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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Auburn-Louisiana Tech redux

Well, it's been a few hours since Gene Chizik's impressive Auburn debut, a 37-13 victory against Louisiana Tech.

Read all about it online at our main Web site. Here's the game story, a notes package I had to send by halftime because of deadline, a gameline with some superlatives and a column by Guerry Clegg summing up Chizik's night.

Many of this has been covered in great detail in a post below, but I thought I'd sum things up again now that we've had time to digest it all. We'll break this up in Chizik-like categories:

  • Gus Malzahn's offense worked much better than I thought it would in the first game. Yes, things were a little sloppy early on with turnovers (and Malzahn being Malzahn, those were the first thing he brought up in the post-game), but everything fell into place by the end. Auburn's 556 yards of total offense was its most since Nov. 5, 2005, against Kentucky. But the Tigers also looked comfortable running the offense, subbing in packages and sending players in weird motion patterns pre-snap. It all looked natural. Plus, the Tigers showed a commitment to running the ball, something we heard plenty of in the offseason but, after last season, had to see to believe. Two big positives after Week 1.
  • Onterio McCalebb was as fast as he was billed, running for 148 yards in his debut. Any time your name get mentioned with Bo Jackson (the last frosh to run for 100 yards in his first game), that's a good thing. What was most impressive was McCalebb's ability to get to the corner. Oh how that was missing in this offense last year. He certainly has another gear when it comes to out-running defenders. It's an element Auburn's offense definitely needed.
  • With a shoulder that finally looked healthy, Chris Todd showed what he could do, with a 17-for-26, 255-yard effort and two touchdowns. Even on the few deep balls he threw, he had some zip on it. Granted, there were a couple passes that looked like his 2008 form, but the vast majority of throws were very sharp. Honestly, the one that made me think Todd's arm was up to strength was the ball he completed to Mario Fannin across the middle that set up Wes Byrum's field goal just before the half. That ball was on a line and hit him in stride. Very impressive.
  • Defensively, you can't say enough about the job done by newcomers DT Nick Fairley and S Daren Bates. Neither was overwhelmed by the big stage and both had a hand in Auburn's two forced turnovers, Fairley jumping on a fumble and Bates picking off a pass.
  • The defense certainly locked down in the second half. Consider this: after Terrell Zachery's long touchdown pass, the Tigers held the Bulldogs to five first downs, two of which came on Louisiana Tech's last drive of the game.
  • How about that Wes Byrum? The fact that he made some long ones (49, 47 yards) was nice, but the fact that he didn't miss any was even more impressive. Byrum has a strong leg, but his accuracy came into question last year, when his misses, especially from close range, cost the Tigers in a few games. But he nailed his first field goal (a chip shot) Saturday, the hit the 49-yarder just before the half that gave Auburn a 13-10 lead going into the locker room. If he misses either one of those, the game could have had a much different tenor.
  • And finally, Chizik himself. There were all sorts of concerns about his game management skills heading into Saturday because, quite honestly, nobody had seen him in action on the sidelines (Iowa State clips are hard to find). But he didn't panic, even when Auburn was locked in a tight game through more than two quarters. I'd classify a very composed, very successful debut.
  • We're nitpicking, because that's what you have to do for this category when a team wins 37-13, but for all the talk about rotating a bunch of defensive players into the game, it seemed like the starting group turned in iron men like performances. The linebacking trio of Josh Bynes, Craig Stevens and Adam Herring never seemed to come off the field. That's a good way to build some defensive unity, but there's no way you make it through the season playing only three linebackers. It seemed like it would have been a good time to get some of the younger players into the game in significant moments. That tells me the coaches don't think those freshman are quite there yet. Like we've said all along, depth is and will continue to be a problem with this team.
  • Nice games for Zachery and Darvin Adams and H-back Mario Fannin, but where were the rest of the wideouts? Kodi Burns was a nice Wildcat option, but I can't remember them throwing a pass his way. DeAngelo Benton was a non-factor. Tommy Trott didn't even catch a pass. I guess the running game was working well enough that Auburn didn't have to throw the ball around too much. Maybe we'll see some other players get involved next week.
  • Fannin didn't look all too comfortable returning punts, muffing one and making a bad call on when to pick up another. Anthony Gulley looked good catching the ball in his place late in the game. As a punt returner, that's the very minimum you can ask for.
So in summary, a good first game. Is it enough for me to change my 6-6 prediction? Not yet. I don't like being one of those people who see one game and convince myself that will be the way things happen for the rest of the season, and that would have been the case had Auburn lost as well.

But I do have to say that after seeing what Malzahn did with this offense after one game (just to reiterate, 556 yards!), that things looked to operate much better than I thought they would. Now let's see how it works against a defense from the SEC. It should be interesting.


ron mexico said...

agree on mario fannin shouldn't be returning punts and i'd go one step further and say he shouldn't return kickoffs, because he doesn't really get up field and look for seam.

You also mentioned tommy trott not catching a pass. Why does he line up at receiver so much? I just can't see him getting open against a cornerback. We could at least line Deangelo Benton out there and we would look cooler, you know?

And finally, I feel like we are wasting Gabe McKensie he didn't even get into the game until Neil Caudle did. Why can't he go back to D-end? I remember the last person at Auburn Chizik moved from tight end to D-line... I think his name was Jay Ratliff and he is decent at football these days. Besides I saw #96 out there... Who in the hell is that?

Marmot said...

The big positives for me:

1. Went for the field goal at the end of the 1st half. Well executed and previous regime wouldn't have attempted it.
2. Made adjustments at half time. I think this has been pointed out by everyone. The only adjustment we were used to is our offense being told to stop competing.
3. Successfully threw long. Its been a while. Since Campbell really.
4. Got offensively stronger in the 2nd half. This is what cleaning out the old regime bought us.
5. Successfully ran the ball at the end of the game when La Tech knew we were going to run the ball. I need to vent here--- a major part of Tubs stratagy was to burn clock with safe running plays. Nall knew this, Gran knew this, the team knew this. Why were they all so bad at it? Why did it look like were were conceding all offensive production just to run the clock for three straight plays?
6. Covered kick-offs well. That got bad under Tubs when they moved the kick back to the 35 and we couldn't get the kicks into the endzone.
7. When was the last time we had this kind of field goal kicking?
8. No 3 and outs and very few negative yardage plays period.

ron mexico said...

I think this win needs to be put in perspective... it was LaTech. Let's get into October before we start comparing the differences in the previous staff and the current one. Don't forget how many games that staff won while they were at Auburn. It seems like they have become villified, and it doesn't seem right.

War Eagle AC-47 said...

Not villified. But Justly criticized.

Many people were lauding La Tech's strengths before the game as a warning to Auburn to look out. Son of Dooley, their success in conference, etc. Now that we beat them, they're just La Tech.

By that logic LSU better watch out because they barely squeaked by 0-12 Washington.

Ole Miss just managed to keep it going until lil ole Memphis ran out of gas at the end of the third quarter.