Monday, November 15, 2010

The Sunday Splurge is Happy to Have a Heel

For much of the season, it felt like something was missing. Without most of the major powers in contention for the national title, I had a hard time working up the energy to dislike a team in the Glendale mix. Outside of Seattle, how does someone work himself into a lather about Donald Duck? Or about TCU and Boise State? We've lacked a really hateable program in the BCS discussion. We've also lacked a star player who gets so force-fed to us by the media that we all rebel and root against that player. Then, Saturday provided us with what the season has been missing: a heel. Say hello to this season's Snidely Whiplash: the Auburn Tigers. I'm not sure if it was: (1) the fawning coverage of Cam Newton having to go through the trauma of multiple credible reports suggesting that Auburn paid handsomely for his services; (2) Nick Fairley's attempts to mimic Darnell Dockett (what is it with outwardly religious coaches who preside over teams that seek to maim opposing quarterbacks to the echo of the whistle and beyond? And where is Chaz Ramsey when Auburn opponents really want him around?); or (3) Auburn fans showing their (cl)ass by booing an injured Georgia player, but at some point Saturday, I decided that a fifth straight SEC national championship is not worth the feelings of nausea that I would have rooting for this Auburn team.

Some of my frustration from the game was caused by the realization that Auburn is a Pac Ten team in disguise. SEC fans have routinely mocked teams from the Left Coast and, more recently, the Big XII for being offense-heavy units that are not truly great because they can't stop their opponents. Does that remind you of any team you saw on Saturday? Auburn's defense isn't exactly '98 UCLA, but if an opponent can block their front four, there are options aplenty going on in the secondary. Mike Bobo drove me crazy on Saturday because he didn't recognize that Georgia needed to be scoring touchdowns on every possession and the surest way to do so would be to keep throwing the ball to A.J. Green until Auburn showed that they could stop him by shifting their secondary. Green had a monster first half and then Georgia seemed to forget that they had the best NFL prospect on the field. The third down screen pass at 35-28 was an especially egregious example. If Auburn can't stop your downfield passing game generally and A.J. Green specifically, then why would you ever go away from it? If Steve Spurrier has something working, he'll call it ten times in a row until the opponent stops it. To use an example from another sport, Coach K is the same way. Bobo was either too cute or too committed to balance to realize that he had one major advantage and that he should just keep using that advantage. The Senator concurs:

But then there are the times when Sharp Bobo defers to Dogmatic Bobo, and we saw that yesterday when the Dawgs got the ball back in the second quarter leading 21-14. That’s the Bobo who reminds himself about things like time of possession, balance and number of plays run and forces his offense into an ideological straightjacket, because there’s a book on what an offensive coordinator is supposed to do to be successful and it’s important not to stray from those principles.

The thing is, Auburn’s defense has its flaws, too. The single worst unit I saw on the field yesterday was the Tigers’ secondary. As Danielson noted, they literally couldn’t cover A.J. There were several pass plays during which you could see on replay that Georgia had multiple receivers running open. And Murray was getting decent protection for the most part. The strategy there should have been to stick with what was working in the first quarter (at one point, Murray’s average yards per completion was an eye-popping 21.3) and damn the time of possession and number of plays stats. But that’s not what Bobo elected to do, and Georgia’s scoring pace slowed considerably from that point forward through the rest of the game.

I’ve always believed that the first rule of being a good offensive coordinator is to take what the defense gives you. In his heart, I think Bobo believes that as well. The difference is that he doesn’t trust his judgment enough to stick with it for an entire game. That’s what separates him from a coordinator like Malzahn. In the end, I think it’s the biggest (although not the only) reason for yesterday’s loss. And the question for Mark Richt is whether he can get Sharp Bobo to convince Dogmatic Bobo to take a hike.

The Malzahn comparison is dead on. Auburn didn't throw a single pass in the third quarter. Why? Because their basic running plays were working and there was no reason to deviate. Dan Mullen did the same thing against Georgia this year. To use a counter example, in the 2006 Rose Bowl, USC went from 3-3 at the half with Michigan to 32-10 ahead by abandoning the running game and throwing 29 straight passes. There's no need for balance when one aspect of your offense is working beautifully. Bobo needs to learn that lesson. I suspect that he's too traditional and would be offended by the notion of throwing 29 straight times, but that was the way that Georgia was going to avoid losing its sixth game of the year.

Speaking of Malzahn and Mullen, I kept waiting for Gary Danielson to acknowledge that his never-ending claim that the Spread is dying might be a tad weak in light of the fact that Auburn has overcome a mediocre defense to go 11-0 on the basis of an unstoppable Spread attack. Crickets.

A few other thoughts from the weekend:
  • I love the way some members of the media uses the term "style points" with such disdain when describing TCU's close call against San Diego State. Leaving aside the fact that "style points," a.k.a. scores, are statistically significant, how exactly does one separate unbeaten teams without them? Does anyone really want to parse out TCU's and Boise State's schedules?
  • Another benefit to Auburn losing one of their last two games: a non-AQ conference team will almost certainly make the national title game, which will puncture the air out of Mark Shurtleff's balloon.
  • Just to show that he does have something in common with Bo Schembechler, Rich Rodriguez mimicked Bo's decision to kick twice to Rocket Ismail by leaving his right tackles one-on-one with Ryan Kerrigan. Kerrigan repeatedly blew up Michigan's passing plays while Michigan's right guard Patrick Omameh looked for someone to block.


Anonymous said...

Completely agree with the Bobo analysis. The best hands in college football were running wide open and we were handing it off because ...

I've been attempting to finish that sentence for 2 days now. Candidates include:

(a) ... balance. Nuff said.
(b) ... didn't want to gas the offense with those quick-strike drives.
(c) ... hey, at FSU, a 2 TD lead let you do _nothin_ for three quarters.
(d) ... we wanted to break in that defense some more against the SEC's best offense.
(e) ... if you can't win with 31, I don't wanna win.
(f) ... just 'cause Auburn wants to score every possession doesn't make it right.
(g) ... when moderation is 1/3 of your motto, you have to be proactive in easing up on that production.
(h) ... those tax-and-spend Democrats, dammit.
(i) ... if Dooley had had the league's best receiver and a super QB, he'd have still run it!
(j) ... didn't you watch last year's Tech game?
(k) ... we didn't want to throw it enough to get Craig James' kid interested in transferring.
(l) ... that screen game was just due, yaknow?

For me, each of these rationales offers an equally compelling explanation for Saturday's post-1st-quarter offense. Thank god UF lost.

Anonymous said...

I have been a strong supporter of this blog all season since I found it a few months back. I find the analyses here to be mostly factually based and unbiased, but today I read a post full of emotion in which a writer attacks individuals, a team, and an entire fanbase without so much as a request for an explanation.

But I'm not here to fight back. I'm not going to call names or throw the word "hate" around. I would just like to explain my side.

I'm an Auburn fan.

I have been for a long long time and I've been proud of the fact that Auburn fans have always been the most generous and classy group of people I've ever met. If you need proof, I could point you to numerous posts on opponents blogs and forums that talk about how well they've been treated at Auburn and even how they wish that their own fanbase was so welcoming. Or I could remind you of 2004, when after Junior Rosegreen laid a massive hit on Reggie Brown, the entire stadium chanted along with the UGA fans "Reg-gie Reg-gie!" Praying for that young man to get to his feet.

On Saturday, the game was ugly. Both teams, and I mean both teams, were taking pot shots at one another and there were dirty plays on both sides. I'm not proud of some of the things that our players did and most Auburn fans agree with me. But when the Auburn fans booed that injured player on the field, it was not because we thought he was faking. We knew he was hurt, but we were booing the fact that as he was already 3/4 of the way off the field, he looked up to the sideline to see his coaches screaming at him to go to the ground. He obliged and immediately the players and coaches huddled up rather than worrying about their injured brethren on the field. After the huddle, the player popped up and finished limping to the sidelines.

Now I know that coaches are going to do things like that, and I'm not going to chastise the coaching staff for such a thing, but I see no reason for any Georgia fan to claim that Auburn fans are classless for what happened Saturday night. I'm upset that someone who's opinion I've respected so much throughout the season has so easily turned his head and assumed the worst without even inquiring the details.

I ask you to please reconsider what you've said in your post today. Out of the kindness of your heart, open your mind and try not to hate the Auburn fanbase. I promise that they don't hate you.

Michael said...

Anon1, it's clearly option H.

Anon2, I normally like Auburn fans a lot. They're great in person and they're great on the Internet. Saturday just rubbed me the wrong way, especially on the heels of what I feel are credible allegations that Cecil Newton was trying to sell his son's signature. You're right that I don't do my best writing when I'm emotional. I waited two days to write and still felt miffed. And I'm a casual Georgia fan (at best).