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By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Nov. 25, 2012
This weekly feature is supposed to be a game analysis told from the Alabama perspective – what the Crimson Tide did right, what it did wrong, and what it might do differently going forward.
But there’s nothing really to analyze here, from an Alabama perspective. Against Auburn, Alabama simply showed up and played. It didn’t do anything flashy. There were no flea-flickers, no fake kicks, no Wildcat packages. The fanciest play Alabama used was straight play-action.
No, this analysis begs to focus on the Auburn Tigers.
This is a program two years removed from a BCS National Championship. It is, allegedly, in the top five or six SEC programs all-time. It is – or at least, its fans claim it is – allegedly a program of some national significance, a consistent top-15 contender and a destination program for head coaches.
The fact is, no Auburn coach since Ralph “Shug” Jordan has been able to leave Auburn completely on his own terms. And that’s typically because everything always seems to rotate back to this game, this rivalry against Alabama.
Since 2007, Nick Saban’s arrival at Alabama, the Crimson Tide has been building toward some kind of climax in this series. The eventual terminus of that buildup wasn’t known to anyone, but everyone had a pretty good guess: It would end, to one degree or another, with an Alabama team making an Auburn team look like it didn’t even know how to play the sport.
Turns out that day was Nov. 24, 2012. The 2007 game was probably closer than it had any right to be, and Alabama would have stood a good chance at an upset had D.J. Hall not dropped a sure touchdown pass. The 2008 game polished off Tommy Tuberville’s career. The zenith of Gene Chizik’s career – the final handful of weeks in the 2009 season, through the Cam Newton-infused 2010 championship season and its follow-up season – produced two Alabama wins, one by blowout, and another game that Alabama should have won. And then we have Nov. 24, 2012.
Auburn didn’t look like it even cared to be on the field with Alabama, much less do anything to actually slow down Alabama or score on Alabama. Auburn made Alabama’s first drive into four minutes of honest work; after the Tide finally scored a touchdown to cap the drive, the Tigers checked out. A team full of Signing Day prime cuts turned into an Iron Bowl full of spoiled hamburger.
And when the fourth quarter finally arrived in Bryant-Denny Stadium, not one Auburn player, coach or support personnel held up four fingers. Not one. There was no pride, no want-to, and perhaps, no real ability.
If Auburn doesn’t fire Gene Chizik by the time this article hits the street, it will be a shock. If Chizik isn’t gone by the time Signing Day rolls around in February 2013, it will be evidence that Auburn’s pending NCAA troubles are much worse than any Tiger fan wants to admit. Auburn finds itself in quite a quandary at the moment, facing a hefty buyout of Chizik’s contract, the likelihood of going into a bidding war with Arkansas and Tennessee for a top coach, and the combination of facing NCAA reps the Tigers thumbed their nose at in 2010 and trying to dodge a Yahoo!Sports investigative staff ready to add some more awards to the conference room wall.
When Auburn and Chizik won the 2010 championship, fans thought the Tigers had found the next Paul Bryant. Turns out they had found the next Junie Donlavey, the likeable former NASCAR team owner who caught lightning in a bottle just once in his long career, winning a single race on a day when most of the competition was forced out of the event with one problem or another. For Chizik, Cam Newton was his Jody Ridley in 2010, and injury-riddled Alabama blew an engine in the second half of its game and handed him his lone victory of substance.
If Auburn is able to again rise from this orbital perigee, it will have to do so while its chief rivals – Alabama, Georgia, Florida and LSU – are running at maximum thrust. It will have to contend with a roster weakened by recruiting missteps, behavioral come-aparts and the presence of multiple wards of modern chemistry. It will have to do so with the cloud of NCAA uncertainty hanging over it like a cheap pup tent in a deluge. And finally, the Tigers will have to figure out some way to close the gap with Alabama while UA finds itself in possession of the best college coach of the post-houndstooth era.
If Auburn is serious about doing this, the difference-maker won’t be a single man with a whistle around his neck. It will only come as the result of an entire rebuilding of its athletic department, possibly even its university leadership, a process that includes not only changes in personnel but also changes in expectations. Auburn has historically, and repeatedly, been at its worst when it tries to keep up with the crimson-clad Joneses, rather than forge whatever path it is capable of navigating.
Meanwhile, Alabama just keeps rolling the wheel. A program that had once been “passed,” according to the premature, unfortunate choice of words of at least one state sportswriter, is one win away from playing for title No. 15 – and further drowning Auburn deeper in its wake.
Here’s the Five Point Breakdown for the Alabama-Auburn game:
1. No respect for the Tiger passing game. Unlike in previous games against teams with spread tendencies, Alabama left its defense in base alignment for most of Auburn’s early passing downs. Nick Perry, who typically comes off the field in certain passing situations, stayed out, along with both outside linebackers. It was a gutsy call from the Alabama coaching staff, as breakdowns in base defense were one of the major reasons for LSU’s offensive success. But Auburn could not profit from it. In fact, if anything, Auburn’s offense appeared confused by the development.
2. Hurry-up offense creates issues for opposition. Alabama has had a no-huddle section of its playbook all year, obviously, but the Crimson Tide has made heavy use of it only recently, starting with the end of the LSU game. The no-huddle attack gave Alabama some of its best looks against Texas A&M, but it really shone against Auburn. The ability to use the same offensive personnel in multiple formations without huddling kept the Tigers from substituting and opened up the Alabama passing game, to the extent that many wondered whether Alabama should try to emulate the Denver Broncos’ offense and have A.J. McCarron channel Peyton Manning. Speeding up the tempo is always a risk/reward call, and it will be interesting to see whether Alabama opts to play the card next week against Georgia.
3. Game was costly from an injury standpoint. The loss of Kenny Bell is a major blow to the receiver corps. Fortunately, both Kevin Norwood and Amari Cooper appear 100 percent now, and teams won’t be able to double both, lest Christion Jones or tight end Michael Williams tear up the middle of the field. But the loss of Bell makes it imperative that Marvin Shinn or Cyrus Jones step up, as Alabama can’t run its offense with just three options at receiver. Walk-on Nathan McAlister, who coaches say has plenty of speed, may have to join the A-group. Danny Woodson Jr. was not dressed out for this game, but was in a jersey and long pants on the sideline, typically notating some form of injury. He isn’t considered a major speed threat, however. McAlister or Cyrus Jones are the best bets to take that slot – and McAlister has yet to catch a pass in 2012. Other injuries included Brent Calloway, Chance Warmack and Brandon Ivory, although only Ivory’s looked potentially serious. He sprained an ankle – not the one he sprained earlier in the year – and will be slowed for some time. It was an unfortunate development, given that Alabama had begun using both Ivory and Jesse Williams simultaneously in some packages. Darren Lake will have to step up there.
4. Coaches starting to trust more players on defense. This very well could have been a function of the opponent, but Alabama played Geno Smith as an extra DB from the outset, and went to second-team defensive backs faster than against most opponents (including last week’s hapless victim, Western Carolina). Jabriel Washington appeared to move ahead of Bradley Sylve in the pecking order at cornerback. Jonathan Atchison got his first meaningful action at outside linebacker, while Tana Patrick played early. Jeoffrey Pagan entered earlier than usual, and Denzel Devall continues to get more work at Jack. Developing depth on defense can only help, particularly with the Tide appearing quite injury-prone in 2012.
5. Alabama could have named its score. This was possibly the worst SEC team to ever play in Bryant-Denny Stadium, and given the number of times Alabama has hosted a Vanderbilt or Kentucky team, that’s saying a lot. Alabama was not only sharper and more talented, the Crimson Tide was much better disciplined, as evidenced by the number of flags received (2 for 10 yards for Alabama, versus 8 flags for 77 yards for Auburn). By the time the second quarter arrived, Auburn’s defense was already looking for a soft place to flop. This may have been the most complete domination of an SEC opponent – any SEC opponent – in Alabama’s long history.
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