W2W4 – Iron Bowl Edition
Whoa – is this Thanksgiving or Christmas???? You’ll have to forgive the Lighthouse staff for not knowing what day it is since we have just now paid our bail from dancing naked in the streets of Tuscaloosa last Saturday night! And, to you ladies who asked, yes, it is that difficult to run around naked when you are that excited! And right after we paid our bail money, not only did we find out that Bama is #2 in the BCS but we found out Auburn is under another NCAA investigation! Are you kidding me? Do we just give thanks for this at Thanksgiving or should we get the NCAA a nice houndstooth coat for the courtroom for Christmas? And isn’t Auburn about to fire Gene Chizik? Well good luck hiring a new coach now – I can’t imagine an NCAA investigation is a selling point to any prospective coaches! It must hurt to see Alabama at the top knowing that Auburn hasn’t even hit rock bottom yet. To quote the famous beer commercial, “It don’t get no better than this!”
My oh my, don’t you just love the ebb and flow of the college football season – I wonder if we’ll actually miss the BCS when it’s gone because the last two years have been buck wild. This season, first we experienced the ridiculous high of “The Drive” against LSU – what a win! But, before Daniel Moore could even finish his pencil sketch of Yeldon’s dash to glory, Bama fans fell to a depressing low when they provided a freshman QB with his Heisman moment. Damn that Johnny Football! Even within that particular game, Bama went from the low of losing 20-0 to the high of being 2 yards away from victory and then fell to a new low when the Tide threw a pick and then jumped offsides on fourth down. What a roller coaster. And, they hadn’t even cleaned up our puke from the last roller coaster ride before, in the span of just a couple of hours, we were back on it again cheering Baylor and Stanford on to victory! Bama is college football’s version of Freddy Krueger – Alabama evidently cannot be killed! Ain’t life grand????? Oh, and the Auburn mess…wow. Cue the pig that screams, “Weeeeeeeee” because the Bama Nation is happier than Gallagher at a farmer’s market!
Ok, so, on to the W2W4 that you all are paying your good money for. First – a quick note about our review of Auburn. It was tough. How does one evaluate the Texas A&M game that was 42 to 0 in about the same amount of time it takes to cut Gene Chizik a severance check? What insights can you glean when you see Auburn try to spy Johnny Football with the cement footed Jake Holland? What can you determine from Auburn’s coverages when there are no Auburn players on the screen around the receivers? Was it zone? Was it man? I mean, there’s no one there! So, the Lighthouse didn’t even make it thru the second quarter of that review before we had to skip ahead to Auburn’s game against Georgia. While the amount of insights we found weren’t staggering, we think we found a few items that you may want to pay attention to. Here’s what to watch for, Iron Bowl style…
Alabama on Offense
First off, look for Alabama to be on offense a lot. Auburn’s offense is LAST in the conference in gaining first downs so that means every time Bama’s offense gives up the ball Saturday, they are likely to receive it right back in about three plays or so. Think of the Auburn offense as the gift that keeps on giving…
When Alabama is in their base package (which is one back and three wide receivers), look for Auburn to run a four man front with two linebackers behind them. The AU scheme is pretty simple – rely on your front four to get sacks and play coverage behind them. With Auburn putting only six men in the box, teams like to run on the Tiger front six. To counter the run, AU will walk down Demetruce McNeal (#12) as a third linebacker. McNeal, at 187 lbs, is then asked to take on 300 lb offensive linemen and 270 pound tight ends before he can blindly hurl himself in the general direction of a 220 lb back. With the AU offense putting their defense on the field so often, it doesn’t take long before McNeal and their other smallish defenders to lose their will to serve as undersized blocking sleds. Eventually, they end up spending more time on their backs than the staff at Seattle Grace and go down more often than Paula Broadwell.
The stats tell us that Alabama should be able to run the football against the AU defense since it is ranked 14th in the SEC against the run. Early on against UGA, I thought Auburn’s run defense did a pretty credible job stacking the box in an effort to jam the running lanes but, 289 yards later, Auburn’s run defense eventually wilted. In order for Georgia to eventually open up those running lanes they had to take to the air early. Look for Alabama to do the same. Here’s why…
So Far Away From Me: The Auburn safeties will be in Dire Straits if they continue to play so close to the line of scrimmage. With the Tigers getting gashed repeatedly in the running game, Van Goober (seriously, what’s with the porn stache?) places his safeties about 10 yards or less from the line of scrimmage to help stop the running game. The problem is that neither McNeal or Whitehead (at 200 lbs) are fond of getting beaten to death while trying to stop the running game so to say their tackling efforts are “half hearted” would be offensive to the lion from Wizard of Oz as even he had more heart. But, because AU has to keep their safeties close to the line of scrimmage, look for Alabama to double move the AU safeties early and connect on some deep balls.
Hurt: If you are an Auburn fan, it’s gotta hurt to see #25 on the field defending your end zone. Darren Bates is atrocious. Look for Bates to get pancaked repeatedly by anyone he comes into contact with at the Bryant-Denny IHOP (International House of Pain). In the two games I reviewed, I never saw the AU linebackers shoot a gap or come downhill. They read, react and get blocked as though that’s their job. Bates is probably the worst linebacker I have ever seen on tape, btw. In two years, this converted safety has shown zero ability to shed blocks and make tackles. He seems to think his job is to get blocked in order to allow someone else to make plays. It will be another long day for Bates but, if he’s lucky, he may be the next Tiger defender to find himself in Daniel Moore print!
House of Pain: Speaking of the House of Pain, you’ll Jump Around whenever McNeal or Whitehead is left in a one on one situation with a Tide back or receiver. When they are not used to stop the opponent’s running game as an extra linebacker, they still have to make the tackle anyway because their two linebackers spend most of their time falling onto their backs into the missionary position. In the Georgia game McNeal was disobeying every fundamental rule about tackling and instead seemed to be employing the Joaquin Andujar school of hitting– swing hard in case you hit something. Comical.
Red Dawn: Look for Alabama to light up the scoreboard with the passing game whenever they drive deep into the red zone. Inside the 10, Auburn will rush four men and sit seven defenders across the goal line, leaving 10 yards of open real estate behind them. Georgia used a little hitch route to occupy one defender at the goal line while a wide receiver ran a post behind the hitch route – the defenders never moved. WDE! Whoops Dey-score Everytime!
Don’t Front On Me: If Auburn does have a strength on their defense it’s their front four. While, yes, they are only 11th in the conference in sacks, the AU front four seems to be focused on stopping the run. The key for Bama to get yards on the ground will be to run between the tackles and utilize Warmack, Jones and Steen to control and turn the front four. As we’ve stated, once you get past the first line of defense, it’s pretty easy sailing from there. When Paul Rhodes took over for Chizik at IowaState he complained that he had to revert back to teaching the basic fundamentals of tackling. When you watch the game Saturday you’ll understand why Rhodes was so aghast when he held his first IowaState practice.
Wide Open Spaces: When Alabama uses a play action pass, look for the Auburn linebackers to take at least one or two steps towards the line of scrimmage, then turn to see who’s running past them and, finally, beat a hasty retreat straight back (oftentimes right next to one another) into zone coverage. With the linebackers dropping straight back and at full speed, Georgia was able to hit their tight ends and wide receivers in the flats to either side of the hashmarks. I think Michael Williams will be open much in the way Brad Smelley was last year.
Swami Sez: Look for Auburn to come out and play their most inspired 15 minutes of the season. They’ll be fighting for their lame duck coach and the ones who care will realize that the Iron Bowl is their last time on the field this season (or perhaps their career). For the Auburn players who still care, the Alabama game will be their bowl game and their last shot at salvaging a wretched season so they will come out with adrenaline and give their all at the start. But, as the first quarter transitions into the second quarter and as it becomes apparent that the same Auburn offense showed up that shows up every Saturday, the Tigers’ defense will crumble. Look for over 200 yards of rushing from Alabama with a concentration of the running game in the second half. Look for AJ to hit two long passes that break Auburn’s will to fight. Look for Michael Williams to catch three passes. AJ will have a really good afternoon completing about 65% of his passes and getting sacked only once. He’ll hit on at least 3 passes of over 20 yards. Also, look for Alabama to dominate the time of possession, the scoreboard and the line of scrimmage.
Alabama on Defense
This year’s Iron Bowl will not be determined by anything you read beyond this point. It just won’t be. The ONLY question is how many points Alabama’s offense will score because it’s evident that Auburn cannot and will not score much against Alabama (or anyone else for that matter). Why? Well, here are some fun facts to know about the offensive Tigers:
- Ranked 13th in the SEC in scoring and ranked 107th (out of 120) nationally.
- Ranked 13th in the SEC in total offense and ranked 112th nationally.
- Ranked 13th in the SEC in passing offense and ranked 111th nationally.
- Ranked 14th in the SEC in giving up sacks and ranked 109th nationally.
- Ranked 9th in the SEC in rushing offense and ranked 73rd nationally.
I hope I’ve made my points here because Auburn sure hasn’t made many. Auburn’s offense is actually worse this year than it was last year when the offense accounted for ZERO points against Alabama. I simply don’t see any way short of “Punt Bama Punt” that Auburn can put enough points on the scoreboard to win this game or even be competitive. It’s ugly and there’s a reason that the man who brought them their first national championship in 50 years is being run out on a rail only two years later. Ugly doesn’t even begin to describe the Auburn offense. I think the Auburn offense looks like what I imagine Tammy from the Finebaum show must look like. Eeeh gads…
Wrap It Up, I’ll Take It: The one thing that stood out during the Georgia game was just how bad Jonathan Wallace is (and yet they consider him a huge upgrade at Auburn). If Wallace can’t locate his first read, then he’s evidently been coached to immediately wet the bed. He looks like Jodie Foster in the Panic Room as he looks for some way to escape the horror of the pocket. Nine times out of ten, this results in a sack and, as pointed out above, this is the one thing the Auburn offense is good at – allowing sacks.
Swing Dancin’: Wallace’s favorite receiver is whoever he fakes the fly sweep to. So, picture this: Wallace is in the shotgun and McCalebb is in motion as the fly sweep guy. Wallace fakes the handoff to McCalebb and then looks downfield for a millisecond. He then swings the ball out blindly to the sweep guy he faked to. Georgia smoked a couple of these guys and one time had the chance to pick off the pass but chose instead to decrapitate the receiver. Now, I’ve long said that the Achilles heel of the Saban defense is guarding the backs out of the backfield but this is such a staple of what the Tigers do – I think they’ll be covered up nicely.
Learnin’ to Fly: With AU and, in particular, Onterio McCalebb, focusing on the outside running game, the one area that Alabama must defend is the edge. Against Texas A&M, Bama’s edge containment was woeful and against Ole Miss they gave up 9 plays around the corner. Guys like Dickson, Devall, Hubbard and Square are going to have to keep their outside leverage and funnel the running game back inside. Now, against Mississippi State, Auburn was extremely predictable and State knew the Auburn plays better than AU did. So, if there are tells then I’d look for Lester, Sunseri, Clinton-Dix and Perry to fly into the sweeps, rip the S off of them and return them as weeps.
I Am Number One: From what I’ve seen, Auburn has one wide receiver and his name is Emory Blake. Look for the Tide secondary to swing their coverages towards Blake in an effort to force Wallace into his second read. As we’ve seen, reading isn’t exactly a fundamental for Wallace.
Lollipop: A year ago, Wallace was in high school getting pummeled by Prattville 45-14. He was the last kid in the Auburn 2012 signing class to receive a scholarship and there’s a reason for that. He’s not particularly big. He’s not particularly fast. He also doesn’t have a particularly strong arm. Other than that, he’s perfect! He does look fairly decent on play action roll outs where he can get outside of the chaos and see the field but I think Alabama will be blitzing into these roll outs in order to eliminate this threat.
Swami Sez: Seriously, get your popcorn ready. I can see Alabama’s offense struggling at times but I simply cannot find a way for Auburn to score against the Tide’s defense. Bama’s defensive kryptonite has been when their safeties are exposed in coverage but, thankfully, Auburn doesn’t possess the offensive line (wretched), the QB (poor) or the wide receivers to attack this flaw. Therefore, it will be a series of dinks and dunks, rollouts and short drops all designed to get ONE guy open. If the one guy is covered, it’s over. Look for at least five sacks, at least two picks, and under 220 yards of total offense. We are feeling a pick with a really big return just for the simple fact that Wallace will stare down his receiver and then deliver a ball without a lot of velocity. This spells pick six. If Auburn scores, it will likely be set up off of a turnover by their defense or their special teams. By the way, we think Wallace will get so shaken that Mosely may be called upon. If so, we predict bumper stickers will be made saying, “Honk if you sacked an AU quarterback in 2012!”
Alabama on Special Teams
Christion Jones has been announced as the punt returner this week in the ever revolving Bama punt return carousel but, after the two muffs from last week (to go along with a few others), this doesn’t exactly excite us. The key to any good punt returner isn’t the return skills. No, it’s the catching skills. We are hoping that Jones has a clean game this week. One more muffed punt and this Christion may be fed to the lions…
On the other side of the coin, the Auburn special teams are pretty solid. Their field goal kicking and kickoffs have been superb but that makes sense since they are rarely called upon. And while their punting game is highly regarded, we were surprised that they are merely ranked 8th in punting while Alabama ranks 7th. But, we know Auburn has had to do a ton of punting so it could just be that Clark is fatigued. We think the all important field position battle will likely be determined more by the ineptitude of the Auburn offense than anything the special teamers can cobble together so there is no real advantage here.
If you are looking for the tried and untrue rhetoric about “throwing out the record books when these two get together” then I’d encourage you to look elsewhere. The Bama Lighthouse has long believed that, with a few exceptions, the vastly superior team wins about 95% of the Iron Bowls. To us, the last true upset occurred in 2002 when Alabama lost to Auburn 17-7 at Bryant-Denny Stadium. However, you might recall that there were some extenuating circumstances as coach Fran was inking his deal with Texas A&M during the television timeouts. But, since that time, the vastly superior team has won every single year and this year will be no different (meaning that recently a double digit favorite is very rarely upset in this series). This week, Las Vegas installed Alabama as a 34 point favorite! But…but…but…it’s a rivalry game…you never know…throw out the record books and…and… Hogwash! Auburn is simply too anemic on offense to make this game anything but a blowout.
So on Monday when you are getting ready to talk some epic smack to the Auburn nation, you should realize that first you’ll have to begin by telling them what actually happened in the game. The “All In” crowd is not even the “Al-most In” family, as 90% of their fan base doesn’t even watch their games anymore. I don’t mean that they merely aren’t showing up to the games. Nope. I mean they don’t even turn the games on their TV. Similarly to their fan base, we think Auburn may put forth a moderate effort for about a quarter or so but as soon as Alabama gets out to a double digit lead they’ll quit and the Gene Chizik era will officially and finally collapse like a house of cards. Game. Set. Match. Chizik Out. NCAA In. All. In. Trouble. Cue up the “Family” Feud music…
Final Score: Alabama 41 Auburn 6