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Friday, October 10, 2008

Auburn-Arkansas preview (new poll on the right!)

That was a pretty low-key week, huh?

I guess I’ve officially been introduced to the win-at-all-costs nature of the SEC. Privately, I thought it would be ludicrous to fire an offensive coordinator midway through the year. My fellow beat writers laughed at my naïveté. Well, now I know. Nothing is out of bounds in the SEC.

I do find the timing curious, though. At the very least, I figured Tommy Tuberville would keep Tony Franklin until the end of the season. If the offense continues to fail, Franklin would have made a nice scapegoat. Now, it’s all on Tuberville, whose own job security is sure to come into question. He’s acknowledged he’s taking a larger role in the offense, and the man calling the plays – Steve Ensminger – nearly cost Tuberville his job the last time he ran the offensive show back in 2003. It should be interesting to see how this plays out.

Honestly, I don’t know what Auburn expected. Making a radical change to your offensive system doesn’t produce results overnight. Franklin’s system has proven to be successful if given the right personnel and a little bit of time. Auburn clearly wasn’t willing to afford the latter. From what I saw, the Tigers were never dedicated to the spread, at least in the pure form that Franklin would have liked. And while it’s easy to blame Franklin for the offensive failures, it should be noted that the Tigers’ quarterback situation is a mess. They would have struggled regardless of the offense. Kodi Burns, as most sophomores do, appears to need more seasoning. And Chris Todd, while Franklin’s preferred quarterback because of his history in “The System,” never put up eye-popping numbers at junior college, which almost seems like a necessity if you’re going to transfer and start for an SEC school.

But I digress. Apparently, there’s a varsity men’s tackle football game this weekend between Auburn and Arkansas. Who knew? Let’s break this thing down:

  • I have no idea what to expect from Auburn’s offense. None. Tuberville has been speaking in circles all week. The Tigers are committed to the spread but have to run the ball. They need to throw but have to be physical and aggressive on the line. And then there was this gem of a quote, which is almost Sarah Palin-esque in its logic: “You've got to base out of something and we base out of running the ball and throwing the ball, basically is what it comes down to.” Well … OK then.
  • My gut feeling is that Burns starts at quarterback. Todd was always Franklin’s guy, and with Franklin out of the picture, I can easily envision a scenario where Todd is too. Tuberville said the starting quarterback will be a “surprise” on Saturday. Who else would be a surprise starter other than Burns?
  • Whoever the quarterback is, getting the ball to running back Ben Tate should be the goal. With all the discord on offense, few have noticed the junior is quietly on pace for a 1,000-yard season. He’s led the team in rushing in every game and was dominant in the first half against Vanderbilt last week, gaining 86 of his 108 yards before the break. He got banged up near the end of the game but should be fine for Saturday. Give him the ball.
  • Good to know that between Al Borges and Franklin, Auburn is paying over half a million dollars to offensive coordinators who are no longer with the program. Franklin’s salary was $280,000. He got a guaranteed two-year contract. For the record, if anyone wants to pay me $280,000 a year NOT to coach football, I’ll gladly take that person up on the offer. Heck, I won’t even watch football if you pay me that much. My e-mail is on the site for those interested in coughing up that kind of dough. I do take personal checks.
  • Great stat here: Arkansas has allowed more points in two SEC games (87) than Auburn has in four (54).
  • If there’s one thing that would concern me on Auburn’s defense, it’s Jerraud Powers’ hamstring injury. From the sounds of it, he’s nowhere close to coming back. That would thrust freshman Neiko Thorpe into the starting lineup. While Thorpe has had a positive start, he’s never truly had to be The Man on the field. Arkansas can make some things happen through the air. Thorpe, obviously, will be a target.
  • The Franklin firing took a lot of the shine off the Tuberville-Bobby Petrino reunion, which is disappointing. While publicly both have said there are no hard feelings, I can’t imagine that to be the case. My game advance for tomorrow deals with the Jetgate scandal and its fallout in more detail.
  • A lot of people have harsh feelings for Petrino, and I understand why. He repeatedly looked for better offers during his four years at Louisville, finally finding one to his liking in the Atlanta Falcons, only to bolt for Arkansas after 13 games. I also understand that coaching is a fickle business. You take what you can and use leverage when you have it. I don’t know if anybody else would do otherwise given the opportunity. Schools don’t seem to be too forgiving when it comes to firing an underperforming coach, so I guess you can’t fault Petrino what he did. What bothers me about these coaching changes – and this includes guys like Rich Rodriguez and Nick Saban – is that they’ll tout their undying loyalty to their current employer and scoff at the media for daring to ask about rumors to the contrary, even if those rumors are well-founded. Then they leave the instant they find the right offer and follow it up by talking about integrity and trustworthiness at their introductory press conference at a new school. Every football coach does it. If I were a football recruit, I wouldn’t trust a word that I hear.
  • Intriguing matchup of the week: Arkansas center Jonathan Luigs against Auburn’s interior defensive line. Luigs was named an All-American by several publications last year and won the SEC’s Jacobs Blocking Trophy and the Rimington Award as the nation’s top center. By the way, there has never been a two-time winner of the award.
  • Neither team probably wants this game to come down to a field goal. Auburn place-kicker Wes Byrum’s struggles have been well-publicized. The sophomore has missed his last three field goals and doinked an extra point off the right upright last week, a miss that proved to be crucial in a one-point loss to Vanderbilt. Arkansas isn’t in a much better situation. Its kickers – Alex Tejada and Shay Haddock – have combined to go 1-for-5 this season.
Prediction time: Mr. Quarter continues to be my nemesis on the beat writer’s pick ’em for Rivals.com. I went a very respectable 7-3 last week (my loyalty to my alma mater Wisconsin is starting to kill me), but the quarter went 8-2, tied for the best record of the week. And I’ve already lost another game to the quarter this week when I foolishly picked Clemson to beat Wake Forest. Well, I’m positive I’ll make it up in the Auburn game. The quarter picked Arkansas. I picked Auburn. I can’t imagine the Razorbacks doing much offensively, just like I can’t imagine the Tigers doing much offensively. But look at the defenses and I think it’s pretty obvious which team should win. The line is 18½. I’d be shocked if Auburn even scores that many points. I’ll go with a 17-3 final.


warreagle said...

Surprise starter? How about Fannin/Burns splitting time in a backfield with Tate and/or Lester?

I say Auburn wins 31-13, but only becuase Petrino knows he will have to get creative to even be in the game.


Scott H. said...

Here's my surprise starter, maybe Auburn should just direct snap the ball to Ben Tate, isn't this the latest craze in the NFL? It's working nicely for Miami snapping the ball to former Auburn Tiger Ronnie Brown.