For the Clemson game, I genuinely hope Mario Fannin is ready to go, but I think it has become obvious to all those who have watched the 1st two games, that Mario will, at best, be a part-time tail back. He is our Brian Westbrook, which is to mean, an integral part of the offense but a running back in name only. And so far, I can't disagree with how he has been used. Mario is a big boy but so far he has looked very pedestrian taking handoffs. His running style is so vertical that his momentum is easily stopped by just about any frontal contact. I don't think I have seen him lower his shoulder and bull his way through a tackler yet this year. He seems much better suited to getting the ball in space where he can generate some speed and use his mass to his advantage. I liked his play last year from the H back position and I still think that is where he is going to be most valuable, using his speed against LB's and his mass against DB's. The move shouldn't be painful since I've been impressed from what I have seen from Michael Dyer and I think its about time to give him the feature back job he was brought here to take. McCalebb isn't really an option given his size, and Dyer has the body, and does all the things you expect of a feature running back. I even like the way he runs off the field!! To me, I don't see any point in delaying the future and continuing to play Fannin and McCaleb at tailback. Failing to do that just announces to the opposing defense that you aren't serious about your running attack and it tells me as a fan that you are willing to lose a game or two before it becomes obvious that a change must be made. And Gus and Gene make way too much money to make the obvious decisions.
A few things to think about going into this weekend for our Auburn Tigers. Starting this weekend, Coach Chizik and our boys have an opportunity to make a statement about the state of Auburn football on the national stage as ESPN comes to town for what will be two consecutive weeks of prime time, game of the week coverage. The problem is that when given these opportunities in the last six years, Auburn has often wilted under the spotlight. In my first post on this site two years ago I railed against Auburn's love affair with being an "underdog" , a team that, no matter the year, reveled in the role of the dismissed and the disrespected. Auburn has always been uncomfortable with the attention paid to being a dominant frontrunner....a significant character trait that keeps very talented people from performing their best when it matters the most. If you strive to be a winner, an SEC and BCS champion, you have to want to be in these situations and learn to thrive in them. When you get a lofty national ranking, you have to relish that role and sink your teeth into the heart of your opponent and bare your bloody fangs for all to see....and fear!! This week we get to see which Tigers want to feast on the prey from Anderson,SC and shine brightly in the limelight! Coach Chizik has worked hard and against the odds to bring in great athletes who want to be on the national stage for a big time SEC team, and now its their turn to show they belong there. This is what Cam Newton, Michael Dyer, Trovon Reed, Jeff Whitaker, Corey Lemonier and this talented 2010 class came here for. This is the opportunity Darvin Adams, Mario Fannin, Lee Ziemba, Onterrio McCalebb, Josh Bynes, Nick Fairley, Eltoro Freeman, Aaron Savage and Zac Etheridge have been waiting for. Will they take advantage?? Will they show Clemson that they are playing one of the most talented teams in the country? I sure hope so. My whole life I longed for Jordan Hare Stadium to truly be "The Jungle".....where opponents and their supporters circle the date on the calender before the season and put an L on it....and where UGA's, LSU's and Bama's seasons go to die. That doesn't happen in one game, or one season, but over time, by embracing that favorite status and dominating all those that tread on Pat Dye Field.....and it has to start on Saturday vs. Clemson. Both players and coaches need to bring everything and leave it on the field. No holding back plays, no coddling 1st year starters, its time to put up or shut up. Dare to be great! MAKE your opponent beat your best!!!
Speaking of getting serious about your running attack...I am really concerned about Gus and the spread offense. We are going into the third game and I don't know what our offensive identity is yet. Are we a running or a passing team? I can't tell, and we are doing nothing to try and set up either discipline. Against Arky State, it was bombs away, with misdirection and trick plays, as the Red Wolves tried to load up the line to stop our running attack, and we took it to them deep. It was nice to see us go for the big play, but we knew going in that our offensive talent overmatched their defensive talent. I wanted to see us lineup and run the offense that we are going to run week in and week out, and get some meaningful game experience under everones belt. At less than 2 minutes per offensive series, I don't think they accomplished that.
When Mississsippi State employed the same strategy, we seemed ill prepared to adjust to what State was doing on defense. We ran up the gut or tried to stretch the field horizontally instead of vertically, all to VERY mixed results. I saw plenty of passing lanes open and numerous opportunities to go downfield but other than a handful of times, we exclusively ran the ball or threw into the flats. The play calling was VERY predictable, which almost resulted in a pick-6, and we struggled to maintain drives as a result. It was apparent to me, that despite Cam's big arm, State had a "Show Me" attitude towards his passing ability, and Gus wasn't confident that Cam could make them pay with the vertical pass.
In football, as in business, you need to figure out what you are good at and make your competition beat you at you what you do best. Like I said, I don't know what we're good at yet, but based on what I've seen our strength appears to in the VERTICAL passing game. We should be forcing teams to respect that aspect of the offense before concentrating on establishing the run, especially if the defense has got 8 or more in the box. When Michael Dyer starts gashing teams for 10-20 yards a clip, you definitely adjust but, if we push the vertical game, I guarantee we will have a ton of space open underneath coverage to sneak Lutzenkirchen and Fannin into....and it will free up the running game to do what Auburn running attacks do....and that is win Championships!!
Most of you know that I don't like the spread offense or the way we run it.....BUT IF you are going to run the spread and the no huddle, then lets run it the way it was intended to be run!! That means you don't have running plays or passing plays, you have EXPLOIT THE DEFENSE'S WEAKNESS PLAYS!! If the defense is going to let you run it up the middle every play, you do that. If Darvin Adams is one on one without safety cover, you go to him. If they play a deep cover two, you pass to Lutzenkirchen underneath. The whole concept behind The Spread offense is to make the defense cover the entire field and create areas of weakeness to be attacked. You take what they give you, and you don't compromise regardless of the down, or field position. You have to be cold blooded and attack, and trust that Cam , the receivers and Gus are on the same page.
In the past year, when we have had success scoring, it has been when we have attacked the defense, pushing the pace and challenging them to stop us. When we slow the pace and stop pushing the ball downfield we are generally unsuccessful, and we struggle to score and win games. The bottom line is, if you are going to run the No-Huddle spread, I think you have to go for broke and live with the consequences of failure. If that isn't palatable, because you want to protect your defense, or you want to limit mistakes due to inexperience with the offense, then I suggest adopting a different offensive philosophy because the Spread offense is not for the weak at heart. The key is to keep the pressure on the opposition and not to let up. If we aren't going to do that then lets line up seven on seven and give the ball to Dyer, Smith and Phillips and see who wins! What I don't want to see is more Meerkat offense, where half the plays are passes behind the line of scrimmage. That strategy is too easy for SEC defenses to defend against and we've all seen that NOT WORK under a different admisnistration. So lets open it up and force Clemson and South Carolina to beat us! The boys WILL make mistakes, but I think we'll all be surprised by how well they will perform when the offensive strategy demands that they perform. Young men crave leadership and want to win the approval and respect of their leaders, thats why most kids forge indelible bonds with tough-as-nails coaches who demand excellence from them. Coach Chizik, strikes me as that kind of leader, but he must not be afraid to demand excellence from his young team!! It may cost us in the short term, but in the long run, these Tigers will grow into viscious predators that will be feared throughout the SEC.
Lets Go Big Blue!! Beat Clemson!!