sullivan013

sullivan013

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Tiger-Eye Review – Shoot, Don’t Talk Edition

There are few feelings in the sporting world better than your team winning the last regular season game, especially in college football. Whatever the results of the season before it, whatever the trials or pitfalls or successes in other venues, there is a satisfying sensation of that final victory that buoys you for many days, weeks or even months afterwards, even if it’s an ugly win.

In the Southeastern Conference it can even extend to years.

This is especially true if there is a tendency for the other team to do something innocent like a complain to the referee, or engage in a mistimed or misjudged celebration. Think that Ole Miss player will live that immature gesture down anytime soon? Probably not. Neither is it likely that Nick Saban will be able to avoid years of jokes or Internet memes about his conduct or decisions in the various Iron Bowls his team has lost. Especially when he uses words like ‘unfair’ – when he knows full well he has more 4-star recruiting talent on his bench than most of his opponents can manage to find to start.

Unfair. What a laugh.

I would be remiss if I didn’t add the best one-liners I heard recently.

Q. Ever wonder why Nick Saban was such a good fit to star with that duck in commercials?

A. He’s got a pretty good Waddle,….

Ah, well, on to the discussion. The standards this season are as follows. 

I’m pretty sure these numbers will change upward for next year once this year’s champion is decided.

Suddenly with success in his grasp, Nick Saban noticed those goal posts looked different for his kicker

SEC West Offense

Turns out both Alabama and Auburn’s offenses are exactly what the numbers above state they were. Alabama was just one doinked field goal away from their season average in the Iron Bowl and Auburn scored exactly their season average, no more, no less. Likewise, LSU scored within two points of their average.

Everyone else was within a touchdown of their season average, and just about what they’ve showed on third down the entire season.

Except Texas A&M. You can point at those three interceptions, but the first one wasn’t thrown until the second half when they were down five scores (then six-seven-eight scores). Whatever pressure was on Jimbo Fisher’s term with the Aggies this season, it just doubled or trebled. Losing by a touchdown or even two in a tight game is one thing. Getting curb-stomped by a division rival isn’t going to cut it for long.

SEC West Defense

Auburn still has the best defense in the division, and while very good, they are not showing the caliber of other teams in the East division. Maybe this is a function of the differences between the East schedules and Auburn’s schedule, but maybe not. As good as they are, Alabama scored 45 on that best defense, and every other ranked team they faced scored around three touchdowns. Now, Alabama had both ranked teams score over 45 points each, and nearly every SEC opponent scored four or more touchdowns on them and LSU was even worse in some games.

Case in point – Vanderbilt’s offense scored 38 points in only two games this year – against LSU and against East Tennessee State.

Bottom line? The SEC West isn’t banking on defense anymore. It’s gone fully over to power offense and those doing it best are at the top of the division.

SEC East Offense

In the East, both Georgia and Florida are playing well and everyone else is really struggling. Granted, Kentucky is a special case with their multiple quarterback injuries, and what Mark Stoops has done with his remarkable wide-receiver-turned-running-quarterback is a reflection of just how gifted a coach he is. When you can have a turnaround like that with a new offense mid-season, there is no doubt you’ve got your program and personnel in the right spot. 

Few will likely agree while LSU soars, but if I could vote on SEC coach of the year, Mark Stoops would surely get mine.

But the rest of the division is really having problems. No one is scoring, driving or seeing any success in the Red Zone. If this continues, expect Kentucky to be the only chance at a spoiler for an annual Gator-Dawg race for the East title.  So long as Stoops stays, they’ve got a chance, but I doubt they’ll accomplish it more than once every couple of years.  They just don’t have the recruiting base as the other two do.

SEC East Defense 

Here’s where I begin to suspect the numbers and the problems in the East. Both Florida and Georgia are highly capable on defense. But can we really grant that the next best nearly-as-good defense is Missouri? This is what the numbers above would indicate. Then again, it’s not like they are that far above the rest of the division. Nearly everyone shows some meaningful ability in the Red Zone, but keep in mind this doesn’t account for the big play scores from outside the Red Zone. 

Good defenses don’t normally allow them that often to be statistically impactful,… except for this year, of course, in the case of LSU, who will line up against that ‘best in conference’ defense from Georgia.

Something’s got to give in that ‘Unstoppable Force and Immovable Object” contest and my impression is that Georgia will be the one that will move, because I just don’t see this LSU team even slowing down that much these days.

State of the Conference

I’ve bemoaned all season that there was a growing gap between the top six and bottom eight in the SEC. Let me admit my mistake, it isn’t that way at all.

Instead, it’s between the top five and bottom nine. Like I said, Kentucky has shown tremendous improvement and grit in bouncing back from their injuries to really put on a show these last few games. But that’s not where they were earlier in the year and the results above are cumulative. 

Five teams failed to make the post season this year. In their final games Kentucky and the top five above them all scored at least 40 points in their last games and averaged 46.7 points among them. The rest? None scored above 28 and together they averaged just over 15 points. This is the current chasm between the elite teams in the conference and the rest of the bunch. 

As we reach the end of the 2019 season, these numbers won’t change all that much in the championship, bowl or playoff games. We know of at least three coaching changes but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see many other teams below the top five contemplating coordinator and other staff changes in the near future. This type of disparity in the Southeastern conference is simply too much of a threat to fan and administration expectations to be allowed to continue. 

This is where we are, this year. 

The post Tiger-Eye Review – Shoot, Don’t Talk Edition appeared first on Track 'Em Tigers, Auburn's oldest and most read independent blog.

Tiger-Eye Review – Dark Night into Day Edition

At last we’ve arrived at Rivalry Week in the Southeastern Conference. In the East it has less meaning than it does out West. In the East, by the last week of the season, the conference race is finished and most of the division is scheduled to play outside state rivals at each location. While these are never lightly considered games to the fanbase, they hold much less anticipation this year than in previous seasons. The Atlantic Coast conference has seen far better days, and that is most definitely true for both Georgia Tech and Florida State this year. Louisville looks somewhat better, but it’s become painfully obvious there is only one team worth notice in that conference and the game they play this weekend is against their state rival who is also sliding backwards at a furious pace. 

But not so in the West. While the division title is held by LSU, there is a lot more on the line for each team’s final game. Alabama must win and win big to keep their College Football Playoff hopes alive, and Auburn is primed to stop that from happening. LSU also needs to hold course and prevail over a tough Aggie team just a week before they face the Bulldogs in Atlanta. Mississippi State is also in a must-win situation, hoping to become bowl eligible against a running Ole Miss team that invades their home field on Thanksgiving Day.  

For Auburn, no Iron Bowl is small, especially in Jordan-Hare Stadium, but a coveted New Year’s Day bowl game is on the line and a chance to knock Alabama down and out of contention for the College Football Playoff is too good a chance to let go lightly. A win could indeed turn dark night into day be just the thing to carry into the bowl and recruiting seasons for 2020. 

Think the season is over out West? Better reconsider.

SEC West Offense

As the Iron Bowl dawns, it’s clear that the Alabama offense is the star of the show. They’re the second best offense in the SEC West, capable of dynamic play from nearly every angle. Tua might be out, but there are ten more players capable of putting up big yards every game. Auburn’s offense has improved and can potentially target a less than stellar Bama defense, but the story will inevitably center on what the Alabama offense can or cannot do at Jordan-Hare stadium.

The Egg Bowl pits two remarkably paired teams for Thanksgiving. Ole Miss isn’t going to the post season and the Bullies are on the verge of joining them on the couch for a not-so-happy-New-Year. The key game this weekend? Texas A&M at LSU. Let the Bengals slide ever so slightly and they could find themselves in a cage fight just a week before the SEC Championship. Lose one or both and they might be shut out of the CFP here at the last. 

But I doubt that will happen, not the way the Bayou Bengals have been playing.

SEC West Defense

Here is where Auburn fans have expressed hope as they enter the Iron Bowl. Alabama’s defense is definitely not what it has been in the past. If anything, the helmets have switched from the 2010 Iron Bowl in which a dynamic Auburn offense met a brick wall Bama defense and for most of the game, couldn’t accomplish all that much. The question here is, what can the Auburn offense leverage from the Bama defense?

For the Egg Bowl, Ole Miss has a slight edge on offense and Mississippi State has a slight edge on defense. But all in all, it looks like a coin flip difference. LSU and Texas A&M is a slightly different story. The Aggie defense is solid and capable, and depending on how tight they cover the LSU receivers, might turn that game into another low-scoring single score fight like the Auburn game.

Don’t count the Aggies out on this one.  They might not win, but I believe they’ll make it a tight game.

SEC East Offense

With four teams in the SEC East playing out of conference rivals, there isn’t much to contemplate about the division race. Both Tennessee and Kentucky became bowl eligible last, and the only questions that remain is whether Tennessee and Missouri  can pull out a wins against the likes of Vanderbilt and Arkansas. For Tennessee it will mean a seven-win season and for Missouri they can wheeze across the line of bowl eligibility here at the last. 

But do look at the paucity of offensive effort in the East. There really isn’t much going on for anyone. Despite the CFP rankings, Georgia hasn’t been putting up numbers like the other CFP hopefuls and a loss in the SEC Championship will take right out of consideration. Who will replace them? Not a two-loss Alabama, that’s for sure.

If that happens, and the above is the reason, look for rapid changes on this side of the ball for nearly every team in the East. They’ll see the LSU model and want to copy it. 

SEC East Defense

I believe that some of these numbers are inflated due to the problems on offense, especially in the case of South Carolina and Missouri. When faced with good teams, they’ve both wilted. Georgia’s defense is legitimate, and Florida’s pass rush is legendary, especially on the edge.  Tennessee’s numbers have been growing as the season has progressed and is finally looking respectable. 

State of the Conference

With only the final week of conference games in the West and a couple more in the East, what you see above may be the limit of the 2019 season.

Maybe. 

The conference championship attendees may have been decided, but how they enter and exit that game and the results of the remaining rivalry games in the season are never something to take for granted. However unlikely, there remains at least a chance that the Texas A&M-LSU game or the Iron Bowl could throw a laughter filled plot twist into the College Football Playoff calculations that will turn the 2019 season on its collective ear. 

This is actually normal. The same could happen this weekend in Ann Arbor, Stillwater or even Columbia, South Carolina. An upset in a rivalry game is good for the soul from time to time. It happens many more teams than is ever expected year to year. 

This is the entire reason we watch these games, no matter how well or poorly each of the teams are expected to play. The ball still has to be snapped, handled well and carried across the goal line. Tackles will still have to be made, either in the open field, on a shoe string or even (dare I say it?)  on a failed field goal attempt.

Else you run the risk of having everything you’ve worked for go up in a cloud of smoke. So no matter how favored one team is over another, the games are still played for a reason. Because college football games are never decided on expectation, only in execution. 

Victory comes from some unlikely players from time to time. Often unexpectedly.

The post Tiger-Eye Review – Dark Night into Day Edition appeared first on Track 'Em Tigers, Auburn's oldest and most read independent blog.

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