As I sit on my porch with a Kristoff Maduro cigar contemplating yesterday's loss to Arkansas, I just felt the need to add some more commentary to my recap from yesterday. I'm also trying to figure out why I never thought of doing site work on this porch with a cigar before. It's nice.
That recap does a pretty decent job of describing the game. I was writing the overtime bits as it was happening. Once it was over, I set aside the computer, turned off the TV, and spent the next 24+ hours avoiding most everything football related. I even took a big break from checking Twitter. I guess it's nice to know my addiction to Twitter may not be incurable.
A four overtime game will drain you as a fan. I have no idea how much it has to hurt those players. They fought as hard as they could for much longer than a typical game's length. They kept pushing. They kept trying. It just wasn't enough.
So as not to repeat recap stuff, let's just delve into some general observations. Normally I would do a "Good, Bad, and Ugly," but that's something that's really more up Tuco's alley. So I think I'm just going to offer up some topics and then talk about them.
Have I mentioned Sean White is good? Sean White is good. Sean White is excellent. Sean White has a really bright future ahead of him. I do wish he'd keep on those zone reads a bit more, but outside of that I really can't find anything to criticize him. He was 19 of 32 for 254 yards. Of those 13 incompletions, over half of them (and really almost all of them minus the tipped ball and the "fumble" on the last drive) were catchable balls. They may not have been perfect, but they were good enough.
That's just his accuracy, though. That says nothing of his poise in the pocket. His ability (seen in the UK and ARK games) to square his shoulders and throw almost across his body on a rope. He gets the ball out when pressure is right in his face. He doesn't fold. He stands there and does his best to get rid of it. And even then it's usually catchable.
If even half of those drops are caught, we're singing a different tune, today. He's a redshirt freshmen with three SEC games under his belt. His first one was his very first game as a starter and that was at home. The other two were on the road, and he put on some amazing performances. I can't wait to see him back in the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare. I'm going to go out on a limb right now and say he steals us one of the three remaining SEC home games. Maybe two of them. We're watching a kid who is very special grow up right in front of us. And he's not alone.
He will be Gus Malzahn's Darren McFadden at Auburn. He makes smart decisions in the Wildcat (at least that I can tell). He's an electric runner. He's obviously athletic as all get out. He's a true freshmen. We have him and White for a few more years. It's going to be fun.
Another true freshman. I said on Twitter that he has potential to leave Auburn as the greatest cornerback we've ever had. Some of you rightfully pointed to Carlos Rogers. I'm just saying he has the potential to be that good. He's got a lot of time to get better. Will he? I don't know. But I do know that we've got an excellent cornerback who will be here for at least two more years.
I don't know that I've ever seen someone play with as much determination as Barber. If there's one big issue I had with the overtime playcalling, it was throwing it in the 4th OT rather than continuing to feed Barber the rock. For the third time (once on Twitter, once in the recap), I'll say this: This season may pass into the collection of mediocre and forgettable Auburn football seasons, but Peyton Barber's sheer force of will deserves to be a part of Auburn legend. He is the reason we'll call this season "mediocre" instead of "absolute disaster."
#Legatron. I am so thankful that Auburn has always put a priority on recruiting good kickers. This one may be one of the best.
I'm as befuddled by them as you are. I'm no Xs and Os or technique guru. I can't pass judgement on the players' abilities or the way they've been coached. I just can't believe that with as much talent as we have on this team that we would have so many dropped passes on very catchable balls. We had less than 20 yards on the first four drives because of those drops.
I don't know what we can do about it, but any big time wide receiver recruit who watches Sean White throw the football ought to realize that if they come here, they have a chance to show off all their skills. Sean is going to get them the ball. What they do with it from there is all on them.
First Down Play Calling.
I had a short conversation with by brother by text on the issue of play calling. I said this was one of the best called games all season. He said I was completely wrong because we run the ball on 1st down every time and everyone knows it. He's not wrong on that. However, that's been the case all season long that I've seen. The play calls on 2nd and 3rd (and 4th) were what were so impressive to me, yesterday. So I'm going to claim that I'm more right, since his issue was something that was not limited to only this game.
Why do we continue to run on 1st down? I know Gus has said he wants to be a power team, but I also know his history comes from being a passing coach before he got to Tulsa. Well, really before he went to Arkansas in 2006. You would think that maybe some first down passes (especially with the way Sean is dealing it) would be in order. Of course, there is still the issue of my last topic: The drops.
We're going to have to get more creative on 1st down, though. 2nd and longs are no good place to be.
The Coaching Staff's Future.
So if Auburn finishes 5-7, is Gus Malzahn on the hot seat? I say no. I say hell no. If he is, then we're giving in to yet another reboot and waiting a few more years for the program to get back to the top. Gus stepped in to a situation with a lot of players who already knew his system. He plugged in an amazing athlete and away we went.
Somewhere along the line, things crumbled on the defense. Through it all, the offense kept scoring points. We were still scoring 30+ in all but one of our losses in 2014.
"That's 2014, though, Walt, this is different. The offense has struggled," you say. Well, little Column A, little Column B. The offense struggled early on. We all have seen it take 2-3 games before Gus gets a good rhythm on offense when he has a new quarterback. By game 3, it was obvious something wasn't working. So we switched. By game 3 with Sean White (Kentucky), the offense started clicking again. You're going to see the offense play a lot better going forward (if the receivers catch the ball).
As for the defense, do you really think Will Muschamp can't coach a defense? Everything in his history shows that he will field an amazing defense given time. He's had injuries to a number of key players throughout the year. He's playing freshmen. He's playing seniors in their 3rd defensive system in four years. If they're a 5th year senior, it's their 4th system. You can't keep changing systems like that and not expect issues.
We were hoping he could work a miracle in Season 1. He couldn't. I'm more than confident it will improve, and it will improve quickly, going forward.
I've got some other thoughts on the future of the offense, but I think I may save those to the end of the season. We'll see how much more Sean White evolves in the current system.
This year hurts. There's a very good chance it's going to end badly and we're going to be sitting at home during Bowl Season when we expected to be competing for championships. Maybe we should have expected it a bit more, though. Phil Steele had Auburn as 5th from the bottom in 2015 for returning lettermen. He noted that Oklahoma State went from 10-3 to struggling to be bowl eligible from 2013 to 2014 in a similar situation. When you deal with that and your expected star quarterback struggles, and you have even more attrition through injury on the defense, it's all a recipe for disaster.
If you're thinking our coaches are clueless on what they're doing, then take a closer look at things like that. Take a closer look at their past. Which is more likely? They've suddenly become bad at coaching, or we've been hit with a perfect storm to set up a bad season? I'm on the side of the latter.
It's not over, though. If Carl Lawson returns to spark a pass rush that has shown some improvement and also just to spark the rest of the defense by his presence on the field, then maybe we'll see a defense that makes a few more of those key stops when it matters most. I'm not saying they'll suddenly become good. But I do think he's enough to make them good enough to help us steal one of those remaining SEC home games.
I think that's where I'll call it for tonight. 1700 words is quite a bit, and I'm not even halfway through my cigar. Until next time, War Eagle. Always.