THE ROAD AHEAD
October 1, 2019 | View PDF
No other state in America has two football teams ranked in the top ten this year. Alabama has reclaimed number one as Clemson came within one play of losing to North Carolina on September 28th. At press time, Auburn is holding on to the number seven spot with a road trip to Gainesville staring them in the face. Florida is number eight and should be a slight favorite. Prior to the season, I wrote that Alabama would be favored in every game in 2019. I also wrote that Auburn would be underdogs in five games; Oregon, Florida, LSU, Georgia and Alabama. Auburn beat Oregon on a last second improbable pass from Bo Nix to Seth Williams in Nix’s first collegiate game. Oregon is gone. Florida is next. Then LSU, Georgia and Alabama is left, all undefeated. If Auburn can beat at least two of those teams, Coach Gus Malzahn may have earned his 49 million dollar contract. At press time, the SEC Championship is up for grabs between Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Georgia and Florida. Alabama is the odds on favorite.
Alabama is in this position because of four players; Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs and Devonte Smith. Auburn is in this position because of quarterback Bo Nix and wide receiver Seth Williams. Williams caught eight passes in subduing Mississippi State on September 28th. Alabama has two pedestrian backs in Najee Harris and Brian Robinson. Auburn has one in Boobee Whitlow. Alabama’s backs must be turned loose if the Tide is to contend for the national championship. Auburn has to find another consistent back to relieve Whitlow.
As far as coaching goes, Nick Saban is doing his normal excellent job of coaching his coaches, recruiting the best players in the country, getting his players in the right positions and in the correct formations in order to have success. What else is new? Gus Malzahn is doing a good job of calling the plays for the Auburn offense after delegating those duties to an assistant in 2016, 2017 and 2018. There is no questioning his ability to set up plays with motion, and formations that are problematic for opposing defenses. But, without the superb performance of Kevin Steel’s defense, all of Malzahn’s crazy plays would not be possible. When your defense is as good as Auburn’s, the offense can concentrate on just not losing the game. Malzahn has exceeded that and is probably doing the best coaching job of his tenure at Auburn. Auburn probably has fewer “five-star” players than most teams in the conference. Bo Nix is the exception. Auburn’s road to the SEC Championship is harder than any of the other contenders.
At this point, I will chastise Gus Malzahn, “again”, on some of his decisions. Number one is that he cannot make the decision to play multiple running backs. Whitlow is obviously the best all around back he has. But, he has proven that he cannot win every game with 20-30 carries each game. Neither can he last for an entire season with that load. Kam Martin is a very fast back who transferred to Auburn from Baylor as a sophomore. He is primarily used to replace Whitlow on the read option. Most of his carries are into the middle of the defense where his primary abilities are not utilized. He weighs only 190 lbs. at best. There must be some way to get Martin in space where his talents can be featured. He is also a good receiver coming out of the backfield. Martin has touched the ball less than 30 times this season. Also, junior running back Malik Miller is not a goal line back no matter what he weights. He weighs 240 lbs. But, he is not quick enough to “strike” the end zone. Harold Joiner is a 6-4, 210 lb. freshman back with good speed and excellent hands. Other than “mop up” duty, Joiner has not touched the ball twenty times. Whitlow needs help. Auburn needs help. Play them!
Another problem that Malzahn succumbs to occasionally is the “gimmick philosophy”. Remember the “orange fruit boots” he dressed Auburn in, in 2016. What a disaster. Look at the 2016 record. Now he has evidently decided to let the Auburn players wear black socks at home when they are in their navy blue jerseys. What a joke! Auburn has one of the best looking uniforms in the country whether they dress in blue or white. Coach “Shug” Jordan designed what has become the official uniform of the Auburn Tigers since 1956. Poor Terry Bowden tried to change it. Strange Tommy Tuberville tried to change it. Non-disciplined Gus Malzahn is falling into the same trap. No great football program in the United States changes their uniform from time to time. They just don’t. Why? Tradition, tradition, tradition. Without a consistent tradition, no football team will consistently succeed in college football. Forget about the NFL. That is strictly “show business”. The owners and coaches in the NFL are dealing with grown men who are being paid millions of dollars. If they want to wear green shoes, black socks, orange jerseys, purple pants and camouflage helmets, it is okay with the owners. The only thing they are really interested in is making money. Today’s NFL coaches demand no discipline any more, except for Bill Belichik of the New England Patriots. Who is perennially battling for the Super Bowl?
All over the country, the majority of football teams in college and in the NFL are predominately black. “Black is Beautiful” was the cry during the last century. It seems that black players are uncomfortable wearing the traditional white socks, so they talk “weak” coaches into changing to black socks instead. Tradition is threatened not by black players, but by weak coaches who are afraid of losing “five-star” black players in recruiting. They give in to the players demand for black socks. This is not only my theory, but the theory of other former coaches who I have discussed this with. This is not catastrophic in itself. But, if you give in on one part of the uniform, the next thing is another change and another and another! As a reader, look up the definition of “uniform.” Discarding tradition will eventually cost you games. Look at Oregon and Maryland.
Now, let me chastise Coach Nick Saban. There was a way to make Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa happy last year. They would still have been drafted well by the NFL. Alabama would have won the national championship. Either Tua or Jalen would have been the best alternate quarterback in the nation. Hurts would not have transferred. Tua would not have to face Hurts and Oklahoma in the 2019 NCAA National Championship Playoff. Of course, that is pure conjecture, but it could have happened. The worst criticism that I can lay at the feet of the best football coach in America is of his inattention to the kicking game. Saban knows how to recruit “five-star” players better than anybody ever has. Surely, he can put that same talent ability and effort into recruiting “five-star” kickers. In the thirteen years that Saban has been the head coach at Alabama, he has not won games because of the kicking game. He has won games in spite of the kicking game. Why? Beats Me!
The last half of the football season of 2019 will be much more exciting than the first half. Alabama will play LSU and Auburn. Auburn will play Florida, LSU, Georgia and Alabama. Army will play Navy. Florida will play Auburn, LSU and Georgia. Georgia will play Florida and Auburn. LSU will play Florida, Auburn, Alabama and Texas A& M. Michigan will play Penn State, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State. Michigan State will play Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan. Notre Dame will play USC and Michigan. Ohio State will play Michigan State, Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan. Oklahoma will play Texas. Oregon will play California, Washington, USC, Arizona State. Penn State will play Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. Utah will play Arizona State, California, and Washington. Wisconsin will play Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa.
TEE IT UP AGAIN BOYS!