Yesterday, stringsays did a great job with instant reaction to the game. Now let's try and tackle some of the lingering questions.
Q: What the hell happened?
Dazed and confused. That was the feeling I had once the game officially ended. Although I really wasn't that surprised or shocked that we lost to be honest with you. I thought we were lucky to squeak by last weekend at Ole Miss in the final seconds, and I knew we wouldn't be so lucky the next time it happened. And that scenario played out once again on Saturday. It's hard to fathom that scoring 41 points at home wouldn't be enough to walk away with a win. But, we scored 42 against Alabama and 41 against Auburn and it wasn't enough. We needed 50 on the day, thanks to our porous defense. It won't be the last time this happens either. Vanderbilt is going to be full of confidence next weekend coming to Kyle Field after a victory against SEC East power Georgia and knowing they are going up against a wounded Texas A&M. James Franklin will have them ready to play, no matter how you feel about their talent level. I'm not concerned about UTEP or Mississippi State to close out the home slate, but both contests on the road against LSU and Missouri are going to be dogfights. I'm actually more worried about Missouri than I am LSU. We saw yesterday that the LSU offense can go back to its 2012 form at times. Missouri is a match-up nightmare with their spread running game and 6'4"+ wide receivers spreading the field.
Q: Can we really blame the offense and play calling?
Yes and no. You shouldn't have to score 50 points at home to win. That's the simple answer. And our offense was actually out-pacing Auburn with 7.3 yards per play to the Tigers' 7.2. So we were racking up the yards as we always do. The problem with our offense for the past two weeks is there just hasn't been any flow to the play calling. There is no rhythm to what we do like you would usually see with an up-tempo offense. As someone watching from home, it just feels like we are calling random plays and hoping they stick. No better example of that is seen than with the running backs. Trey Williams was showcasing his talent once again, but only had 10 carries on the day and didn't get the ball on successive drives. That's not enough to get a running back into a rhythm. Trey, Ben, and Tra combined for 21 rushes during the game, and 3 more additional touches (1 each) on pass receptions. They touched the ball roughly 30% of all offensive snaps (82 total for the game). The numbers say we were averaging 11.3 yards per pass ATTEMPT. That's a first down on average every time we threw the ball. Why run then? To take pressure off an injured QB and an offensive line that is not performing, and also to keep the defense off the field for a little longer. This offense just needs to find a better rhythm and balance. Since the bye week, we've chosen to go 4 or 5 wide on almost every play and keep the ball in Johnny's hands. This has caused teams like Auburn to play six defensive backs and send blitzes on almost every play. Now, that's affecting offensive line play leading to larger problems.
Q: How bad did the offensive line play yesterday?
Worst performance I can remember in a long time. They just got beat off the snap, especially on the inside. Also, Dee Ford dominated Cedric Ogbuehi with a straight bull rush up the field, causing Johnny to abandon the pocket early. People forget those Auburn defensive lineman were once highly recruited players and are finally growing up. They are fast off the line, and that quickness really frustrated the guys like Ifedi on the inside for most of the game. Combine that with the blitz Auburn called on almost every play, it really got to an offensive line that had been used to only 4 rushing on every play. The last two weeks the inside of the offensive line has not played well, and our tackles finally played edge rushers that could challenge them. We finally started calling some draws to try and stop the upfield pursuit by their line, but we didn't help out those guys enough with both our play calls and formations. When you had an offensive lineman like Ogbuehi struggle with Ford all game long, you have to make some type of adjustment to bringing in a running back to to chip on the DE before releasing into a pass route or *gasp* bring in an extra blocker like a tight end. Our failure to adjust cost us on that final 4th down play. Our offensive line has not been tested for a long time, and when we finally did we failed. That's what happens when you call plays relying on one aspect of your offense.
Q: The big question about our defense -- is it coaching or talent?
It's a little bit of both. There is no doubt this defense is deprived of SEC-caliber talent. And a lot of the guys we are starting are playing out of position in my opinion. Just look at our defensive line right now. We are playing Julien Obioha, Gavin Stansbury, Alonzo Williams, and Isaiah Golden almost exclusively. Obioha is not quick enough to be playing weakside defensive end. Stansbury has actually played well after coming back from suspension and is our best defensive end right now. He is really showing up. Alonzo has battled, but I feel he too is out of position. The roster says he is 280 pounds, but I'm not sure about that. In a perfect world he is playing outside with Stansbury and Obioha (all at strongside defensive end). And Golden has been good, but he is a young guy that was playing at 3A Carthage a year ago, not facing SEC offensive linemen. We are playing with three SDEs and one freshman defensive tackle. That's the talent problem we are facing. Our defensive line isn't going to move anybody right now, protect our linebackers, or provide a pass rush. I mean, Auburn threw the ball twice from their endzone before the half because they weren't worried about us generating pressure to cause a safety or worse. What is any coach supposed to do with these types of problems? Coach Snyder's hands are really tied in what he can and can't do with this group. He has to be like MacGyver in making something out of nothing. However, there is some coaching problems. You can't get beat by a wheel route one weekend and not correct that issue over the course of the week. Did we not think Gus Malzahn and the Auburn coaches would see that and go to that this week? It's that no correction issue that really bothers me. Also, what is with not being lined up correctly? We play a strong and weak side with our defense. That means after an offense lines up, we must decide which side is the strong side, and which side is the weak. Our guys have to stand around and then move into position before getting down into their stance before the snap. Teams that go up-tempo cause us not to be even aligned before the snap because of this foolishness. It cost us a couple of times yesterday. If I'm playing Mark Snyder, I'm going up tempo the entire game and making it even easier to move the ball against us.
I would like to see some of the younger guys play. Guys like Daeshon Hall at WDE, the quickness of Jay Arnold at defensive tackle may frustrate some offensive linemen, and Shaan Washington I thought was an impact defender when he has sparingly played. But the same personnel continually sees the field. What could be worse than what we are playing with?
Q: So, can we fix anything about the defense THIS season?
I think it just goes back to being more flexible with personnel groupings. Yesterday we played the entire game out of the nickel package with Toney Hurd on the field. Even when Auburn brought in bigger personnel, we refused to substitute with them and bring in an extra linebacker. Darian Claiborne and Steven Jenkins played almost the entire game as our only two linebackers. The only time we switched our group up was in long-to-go situations when we switched to a 3-3-5 and had Hall, Alonzo at NG, and Tyrone Taylor on the defensive line and Nate Askew coming in as an extra linebacker/edge rusher. That was the only substitution we made throughout the game aside from injuries. I've always felt our coaching staff has been a little stubborn in who they play and how they play them. With the last three games of the homestand upcoming, now is the perfect time to mix things up and see some of the younger guys play. Again, can we really be worse?