Thursday, October 1, 2009

a Thursday conversation: thoughts at the quarter pole

Editor's note: With the season now in full swing, I decided to attempt to revive our conversation with my cousin's husband (cousin-in-law?) Jamie, a learned graduate of Auburn (who, like me, tries to view these things from a rational point of view), via email. As always, feel free to post your own thoughts in the commentary section.

me: You should be in a much more chipper mood than at this point last season. Which means I'm going to bug you for some emailed thoughts going into the UT game.

Think of these as essay prompts. Respond to them at your leisure.

— I've only watched Auburn live once so far this season (the West Virginia game). But it's a shocking thing for someone like me to watch this AU offense work, particularly in light of last year's debacle (and in light of the fact that much of the personnel is the same). Maybe Chris Todd wasn't really healthy last year. I don't know. Speaking completely out of school, I'm guessing it's working this time for two very important reasons:
• Chris Todd's arm, obviously. It's healthy this time around, and he's making good decisions, a rather large departure from a season ago. The parallels between him and Ben Leard in '99-2000 are downright eery.
• Malzahn has complete confidence and trust from his head coach, as well as his own staff. I don't know how much coach Tuberville ever really let Tony Franklin be his own guy, and he certainly didn't bring any of his own assistant coaches. With Gene Chizik, the OC has virtual autonomy, and Malzahn is obviously comfortable enough winging it — hey, the offense sucked last year and the team finished 5-7, so what the hell?

— After the Va. Tech game, you told me via text that you could very easily see 'Bama playing for the title. I like to think you were attempting to jinx us. And that's OK.
In all seriousness, watch this week at Kentucky to see if the loss of Dont'a Hightower affects the defense, particularly with no Jerrell Harris to fill the role (at least not until Homecoming, apparently). Hightower is one of the reasons that Nick Saban's defense, to put it in your terms, "looks like they play 14 people on defense."

— Is it just me, or are Auburn and 'Bama the only two teams in the SEC that have impressed anyone so far this season? Arkansas, South Carolina and Mississippi St. are feisty but ultimately harmless; Vanderbilt and Tennessee (and possibly Kentucky) suck outright; Georgia has been uneven; LSU & Ole Miss have been underwhelming, to say the least. That leaves Florida, which has looked sloppy and may have its leader playing at half-speed for much of the stretch run. I'm just not all that impressed with anyone. Am I missing something?

— Better freshman: Trent Richardson or Onterio McCaleb?

— Give me your revised win totals for both teams for this season. I think, as of right now, Auburn will be favored in all of its remaining games, except for the trips to LSU and UGA and the home date against 'Bama. Obviously, that doesn't mean much, and we'll learn a good bit this weekend.

Jamie: Todd was not healthy last year and had 0 coaching. Todd's ability to throw the ball has made the difference in this offense and our success with such. If Caudle/Burns were the QB we would be 3-1 at best maybe 2-2. Todd is a really good QB, and if Tebow does not put up the numbers as before, I believe the All-SEC QB could be a state of Alabama battle.

Malzahn has a track record and is picking up where he left off. Last year against UGA, Mario Fannin had a 60 yard td reception much of it done on his own ability. Later he had a 30 yard TD run with no blocking, made a guy miss at the line and out ran everybody. A healthy Mario Fannin sat on the bench in the 4th quarter vs UGA. Unreal. Malzahn runs the single wing from the shotgun, not exaxtly a novel idea. He is well balanced, unpredictable, and focused. Oh, and he plays the best players. Sounds simple right?

Hightower will hurt, he's a great player. I do not think he is make or break in terms of a championship. Alabama is the toughest team in the nation. They remind me of LSU recently (the ones with Saban's players). I don't think it's a coincidence. His players are mean, or are taught to be mean. When you have played alabama you know it. You HAVE to be in managable down and distance vs Saban's style of D or you might as well punt on 3rd and long and cut your losses. Great team.

You haven't watched Auburn much. We can beat anyone because we can score with anyone. But we are not a complete team. Fannin, D. Washington, A Gulley, Q. Carr have all attempted to return punts this year. How have they done? McCalleb and PP Louis are getting looks this week. Starting defense is average i'd say. Any backup except on the DL is not good. For this reason I say we lose one of the next two, more than likely this week. I do not like the way we matchup with UT. They will run, run, run and Im not sure we can consistantly stop it. That, in turn keeps our O off the field. I think UT is more equipped to stop the run than we are which means throwing the ball which means getting E. Berry more involved. I don't have a good feeling. But alas, I said we would lose in 2004 right before one of the most dominating halves of football vs a top 10 team in recent memory.

If Trent Richardson did not have Darren McFadden type ability I'd say toss up. McCalleb is FAST. He can break one at anytime. Richardson is plenty fast, and he has an NFL body right now. So, I'd say Richardson overall is more impressive.

- Georgia vs. LSU is the most intriguing game so far this season. Who is the joke and who is for real? I say Georgia wins by 14+.

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