Tag:Onterio McCalebb
Posted on: January 1, 2012 1:07 am
Edited on: January 1, 2012 1:12 am
 

Auburn bookends up-and-down year with bowl win



Posted by Bryan Fischer

ATLANTA -- After every score Saturday night Virginia fans swayed back and forth singing their alma mater to the tune of 'auld lang syne.'

On New Year's Eve at the Georgia Dome however, it was the Auburn faithful who sang the actual song with gusto to ring in 2012 with a 43-24 win in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

"What a great win," head coach Gene Chizik said. "You can say it's the last win of 2011 or the first win of 2012. However you want to spin it, it was a great win. I couldn't be more proud of our players or our coaches."

Playing their final game in the waning hours of 2011 was not what some in the orange and blue were looking forward to. The program had been to the top, been perfect, nearly 12 months earlier but had tumbled down the mountain to 8-5.

The confetti and plush Chick-fil-A cows falling from the rafters in Atlanta were nice but it was unmistakably different from what was falling from University of Phoenix Stadium in January.

The victory, in many ways, bookended one of the most up-and-down years in school history.

"I've said many times that our future is extremely bright. We've got a lot of really good young players," Chizik said. "We've had a lot of highs this season and we've had some lows. The highs have been really high and the lows have been really low. But these guys always bounce back."

They had been through so much, Aubie the Tiger could have gone to the court house and changed his name to Teflon Tiger. NCAA investigations? Asked, answered and over. They were walloped at home by rival Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Top running back Michael Dyer was not with the team and rumors swirled all month about him transferring. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof departed for Central Florida and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn surprisingly accepted the head coaching job at Arkansas State.

Despite all that, the program wrapped up 30 wins in three years and are tied for the active lead with five straight bowl wins.

"Even though we didn't have a defensive or offensive coordinator, I give all props to Coach Chizik and the staff for holding us together," defensive tackle Gabe Wright said.

Chizik, who is a perfect 9-0 in bowl games as an assistant or head coach, had a little extra on his plate given that he was coordinating the defense.

"It was very challenging," he said. "(Virginia) was an offense that did a lot of things we hadn't seen all year long. You have a lot of obligations. To try and be a position coach, the defensive coordinator, to call the game and still make decisions on the sideline - to go for it, onside kick it, punt, whatever it is - that's a lot of moving parts."

Special teams - one area where the head coach usually helps oversees - was key to turning a tight game into a blowout. Down seven, Onterio McCalebb scored on a statue of liberty play. Instead of putting the defense on the field, Chizik called for an onside kick.

Well, was nudged into calling it.

"We told them before the game started that after we scored the first touchdown, we were going to do it," he said. "But I forgot because I was over getting mixed up with the defense. After the second one, one of the coaches came up and said we had to do it. The players were all in to it."

The defense set a school-record, though it's nothing for them to be proud of, by allowing 408 yards per game. It's one reason why Roof is in Orlando and Chizik now sits at a crossroads having to replace two coordinators.

Last season, it was Malzahn - not Chizik - who was credited for most of the Tigers success last season. He won the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant and his departure is one reason why, despite the amount of talent on the depth chart entering 2012, the future at Auburn still seems unclear.

How respected is Malzahn? He was the one, not the head coach, that was showered with Gatorade as the final few seconds ticked off the clock.

"That style of offense, they change up the reads and make it to where your run fits are important," Virginia head coach Mike London said. "Coach Malzahn does a great job and I wish him luck at Arkansas State."

"He's always going to be a great friend of mine and I'll always be very appreciative of him for what he's done for Auburn in three years," said Chizik. "I wish him the best, he's going to do a great job and be a great head coach."

Malzahn was aggressive and sped up the offense more than he had during the season. The Tigers' offensive output was so unusual that even normally sure-handed H-back Philip Lutzenkirchen dropped what would have been a touchdown pass in the 2nd quarter. The Auburn sideline took a few moments to stare in disbelief before snapping the ball again.

Starting quarterback Clint Moseley, who took over down the stretch run to close the season, injured his ankle early in the game. The offense didn't skip a beat with Barrett Trotter and Kiehl Frazier however, the former using his arm and the latter his legs to power scoring drives complete with misdirection and big plays. Fully healthy for the first time since October, wide receiver Emory Blake seemed to change the dynamics of the offense with his ability to stretch the field. The game's most outstanding player, McCalebb, had the team's longest run of the season in the second quarter.

"We just went out there and played hard," Lutzenkirchen said. "It felt good to get a win for the seniors."

The Cavaliers, who competed a remarkable turnaround in London's second season to come close to playing in the ACC title game, couldn't sustain momentum despite 428 yards of offense at nearly six yards a play. They missed a chance at the program's first bowl win in six years but did so without two of the team's best players, cornerback Chase Minnifield and linebacker Steve Greer.

"It's been a fantastic year for us," London said. "You get a chance to reflect on a lot of things. Right now this one stings a little bit. They played better than we did. We just regroup and get ready."

While London appears to have Virginia pointed in the right direction, there's still plenty that remains to be seen about the direction Auburn is taking. If the bowl game was any indication though, things will be just fine on the Plains.

"We just came out here and got the job done," said McCalebb. "People didn't give us much credit coming in. We knew we had to go out and do what we do."

Wright, a freshman defensive tackle who said he would ably step in for Nick Fairley on Signing Day in February, had a coming out party with a sack that setup the safety and was the only player who was able to get any pressure on quarterback Michael Rocco most of the night. Fellow frosh Quan Bray had a nice return after the safety and, despite his lack of attempts, Frazier left an impact by scoring two touchdowns in goal line situations.

"I've said it before, the future is extremely bright," Chizik said. "And this win gives a good idea of the direction we've been going in."

Bookended by success, Chizik will have to hope he's got a few more lessons ready to keep the program from taking two steps forward but one step back in 2012.

"We won some big games and we got beat in some big games," he said of the season. "There's a lot of teachable moments in there for our team."

Enough, he hopes, to carry over into next season as old acquaintances be forgot.


Posted on: December 29, 2011 6:27 pm
Edited on: December 30, 2011 4:48 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Chick-Fil-A Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

AUBURN WILL WIN IF: Gene Chizik still has some of that old defensive coordinating magic tucked away somewhere. With the exception of a handful of games during his team's 2010 national title run, Chizik -- a Broyles Award winner as a DC with a long and exemplary track record at both Auburn and Texas -- has never been able to translate that acumen to his defenses as a head coach, either at Iowa State or Auburn. That continued this year, as the Tigers slumped to a 79th-place finish in total defense, their formerly stout rush defense (which led the SEC in 2010) plummeting to 98th nationally.

With the Auburn offense an out-and-out shambles by season's end (the Tigers failed to score more than 17 points against any SEC team outside the state of Mississippi) and Gus Malzahn unlikely to fix it while splitting time with his new head coaching duties at Arkansas State, Chizik's winning formula will have to be the same as it was in his team's midseason upset of South Carolina and defeat of Florida: a stifling defensive effort paired with just enough points to get by. In up-and-coming defensive end Corey Lemonier and fiery senior linebacker Eltoro Freeman, Chizik has some of the pieces necessary to reprise those game-winning performances from earlier in the year. With Ted Roof out of the picture and the Dec. 31 date giving him plenty of time to work with his defense, this is Chizik's chance to prove he can still make a difference on the defensive side of the ball; if he's not up to it, it's highly doubtful his team will be up to winning the game, either.

VIRGINIA WILL WIN IF: they take advantage of their opportunities. There aren't many teams with a wider gap between their FBS rank in total offense and scoring offense than the Cavaliers, who finished a respectable 48th in yards but managed to come in 88th in points. The culprit's an easy one to spot: Virginia converted just 21 of its 42 red zone possessions into touchdowns, a 50 percent mark that placed them 105th nationally. Starting running back Perry Jones (883 yards) and sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco (2,359 passing yards, 7.3 an attempt) have been capable when it comes to moving the chains, but aren't much for the big play; Jones has only five touchdowns on 176 attempts, Rocco 11 TD throws (to 11 interceptions) on 325 passes.

Given Auburn's defensive frailties, Rocco, Jones and the Cavs are likely to move the ball and add a few more red zone possessions to their total of opportunities. But if they don't cash in, the game could devolve into the kind of diown-to-the-wire white-knuckler in which Chizik's teams have had so much success.

THE X-FACTOR: A major reason Auburn won those slugfests with the Gamecocks and Gators, or its season-opening shootout with Utah State? Its special teams, which feature Ray Guy award finalist Steven Clark at punter, dangerous kick returners Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason (who each have a return for a score this season), and touchback machine Cody Parkey handling kickoffs. According to Phil Steele's special teams ratings, Auburn finished the year eighth in the kicking game and Virginia 91st. If those numbers prove accurate, the Cavs could have a hard time overcoming what might be a decisive Tiger advantage in field position.

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Posted on: December 11, 2011 12:26 pm
 

Auburn RB Michael Dyer suspended for bowl game

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Auburn's struggling offense was dealt another blow late Saturday as leading rusher Michael Dyer has suspended for the Tigers' Chick-Fil-A matchup against Virginia. 

The suspension has reportedly been handed down for a violation of an undisclosed team rule. Gene Chizik has not yet officially addressed the issue.

With Auburn's lackluster quarterback play and a banged-up receiving corps, Dyer was often his team's only legitimate offensive threat this season. But he still finished with 1,242 rushing yards to become the first Auburn player ever to rush for more than 1,000 yards in two seasons, good enough for first-team All-SEC honors.

Though Dyer's absence will mean a heavier load for second-leading rusher Onterio McCalebb (532 yards), McCalebb's lack of between-the-tackles size should also mean a larger role for true freshman Tre Mason. Mason has been used mostly on kick returns this season but has averaged better than 5 yards per-carry in limited action.

The Cavaliers rank 35th nationally in rush defense--weaker than many of Auburn's opponents in their SEC schedule, but easily high enough that the Tigers face a stiff challenge on the ground with Dyer out.

Posted on: November 28, 2011 1:07 pm
Edited on: November 28, 2011 1:36 pm
 

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 13



Posted by Bryan Fischer


There's just something about a few helpings of turkey and some good old fashioned hate for a rival football team.

As the season winds down and, in most cases, ends for teams that don't qualify for a bowl game or conference championship, rivalry week is when many schools put all the eggs in the basket to go into the offseason knowing they went out on a high note.

Because of that, there was no better scene in college football this weekend than Lexington, Kentucky.

Despite using a wide receiver at quarterback due to injuries, Kentucky still managed to pull off a win against Tennessee for the first time since 1984. On the whole, it was a disappointing year but the win over the Volunteers will give the team something positive to think about in the offseason. That AD Mitch Barnhart announced that head coach Joker Phillips would be back for sure next season also added to a historic day for the program.

The scene afterward was what college football was all about. Fans rushed the field to celebrate with players, everyone of whom had a gigantic smile on their face. That they attempted just six passes for 15 yards to win ugly didn't matter, a win is a win and this one meant more than the other four they had during the season.

Perhaps it was appropriate that the Wildcats wore black jerseys because it felt afterward like a funeral for Tennessee, who lost out on a chance to go to a bowl game with the loss. The Derek Dooley era is on shaky ground after barely beating Vanderbilt and, now, ending the streak over Kentucky. No doubt the slick-haired, orange pants wearing Dooley had to take over a difficult situation but it's still Tennessee. There are players there and the defense isn't too bad with Justin Wilcox running things but there has been zero consistency.

The losses are one thing for Dooley but the lack of wins might be the most concerning part if you're a Vols fan. He's never beaten a ranked team and has no signature victory that he can hold his hat on. You can understand why they're clamoring for his head in Knoxville.

It was a slightly different scene in College Station - except for the clamoring for the head coach's head part.

It was once again a second half to forget for Texas A&M, as they ended their final scheduled game with Texas by falling on their face. There was plenty of optimism coming in that the Aggies would get the last laugh before leaving for the SEC but it was the Longhorn players who had no problem starting up an "S-E-C!" chant following the victory.

"Sports can be really cruel," Mack Brown said. "I think it was a time tonight where both teams deserved to win."

After 118 meetings, it was pretty cruel for things to end that way. Kyle Field had erupted following Ryan Tannehill's pass to Jeff Fuller for a 16 yard touchdown to take the lead but was silent after Justin Tucker's 40 yard field goal sailed through the uprights.

"They played their hearts out tonight," Tucker said. "But sending them off to the SEC with a sour taste in their mouth feels pretty good."

Nothing like beating a rival.

Stat of the week

In 26 games among BCS AQ schools or ranked non-AQ schools on Saturday, just two were within seven points and the average margin of victory was 20 points.

Stats of week

- Alabama held Auburn to a 3-and-out on 7-of-10 drives and now has 72 3-and-outs in 143 opponent drives (50.3%)

- Since 2007, Tennessee and Kentucky are both 33-31. The Wildcats beat the Vols for the first time in 26 games, a span of 9,863 days. Tennessee finishes the year with consecutive losing records for the first time since 1910-11.

- Texas A&M was outscored 76-7 in the third quarter of their losses.

- Via the AP, Nebraska has nine or more wins for the 38th time in 42 seasons (90%).

 - LSU's secondary has scored as many touchdowns (6) as they've allowed.

Yard-by-yard

- Not sure if Trent Richardson helped win the Heisman with his career-high 203 yards in the Iron Bowl but he did nothing but bolster his resume. Remarkably the score at halftime was the same (24-7) as it was a year ago when some guy named Cam wiped out the deficit on the way to a championship. There would be no comeback from the Tigers this time thanks in large part to the suffocating Tide defense that allowed just 140 yards of offense. The lone bright spot for the home team was Onterio McCalebb's 83-yard kick return (the first ever in Iron Bowl history) that seemed to give the team some hope before Alabama quickly closed the door. All in all, a dominating effort for a team that has well over a month to prepare for their rematch with LSU.

- Impressive season for Louisville's Charlie Strong, who has done one of the best coaching jobs in the country by clinching at least a share of the Big East title with a win 34-24 over South Florida. Early losses, including one to FIU, seemed to show that the team was at least a year away from being in contention in the league but Strong righted the ship and freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has really come on as of late, passing for three touchdowns against USF. Amazingly, the win snapped a 16-game losing streak in the state of Florida during the regular season. That the Cardinals are in contention for a BCS bowl berth boggles the mind if you watched this team early in the year.

- You would not have expected Rex Burkhead to play against Iowa if you saw him on Monday when he had his foot in a walking boot. He shredded the boot by Saturday however and had no issues pounding away at the Hawkeyes defense, rushing for 160 yards and a touchdown in Nebraska's 20-7 win. Surprisingly, his 38 carries were a school-record and came just a week after one of his worst games of his career against Michigan. It was just part of a punishing offensive attack against Iowa that gave the team an amazing 16 minute time of possession advantage. You can tell why Bo Pellini decided to keep things on the ground after Taylor Martinez tossed a few arm punts early in the game.

- Andrew Luck's final home game ended on a high note as he passed John Elway's school record for career touchdown passes and gave Heisman voters some more to think about. Beating a marquee opponent like Notre Dame on national television helps too, as the Cardinal jumped out to a 21-0 lead at halftime and never really lost control of the game.

- Down the road in Los Angeles, Matt Barkley made his case to be invited to New York. In what could have been his final game in cardinal and gold, he passed for 423 yards and six touchdowns on a record setting night to throttle UCLA 50-0. "One more year" chants were heard throughout the game but it was a heck of a way for USC to end their bowl ban and put an exclamation point on what has been a terrific season under Lane Kiffin. Things aren't too pretty for the other side as the Bruins were not only humiliated at the Coliseum, but likely will be blitzed just as bad in the Pac-12 Championship game. The "gap" between the two programs that Rick Neuheisel talked about being closed appeared to have never been wider than it was Saturday night.

- Tulsa was supposed to represent Houston's stiffest test of the season but the trip to Oklahoma proved to be anything but as the Cougars rolled in the second half to secure Conference USA hosting duties. As good as Case Keenum was at quarterback, Patrick Edwards was the star of the show, grabbing four touchdowns and 181 yards to break the conference career record for receiving yards. The Golden Hurricanes had been undefeated in league play but Keenum found Edwards on 4th down in the 3rd quarter and it was away they go. Houston converted several 4th downs and built up style points as Keenum threw for 457 yards and a ho-hum five touchdowns before being pulled. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the Cougars defense, who held a normally high-scoring Tulsa attack to just 16 points.

- When Arkansas came into Baton Rouge, the Hogs represented the toughest passing attack LSU would see all season. Luckily the Tigers had the nation's best secondary and one player in particular - the Honey Badger. Tyrann Mathieu is simply a playmaker whenever his team needs it most and you could tell Friday when he returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown that seemed to turn the tide just when it looked like Arkansas was making a game of it. The offense was pretty good too, with Kenny Hilliard, Spencer Ware and even Jordan Jefferson (despite a boneheaded play or two) causing the Razorbacks defense issues. The 21 third quarter points - keyed in part by Mathieu - might have pushed LSU ahead but it was the rushing attack in the 4th quarter that turned a solid win into a blowout. It's no surprise that plenty of people invoked the name Billy Cannon after the game considering that the last time there was a top-three match up in Death Valley, Cannon returned a punt for a score against Ole Miss. Of course it was Mathieu doing the honors this time as the Tigers kept their record perfect on the road to Atlanta and on to New Orleans.

- If you had to say a team was due before the year was up, Colorado was a good choice. The Buffaloes, despite their record, had a pretty decent offense but just couldn't perform on defense or on the road. Although Utah was at home and playing for a chance to go to the Pac-12 title game, the Buffs jumped out to an early lead and managed to hang on to beat the Utes 17-14. Normally reliable field goal kicker Coleman Petersen missed the final kick with seconds left to go 0-3 on the day and diminish Utah's hopes of a solid debut season in a BCS conference. What was billed as the start of a new rivalry between new conference foes turned out to be a historic win for Colorado, as the team ended a 23-game road losing streak. Utah was hampered by the loss of running back John White but there was no question that they should have won this game but a few breaks went the way of CU. Before the season head coach Jon Embree talked about putting up bricks to build a wall of success that the program had done in its glory days and on a chilly Friday afternoon, he added one more thanks to the upset on the road.

- The Countdown Clock on the Columbus Dispatch's website was probably already setup to change following Saturday's Ohio State-Michigan game. Things were closer than expected in the Wolverines 40-34 win at the Big House, a testament to just how hard the Buckeyes fought to keep their streak alive. Braxton Miller was great until his final play, an interception to seal the game, and out-played his counterpart Denard Robinson for much of the afternoon. UM got the last laugh when the gun sounded by ending a streak that had gone nearly 3,000 days but if there was one take away from the annual rivalry game, it's that Miller should be fun to watch in Urban Meyer's offense.

- Most impressive victory this weekend might have been Wisconsin throttling Penn State 45-7. The Nittany Lions have the best defense in the Big Ten but they were ran over by Montee Ball, who scored four touchdowns and has a chance at setting the NCAA single-season record. The rematch with Michigan State for a trip to the Rose Bowl just got a little more interesting.

- If you haven't been able to watch Luke Kuechly play linebacker at Boston College, you missed out on one of the hardest working players in the game. Don't worry, he'll probably be a 10+ year vet in the NFL so there should be plenty of chances to see him in the future though. Surprisingly, Kuechly didn't reach the double-digit tackles plateau for the first time since his freshman year but he did run back an interception for a touchdown and made life tough for Miami in a 24-17 upset. The talented 'backer also became the school's all-time tackles leader and showed why he could be a potential first round pick if he decides to leave school early. On the flip side, Jacory Harris - after perhaps his best season - reverted to the Harris of old by tossing four interceptions in his final college game. While there were not many people watching (in the stands or on TV), the result was overshadowed by the news of the day as Miami announced head coach Al Golden had agreed to a four-year extension that would keep in in Coral Gables until 2020.

- In a/the Backyard Brawl, all rules are off. The intense series between Pitt and West Virginia faced an uncertain future with both moving to different conferences but on the field in 2011 the two had no problem giving everybody a compelling game. The Panthers had jumped out to a 17-7 half-time lead but were simply shut down by a swarming Mountaineers defense in the second half that kept things close enough that the sputtering WVU offense could eventually cash-in a game-winning touchdown. It was a wild ending in a series full of them but Dana Holgorsen's squad managed to pull things out. Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri had a rough night, being sacked 10 (!) times, four of which came on a crazy final drive.

- If you want to know why Dennis Erickson was shown the door at Arizona State, look no further than the late night showdown against an improving California team. It was in many ways it was young (Bears) against and the old (Sun Devils). Erickson's squad was trying to salvage the season and his job, Jeff Tedford's group was trying to build upon the second half of their season. It was a defense-optional shootout like the Pac-10 days of old but Cal managed to force four turnovers that likely ended up as the deciding factor. Credit to Tedford who helped his cause while Erickson killed his, this was a fun game but defense - surprisingly - decided things and that ended up in Cal's favor.

- In terms of surprises, Virginia Tech shutting out a hot Virginia team at home might be highly ranked on the list. It was the Cavaliers first home shutout loss since 1984 and they had zero ground game to speak of (30 yards on 26 carries). It was likely the Hokies best win of the season to date and continued a strong run by quarterback Logan Thomas.

Tweet of the week

"USC card stunts say "We run LA." Based on how poorly the city is run, I would not brag about that.

- Chris Huston, The Hesiman Pundit

Fisch's Finest

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Oklahoma State

4. Stanford

5. USC

6. Oregon

7. Boise State

8. Arkansas

9. Houston

10. Virginia Tech


Where we'll be this week

I draw the early assignment and will head up Eugene for the Pac-12 Championship game with Oregon and UCLA on Friday. Eye on College Football bloggers Chip Patterson and Adam Jacobi will head to the ACC and Big Ten Championships respectively. Brett McMurphy makes the trip to see Bedlam between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State while Dennis Dodd joins Tony Barnhart in Atlanta for the SEC Championship.

Leaning this way

Georgia vs. LSU

Do the Bulldogs have a chance? No, not really. Even if they did, it appears the Tigers are locked into a trip to the BCS National Championship game in New Orleans either way. Les Miles' secondary already took care of the best quarterback in the SEC West last week and will do pretty much the same to the best quarterback in the SEC East down in Atlanta.

Oklahoma at Oklahoma State

Don't let the loss to Iowa State fool you, Oklahoma State is still a very good team and their opportunistic defense should enjoy playing Landry Jones on the road. The Sooners haven't really been the same team they were earlier in the season thanks to several injuries - their top running back and wide receiver among them - and they've had their troubles at Boone Pickens Stadium before. Expect it to be close but ultimately the Cowboys will win the game and the Big 12.

Wisconsin vs. Michigan State

These teams are so evenly matched that it took a hail mary for the Spartans to beat the Badgers the first time. That pass isn't something that Wisconsin players forgot about and have a chance to avenge it for a trip to the Rose Bowl. The offense has been rolling the past couple of weeks behind Montee Ball and Russell Wilson so look for them to do some damage against Michigan State the second time around.


Posted on: November 26, 2011 7:22 pm
 

QUICK HITS: No. 2 Alabama 42, Auburn 14

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



ALABAMA WON: 
Barring the beatdown to end all beatdowns by Oklahoma State against Oklahoma next week and a stunning change-of-heart from the poll voters, the Crimson Tide strangled the life out of the Auburn offense to punch their ticket to the BCS title game. The Tigers collected just 30 yards of offense through three quarters and failed to score any offensive points--their touchdowns came via a fumble recovery in the end zone and an 83-yard Onterio McCalebb kickoff return. AJ McCarron hit 14-of-18 for three touchdowns in a huge first half and Trent Richardson finished with 203 yards in a Heisman-quality performance.

WHY ALABAMA WON: Alabama's front seven and their rush defense is awfully, awfully good--No. 1 in the nation for a reason, mostly a reason like "held Auburn to 78 rushing yards, and less than 25 before two late garbage-time drives." But their pass defense? That's even better: Clint Moseley completed 11 of his 18 passes, but for just 3.4 yards an attempt and with just one completion beyond the line-of-scrimmage, a 15-yard fourth-quarter pass to Phillip Lutzenkirchen. When Auburn did finally come out of their shell with three deep passes in the third quarter, Dee Milliner responded by promptly picking off Moseley for a game-clinching pick-six.

Again: the front seven is good. Milliner, Dre Kirkpatrick, Mark Barron, Robert Lester, DeQuan Menzie and the rest of the Tide secondary is better. 

WHEN ALABAMA WON: The 27-14 lead Alabama took into the fourth quarter was probably safe given Auburn's offensive struggles. The 35-14 lead given by Milliner's pick-six was entirely insurmountable. 

WHAT ALABAMA WON: We mentioned that whole "99 percent chance of a BCS title opportunity," right? But this being the Iron Bowl, a third win over Auburn in four years ain't too shabby a consolation prize all by itself ... if it's a "consolation prize" at all.

WHAT AUBURN LOST: Any belief this wasn't the worst Auburn season in Gene Chizik's three years. His 2009 team also finished 7-5 but finished their season with a stirring everything-on-the-field battle at home against a Tide team that would go on to win a national title. Today's bludgeoning -- one of four in a series against the Tigers' four biggest annual rivals -- was a far cry from that effort and cements the feeling that Chizik may look towards a shakeup on his coaching staff.

Posted on: November 22, 2011 5:46 pm
 

Keys to the game: Alabama at Auburn

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

ALABAMA WILL WIN IF:
they shut down Michael Dyer and the rest of the Auburn running game. Because the hard truth for the Tigers is that there's little-to-no reason to believe Clint Moseley and the Tiger passing game are going to get anything going against the Tide. Though Moseley has been a slight improvement on Barrett Trotter, neither QB has had much success against any SEC opponent not named Ole Miss--over those six games, Auburn's averaged just 131 yards per-game and 5.8 per attempt, and a 5-to-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio. And unfortunately for the Tigers, the Tide are as good-if-not-better than any of the teams they've faced yet, ranking No. 1 in the FBS in both straight pass defense and opponent's QB rating.

Dyer and the Tiger running game will pose a much more formidable challenge; the speedy Onterio McCalebb may be particularly troubling for the Tide, given their struggle to hold the edge against the option looks of LSU and even Georgia Southern. But if the Tide do keep the Auburn ground game in check, it's hard to see how the Tigers ever more the ball enough to pull out the win.

AUBURN WILL WIN IF: they get some help from AJ McCarron. In our "Keys to the Game" prior to the Tigers' contest against Georgia, we noted that Auburn had been oustanding vs. teams with questionable quarterbacking and terrible vs. teams with anyone decent under center. Aaron Murray? He was far better than decent (14-of-18, 12.4 YPA, 4 TDs) and Auburn was naturally shelled to the tune of 45 points and 528 total yards. Can McCarron reprise anything like Murray's domination? Certain early-season performances suggest he can, but the redshirt sophomore has been noticeably less effcient on the road (three non-Ole Miss games have yielded a combined 5.8 YPA and just one touchdown pass), and his past three SEC games anywhere have yielded just a 1-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

If McCarron is on his game, everything about the Tigers' season-to-date suggests they'll give up major yards and points. But that's a big if given the kind of environment McCarron will face and his erratic play of late.

THE X-FACTOR: the Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd. It's often said that a given football team is "a different team on the road" than at home, and that goes double for one as young as Auburn has been this season. That's how it's played out for Gene Chizik's team, which has dodged a few close scrapes (and played a couple of terrible teams) but nonetheless enters the Iron Bowl with a perfect 6-0 home record. It was just two years ago Alabama came to the Plains to face a 7-4 Tiger team with a national title game berth on the line, and left needing a last-minute touchdown and knocked-down Hail Mary to escape with the win. The Auburn team that's shown up for most of the season may not be quite as fierce as the one the Tide has to tangle with Saturday. 
Posted on: October 15, 2011 11:07 pm
 

QUICK HITS: No. 24 Auburn 17, Florida 6

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

AUBURN WON: The high-flying, high-scoring fireworks of 2010 faded even further into the Tigers' collective memory after another stuttering offensive performance, but precious few on the Plains will care: Gene Chizik's Tiger cubs are 5-2 and 2-1 in the SEC. Backup quarterback Clint Moseley came off the bench to lead a key second-half touchdown drive, and thanks to a string of muffed punts the Tigers finished with a 3-0 advantage in turnover margin.

WHY AUBURN WON: In a matchup where both offenses needed all the help they could get, Florida gave Auburn's far more than Auburn gave Florida. The Gators' first muffed punt -- one Will Muschamp hotly contended had been a result of catch interference on the tigers' part -- set up a 25-yard Barrett Trotter touchdown pass, the only TD for either team the entire first half. And with Auburn leading 14-6 late in the fourth quarter, another muff set up Cody Parkey's game-icing 42-yard field goal.

In-between those two poles, the Florida offense moved the ball at least as effectively as Auburn and maybe better. (Which is not to say either team moved it well; the teams combined for just 474 yards of offense and at one point had 12 total punts to 15 total first downs.) But two red-zone possessions for Florida ended in just 3 points -- one of them a turnover on downs in the fourth quarter when backup QB Jeff Driskel overthrew an open receiver on 4th-and-3 -- while Auburn's one ended in a 14-yard Onterio McCalebb touchdown to open the fourth quarter.

With the Gator offense never looking capable of mounting a large-scale comeback under either Driskel or Jacoby Brissett, that Auburn got both more opportunities and took better advantage of them was always going to result in one outcome.

WHEN AUBURN WON: Parkey had missed a pair of 40-plus-yard field goals already, but Chizik elected to let him try the game-clincher from 42 even after a false start penalty ... and with just 42 seconds left for the hapless Gators to work with after a hypothetical punt. But Parkey made that decision look good, hitting the kick and deciding the game.

WHAT AUBURN WON: The Tigers were projected to take a massive step backwards this season and have, in many ways; the defense has spent whole games getting shredded, the offense whole games going nowhere. But with Gus Malzahn's attack carrying the team early in the year and Ted Roof's defense doing so against South Carolina and Florida, the team has somehow emerged at 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the SEC ... and both their losses have come at top-10 teams on the road. The Tigers aren't what they were, but they haven't gone away, either.

WHAT FLORIDA LOST: Muschamp wasn't happy with his team's efforts against Alabama or LSU, but there was only so much the Gators could realistically do with John Brantley out. Auburn, though, showed Florida a passing game scarcely any better than their own--only for the Gators' special teams, running game, and red zone defense to give their freshmen quarterbacks so little help that the aerial draw didn't matter. Now the Gators have all-but officially dropped out of the East race, and even a winning regular season isn't guaranteed. The shine on that 4-0 start is officially off.

Posted on: October 14, 2011 3:38 pm
Edited on: October 14, 2011 3:40 pm
 

The Saturday Meal Plan: Week 7

Posted by Tom Fornelli

The Saturday Meal Plan is a helpful guide put together for you to maximize the results of your college football diet.  Just enough to leave you feeling full, but not so much you spend your entire Sunday in the bathroom. 

This week we're offering a menu that is a bit low on carbs. It's not that we don't have plenty of interesting choices to offer you this weekend, but there isn't exactly a must-have on the list. Which I suppose is a good thing considering all the big meals we've all been ingesting the last few weeks and the pounds they've packed on, we could all afford to eat a bit more salad this weekend.

BREAKFAST

#23 Michigan State vs. #11 Michigan - ESPN 12pm ET

This game has it all: rivalry, firepower, and consequence. Michigan State is looking to continue its reign in this series, having won the last 3 in the series. Michigan will need to get Heisman candidate Denard Robinson rolling and light up the scoreboard; that hasn't been much of a problem for UM this year. At stake is probably the best shot at challenging Nebraska for the Legends Division crown; the loser, meanwhile, will need a lot of help in the race. - Adam Jacobi

#21 Texas A&M vs. #20 Baylor - FX 12pm ET

Robert Griffin is appointment television no matter who Baylor is playing, but considering that Texas A&M is statistically the worst passing defense in the country, this one could be really fun. Of course, Texas A&M isn't exactly a slouch either, as Ryan Tannehill, Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael have done a good job of covering up that secondary's mistakes on offense. This one could be a pretty nice shootout to start your day with. - Tom Fornelli

Mississippi State vs. #15 South Carolina - SEC Network 12:21pm ET

Is Connor Shaw for real or not? The Gamecocks' now-unquestioned starting quarterback looked the part against Kentucky, but a veteran Bulldog secondary playing at home in Starkville is a much tougher test. And if Tyler Russell's breakout second half against UAB was more than illusion, State could have put some of their offensive woes behind them as well. Whichever quarterback proves last week's performance wasn't a fluke should come away with the victory. - Jerry Hinnen

LUNCH

Tennessee vs. #1 LSU - CBS 3:30pm ET

For the second week in a row, the Tiger defense gets to face a backup quarterback making his first start of the season. The Vols' Matt Simms has a lot of advantages Florida's Jacoby Brissett didn't, though: he'll be at home; he's a senior who started eight games for Tennessee in 2010; and he saw the LSU defense up close and personal playing against them last year. Too bad the Vols don't have the running game to keep the Tigers from teeing off on Simms all the same. - JH

#22 Texas vs. #6 Oklahoma State - ABC/ESPN 3:30pm ET

Did you know that Mack Brown's Texas teams have never lost a game following the Red River Shootout? That record is likely going to be in serious jeopardy with the Oklahoma State offense coming to town, but if the Longhorns can manage to keep Brandon Weeden in check and pull off a win, it'd be a very large step in returning the program to where it once stood. Or you should watch just to see if Oklahoma State can finally hit the century mark. - TF

Virginia vs. #12 Georgia Tech - ESPNU 3:30pm ET

The last time Virginia took the field, they needed overtime to steal a 21-20 victory over Idaho.  With an off week to get healthy and prepare for the Yellow Jackets' option attack, the Cavs defense will try to live up to their 311.8 yards allowed per game (ranked third in the ACC).  Tech coach Paul Johnson criticized the decision making of quarterback Tevin Washington in last week's 21-16 win over Maryland, and cited a lack of "continuity" as a reason for their uncharacteristically low score.  Look for Georgia Tech to try and use this game to get their methodical attack back on track. It might be more than a young Virginia defense can handle, even with a week to prepare. - Chip Patterson

#16 Illinois vs. Ohio State - ABC/ESPN 3:30pm ET

The Illini look to continue their tear through a stunned and unsuspecting slate of opponents and run their record to 7-0. In Illinois' way is mighty Ohio State, who's got the talent to win the battle up front on both sides of the ball. If OSU doesn't have Braxton Miller at 100% after last week's ankle injury, though, can the vaunted Buckeye rushing attack pick up the slack and turn drives into touchdowns? - AJ

DINNER

Maryland vs. #8 Clemson - ESPNU 6:30pm ET

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd wasn't wearing hip pads for "swag reasons."  Now he has to shed his hip fashion style in order to protect his strained hip against Maryland.  Boyd may have been carted off the field last week against Boston College, but he'll be lining up under center on Saturday night in Byrd Stadium.  Maryland, on the other hand, won't make a decision regarding their starting quarterback until game time.  Starter Danny O'Brien was benched in the 21-16 loss to Georgia Tech in favor of freshman C.J. Brown, who ran for 124 yards in just one half of action against the Yellow Jackets.  But Brown struggled throwing the ball, so it will be interesting to see what head coach Randy Edsall decides to do.  The last time Maryland played a primetime game at home, they wrapped themselves in the state flag and pulled out a victory.  Tune in to see what fashion statement they make this week. - CP 

#24 Auburn vs. Florida - ESPN 7pm ET

In a matchup of teams with passing games that will be lucky to reach "mediocre" -- the Gators thanks to John Brantley's injury, the Tigers due to Barrett Trotter's ongoing struggles -- the winner should prove to be whichever team can get their pair of star tailbacks on track. With Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey on one side and Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb on the other, backfield head-to-heads don't get a whole lot better than this. - JH

Washington State vs. #7 Stanford - FX 7:30pm ET

The Cardinal have the country's best quarterback in Andrew Luck and the conference's toughest defense (just 10.6 points per game allowed) so this should be a relatively easy road trip for the Cardinal. Head coach David Shaw will likely want to establish the running game this week after tilting heavily in favor of the pass last week against Colorado. The question probably isn't if Stanford will win, but by how much. Washington State showed they've got some fight in them last week before coming up short against UCLA. - Bryan Fischer

Kansas vs. #3 Oklahoma - ESPN 2 9:15pm ET

This is a pretty late start for a game that's being played in Kansas, but I have to believe it's some kind of strategy. Maybe the Jayhawks are hoping that by starting the game later, nobody will be watching the Sooners offense destroy a Kansas defense that has been shredded by everybody it's faced this season. This one likely won't be competitive for very long, but who knows? - TF

LATE NIGHT SNACK

#9 Oregon vs. #18 Arizona State - ESPN 10:15pm ET

They're still the conference king until knocked off their perch but Arizona State will present a stiff test for Oregon this weekend. The Ducks are not as good as they were last year on defense and will be missing star running back LaMichael James but Kenjon Barner and freshman DeAnthony Thomas are able replacements for him on offense. The atmosphere at Autzen at night should be a big advantage but expect a tough Sun Devils defense to force a few turnovers and make things interesting. - BF
 
 
 
 
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