26 November 2008
Six years. Six freakin’ years. You know what I am talking about. We have had to put up with six years of losing to Alabama Polytechnic Institute (Spoiler alert – I will only refer to Auburn as API for the remainder of this preview due to the total lack of respect I have for their school and their athletic program).
API has done a good job of taking advantage of the turmoil that has been the last six years of Alabama football. From the probation to the numerous coaching changes, it is no surprise that the streak reached six. That time seems to have passed.
The arrival of Nick Saban has brought stability back to Tuscaloosa and with it should come an end to API’s instate dominance.
Any Bama fan who says they expected the Crimson Tide to be undefeated at this point in the season is lying. The most optimistic fan would have been happy with eight or nine wins heading into the Iron Bowl.
But more surprising would be the struggles down the road. I am on record as saying that I thought API would struggle a bit this season due to the dramatic change in offensive philosophy but I would have never guessed they would implode, leading to a mid season firing of Tony Franklin and a scrapping of the spread offense.
There will be more editorializing later but for now, on to the preview.
API is back to running what most Tiger fans are comfortable with – running the football. There are good players down on the Plains with Ben Tate, Brad Lester, and Mario Fannin.
Unfortunately for them, Tate’s talents don’t lend themselves to the spread and Lester and Fannin, who are more suited to that style, have been injured for parts of the season.
You would think that Tate would be off and running now that Tuberville has asked Franklin to leave but for one small problem – the passing game. The biggest reason that the spread failed is the same reason API has had trouble since scrapping it, the quarterback position.
For some reason, Tony Franklin thought Chris Todd could play in the SEC. Todd proved to not be capable of playing at Troy. Kodi Burns was never really given a shot at the spread so when he was named starter he was essentially given two playbooks to work from.
No quarterback can be successful that way.
Back to the running game, though. Opponents have had such little respect for the API passing attack that they have loaded the box to stop the running game. Burns’ lack of progression at the quarterback position has made it tough for the Tigers to exploit the single coverage he sees on a regular basis.
Tate for the season is API’s leading rusher with 706 yards on 155 carries for a 4.2 yard average. Burns is the second leading rusher with 405 yards as well as leading the team with 937 yards passing.
Lester and Fannin have to be considered a disappointment combining for 488 yards on the ground.
Rod Smith leads a pedestrian receiving corps with 28 catches for 293 yards and a 10.5 yard average per catch.
This unit was supposed to be strength of the team this year, the glue that held everything together while the offense worked out the kinks with the spread.
What Tubby didn’t count on was that with the spread struggling so much the defense got beat to death playing too many snaps too early. There is a ton of talent on this side of the ball but they have been too injured and too worn out to be the difference makers they were touted to be.
Tray Blackmon may go down as the most overrated Tiger player ever. This kid was supposed to be the next Aundray Bruce and now he is off the team (at least for now – the kid has more lives than a cat).
Safety Zac Etheridge is the leading tackler with 64. Fellow safety Michael McNeil is second with 60. Two safeties as your leading tacklers is not a good sign for your defense.
Defensive end Antonio Coleman leads API with six sacks and linebacker Josh Bynes has three interceptions to lead the team.
My head says that the Crimson Tide should run at will on a team that surrenders over 130 yards per game. That success running the football will open up the field for some big plays in the passing game.
My head also says that the Tiger’s one dimensional (some would say no dimensional) offense will have no success against Bama’s highly touted defense.
My gut, however says that this game will be closer than the experts think. My gut says that Auburn will play inspired football and keep this game closer than the odds makers think before running out of gas late.
I am going to split the difference and say that this game will turn out much like the game against Mississippi State two weeks ago. API will keep it close early but look for a turnover or special teams play to open the flood gate and Bama to pull away late.