The Auburn Train Stays on the Tracks this Week!

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Auburn must play hard-nosed football this week.

AP Photo/Dave Martin


     War Eagle, everybody! We’re fast approaching the third weekend of college football 2011! We expected this year to be interesting for the young Auburn Tigers, and thus far it has been. This weekend, it’s Tigers vs. Tigers in Clemson. Win or lose, it’s pretty certain this team will make things exciting.

 

     Many prognosticators prior to the season pointed to this game as Auburn’s first likely loss. After Auburn’s great win over Mississippi State, most of us fans are a lot more optimistic. One thing to remember with a young team though, is that a mistake-filled game can happen at any time. If it’s this week when it happens, we still need to stay behind this team. I’m convinced that I’m seeing a future champion being forged.

 

     I caught a couple of quarters of the Clemson-Wofford game Tuesday evening on a CSS replay. In many ways, Clemson looked like a mirror image of Auburn. Particularly on defense, there seemed to be a lot of confusion. Clemson wasn’t really blown off the ball, but the Terriers moved the ball down the field repeatedly. Wofford runs a triple-option, wishbone-like offense similar to Georgia Tech’s. It appeared that Clemson had rote assignments laid out. Wofford mixed up their blocking schemes, and Clemson had a lot of trouble dealing with the changes. It’s an encouraging sign for Auburn, because Gus Malzhan’s likely to do the same thing with Auburn’s schemes.

 

 

     On offense, Clemson runs a lot of the same packages Auburn does. However, they are early in their first season of this new approach and it showed. Clemson was not able to run it at high tempo, and there were occasionally communication issues. Clemson had trouble keeping the Wofford front seven from getting penetration, and that’s a favorable situation for Auburn’s young tackles if it holds true next week.

 

     I do have one big wish for Ted Roof this week. After watching the Auburn game film from last week, there’s little doubt that we’ll see a great deal of speed-option from Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Andre Ellington. Boyd’s not as big as Chris Relf, but Ellington is arguably a better back than Vic Ballard. Ellington’s 140 yards last season was the most the 2010 Auburn defense gave up to any back. My wish is that Roof has someone assigned to hit the quarterback HARD every time they run that option.

 

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This is how you hit a quarterback!

(click to play)

Are the Georgia folk calling Clowney a thug yet?

 

     Option football was quite popular in America 30-40 years ago. It’s a beautiful thing to watch, and it chews up yardage and eats clock. However, there’s a reason it went out of fashion. Every hit a quarterback takes makes him less effective. Teams in the early 1980s began loading the box with a five man line, and attacking the option with a safety. Nine men in the box became the rule. Yes, the defenses were vulnerable to downfield passing, and yes, you’d get a pitch man loose for a big gain from time to time. However, the repeated beating the quarterback took rendered these teams one-dimensional. And too, most quarterbacks aren’t conditioned to plow into tacklers over and over again. (Unless they are Tim Tebow…) Keep hitting that quarterback, and soon he’s going to be pitching that thing early, just to lessen the blows. Mr. Roof, we need to have Tajh Boyd revert to being the sub-50 percent passer he was last season and this spring. First man to the QB lowers the shoulder, ok?

 

     There are two big reasons Auburn has scored over 40 points in both games thus far. One is that we’ve only had one turnover in two games, and the other is great special teams play. If that trend continues against Clemson, the Tigers have a great shot. Defensively, the Tigers might actually benefit from being on the road. Most good home crowds make a huge amount of noise when the other team comes to the line on offense. Well-meaning as it was the past two weeks, the incredible noise of Jordan Hare Stadium may well have handicapped the communication of the young Auburn defense. At Clemson, the crowd will be quiet, as they will be trying to help their offense make the right checks. It should be much easier for Jake Holland and T’Sharvan Bell to make defensive adjustments.

 

     Auburn does have some good advantages in this one. There are also reasons for worry. About a quarter of the playing rotation is making their very first college road trip. There are bound to be some nerves. Another half of the roster is making their first road trip with a serious amount of responsibility on Saturday. How will these young men react? Will they be able to get a good night’s sleep prior to the game? No one knows till they’ve actually done it. In this instance, I think it’s good that the game is early. I’d expect nothing is worse on a road trip than sitting around the hotel all day waiting for a late kickoff. I remember one incident of young nerves very well.

 

     Almost a decade ago, Auburn flew west for the season opener, to take on Southern California. USC was a storied name, but the team returning had only finished 6-5 the season before. The Trojans were expected to be decent, but certainly not elite. It was a great opportunity for Auburn to gain national attention. Auburn started two true freshmen wide receivers, and young sophomore Carnell Williams at running back. The passing game was a mess, but Williams had a great first half, and the teams were tied 14-all at the break. Williams was felled by cramps in the second half, and the Tigers lost, 24-17. The reason Williams had the cramp issue is that he was so excited for the first game of the year that he was unable to sleep the night before, and unable to eat on game day.

 

     I have confidence that coach Chizik and his staff will handle this trip as well as can be expected. It’s worth noting that Auburn is 9-2 in road games coached by this staff. Only in the Arkansas game of 2009 did it appear that Auburn was not prepared to play at the start of a morning game, and that was likely a carry-over from the previous administration.

 

     We’ll be here bright and early Saturday morning with an open thread. As always, please join in and enjoy! It's a ridiculously early 11:00 Central Time kickoff on ABC television. War Eagle, and let’s beat those Clemson Tigers!

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