Monday, November 17, 2014

The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry Review

You can find links to all of my Auburn Realist Blog posts here.
Follow me on Facebook, YouTube,  and Twitter!

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.