Monday, January 5, 2015

The Outback Bowl Review

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Ugh. You know what I DON'T want to do? This. Write this very post. But, hey. This is the Auburn Realist. Not the Auburn-Bandwagon-Write-When-You-Win blog, right? So,, like many of you, I am back from Tampa. Did you go? Loss, aside, it was an AWESOME experience. I have not been to 3 bowl games and would go back to this one any and every time we are selected. While I plan to talk about my family and our trip to the Tampa area, this post is about the game.

If you don't remember, or you didn't read, go read my thought in the Outback Bowl Preview

As you all know, we had a ton of great seniors who were on their way out the door and several junior weighing their options. We already knew that Sammie was going and that our two LBs were considering it. Late in the week, word came out that Duke was coming back...but not playing in the bowl game. Sure, that was great for us in 2015....maybe he listened to what I had to say in my article about why he and Sammie should return in 2015. Just kidding. I know better. I made the comment that I wouldn't be surprised if CAP's touches were limited and that Roc Thomas might get featured. I was wrong on both accounts. CAP ran for 125 yards and Thomas didn't record a stat. That was interesting considering that there was a concerted effort late in the year to develop #9 after pulling his redshirt. I admit that I am fairly disappointed with the lack of use of Thomas. With such limited play and with other backs..particularly Grant and Barber....I wonder why Thomas saw the field in 2014 at all. He had meager production, producing only 214 rushing yards....6 less than receiver Ricardo Louis. 

Speaking of no-shows...anyone else interested to find out what was up with Coates? After the game, the reporters asked some very difficult questions of Coach Malzahn. One of those was about Coates and his lack of production. Coach pointed out that he wasn't 100%. While it isn't necessary that the fans know who is hurt and sick, it was still a shock, as a player of that visibility's status is usually well known. If he is sick, don't play him. I know that great players can still make great plays even when they aren't 100%, but he never looked to be going full speed. Could it be that he was protecting himself and his NFL draft stock? It would make sense. We all know that his measurable are off the charts. A poor performance could easily be overcome with a great pro day and combine, which he will surely do. Injuries never look good and are rarely overcome. From my point of view, it looked like lame-duck playing. 

It's a shame too, because I was ready to see our younger receivers take center stage, as we will rely on them a lot next year. The game started out with a lot of promise for the younger guys both Davis and Ray recorded a few receptions. Down the stretch, however, they didn't see the field.  

Speaking of those tough questions, the post-game interview was really interesting. The reporters asked from very pointed questions (in their own passive-aggressive way). It was obvious that no one took the loss very well. None worse than my daughter, who has been to two losing efforts in back to back games. That's a first for her.  

His oft maligned counterpart, Louis, however...looked VERY good. He took a 60+ yarder to the house in stride from a perfect Marshall pass. He added 40 yards of rushing as well. 

Bray ended the year with a 5 catch for 63 yard performance. That put him at 3rd on the team with 39 catches for 471 yards and 4 TDs. A solid senior campaign that I had predicted in the fall

Uzomah showed his ability, which had all but disappeared in 2014, with a stellar grab. He ended the year with 11 catches and 3 TDs. 

Marshall ended his too-short career at Auburn with a terrific performance. He will go down as the most under-valued players in Auburn history. For most of his career, he was...as my blog post said....Unstoppable. He finished 2014 with a 60% completion percentage for 2500 yards, 20 TDs and only 7 INTs. He added 800 yards and 11 rushing TDs. I would venture to say that had he had a quality defense behind him capable of making stops, his numbers *might* rival Cam Newton's 50 TDs. Might. But, they don't because, well....the defense. 

I have virtually no issue with how the offense was run EXCEPT in overtime. The thing is, only in overtime are you GUARANTEED to start in field goal range. Why you would EVER run plays behind the line of scrimmage in overtime puzzles me. Perhaps even more puzzling is the 3rd down Uzomah pass to Marshall, which was eerily similar to a critical  3rd and goal call at Mississippi State where Uzomah attempted a pass. It didn't work then. Still ain't working. While I understand wanting the have the ball in Marshall's hands, since he is your best playmaker...why not let him have the ball in his hands to do what he has done all game? Again, all I can do is shake my head on that series. 

Speaking of shaking heads....how about that defense? I mean, you didn't really think it would be any better, did you? While my thoughts on the 2014 defense are well known, the lack of execution despite having a lengthy layover just solidified this unit as a complete and utter dumpster fire. They will go down as the worst unit in the history of Auburn football, despite having *theoretically* the best recruits it has ever boasted. 

Don't roll your eyes at me and say I am being too hard on my own team. Just hear me out. Wisconsin is going to run Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement at you. Early in the season, the only thing the Auburn defense could do was stop the run. So, we at least have a punchers chance. Stave as proven that he cannot throw the ball, so when he DOES, it's a benefit. Yet, here are and Gordon set a single game record against Auburn for 250 yards while Clement added 100 more. The Badgers racked up over 400 rushing yards. Just think about that. 

And yet we have 2 LBs thinking about bolting to the NFL? What's even more laughable than their tackling was the two bonehead personal fouls they gave up. 

I once again say...I'd rather see our offense play defense. I am willing to bet that our offensive line could get plenty of pressure on the QB. And, I bet CAP could make some tackles at the LB position. 

At least Whitehead and Reed went out on a good note, as both recorded interceptions in their last games as Tigers. 

Is it the coaches or the players? Most of the coaches are gone and Auburn will lose a good chunk of this offensive defense to graduation (and maybe the NFL?). So, I guess we will see.

Special teams weren't so special. Though Carlson nailed a 51 yarder, he missed two much shorter kicks, including the overtime miss. The Auburn return game didn't record a TD all year, surprising, as the Auburn unit had scored multiple TDs each of the last few years. Though Bray promised to be more aggressive on punts, he failed to return a single one. 

The setting for the game was awesome. The weather was perfect. The food was good, even if I had to drop a whopping $54 on lunch for my family. The beers were $10...so you can guess who wasn't buying them. I was surprised by the attendance. I had seen tons of info about how Auburn had requested more and more tickets and that the game was looking like a sellout. The proof is in the pudding. The Outback Bowl was the 2nd smallest crowd in all of the SEC. W0w. 

All in all, this game was a microcosm about the 2014 season. It has been the most disappointing season in my lifetime. Honestly, I can say I am glad that it is over. Losing isn't so bad when you expect it. Having a great team that comes out short (2013) is tough, but you can endure. Having a team of which so much is expected to end the year losing 4 out of 5 in some of the most inexplicable ways...despite being ranked as high as #3, is just the hardest. This game put an exclamation on that point. I know they are ready to move forward. I am.