By Acid Reign
…..I was at the Auburn/Alabama J. V. game the fall before that. Gene Lorendo was still teaching P. E. at Auburn when I was a freshman… I’m not sure A-Day is a valid indicator of how the season will go, anymore. This fall, I don’t think we should expect offensive miracles!
….Spring is always a time of abundant optimism, as life springs forth from the ground anew. Similarly do great prognostications hit the message boards, about one’s favorite football team, with the onset of spring drills. I think a tempered, common sense view is better. I do believe we’ll have a good defense. We’ve come to expect it, after six straight seasons of allowing less than 20 points per game. A realistic view of our offense is not as bright, nor should it be. It’s important to examine the facts, and not be calling for Tuberville’s head, when we don’t average forty points a game!
…..A season-high total offense figure (in an offense installed in 9 days!) in the Peach Bowl has given some of my Auburn brethren cause for wild expectations. In my opinion, two things contributed greatly to our success in the Peach Bowl. First, Clemson tried to stay in a base 4-3, 3-deep zone, for most of the game. We had not shown any real ability to throw deep during the regular season, and yet Clemson played off, allowing us to dink and dunk underneath, and slash off-tackle for consistent gains. Then, Cullen Harper had a miserable day throwing the ball, which led to a lot of Clemson 3 and outs. Even when they weren’t punting it away, it was short drives, like the big Spiller run for the TD. You’ll get a of plays in, if the other team is constantly going three and out…
……Any offense has to start with the offensive line, and we do have a capable one, at the very least, coming back. Christa Turner, over at Turnerloose has been publishing her observations on pass-rush drills, and frankly, the offensive line is largely dominating, especially since Antonio Coleman has been out. We may have a great OL this fall, OR… our youth on the defensive side may be to blame. It will be hard to say, till we see on the field against a quality opponent. For now, I believe that line-play will be the strength of the offense.
…..The most watched, and usually the single most important player on an offense is the quarterback. I think we still have serious questions, here. We’ll be very inexperienced. Kodi Burns does have a few snaps here and there, and considerable playing time in the Mississippi State, New Mexico State, and Clemson games. I’m not sold on Kodi as a big-time division one passer, and evidently, offensive coordinator Tony Franklin is not, either. Kodi can run, but if he can’t keep defenses honest with his throws, it won’t matter. Chris Todd seems, at this time, to have similar arm-strength to Brandon Cox. The oft-injured Neil Caudle has fallen behind, and DeRon Furr is not only WAY behind, but is hurt as well. We may have a two-headed QB situation this fall, with Kodi in to run, and Todd to pass. That’s not usually a good thing against SEC defenses. (Aside: the real reason Al Borges is gone? Recruiting. When Al came in, we had senior Jason Campbell, Rfr Brandon Cox, and new signees Calvin Booker and Blake Field. Recruits since then? Neil Caudle, Steven Emsminger, and Kodi Burns. The first two weren’t exactly five-stars, and Kodi’s not a West Coast QB. Before Borges, we got receiver classes like the Taylor/Aromashodu/Mix/Obamanu group. Since? We are nowhere CLOSE to having the skill players we did in 2004.)
……One area to watch is peripheral blocking support. One way to beat the spread is to pressure the QB. We’ll need help from tight ends and backs, to blunt blitzes. It is surprising, considering Al Borges’ preference for a two-back offense, that we are very, very thin, here. After 4 years of Borges, we have NO fullbacks with even a single snap of college experience. We’ll need to knock out a third and one here and there, or we’ll be a team that roars up the field and can’t score in the red zone. At tight end, Gabe McKensie and Tommy Trott (maybe) should be good as blockers. We’ve got one healthy tailback right now, Brad Lester, and he’s small. Ben Tate, when/if he returns, will be the only other back with significant blocking experience.
……We’ll need to be a WHOLE lot better in the receiving corps, this year, to move the ball consistently. We had two reliable receivers last season, Rod Smith and Montez Billings. They aren’t exactly blue-chippers, either. They are good possession guys, but we’ve sorely lacked a deep threat for several years. We desperately need some stretch-the-field, big-play receivers. I thought Robert Dunn might be that guy, and he did save our bacon a couple of times late with big plays, but thus far in Dunn’s career, he drops more than he catches. Same with Tim Hawthorne, on the hands. Chris Slaughter seems to have decent hands, and I’ve heard good things about Terrell Zachary. There’s reason to hope, but no evidence yet, to prove that we’ll be much better this year, than last year.
……For the past two winters, we’ve salivated over the prospect of a stable full of good runners. By the time 2007 started, we had Ben Tate and Mario Fannin, only. Their inexperience was a big reason our offense was so awful early on. Both improved as the season went on, and gave reason to be excited this year. A month ago, we were trying to figure out how Tony Franklin was going to use four quality runners in the backfield. And now, we’re down to one healthy, very tired 194-pounder, Brad Lester. Brad’s flashy and dangerous. He’s also not had a record for dependability/durability. I seriously doubt he could be a 30-carry a game guy, for very long. Yes, I know all of these guys are supposed to be back by August. But, if they all got wrecked in the first week of spring practice, what’s going to happen against an SEC schedule? Again, to pick on big Al once more: before Al: Rudi Johnson, Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams, Brandon Jacobs, Kenny Irons. Since Al: tape, casts, boots, and what we have now.
……What we have this year on offense, is the culmination of four years of sub-standard offensive skill player recruiting. That’s why Tony Franklin was brought in. With the West Coast offense, we were unable to bring in the McFadden/Tebow/Harvin/Moreno-caliber player. We do have some exciting guys in this year’s recruiting class, but very few true freshmen really make an impact. This year, we’ll likely sputter at times, particularly against the better defenses. We’ll HAVE to take really good care of the ball, to have a chance to keep pace with LSU and Georgia.
……We may see an offensive explosion in the A-Day game, but it will mean nothing. Tuberville often won’t let the defense blitz on A-Day, and they’ll sit back like Clemson did, and play base defense. The screen and quick out will be there all day, and we might roll up a LOT of yards. I think it will in no way, be indicative of what real-live play will be like in the fall. War Eagle, enjoy the show Saturday, and I really, really hope these fine young men prove me dead-wrong!
…..After watching the “joined in progress” CSS telecast of A-Day, most of my prognostications about the game itself, stood up. Of course, that was just the last two minutes of the first half, and the second half. We’ll get a better look when CSS rebroadcasts the thing on Thursday night, 6 PM Eastern, 7 PM central.
…..I was impressed with Chris Todd. Yes, there are arm-strength issues. But he had the hot hand, getting the ball out quickly, and not stuffing it into coverage. Burns did fine, and we’ll need his running ability. Furr and Caudle were clearly behind. Too often, they were taking off on 3rd and long, and trying to do it with their legs. Caudle showed surprising speed, considering all the surgeries he’s had…
…..With the exception of Gabe McKenzie, the receivers caught the ball. That has to be the most encouraging thing I saw in the game. Most disappointing? The defensive line. Now, I didn’t see SenDerrick Marks, or Antoine Carter out there. But, oh! Those guys got mauled! From the middle of the third quarter on, they were just leaning on the offensive line for support. Totally gassed!