Monday, December 2, 2013

The SEC Championship Game Preview

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Did I just type that "SEC Game Preview". No. Seriously.

Are we really playing in Atlanta? And Mizzou you say?

What we the odds? I understand that the odds in Vegas for Auburn reaching Atlanta in the preaseason were 75:1. Well. Someone is getting paid for taking those odds.

No. I didn't do a Bammer Preview. I did the review, however. Check it out. Lots of vids and pics! I had a blast. I hope you did too.

So, what did we learn? Auburn can run it on anyone, first off. This coaching staff and team will make you pay for the tiniest mistakes. Don't knock a ball down? Touchdown. Don't cover a kick? Touchdown. Get sucked into a QB read option perimeter run....Marshall dumps it to Coates. Touchdown.

It's true. While everyone had penciled in a 6-6 or 7-5 season, I OPTIMISTICALLY thought it was an 8-4 with a decent bowl game season. After the State game, I at least maintained that we would an 4 loss season entertaining, which was saying a lot more  than 2011 and certainly 2012.

I give credit to my wife and vest friend Kevin who saw victory in a loss to LSU. Sure, I thought it was impressive, by last years standards, that they put up 21 points after falling behind so bad. But, I didn't give them enough credit.

A few weeks later against TAMU, I was convinced. Don't believe me? Read my Second Half of the Season Predictions.

People laughed. People facepalmed themselves after reading my tweets and status updates. Beat UGA? Beat Bama? You are one delusional fan, they said.

Along the way, my wife and I have had the absolute time of our lives....along with the entire Tiger Nation.....in the last few home games. And I thought our adventure at the UGA game couldn't get better.

But, I admit. I didn't have faith as I should and I scheduled surgery this week which will keep me from going to Atlanta. And it hurts. A lot.


Let's talk about this game. The SEC east is....well....it's been a wreck most of the season. That isn't to say the teams aren't good. They just haven't been good all the time. Or a majority of the time. I believe a healthy UGA can beat anyone in the country. But they haven't been healthy, or at least the critical players. Tennessee? Joke. Florida? A bigger joke than Tennessee. South Carolina...for the 3rd year straight...has beaten everyone but the team that matters. I think you see where this is going. Along the way, Mizzou has done well.

Offense
I want you to think about what I am about to say: You are STILL picturing Nick Marshall as a run only, throw in desperation player. It's ok. So does the rest of the nation. But it isn't September. He throws when he has to. He makes you pay when he must. The thing is, he doesn't have to. Everyone in the Nation played the fool this week when they said that the nation's best rushing attack could not run on Alabama and Marshall couldn't throw it to beat them. And what happened? Well, laughingly, BOTH.

While the kickoff will get all the love, the fact remains that Bama was dominated like they haven't been in a decade. Does the score show it? No. Because they are an elite team. But, they had not 1...but 2 100 yard rushers. For a WHOPPING...wait for it...296 rushing yards. They averaged almost 6 yards per carry, folks. And yet, Marshall was 11/16 for 97 yards and 2 TDs. Look. You don't need 200+ yards in the air to say you were successful throwing the ball. Watch the Uzomah TD. Watch the Coates TD. They were...and for opposite reasons....as good a TD throw and catch as you will see. One was pinpoint accuracy after getting the matchup you wanted. The other was absolutely brutal execution and...perhaps....a little improvisation. Don't let them fool you. Marshall was going to run it all the way until the corner sucked up. He flipped it out and it became the 2nd most important offensive play of the day. Let's not forget, Auburn was looking lost until that moment.

There has been a lot of talk about Mizzous front 4 and the overall athleticism on defense. They fly around to the ball. I don't disagree that Sam is a fine defensive lineman. What I hear is, they don't match up well physically, anywhere on the defensive side of the ball and rely on speed and athleticism to counter. There is one problem with that: Auburn runs away from Sam, right up the middle. It doesn't matter how fast your guys are when Mason is through the line before anyone can make a move. Sure, they might keep him from breaking off 20+ yarders, but that hasn't been his MO anyway. Auburn will average 6.5 yards per carry behind Mason. Mason will explode into the Heisman picture for 3 TDs and 150 yards.

Marshall will continue to do what needs to be done. He will keep the ends honest and pull it. He won't go over 100 yards, but he will pick up 1st downs and score twice. Additionally, he will find wide open receivers as he did against Bama for another 2 TD day. Uzomah gets another TD. The other won't go to Coates, who will become the priority for Mizzou. Instead, I see Gus running a wheel route to Louis from the slot. He has the speed and it will only take once. If this play is in the redzone, expect Uzomah instead. Marshall goes 10 for 15 for 120 yards and 2 TDs. That will have him eclipse the 1,000 yard mark. Hard to believe.

Defense
This is where the game gets interesting. Make no mistake, Alabama had a yardage pileup field day. If you looked at just the Bama stats, you would swear they decimated Auburn. Yeldon runs for 150+, McCarron throws for 277 and 3 TDs, no picks. Overall, Bama rushed for over 200 yards, averaging 6.2 yards a carry. In the same way that I feel Mizzou's defense is suspect, I also worry about Auburn's. The difference is, Auburn had to slow Bama down, not stop them. They aren't built to score lots or score fast, though they did at some points. Mizzou, on the other hand, can stretch you to all 4 corners of the field with Green-Beckam and Franklin. Additionally, Josey is quietly sneaking up on 1,000 yards. That's impressive considering how well Franklin runs AND throws. So why am I less scared of Mizzou than Bama? Well, Auburn has given up crazy yardage to everyone, but none more than to the mobile QBs such as MSU's Prescott, Manziel, and to a degree, Murray. The difference? Negative plays. Alabama doesn't have negative plays because their running game is so solid and the play action pass frees up the passer to make easy throws. Say what you will, but McCarron has made his living on play action. He is fantastic with it. Mobile QBs, on the other hand, play almost entirely behind the line. Do they gash you when they take off? Yes. But they also take 20 yard sacks and force errant throws on the run. Additionally, throw first teams like Mizzou, like TAMU, are always one play from a 3-and-out. That sounds cliche, so let me explain. They can gash and gash you time after time. But, for every 2 first downs you give up, if you can force a bad throw or get a sack, you can effectively end a drive.

What will Auburn's game plan be? Contain the outside of the pocket. Spy with the MLB, and hope that your interior lineman can make a few plays. Doesn't have to be a lot. But, like Dee Ford showed against TAMU, you can make 2 plays a game and win it for your team. Additionally, the Auburn defensive backs have thrived on making plays on slightly errant balls. Any time a QB is on the run, he will NOT make as accurate or as fast a pass as he would stepping into the pocket. Auburn has great closers in their two safeties. If the balls float, even a little, they will make them pay. Attention should be noted to the fact that Auburn has had a single takeaway in the last two games. It came on an errant throw from Murray, who was on the move. Additionally, they turnover margin hasn't been great the last few games. That will change this week. Look for Franklin to have a forced fumble, possibly a backside punch, and a pick.

Additionally, and I know everyone is tired of me singing the kids praises, but Therezie is quietly turning in one of the best seasons we have seen from a defensive back since 2004. His plays have been overshadowed in the last two weeks, but he has done everything from tackles for losses to pass breakups. What I love about him most of all is his determination to make a player pay for every yard. I know receivers are starting to take notice of it.

Mizzou moves the ball with ease. It's a good game at halftime. Auburn makes adjustments and an early 3rd quarter turnover forces a 14 point swing that forces Mizzou to get desperate. The run game is abandoned and the 3-and-outs pile up. They still post 450 yards, but are held to 21 points.

Special Teams
There won't be much in the way of special teams for Mizzou. It's a good thing, too. Parkey does have 1 field goal. He doesn't punt but twice all game. Auburn's return game continues to shine. I don't think it will be TDs, but they will flip fields.

Zach's Players to Watch
This one is going to be fun! Owens, #10, will showcase some terrific speed in containing Franklin. He has come on strong in the last few weeks. Pinkel will want to run way from Ford and the rest of the interior D-line, Gabe Wright, etc. Guess who will be waiting.

Mason. It's time to get on the Mason bus with the rest of us. He has the rarest blend of talent. Is he NFL ready? No. But he is New York ready. Will he win? No. I believe that honor should go to Lynch.

Dismukes and Prosch. Dismukes has dominated absolutely everyone. He makes all the calls. He is NFL ready. But boy, I hope he comes back next year. Additionally, Prosch didn't win every battle Saturday against the Tide, but he won enough against the toughest defense in the NCAA. He will absolutely clobber the Mizzou linebackers and defensive ends.

Uzomah. You think he has Marshall's trust? He isn't getting the targets I think he should, but that's because they don't throw it a lot. He may well be the biggest miss-match on either side of the ball at any time. 9 catches and 3 of them go for TDs. He could very well be at 12 catches for 5 TDs by Saturday night. From the slot, Mizzou cannot match up with him.

The Auburn corners. The safeties have played excellent all year. Green-Beckam and the receiver core at Mizzou are big and fast. They spread the field vertically too much for the Auburn corners to rely on their safeties for over the top help. If the safeties have to defend the sidelines, the dig routes and post routes will kill Auburn. The Auburn corners must win...not force stalemates...the battles in the air. I mean, they must tip the balls. They can't go 50/50. There will be a ton of 4 and 5 receiver sets and the individual battles must be won consistently. Additionally, the sets will pull an Auburn safety off the field and force a backup corner into nickle and dime coverage. The question becomes, is Auburn's 4th best corner better than the Mizzou WR3s and WR4s?

The Line
I respect Mizzou. They have done a fantastic job navigating the SEC-East. But, they choked against a very good, USCe team. They aren't ready for the train that is headed at them. If iron sharpens iron, we will see one of the most lopsided victories in the SEC Championship. It won't be 2010...but it will be close. The Tigers will pile up points to impress voters while propelling Mason into New York.

Auburn 52-21