Daily Archives: November 7, 2017

Oh, what might have been. And what may be.

When it comes to Auburn’s hiring decision in the wake of Chizik’s departure, Kevin Scarbinsky weaves an intriguing tale.

Look at the facts alone, and it’s tempting to say Auburn made a mistake when it chose Malzahn over Smart. The truth is more elusive.

After talking to people familiar with Auburn’s 2012 coaching search then and now, it’s possible to draw two conclusions. Malzahn was the preferred if not preordained choice from the start. Smart had too many demands and issues for Auburn’s taste.

One example: Smart wanted full control to hire his own staff. As logical as that requirement may seem, Auburn decision-makers were used to having significant input in that regard. They had identified Malzahn as the offensive coordinator they wanted on Chizik’s staff.

A person familiar with Smart’s Auburn interview said he told the search committee, if hired, he would tap longtime friend Mike Bobo as offensive coordinator. The committee didn’t like that idea, given Bobo’s mixed results as a playcaller at Georgia.

Another 2012 concern: Auburn’s inner circle feared that, if Georgia were to part company with Mark Richt in the near future, Smart would leave Auburn for Athens in a heartbeat to take his dream job as head coach at his alma mater.

Throw in Smart’s demands that he get a full accounting of the NCAA’s investigation of Auburn at the time and that, if hired, he be allowed to coach the Alabama defense through the BCS Championship Game – neither of which was acceptable to Auburn – and there were simply too many obstacles for both sides to overcome.

That’s interesting in terms of looking back — Smart and Bobo at Auburn?  Would Smart Bobo leave Richt for a lateral hire, even if the powers that be at Auburn relented? — in terms of looking to the present — Georgia was a lot more compliant in the face of similar demands than was Auburn — and, finally, the future.

I mentioned it before, and Seth Emerson touches on the potential financial aspects here, but the offseason negotiations between Smart and McGarity (and their surrounding casts) will be something else, I suspect.

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Et tu, Spurdog?

There’s not a lot of new insight in this story about McElwain’s final days in Gainesville, but there is one minor gem unearthed:

With the Gators trailing 21-0 at the half in their eventual loss to Georgia, Spurrier walked through the press box and asked a handful of reporters, “What happened to the forward pass?”

Meanwhile, Florida’s engaged in its fifth coaching search since Spurrier left.

 

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Whee!

Mark Schlabach shoots and scores over the Auburn defender.

It’s gonna be a fun week.

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First (serious) Auburn thoughts

Teasing aside, Auburn’s found a balanced offense for itself this season and scored at a record pace in conference play.

Auburn has been run-dominated in Malzahn’s five seasons, with his 2013 Southeastern Conference champions averaging an eye-popping 328.4 rushing yards per game and 173 passing yards a contest. This year’s Tigers do not possess the same rushing arsenal as their 2013 predecessors but enter Saturday afternoon’s contest against the visiting Bulldogs with a balanced average of 236.7 rushing and 229.4 passing yards.

Through six SEC games, the Tigers are averaging 43.5 points a game.  As the linked piece mentions, Auburn’s offense has never been that prolific before.  Georgia’s defense is going to have to pay attention to a vertical passing game that hasn’t really been there in the same way previously with Malzahn.

“They’re a great team with a good quarterback who can throw the ball,” Bulldogs senior inside linebacker Reggie Carter said. “We need a coordinated pass rush. We need to disguise coverages. We need hits on the quarterback and batted balls. All that plays into affecting a quarterback, and it’s everybody’s job.”

Said sophomore safety J.R. Reed: “Each week somebody is going to try and attack us, and we’ve got to limit the explosive plays and get some interceptions like we have been.”

Stidham was sacked 11 times in Auburn’s 14-6 loss at Clemson on Sept. 9, but he has been sacked only 13 times in the other eight games. Georgia’s defense has 17 sacks this season, including seven the past two weeks against Florida and South Carolina.

“You’ve got to push the pocket, and you’ve got to be able to get off the field on third down,” Bulldogs senior nose tackle John Atkins said. “We give them four seconds, and after four seconds it’s on the rush. You want to get back there.”

Getting pressure on Stidham may be a painfully obvious key to Saturday’s result, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant.  Auburn’s allowed a total of 24 sacks this season; fourteen of those came in its two losses.

As Smart noted yesterday, Auburn will be Georgia’s toughest opponent since Notre Dame.  As they were in that game, the Dawgs will be the road team.  Auburn and Notre Dame make for an interesting comparison in other ways.

ESPN’s FPI favors Auburn slightly.  S&P+ forecasts the opposite.  So does Sagarin.  As far as the raw numbers go, Notre Dame surpasses Auburn in offensive yards per play, but the Tigers have the better numbers in defensive yards per play.

The Irish held Georgia to its lowest average in offensive yards per play of the season, but considering that it was Fromm’s first start and the offensive line hadn’t fully settled in, I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say the Dawgs are more formidable on offense than they were at that time.  Even so, Boom laid the groundwork for what Auburn’s defense might try to replicate in hopes of slowing Georgia down.  The reason Auburn may have more success with that approach is because it’s better at defending third downs than South Carolina’s been.

That being said, in conference games, Georgia’s posted a lower defensive yards per play average and a higher offensive yards per play average than the Tigers.

This looks to be a tough matchup for both teams.

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“A gorilla could whip a lot of stuff.”

Mike Leach on college mascots is every bit the chuckle you’d expect it to be.

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Today’s factoid of the day

Well played, Cy Brown.

… But a small humiliation the Tigers probably can’t stop is a Georgia Bulldogs player passing an Auburn legend on the list of SEC career rushing leaders.

Georgia senior Nick Chubb (4,291 yards) needs 13 rushing yards to pass 1985 Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson (4,303 yards) for fourth on the list of SEC career leading rushers. Chubb is averaging 96.3 yards per game this season, so he’s a good bet to eclipse Jackson early in the game against the Tigers.

Too bad they won’t stop the game for a minute to honor the moment.

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Just another game

I thought Saturday was a big game for Georgia, but Jerry Hinnen gives it near-apocalyptic status for Auburn… and Gus Malzahn in particular.

Skywrite it with airplanes. Build a second Mothratron atop the first, and have them display it in all-caps. Cut it maze-style into a cornfield the size of Nebraska, so it can only be read from 747s and space shuttles.

The question before Auburn football cannot be written largely enough, cannot be asked too loudly:

What is Gus Malzahn’s ceiling as Auburn coach?

That Auburn fans have now spent almost three full seasons waiting for an answer goes a long way toward explaining why Saturday’s showdown with No. 1 Georgia is the program’s biggest game since playing Florida State for the 2013 national championship.

Yes, it’s the hated Bulldogs. Yes, Auburn’s dreams of an SEC West title — and perhaps even bigger prizes beyond — are on the line. Yes, defeating the College Football Playoff’s top-ranked team in Jordan-Hare Stadium would be a victory for the ages regardless of the coach’s status. But the stakes for this game start with nothing less than whether Malzahn can still produce performances worthy of remaining on Auburn’s sideline.

I’m not sure that Saturday is as much on Gus as it is on Jarrett Stidham.  Auburn’s beaten Georgia twice in, what, the last eleven years?  And both times it took a quarterback having a tremendous season both running and throwing the ball to get the Tigers over the hump.  While they do let Stidham run (he averages about seven carries a game), nobody is going to mistake him for Cam or Marshall.

It ain’t gonna bother me, though, if Gus is feeling a little pressure going in.  Just keep that effing rabbit’s foot away…

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