All week, the rants have been long and vocal about our tackling, our defense in general....and Gus Malzahns inexplicable play calling. Some reasoned, but most just angry....and rightfully so as it was one of the worst beatings and Auburn team has taken in a while. But what made this loss iresome to most was that we showcased poor fundamentals on both sides of the ball, especially tackling.
One of the reasons I proffered for the poor tackling was that we may not have been going full speed in practice because of depth issues and injury concerns. It turns out that was correct as reports came out Weds. that Angelo Blackson and Demetruce McNeil confirmed that the Tigers had not been going full speed in practice, along with the report that "I almost threw up on myself", as McNeil watched film of Saturdays defensive evisceration. I was afraid that was going to be the reason for our poor defensive play. McNeil even threw out the old cliche "You play the way you practice!", overstating the obvious that the Tigers were playing soft and tentative....just like in practice. The good news is that McNeil said that attitude changed ABRUPTLY after the Clemson loss. Practices have reverted to the intensity of two-a-days and that tackling was indeed being addressed AGGRESSIVELY. Also, the defensive scheme that everyone bemoans as not aggressive enough was being scaled back...to allow for less thinking and more reacting and more aggressiveness pursuing the ball. As I said earlier this week...again and again... the kids are making mistakes in play recognition and development. Scaling back the number of defensive sets won't appease the "Blitz Now and Often" crowd, but it will allow us to cut down on the mistakes encountered due to communication issues and improper formations and zone assignments. When you are learning, you have got to get the basics down first before you graduate to the next level. We can moan and groan all day that they should be there by now....but they aren't, and this can only help. We will have to build from here and I think we will see a lot of the athleticism we have recruited on display, as players react instaed of think. This should make the defensive look much more aggressive. We should see some big plays behind the line of scrimmage and tighter coverage in the secondary....so don't be surprised if we give up some big plays as well.
Regardless of the philosophy adhered to in the 1st three games, it appears that Chizik, Roof and Company have heard you and are making adjustments. What I am surprised at is that Chizik waited until we took a loss to do something about it. Utah State was the wake up call but he inexplicably hung up and went back to sleep. Miss State was the full volume buzzer that he hit the snooze button on and went back to sleep, until the fire alarm went off this past week. Very surprising. From all I've seen from him, Chizik does not seem to be the type of guy to ignore warnings without addressing them. The fact that he hasn't been doing tackle drills and scrimmaging full speed is worrisome. I know you have to make sure your team stays healthy, and an injury to a current starter probably means playing a true freshman, but you also have to make sure your defense is physical and plays with abandon. I think we ALL AGREE that you can't do that if you don't practice that way. I'm glad to see that he has changed his philosophy because playing soft on defense will wreck not only the team, but the program.
Mark Richt has long been a proponent of limiting contact drills during the season, and it has shown, as his players on defense are undisciplined and poor tacklers as well. The coaches at UGA thought that better strength and conditioning would provide better results this year, but so far that philosophy has yet to bear fruit. As has been mentioned many times, by many people, Richt gets less out of more talent than probably any coach in the country, certainly in the SEC. I contend that Richt's philosophy on physicalality in practice is why--- because his players normally kick it up a notch if they make it to the NFL. Richt is sitting precariously on the hot seat for this very reason and Coach Chizik would be wise not to go down that road with a team full of young and impressionable underclassmen. Today, Chizik is setting the tone for his program that will last for the next 3-4 years and it had better be tough, hardnosed SEC football or he is setting himself up for failure.
The next couple of weeks will tell us a lot about where we are going the rest of the season. If we still look lost on defense after the South Carolina game, we will struggle to get to 6-6, because at that point it will be an experience AND talent issue. The staff now is conceding that the talent is going to have carry the day. They will have to add more wrinkles to the defense as they can, hoping the learning curve is not too steep. I fully expect to see some folks flying around on Saturday and some big time hits not that the "handcuffs" are off. Another is that I expect to see more ball control out of the offense to give the defense time to rest. Chizik's directive to Malzahn needs to be, "Get the ball to Dyer and get first downs!!" As has been stated repeatedly by many bewildered folks here, the only person who doesn't seem to know that Dyer is one of the best backs in the country is Gus Malzahn. The guy is a home run threat every time he touches the ball, not Onterio McCalebb....at least not yet. Dyer is the threat that will open up the passing game AND the outside runs for OMac. But you have to establish him by giving him the ball and getting yards inside...which is where his size and strength comes into play...ala Ben Tate. Tate allowed Chris Tood to look like Matt Ryan in 2009 and Cam's ability to run inside enabled Omac to succeed on the outside on the Jet Sweep. So far we have not established that consitent inside running threat and unless LaDarius Phillips suddenly becomes the feature tailback (that boy, I say, THAT BOY is BIG) it HAS to be Dyer and it needs to be up the gut.
The coaches claim to have seen the error of their ways, so they've got another week to get it together. Clemson was a huge, dispiriting loss, but it was also and OOC game. The SEC crown appears to be unattainable --- but it is still out there to be taken. We just need to be tough enough to take it. We find out if our coaches can grind that toughness out of our boys starting tomorrow---I am looking forward to see who shows up.