA and a completely lackluster and lost Auburn offense. The Auburn receivers struggled all night with the thing they are given a scholarship to do....catch the ball. Louis and Coates  had PAINFUL drops on back to back plays. And then throughout the game. It stupefies belief on how Coates can haul in contested passes, sometimes even with interference, but can drop balls like he did Saturday. One in particular, as he ran a dig route and just dropped it. Louis might as well be listed as a running back. He cannot catch the ball if it isn't the Prayer in Jordan-Hare. He may be one of the fastest players on the field, but why he stays on the field when there are guys who CAN catch the pass is a mystery to me. This isn't a new occurrence, of course. We all recall how this happened last year. Luckily, Auburn didn't have to play from behind very often and simply ran the ball. But, this offense simply isn't the 2013 unit. I don't understand how guys like Melvin Ray and Marcus Davis don't see more playing time. When they are in the game and are thrown to, they catch it. It's like Malzhan feels obligated to keep those 2 in the game because he owes them. I'm serious yall. Think about it. When have you ever seen either of those guys DROP A PASS? When the ball is thrown to them, it's caught and moves the chains. But I digress.

The special teams. What is there to say? What special teams? Oh, the one that muffed a punt, took out a punter without touching the ball, and failed to move the ball into a respectable position on kickoffs? 

The team that showed up in Athens Saturday was not inspired to play football, just as they weren't against TAMU the week before. While the TAMU loss hurt because of HOW it was lost, Saturday was an utter beat down in which Auburn had a chance for around 2 minutes. 

It's hard for a fan not to see the gameplay from Saturday night and think that this team hasn't packed its bags. I mean, it's possible. The same talent went 3-9 in 2012 and made the National Championship in 2013. If they quit once, they could quit again. Is it a case of the 2010 Alabama team? A team that feels like it's DUE wins without putting in the work? Is it lack of talent? Maybe the coaching isn't what it should be. 

Personally, I am hoping of a remake of the 2009 Iron Bowl with a slightly different ending. 


Fishing Report for Guntersville 11/15/14

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I really struggled on whether or not to make a post today about the fishing this weekend. After all, *I think*, and may be I am wrong, that people come here to see how I caught them, check out the pics and the vids. So, when days like Saturday come along, and they frequently do, I find myself thinking "there isn't anything to write about, so I guess I won't. "

So, if you are only here to gain some knowledge on how to catch fish (though I look at the Fish of 2014 page and snicker), then you are in for disappointment and you can go ahead and click the red "x" in the upper right hand corner. 

But, I started thinking....why did I start this blog in the first place? Well, it was because I was so tired of reading all these glowing reviews on the Bass Fishing Homepage, or on social media. Heck, when I first started fishing Guntersville in 2008, it took something like 3 trips to catch a fish. I started reading the reports. They were kinda vague, but they would give me specific baits and usually areas and techniques (yes, I realize how naive this is, in retrospect).  They never seemed to work, and that was as frustrating as not catching fish. Here I was looking at these pictures and reading these reviews about how easy it was. In fact, I went out and hired one of the guides on Guntersville because I was just SURE that I was doing it wrong and I needed help. We caught 3 fish that day and weren't given any excuses by this guide. All he did was ask for his swimbait hooks back, which he had loaned me, and asked for a tip. Then he dumped us off at the dock and took his next clients. 

And that very next week I started this blog.

If you are an avid reader of this blog, then you know that 2014 was a pretty rough year. We did well in the 2014 Tournament Fishing, but these were little local derbys and nothing more. By and large, numbers were down across the board, but none more so than on Guntersville. The last 2 months, especially. we fished the Spro Frog Tournament and caught 2 fish all day with a total of 3 bites. We were back on the lake the next weekend for a club tournament and managed 2 bites and no fish. It wasn't just us. If you had 2 measuring fish in the Spro Tournament, you cashed a check. out of the 200 or so boats, there were entire flights of boats who failed to weigh in a fish. Same in the club tournament. If you had ANY fish, you got a check. But, we figured it was hot and the fish were in a funk. 

Finally the temps cracked and most fishermen figured the fishing would fire up. After the first few nights in the 30s, social media started blowing up. The guides were reporting that the fishing was GREAT and that everyone needed to get in to it. I tried to ignore the obvious long-arming in some of the pics, or why some of the pictures I was seeing were borderline 15 inch fish. But, I know how hard it is to get good vids and pics when everything else is going on. 

On Friday night, Jamie from The Bait Tackle and Grill at Goosepond made an interesting post  on the book of faces. 

"Here is a true fishing report for lake Guntersville... The bass, despite what you see on the Internet, have been very slow for the past couple months. Somehow we missed our fall weather and went straight to winter. Of course a very few guys have found some fish but no one is wearing them out. "

There are few people in the fishing industry that I trust to shoot me straight, and Jamie is one of them. There were some interesting comments to go along with his post, including some admissions that live bait is being used. But that's neither here nor there. The reason I was looking for info was because we had a club tournament on Saturday. Josh and I joined a new club and this would be our first tournament with them, though we know several members from the Ditto Wildcats. So, we pull up at Seibold, get the boat in the water, and get after it. 

7 hours later we didn't have a bite. Not one. No nudges. Not blowups. We didn't even see any action. We covered the whole Seibold area and threw a plethora of baits in all different depths. Due to a recently repaired and untested lower unit, we didn't want to run anywhere else, and we didn't think we needed to. Maybe we should have. 

I will spare you any longer of a read then you need. We had either 10 or 12 boats, half those didn't weigh a fish. There was 1 limit for 8 pounds, something I didn't think was possible with a 15 inch limit. 2nd place was 2 fish for 6 something pounds, which featured a 5.5 pounder that was easily TWICE as big as any other fish weighed in that day. Of the boats that weighed in fish, I didn't see any with more than 2 and they were always squeakers. 

Don't misunderstand me, I don't really feel better that we didn't catch any based upon the lack of success of others. I try and avoid comparing myself to other fishermen, after all, we have found the most tournament success when others struggle. I also don't want you to think that I expected success because of what I read on the internet. After all, you can lead yourself to believe the earth is flat if you go read the Flat Earth Theorist webpage. 

But, the title says fishing report, so that's what you are getting. Right now, the fishing is incredibly tough. So tough that I wouldn't bother. And that's hard for me to say. I know. I know. Deer season is here, the lake has cleared off. I am just saying....you might find another lake. But, like The Dude says..

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Squirrel Hunting 11/11/14

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As much as I like deer and turkey hunting, there is something special about squirrel hunting. I guess that I associate the good things of squirrel hunting to fishing. See, in deer hunting, your absolute best day involves shooting 1 deer. You best day fishing? Well, who knows? It could be catching 100 fish. Or maybe a massive sack and winning a tournament. Like fishing, there is usually plenty of action. 

I took off a little early this past Friday to meet up with my friend Neil and do some hunting. I got started a little before he did and managed to do some scouting. I was amazed at how active the squirrels were. I managed to get around 30 shots, bagging 2 before he got there. Like fishing, just because you get a hook in a fish doesn't mean you get it in the boat. One thing I have learned about squirrels is, if you don't get a head shot, you may not bag them....even if you punch several holes in them. You would think I would have learned my lesson, since I grew up hunting them. 

But then I got to thinking, due to my hunting habits as a kid, I didn't get a lot of action. See, growing up, we would go sit stationary and wait for the squirrels. And, when we did get a shot, we used a good Marlin with a terrible Tasco scope. The best I EVER did was 2 squirrels in one day. 

Last year, I put together a Ruger 10/22. Nothing special, other than I spent a good amount of money on it. You can read about the gun in my Ruger 10/22 Build

Because I had a better firearm, I was able to see the squirrels so much better with the 9 power, 40mm scope. I could find them at greater ranges and resolve them, which I couldn't do. 

I also tweaked my approach to hunting them by covering more ground. Basically, I would walk around until I found active ones. 

I was amazed how my production sky rocketed. I don't think I have been out for a long hunt without bagging 3-4 of them in an hour. 

So by the time Neil showed up, I had two in the bag and had missed (well, they got away but I know I hit them) several. I gave him my old Marlin and I used the Ruger. We found out pretty quick how useless that Marlin was compared to the Ruger, so I swapped off with him. We stumbled into an area with 5 or 6 active ones and he was able to bag one. 

Took them home and cleaned them up. 

Saturday, we went to a cookout/ball game party. After Auburn lost to TAMU, I was pretty down. I had these squirrel legs defrosting, so I decided to cook them up for my friends. 

I let them set in a marinade for 30 minutes as I heated up an iron skillet. A double egg bath/flour dusting and in the pan they went. They didn't last long. 

I will admit, it made me feel better.


Well, the  next day Griffin (5) said he wanted to go hunting. That was a surprise. He hasn't shown any real interest in sports or hunting/fishing. So, if he wanted to go...we were going. While I loved hunting as a kid, I was terrified of guns. I was amazed that he showed little to no fear as I fired several times at one  squirrel In fact, after I supplied a head-shot, the squirrel fell out of the tree and landed with a plop about 20 yards away, and Griffin thought it was the funniest thing he had ever seen.

We went to retrieve the squirrel. I told him to kneel down and take a pic of it, which he did. I snapped this pic. right afterwards, he looked down and started screaming.

"It isn't dead! It isn't dead! It isn't dead!"

Of course, I stared laughing and yelling that it was. 

"NO! It's looking RIGHT AT ME!" 


The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry Preview

The Auburn Realist

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GEORGIA HATE WEEK IS HERE!

I know, it's 10:32 and I am just now getting to it. Probably because I was wrapping up the Auburn Defense Hate....errr.....the TAMU Review post. But, it's all good. Time to move on to the 2nd biggest Rivalry in College Football. In case you missed it, here are some of my thoughts over two of my fav's.

The Prayer in Jordan-Hare
The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry: 2002 Edition

Honorable mentions go to 2004 UGA game when Auburn dominated the Daaaggggs (that's a "Snatch" reference) except for one play as Reggie Brown caught a deep ball. And then was destroyed by Jr. Rosegreen in the hardest hit I have seen, in person.

Anywho. So, as you may have read, Auburn is coming off the worst loss in the Gus Malzahn era. I guess any loss is a bad loss, but when you are favored at 23.5 points and you lead at precisely ZERO moments in the game...well....

Oh, and there were the two fumbles in the final two minutes including a dooooozzy that puts the Mark Sanchez "butt-fumble" to shame. Other than that, my weekend was great, thanks for asking.

Doing this preview will be tough for me, as I said way back when in our Way Too Early Predictions that I expected Auburn to lose this one. Well, not to surprise any of you too early, but I am holding to that prediction. I mean, I would love to be wrong and all, but the defense continues it's monumental slide......well, more on that.

So, Auburn finished the 2013 rivalry game with what we thought was the best finish in football. And while the Kick 6 happened only 2 weeks later, nothing should diminish the 2013 game.

More importantly, it left the UGA faithful looking forward to repaying the favor. Auburn hasn't beaten UGA in back to back seasons in nearly a decade. Additionally, Auburn hasn't won in Athens since the 2005 game where they won by a single point.

Additionally, with a win, UGA can even the series at 55-55-1. Sounds like providence.

Auburn's Defense vs Georgia's Offense
This one will short. The Dddaaagggss are 7th in the country in points scored at 43 per game. Gurley comes back. Chubb has run over everyone in his absence and Douglass may be one of the best short yardage backs in the conference. Senior QB Mason has had a very impressive season, just not to the standards left behind by Murray. He has 15 TD tosses, 3 INTs and 1500 yards. 6 different receivers have over 10 catches, but Chris Conley and Michael Bennet lead the way with 25 and 30 catches and 5 and 4 TDs, respectively.  It's worth mentioning that they have put up these points against the SEC East, which is as poor as it has been in my lifetime. The only reasonable competition they have faced has come against a common foe in Arkansas, whom they beat 45-32 behind a monstrous 31 point 2nd Quarter. Auburn started the first half of 2014 shutting down the run in serious fashion. In their last performance, Auburn gave up over 5.5 yard averaged to two different backs, who both had over 60 yards. The inability to get a pass rush let the Aggies spread the ball to receivers early, opening up huge running lanes. I expect the senior QB to do the same, though I don't think Mitchell or Conley are as good as the young receiver core that TAMU put on the field. However, the two excel with the deep ball, something Auburn has been able to control at times.

With Auburn bringing constant blitzes and Mitchell/Conley heading down field with the Auburn secondary turned, the most frightening aspect of the UGA offense has to be the backs catching the ball on screens and wheels. Gurley showed just how dangerous he was last year against Auburn as he took several balls from the backfield for chunk plays. Not only will it be open, but UGA is well versed in this game plan. It will be up to the STAR position and the middle linebackers to make the plays in space, something that is tough to do on either of these two backs.

I have little to no faith that Auburn can stop the UGA offense. This may be the most balanced attack they will face, with the exception of Bama in two weeks. With the inability to bulk up against either the pass or the run, the chances are slim that Auburn can stop the Dogs. This one may very well go down to a lucky turnover.

Auburn's Offense vs Georgia's Defense
If it weren't for those pesky first series turnovers, I firmly believe Auburn would be undefeated. Well, that, and actually stopping an opposing team in their 1st drive of the first quarter. Duke Williams is out, and while that would hurt any team that he would play for, Auburn bounced back with Quan Bray, who had his second monster outing of his senior career. He is quietly turning in a stellar senior season for someone who won't be playing in the NFL. The rest of the receiver core looking decent enough against the dreadful TAMU secondary. For awhile, Marshall was able to throw the ball up to almost anyone and they would come down with it. While UGA has played well on defense, the fact remains that it lost several of it's decent players over the last few years and haven't been able to build the depth they would like. Ironic, I guess, that they have been able to stockpile such amazing talent at running back. But I digress. Auburn has done a decent job the last few weeks against the pass rush and keeping defenders from knocking the ball down. Coach Pruitt has certainly been watching the game film and coaching his players on getting into pass lanes to knock down passes. He has certainly seen what happens if you can over power the interior linemen during the zone-read plays. Over all, Auburn has one of the worst percentage of fumbles lost in the country, though it's worth noting that Auburn runs a lot more than most teams. But, it isn't just the handoff mesh and the running backs that are concerning. Auburn's receivers, namely Williams, have been careless with the ball. By all rights, Duke fumbled the ball and the refs gave it back to Auburn on the play that ended his night.

Over all, Auburn's offense has only been stopped by itself, thanks to mistakes and miscues. They will have to be near perfect on Saturday to keep up with the dogs.

Special Teams
I doubt we see much punting in this one. Kick offs? Aplenty. Auburn has not shown the ability to stretch the field or create a short field for itself this year, unlike last year. In fact, Auburn has made some dreadful mistakes in kick returns in 2014. At least Carlson has been spot-on, and if it comes down to a field goal, I will take his chances.

Will this 2014 edition of the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry be another epic battle? I do think so, and I don't discount that we could very well see another amazing finish. The problem is, I see UGA having the edge here.
UGA wins 45-34

The TAMU Review

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One of the biggest benefits of being an Auburn fan has been that you rarely lose games you should win. You might lose games to teams ranked below you, but rarely have Auburn fans had to endure The Egg. As in, laying The Egg. Sure, we have watched teams from across the country do it year after year, but I don't recall Auburn ever doing it. Perhaps the closest would be the 2012 season to Vandy. But, as we saw by the years end, Auburn couldn't have beaten anyone. 

Under Malzahn, it would be hard to believe something like this would be possible. Yet, last year's LSU game, this year's MSU game all had that feel. The feel of a team that didn't really come prepared to play. I have to admit that I would be willing to accept one game a year, if it means going on to beat our rivals and reach the SEC Championship game. Many fears were realized Saturday as Auburn allowed TAMU to come out of the tunnel and throw up 7 points in a drive that looked like a flag football game. And, in the fashion that has proven to be Auburn's undoing, they put the ball on the turf on their first series, nay, the first play on offense. TAMU rammed the ball through on a short field to go up 14-0 with a mere 2 minutes gone from the clock. Though I am not a negative person, I went to my Facebook page and essentially said that Auburn was done and they might as well head to the locker room. The players were flat. The fans were flat. It seemed rather obvious that Auburn was ill-prepared. 

That may sound a little fatalist, but let's remember what I wrote just days before this game. 

Regarding the Auburn Defense vs TAMU Offense:

"Despite all the railing I can heap on TAMU, I have LEGITIMATE concerns going into this game. They might sound small, but like how little knicks and cuts can add up, so can little concerns. While the TAMU offense has struggled, it could be against the Tigers that it finds new life. Kyle Allen is no scrub. This kid came out of HS as one of the best recruits in the country. While he didn't torch the over-matched Warhawks, he didn't have to. This was a tune up game. Get out there, work up a lather, then hand the ball off and seal the game. With a road trip to a hostile environment in Jordan-Hare coming up, Sumlin wasn't about to show too much. Why? Because he has learned something from the NFL. If you watch the NFL and play fantasy, one of the lessons you will learn is that the first game for a new skill player will almost always be their best because winning in the NFL is just as much about preparation as it is with talent.... Offense's have been able to put up massive passing yards. Couple that with an Auburn defense that can't get any pressure, and Allen has a legitimate chance to make huge waves. I believe he will have a huge game."

I went on to say that there is only one way to really beat the Aggies. That is to force 3-and-outs or create turnovers in the first quarter. If you allow them to put points on the board first and build a lead, they are tough to beat. And, that's exactly what happened. It wasn't until the 4th quarter that anything RESEMBLING a defense showed up. But, I am here to tell you that the 4th quarter stops were more about the Aggies milking the clock that Auburn forcing the punts. 

Speaking of the Auburn defense....where is it? Since 2007, the Auburn defense has consistently underperfomed expectations. Even in 2010, the defense was a liability though it featured at least 3 future NFL players. Despite changes in head coaches and coordinators, the defense continues to slide. Earlier in the season, it was easy to point about the loss of Carl Lawson and Dee Ford and expect less production. But the lack of pressure up front has been woeful from the beginning, forcing constant blitzes from linebackers, corners, and safeties. These blitzes have forced 1 on 1 situations on the back end that have rarely been won. Opposing teams have learned that Auburn does have enough talent on the corners to play the deep ball. Instead, they have thrown intermediate and short routes at the coverage, whose backs are frequently turned. Coupled with missed tackles in the middle of the field, opposing teams have been able to convert a nasty percentage of passes and turn the Yards After Catch number into video game numbers. 

I really didn't want to be staring Georgia Hate Week in the face talking about how bad the defense is. And, I certainly don't like being so negative, but there has been nothing but regression from week 1. I haven't looked up the stats, but Auburn may be on pace to beat the 2012 mark for Worst Defense in Auburn History. Hard to believe that a unit that many, myself included, would be the top pass rushing front in the country has been, statistically, one of the very worst. 

Regarding what I said about the  Auburn offense vs. TAMU Defense:

"If you don't think Auburn players and coaches aren't looking ahead, you have lost your mind. They are already preparing for UGA and almost certainly haven't devoted 100% of their effort to TAMU, especially on offense. Undoubtedly, the Auburn offense is high on itself after their conquests against one of the nation's best defenses. The scary thing is, the Auburn offensive line has not played with the chip that the 2013 squad played with. The last few weeks have been impressive, sure, but let's not forget the woes that we have seen against other teams. Auburn's offense is at it's worst when it thinks it's superior to the team it's playing. And, you know it thinks it's better than TAMU's struggling D. "

What happened? 3 lost fumbles and one of the worst game ending mistakes I have EVER seen, right on par with Kick 6. Despite putting up massive numbers, the Tigers failed to succeed when it really mattered. I can't help but point to the 1st and last offensive plays of the game as case-in-point that the Auburn Tigers never took the Aggies seriously. My last thoughts on the Review?

"Statistically, you look at TAMU and you laugh. They have a 3 game losing streak against SEC teams. They allow massive points on defense. And they have a freshman QB making his first SEC start in a tough place. But, the Auburn crowd against USC was mundane and quiet until the 4th quarter. I have been pretty quiet about that, but it was disturbing that the air during pregame was lax and the crowd was quiet. This is a very similar game where the Auburn fan base sees TAMU as over-matched and without a chance. As a result, this is a "take the kids" type game. No electricity. No dominating noise. I admit that I also fell into this category in the South Carolina Game.  Auburn has a defense that struggles to get any pressure on QBs and is UNDOUBTEDLY looking forward to the UGA game next week. The Auburn offense is at it's worst coming off of dominating performances The perfect storm is setup for TAMU to get a win against a Top 3 team."

I admit that if I really believed what I typed, I would have called the game for TAMU instead of the 45-35 for Auburn prediction. Yet, I really did think it was not only possible, but likely. It's awfully tough for such an Auburn Homer like myself to realize that not only are we NOT going to the SEC Championship and the Playoffs, but we don't deserve to be there, anyway. 

It really is hard to accept that, but we have to remember WHO we are. I have seen a lot of social media pointing to this. We the fans, and certainly the players, have played this season like we deserved to be there, regardless of how we played. And, like Alabama in 2010, it showed. The good news is, we still have at least 3 more games, 2 in the National Spotlight, to prove that we are deserving.