If you ever took a statistics course, you remember that one of it's core modeling techniques is regression analysis, which simply put, is measuring the change between your one dependent variable--say the Auburn Tiger football team--and the changes you can observe and measure when it's subjected to a few independent variables--say coaching, player talent and game execution, being the main ones. Regression. This term has kept floating around in my head the past few weeks as we saw a measurable rise in the defense right around the time we noticed a significant drop off in the play of the offense. The offense was regressing from their performance earlier in the season. I read this word more than a few times in the comments following this latest blow-out at Georgia. I think most of us have picked up on that concept now and it's a subject worth discussing further.
Execution. Like the great NFL coach John McKay once said when asked post game about his team's execution, he quipped, "I think it's a good idea." Talent is nothing without performance on the field, which is a product of performance at practice, which is tied into coaching, too. They're all inter-related. Ultimately, performance is everything. What you accomplish on the field is all that counts, no matter how you ended up there. Ever hear the phrase, "I'd rather be lucky than good"? That's performance. And right now Auburn is getting neither. Maybe we used up all our luck last year? I pity the fool that believes even luck is a zero-sum game.
The team's execution as a whole is the big picture, but at any given time, you witness eleven individual performances on the field in a sympthony of action. Obviously, not all parts can be played at once at par. That's why we have coaches. It's their job to recognize the breakdown and correct or substitute accordingly, but we rarely see that at some of the skill positions. Clint Moseley played valiantly in the first possession. He kept Georgia off guard with first down passes even though they knew it was coming. All the pundits could talk about last week was how Auburn runs 85% on the time on first down. I knew immediately that Malzahn was going to throw the heck out of it.
We did--at first, and it worked, until it didn't work anymore. Moseley's confidence waned slightly, and he started to key directly on Emory Blake, which Georgia picked up quickly. Jay Wisner, Travante Stallworth and Quindarius Carr were all running their routes virtually alone. The Bulldogs had absolutely no respect for the ball being thrown their way. The only two people getting the ball tossed at them were Blake and Onterio McCalebb out of the backfield. Moseley's gaze was locked in like a radar and he wasn't fooling anyone.
Moseley would be hurried both because the line would fail to block and his only guy was covered. There were no look downs at anyone else. After the pick-six, Moseley's confidence was frazzled. He was scared to death to throw the ball deep or to zip it into coverage with authority. I thought he was done and openly called for Barrett Trotter to come in. I hate it for Clint, with two of his three starts coming in stadiums known for their raucous crowds, but I thought we should have thrown in the towel on him and made a change. I know, it probably wouldn't have made a huge difference and there's no telling what reverberations an action like that would cause with the team, but that was my gut.
Ultimately your execution accumulates in a predictable pattern in games throughout the season. You can have a bad game or two with predictable results, but after a while when all you're seeing is poor execution and performance, you know the problem runs much deeper.
Talent: Probably the most ambiguous of the variables. Everyone knows it when they see it, but no one can qualitatively define it. People say we have it. People say the conference has it. Our competitors seem to have it in droves. But by itself, it is only one of many means to an end but certainly not the end itself. With the possible exception of Alabama, nobody has raised a national recruiting championship banner in their stadium. And speaking of them, the Tide has talent, as well does LSU. Georgia has it, but nobody talks of Arkansas having it, and they might tie for first in the SEC west. Why is that?
We automatically assume that any team not mentioned as talented must certainly have coaching, or execution (which, remember, in it's raw form is known as luck). Certainly Auburn was a talented team last year, and despite their losses, is supposed to be a talented team this year. But I'm tiring of relying on the talent excuse, which when you mention the youth of a team, is exactly what you're invoking. For the time being, forget about what the pundits call talent. Good coaching can get more mileage out of sub-par talent, and if you are getting poor performance out of good talent, that only leaves one independent variable left to blame.
Coaching: You knew it was coming to this but accept this caveat: I am not calling for wholesale change to the staff yet. In the regression of our team as a whole this year, you've seen both units progress and regress independently and haphazardly. I don't know if I've ever seen this with an Auburn team before. I've seen it with players over the course of a season or even their career, and I've even seen teams fall off a cliff, but this constant yo-yo of progress is yet to be adequately explained.
As we've mentioned before, maybe Chizik and company are simply playing out the hand they've been dealt more magnificently than we'll ever know. Or maybe they're leaving money on the table. These guys earn the big bucks to fix problems and turn around programs in a hurry. Chizik won a national championship in two seasons. Could he be out in four? I seriously doubt it, but coaches can be victims of their own success. They live and die by the win column. It's the coach's version of execution.
Fan expectations can be unrelenting. Who saw seven victories this year? I saw nine. Maybe I was somewhat blinded by my homerism and a little Bourbon, but the one thing I didn't see was four blow-out losses to our biggest rivals, assuming a butt-whooping at home in two weeks. Chizik didn't accomplish that dubious distinction in his inaugural year, which was supposed to be a rebuilding one, but this season is coming off a national championship. It is simply unacceptable and inexcusable to perform this bad. What does it say about the staff when they have two weeks to get ready for the second biggest game of the year for us and they lay a complete egg? It's so inconceivable that I can't even pretend I have an inkling of what to do about it.
Look, I'm behind this staff but I think they may have to make a few changes in the off-season. Finish strong with a possible Iron Bowl and December bowl win and maybe that's not a given. The coaches want us all in and we have been, but they must realize the predicament of the fan. When I spend all that money and all that time to go over and watch my team play their oldest rival in their house and get subsequently curb-stomped, that's the kind of situation that makes fans seriously consider booking lifetime season tickets on the couch. It's embarrassing, and it's certainly not Auburn football.