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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fleeting thoughts: After Auburn

Cam Newton brushed by me as he sprinted to the student section in the moments after Saturday’s game. Part of me wanted to stop Newton and ask him to convince me he deserved my Heisman vote, but there isn’t much stopping Newton these days, either by opposing defenses, reporters or the NCAA.

It was an electric atmosphere inside Jordan-Hare Stadium, starting when fans got fired up when Newton was announced as the starter before the game. But I’m still interested to see how things play out off the field.

Auburn seems to have taken a huge risk by playing Newton. Maybe this will all prove to be nothing, or at least nothing that affects the player himself. I don’t know. But forgive me for not getting all warm-and-fuzzy about this redemption story. Auburn has gone all-in on Newton, for better or for worse. If I’m a coach, athletics director or compliance director at other schools, I’m watching to make sure the NCAA treats this fairly and accurately.

Meanwhile, in the Georgia locker room the Newton brouhaha took a back seat after the game to another issue: Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley took a few extra shots at Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, which pretty much led to the contretemps near the end of the game. When Mark Richt gets short with you in a press conference, something he doesn’t do much, you can tell he’s a bit irked.

But none of that helps Georgia now. It looked good for much of the first half on Saturday, doing what it needed to do to spring the upset: A key turnover, unstoppable offense and getting stops on defense. Then it broke down, and the defense could never stop Newton.

On to the grades:

QUARTERBACK: There were tweets during the game from former Bulldogs like Mohammed Massaquoi and Jeff Owens heaping praise on Murray. Is there any better compliment? The freshman showed out for the national audience, not only finding A.J. Green downfield, but creating pass plays with his pocket poise and scrambling. He also put up with a lot of, er, extracurriculars from Fairley and company.
Grade: A.

RUNNING BACKS: Caleb King and Washaun Ealey were productive when they carried the ball, and would have gained more yards if Georgia hadn’t concentrated on the pass. On the downside, the pass protection from the tailbacks was lacking at times, and they continued not to be a factor in the receiving game.
Grade: B-.

RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS: Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof told ESPN’s Ivan Maisel after the game that Green would “play a long, long time and make a lotta, lotta money.” No kidding. Look at his second touchdown catch: Green strode down the sideline, step for step with the Auburn corner, bumped a bit, then turned it on at the last moment to haul in Murray’s deep pass in stride, in the end zone. Tight end Orson Charles also had a big game, and showed that once Green is presumably in the NFL next year, Charles should be the go-to man for Murray. Kris Durham had a fantastic takeaway catch to continue a drive.
Grade: A.

OFFENSIVE LINE: This unit’s blocking paralleled the performance of the offense. They made Fairley a non-factor for much of the first half, and Murray had time to pass and the tailbacks had room to run. Then Fairley and teammate Antoine Carter started to get pressure, Murray started to get hit, and the offense stalled.
Grade: B-/C+.

DEFENSIVE LINE: It was another fairly anonymous game for the front three, other than a first-half sack by reserve Kiante Tripp. Two of the starters, Demarcus Dobbs and DeAngelo Tyson, got nicked up. Abry Jones had a nice tackle behind the line. Georgia couldn’t get a hold on Newton in the second half, whether it was up the middle or around the tackles, and the line deserves its fair share of blame.
Grade: C.

LINEBACKERS: Justin Houston had a sack, Marcus Dowtin and Akeem Dent racked up the tackles – but when it was most important, they couldn’t make those stops in enough time. Auburn was 10 for 14 on third downs, mostly on the ground. Houston complained after the game that there were too many missed assignments, “stuff that’s been happening all season.” Some could take that as criticism of teammates, but frankly in my experience “missed assignments” is a euphemism for “outplayed.”
Grade: C.

SECONDARY: Bacarri Rambo’s interception return got the Bulldogs off to a fine start. But by the end of the game Newton had completed 12 of his 15 attempts, two for touchdowns. Freshman Alec Ogletree racked up nine tackles, but a lot of the gap responsibility to halting the run fell on the secondary.
Grade: C.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Part of the formula for a Georgia win was winning the kicking game, and it didn’t. The onside kick may have been the game’s key moment. Brandon Boykin also had little room to return kicks. Blair Walsh and Drew Butler, in limited time, did well. But the onside kick and the kick return problems were glaring.
Grade: D-.

COACHING: The gameplan started out well, and for a time it looked like Georgia’s aggressive defense could bottle up Newton. But whatever adjustments Todd Grantham tried, they didn’t work. Richt’s decision not to try for something in the final minute of the first half was debatable, but I didn’t have a problem with his decision to kick the field goal at the end of the third quarter.

Still, you can’t fault the coaches too much in a game they had within grasp at the second-ranked team in the country.
Grade: B-/C+.


Buster said...

You have a Heisman vote???

Anonymous said...

D-Line: D- for yesterday and the year. Secondary: F for yesterday and D- for the year.

3 out out of Auburn's last 4 undefeated seasons will either come on probation or cause probation. WAR EAGLE!!!

Anonymous said...

If his play on the field hasn't convinced you to vote him #1 in the Heismann, you should turn in your right to vote.

Anonymous said...

Look for Chizik’s name to start coming up in the play for pay scandal. His hands are indeed dirty and they won’t wash easily. Hate it for the students but the coach made a decision to play a professional athlete and knew what the potential ramifications would be. However, as he showed on the field towards the end of the game, he has a dirty streak that won’t clean up easily.