I'd do the Forrest Gump line but I'll reserve that for "Big Brother". But its true, you never know whats going to happen. And Saturday at Jordan Hare was no exception. Wow. That was NOT what I was expecting. But you have to give Utah State credit, they came in with a game plan to nullify our speed advantage and take advantage of our inexperience on defense. To hear that some of our players were looking past Utah State is a little disconcerting, especially since Utah State's Robert Turbin is on the Doak Walker watch list to determine the nations top running back, and Bobby Wagner is on the Butkus and Nagurski watch lists which track the nations best Linebacker and Defensive players respectively. That, along with the number of upperclassmen populating both sides of the line, says nobody on our young team should have taken this team lightly at all. And of course it showed, as Utah State ran their game plan to keep our offense off the field and stifled our game plan, which was to play conservative on defense and wait for the true freshman QB to give us the game. Well, Chuckie Keeton didn't go along with the plan and looked more like a three year starting senior as he took advantage of what we were willing to give him. For a true freshman to find 11(!!!) different targets, 6 for multiple completions, is astounding. That the Aggies were disciplined enough to repeatedly march down the field on short runs and passes, was a testament to their coach Gary Anderson, who clearly did a much better job of scouting us than we did of them.
I will grant Chizik and staff that whatever film they studied on Utah State did not prepare them for what they faced, but the second half wasn't markedly better than the first half either.
Utah State played a near flawless game, no turnovers and only 6 penalties for a measly 38 yards. So I hope everybody respects what Utah State accomplished, instead of just saying we played lousy. I suspect that if Mr. Keeton can keep that focused rush that playing in front of 85K will give you, for the length of the season, Utah State will have a very good year. I tip my cap to you Aggies, you played a hell of a game.
That being said, we stunk it up on both sides of the ball. But for as much grief as the lines have been getting, I'm not laying it at their feet. On offense, the Aggies were not going to let us get going running the ball inside the tackles and stacked the box to force our young "skill" players block on the outside. They failed miserably, playing patty-cake for much of the day on outside runs. I suspect Trooper Taylor will be getting Brandon Fulse and CJ Uzomah, a little more involved this week, for as much promise as Trovan Reed shows, he isn't much good without the ball in his hands right now. We are going to need some beef on the edge to run the ball in the SEC because, unless we start pounding LaDarius Phillips up the gut, opposing defenses are going to take our inside rushing attack away until we show them we can hurt them on the outside. Everybody needs work there and that includes the running backs who repeatedly ran out in front of pulling guards that were obviously a step or two slower than Mike Berry was last year.
On defense, we just didn't know what to do and how to get aligned against the Aggie attack. As a result we were out of position...a lot. We really missed having a Josh Bynes walking down the line and getting the tackles in the right holes and then positioning himself to cover what was left. Holland was lost....he looked like Eltoro Freeman, circa 2009, failing to react until the play was on him or biting too early and running out of position and leaving a gaping hole in the middle of the field. Sometimes you have to make some mistakes to learn what to do right...and if thats the case, Holland should be flawless on Saturday. Bates and Evans didn't help much either but they were tasked with containment on the edge and they got plenty of work since our DB's were giving them everything underneath. By the time we tightened up in the 3rd Qtr Keeton had confidence and a rythym to make the more tightly contested throws. If there was a beef I had with Roofs scheme on the day, it was that he didn't put more pressure on Keeton early and make him think about what might be coming. We didn't bluff any blitzes or make any changes at the line that might confuse a freshman into making a mistake. I don't know if it would've changed anything as Keeton deftly avoided pressure when it was applied but he had about 30 snaps under his belt before we did start mixing in a blitz.
A lot of folks see what happened Saturday and wring their hands and surmise that a season of tribulation awaits these young Tigers. I forsee a lot of film devouring, a lot of slaps on the back of the head followed by, "What are you DOING there!!??", a lot of coach walk throughs that NOW make sense.....I see a lot of learning. Utah State didn't outclass us, but they did play about as good as could have been suspected. They got the 3rd down conversions they needed and made us execute to beat them. As a result, we won almost in spite of ourselves. The talent is obviously there, but just like a baby giraffe it took us a while to find our legs and that almost gave us a loss. To beat Mississippi State we aren't going to be able to spot them 14 points before we realize the game has started. We'll have to come of the tunnel hungry and FOCUSED. Hopefully the Auburn faithful will gas up on Bloody Maries, Screwdrivers, Red Bull or SOMETHING and bring a much needed boost of energy to Jordan Hare at 11am. The kids feed on that energy, and the more raucous the fans are, the better I think the defense will play.
This Saturday will tell us if these kids have the stuff to compete in the SEC. If we can beat MSU, we can beat anybody. And that is what is riding on this game....confidence. Miss State plays aggressive-run-over you offense and defense. If we can stand toe to toe with them and not let them run all over us, we should be able to hang with anybody physically. I don't expect for them to try and razzle dazzle us, they will run it at us again and again and try to keep our offense off the field. I really do think Whitaker and Carter are up to the task but they will need to get some help from Holland and company and a more aggressive scheme by Roof or they will get double teamed and be a non factor again. Having Freeman back in the fold can do nothing but help and hopefully his senior progression will be similar to what Bynes showed...because we will need him to be a leader on the field until Holland can assume that role.
Relf will test the secondary more downfield than Keeton did and that is where we will find out whether Neiko Thorpe has blossomed into the safety we will need him to be or if he is the kind that gives the receiver two yards cushion beyond the 1st down marker on third and long. Thats the kind of stuff that needs tightening up and CAN be fixed. We have the speed, we just need to show the smarts.
This week, class is in session, on the practice field. We flunked the pop quiz but now know what we need to do well to score well on the test....and Saturdays test will be a doozy. Bring your slide rule!!