The Sky is not Really Falling!

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Get on board! This season is not over!

 

     War Eagle, everybody! It's the second week of college football season, and it already feels like fall! Best part is that we still have 12 weeks of regular season action left in store this year. This week, Auburn takes on a tough, 16th ranked Mississippi State Bulldog team in Jordan Hare Stadium. It's an 11:21 AM kickoff, on the SEC Network. Check your local listings. For those attending the game, it should be a temperate, partly cloudy day with the temperature around 80 degrees. There is little to no chance of rain.

 

     After Auburn's narrow escape against Utah State last Saturday, few pundits give the Tigers much chance in this game. While the Tigers face a tough task against a veteran squad, I encourage all Auburn fans to stay behind this team. I've been disappointed this week at all of the vitriol against the Auburn coaching staff on the message boards. Often a punching bag for the trolls, defensive coordinator Ted Roof has received much of the criticism, but offensive coordinator Gus Malzhan has received his share as well. Let's see, last season Auburn broke their all time points record by 139 points, or by over 31 percent. Somehow in the space of nine months, Malzhan forgot how to call plays, or so the complainers would have one believe. Somehow, even with nine new starters on offense, we were supposed to have a perfect day on offense. Gosh, we only scored 42 points on opening day, with two returning starters! Heads should roll!

 

     On defense, the situation is similar. Between sophomore Nosa Eguae and junior Darren Bates, Auburn had about 20 starts. No one else on the defense had started a single game at their current position. The defense starts 7 freshmen or sophomores, including the entire defensive line. It's going to take time for these guys to get comfortable.

 

     Optimists are trotting out the old quote that teams improve most between weeks one and two. Is that really true in Auburn's case? Let's compare Auburn's first two weeks over the previous 20 years.

 

 

 

WEEK 1

WEEK 2

Year

Opponent

Score

Year

Opponent

Score

1991

Ga. Southern

32-17

1991

Ole Miss

23-13

1992

Ole Miss

21-45

1992

Samford

55-0

1993

Ole Miss

16-12

1993

Samford

35-7

1994

Ole Miss

22-17

1994

La. Monroe

44-12

1995

Ole Miss

46-13

1995

Chattanooga

76-10

1996

UAB

29-0

1996

Fresno St.

62-0

1997

Virginia

28-17

1997

Ole Miss

19-9

1998

Virginia

0-19

1998

Ole Miss

17-0

1999

App. State

22-15

1999

Idaho

30-23

2000

Wyoming

35-28

2000

Ole Miss

35-27

2001

Ball State

30-0

2001

Ole Miss

27-21

2002

So. Cal.

17-24

2002

W. Carolina

56-0

2003

So. Cal

0-23

2003

Ga. Tech.

3-17

2004

La. Monroe

31-0

2004

Miss. State

43-14

2005

Ga. Tech

14-23

2005

Miss. State

28-0

2006

Wash. State

40-14

2006

Miss. State

34-0

2007

Kansas St.

23-13

2007

So. Florida

23-26

2008

La. Monroe

34-0

2008

So. Miss

27-13

2009

La. Tech

37-13

2009

Miss. State

49-24

2010

Ark. State

52-26

2010

Miss. State

17-14

 

Average Score:

26.5-15.6

 

Average Score:

35.1-11.5

 

 

     The Tigers were 15-5 on opening week during that period, and 18-2 the following week. The offense improved by more than 8 points per game, and the defense by 4 points per game from week one to two. Total number of BCS conference teams in week one: 11. Total BCS teams in week two: 12. Definitely in Auburn's case, there's a big difference between week one and week two.

 

     What will Auburn have to do to beat the MSU Bulldogs? The obvious answer is to play better in the trenches. If the Tigers had trouble tackling Robert Turbin and Chuckie Keeton, it will be doubly tough to get Vic Ballard and Chris Relf on the ground. Relf is 60 pounds heavier than Keeton with similar speed and elusiveness. To have a realistic chance to win the ballgame, Auburn must hold Mississippi State below 35 points. I'm looking forward to seeing if the Auburn defense can meet the challenge!

 

     Offensively, there is reason for hope. Mississippi State's first opponent, Memphis,did have a number of successful plays, both on the ground and in the air. Three turnovers and eight penalties were the reason that Memphis could not sustain drives. This year's Bulldog front seven does not look as strong as last season's. This time a year ago, A. J. Greene was getting his second start, and Lee Ziemba got hurt. Bulldog ends terrorized the Auburn backfield. I think there'll be a more level playing field this week. MSU did not blitz much against Memphis, again, a departure from last season. I doubt that will be true this week. I think we can expect the Bulldogs to bring heat and try to rattle Auburn quarterback Barrett Trotter. Tiger perimeter blockers must do a better job, particularly at the H-back and tight end positions.

 

     Auburn may have the edge on special teams. While the Tigers shone in every phase in week one, MSU had a more uneven performance. Bulldog kick and punt coverage looked every bit as good as Auburn's. The two punters had similar averages. Where Auburn excelled was kickoff distance. If Cody Parkey can keep planting kickoffs in the stands, that's probably going to be worth at least a field goal a game to the defense. Mississippi State used freshman Jameon Lewis for most returns last week. He looks to have great speed, but had some questionable decisions, fielding two balls inside the ten yard line. He stepped out of bounds with a kickoff at the two yard line. Auburn's lone freshman jitter was when returners Tre Mason and Quan Bray nearly ran into one another fielding a kickoff, but there was no harm done on the play.

 

     I think the important thing this weekend is to enjoy watching these players grow and develop. Don't jump off the cliff of despair if Auburn loses this game. Keep pulling for the Tigers no matter what! We'll be here Saturday morning with our usual open thread. Please feel free to join in! Great days are just around the corner, because this Auburn coaching staff is building a team the right way!

--

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