Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The TAMU Preview

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Auburn escaped with a win in Oxford in a grisly fashion, not only because of Treadwell's injury, but because of the lack of production by the defense and inability for the offense to finish the Rebels off.  But, they did win, and it's hard to question it too much. Auburn's defense gave up massive yards through the air, as Wallace was able to stand in the pocket and throw. It's amazing that just a few weeks ago, I was poised to label the Auburn defense as "elite." But, leading into the Mississippi State game, I held off. Boy, am I glad I did. Despite the firm belief that Auburn had a front 4 (and subs) that could be the best front four in the nation, the loss of Lawson and the inability to get anyone passed the offensive line has thwarted the Four Horseman of the Sackocalypse. Instead, Auburn has one of the worst units in the SEC in terms of getting to the opposing QB. Auburn turned in a pretty solid offensive performance against a VERY good Ole Miss defense. They scored at least 1 TD in each quarter while rolling up 500 yards in a very balanced attack.But i nthe end,  even with the two late fumbles give up by Ole Miss, Auburn couldn't move the ball enough to kill the clock which was difficult to watch, as well as they had played all game. The last thing I wanted was for the Auburn defense to have to stop Bo Wallace again. That being said, Marshall doesn't get ANY love, despite being #3 in QBR (ironically, Sims is #2 and no one is talking about him, either). The good thing is, the end of the season is when you want to get hot anyway. Speaking of getting hot too early.....

Auburn returns home against a reeling Texas A&M team. I know you have all heard it enough, but it is truly amazing the fall from grace that this team has had. After drubbing a South Carolina team that seemed poised to take over the SEC East, the Aggies have laid egg after egg, turning in perhaps the most disappointing seasons to date. You don't have to look any further than the QB position to see the struggles. Kenny Hill comes out of the SCAR game as a Heisman front runner. He thumps some totally inferior competition and pads the stats. Suddenly everyone is like "Johnny Who? Johnny Clipboard?" Kenny Trill is the next big thing, the focus of ESPN. And he rolls into the Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Bama stretch and leaves 0-3 and on the bench. Oh, sure, they list it as a suspension. In his place, Kyle Allen gets the start against UL-Monroe, and he EXPLODES for 106 passing yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. Impressive. Most impressive. /Sarcasm.

Let's be real. Hill was 6 TDs vs 6 INTs over the 3 game skid. And, of those 6 TDs, 4 of them came against Ole Miss who had the game won long before he threw those scores. They were garbage time. 

It just goes to show you what I have said about several teams this year. It's the 3rd year that we have heard how Ole Miss and TAMU are going to show us all. And, once again, they are both headed for 9 win seasons. I do believe Ole Miss is going to have a solid season with more than 9 wins, I do firmly believe that TAMU is headed for a meltdown. We were so quick to react to Kenny Hill and the Sumlin system, we dismissed Manziel and Evans. Let me lay it out there for you, these were 2 first round guys. Manziel may have been the best player since Cam, and probably the second best SEC player in the last 20 years. Evans is proving that he is the real deal in the NFL. 

And then, there's their defense. They were outscored 142-36 including one of the worst SEC blowouts I have ever seen against Bama. They are ranked as the 63rd ranked defense, but they are much worse than the stats show. Theire marque defensive games have been against Lamar, Rice, and SMU. Some of the worst teams out there on offense. If you take out those 3 games and the UL Monroe, they haven't given up less than 28 points. Against ranked opponents, they have given up 48, 35, and 59 points. Wow. 

The most telling stat? In the losses to Alabama and Mississippi State, they have given up almost 300 yards on the ground. The Ole Miss stats are deceiving because the Rebels offense didn't have to do much due to turnovers. 

Looking at the receiving stats is deceiving as well. The TAMU defensive backfield is so terrible that EVERYONE catches balls. Only Bama decided to exploit one player and threw to Cooper over. And over. And over. Ole Miss and State spread the ball around, though prototypical receivers like State's Wilson and Ole Miss' Treadwell were able to have good days with limited targets. 

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. 

Surrounding Allen are backs that are great catching out of the backfield and a core of receivers that are all special at doing what they do. Seales-Jones, Noil, and Reynolds are all special playmakers. Unlike the teams Auburn has faced, all of these guys are matchup problems and the Johnson can't stick his best cover corner on just one receiver and hope it works. Auburn will undoubtedly be operating out of the nickel and dime packages all day, which will make some very interesting matchups and leave the middle of the field and the flats in a position to be exploited. With 5 receivers on the field and no pass rush, Allen will have plenty of ability to sit in the pocket and wait for Noil and Co to get open. Expect the Aggies to move the ball within the 20s with ease, but bog down in the redzone, which has been the limiting factor in the last two years (think about when Manziel was hurt in that 3 game stretch last year). Without a mobile QB and lack of a dominant run game, the Aggies will be unable to punch it in with the run. Instead, expect a lot of slants and slant-and-go check routes. Unlike last year's squad, the loss of Evans has taken away the vertical sideline throws. Auburn's secondary has been good against flat throws, when they are turned towards the ball. While the Aggies may chew up yardage, eventually an Auburn defender will either jar a ball loose across the middle, or undercut a throw and take it to the house. But, this comes down to timing and  ratios. The Achilles heel of TAMU has always been to take the ball first and score, force a 3 and out or a turnover and score. The game will be over if you have any sort of defense. 

But, again, though the Auburn secondary has improved this year, most of the improvement has been with 1 player. Therezie has been very quiet this year where he was an absolute force last year. 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.

Auburn Offense vs TAMU Defense
What defense? While the TAMU defense is a complete and utter dumpster fire, a defense that doesn't belong in the SEC, it can still benefit and possibly succeed. 

Though it goes for the Auburn defense as well, that UGA game is looming just around the corner. It doesn't have the allure that many of us thought it would, but it still has great meaning and profound. Auburn has won only 4 of the last 10 of the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry, and hasn't won back to back since 2005 and 2005. Georgia can tie this series up 55-55-8 with a win and assuage the guilt of last year's loss, and do it AT HOME with Gurley returning. 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 I am afraid will happen is that Auburn will attempt to run the ball down the Aggies' throats and get stuffed. By the time Auburn tries to get the pass game going, it may be too late. Any miscues could spell disaster. But, I don't think it will happen. 

Special Teams
Auburn's punting must improve. It was only called upon twice last week and it almost gave the game away. But, I don't think we will see the punting unit much, though I am worried that the first half could be a little rough and we might see the unit. I don't see the need for any field goals. The return game has been awfully quiet. Auburn hasn't returned a kickoff for 6 yet, but looked fairly good in its limited returns last week. Bray hasn't turned in much, though he hasn't had many chances. Last week he was limited to something like 6 total yards.  This could be an opportunity for Auburn the return game to get kick started as it did against Tennessee in 2013. Auburn's cover units have been adequate. 

Players of the Game
With Auburn in the nickel and dime packages, a lot of pressure will be on the two LBs, Frost and McKinzy. While #8 has been a run stuffing head hunter, Frost has shown some terrific sideline-to-sideline speed which is going to be on display Saturday. Frost must be able to cover the flats and make sure tackles. With the Auburn secondary turning in coverage, any missed tackles are going to cost Auburn a lot of yards. Additionally, Frost must defend against a lot of crossing routes in the middle of the field. Those aforementioned slants can turn into big gainers if he misses the coverage. Frost has also shown the "never give up mentality" on more than just the Treadwell play last week. He is developing into a great LB. 

Duke Williams has been kept out of the endzone for two straight games. While he did have 2 TDs in the loss at MSU, it was his fumble that really sealed the game in the first quarter. After an impressive streak of 100 yard games, Williams has been a "move the chains" guy. While his catches have been important, they haven't been game winning, but merely game moving catches. Despite the loss of his speed, Coates has been the deep threat, and while Williams is far superior in this regard, I expect the woeful TAMU defense to concentrate on Coates first, which is going to lead to a monster game for Duke. Short. Long. Get ready. 

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. And while they won't, they will scare a lot of Auburn fans.
Auburn wins 45-35