Great breakdown of this weeks up comming game against UT

This game will be the first road game of the season for Auburn. That’s unfortunate, as there will be a lot of AU players on the field surrounded by a very hostile crowd for the first time in their college careers. But everybody has to grow up sometime, and Neyland Stadium is as good a place as any.
UT has struggled to establish a legitimate passing game, and QB Jonathan Crompton, a former Parade All-American, has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. Crompton is big and strong, and has a big-time arm, but he has had problems both with reading coverages and with throwing accuracy. Like most quarterbacks, he does not handle pressure well. If Auburn can generate a pass rush early, they can take Crompton out of the game and put UT in one-dimension mode.

The Vols have a strong running game, with a pair of 215 pound tailbacks that run very hard. Both Hardesty and Brown are averaging 5 yards per carry. Whether head coach Lane Kiffin allows Crompton to open up the passing game or not probably depends on how he feels his team matches up against AU. If he feels like he has the much better team, he’ll take some chances with Crompton. If he feels like he can’t afford a mistake, he’ll play it conservatively, the way he did against Florida. I look for something in between the two. Kiffin will feel fairly confident in his defense, and will expect field position to favor the Vols, given Auburn’s abysmal special teams. What he will likely do is establish his running game with Hardesty and Brown, and mix in a good bit of play action passes to build Crompton’s confidence and keep the AU defense from focusing totally on the run. Brown is an excellent receiver out of the backfield, and those are safe throws that Crompton has made repeatedly. If Auburn’s defense does not tackle better than they have in previous games this season, UT may never have to bother with throwing the ball. There is little question that Auburn can stop the run by stuffing the box, but they won’t want to do that unless it becomes clear there’s no other way. Defensive coaches like to plan for every contingency, and Chizik and Roof will be as worried about being beaten by the deep ball as about stopping the inside running game. Lou “Holthz” said once years ago at a coaching clinic, “If the offense puts a guy with no arms out wide, the defense will put a guy out there to cover him.” That statement is absolutely true.

The chess match between UT defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and Auburn OC Gus Malzahn should be fun to watch. The elder Kiffin has spent the past 26 years in the NFL, working with and against the best players and coaches in the football world. But one of the things that is difficult for a coach to do is to understand just what his players are capable of, vs the ones he coached before. Things that a Derrick Brooks or a Ronde Barber could do, UT’s current defensive players (with the possible exception of Eric Berry) probably can’t. Coaches stepping down in level of competition often ask things of their players that they are not physically capable of. Regardless, there’s no question Monte Kiffin is one of the best defensive coaches there is. However, he has been beaten many, many times over his long career, so, like any other coach, he is hardly invincible.

What Kiffin does exceptionally well is pressure the quarterback. Protection, or, for that mattter, run-blocking, is about the numbers. If the offense has 5.5 players to the right side of the formation and 5.5 to the left, the defense tries to line up the same way. (The .5 comes from a player lined up directly over the ball, thus counting as a half to each side.) Kiffin follows that rule, but still tries to outnumber the blockers to one side or the other by showing a player as “in coverage”, so he doesn’t get counted in the blocking scheme, and sending him. He will send linebackers, corners, or safeties. He will also zone blitz, dropping a defensive end or even a nose tackle into coverage to confuse the quarterback. Malzahn, of course, understands the “balance” rule (5.5 vs 5.5), and tries to gain a numerical advantage with shifting formations and motion. When you get two coaches in a room with a chalkboard, talking about offense and defense, it usually comes down to who has the chalk last. This game may turn out the same way. As Monte is surely as good with the chalk as Malzahn, hopefully Malzahn is quicker to the board and gains an edge that way.

I think Tennessee is the most physical defensive team Auburn has faced this season. Their DL is well-coached; they maintain their rush lanes, and generate good pressure on the QB. They tackle well as a team. They have, however, struggled some with coverage in the secondary. If Auburn can give Todd time to set up and throw, there will be open receivers. For that to happen, though, Auburn will have to establish at least reasonable credibility for its running game. UT was able to get pressure on the QB in both the UCLA game and the Florida game, often with only rushing four. Tennessee hammered the UCLA QB to the point he was almost totally ineffective, although only getting two actual sacks. The Bruins won the game, but only because Crompton was even less effective. UCLA’s QB for that game was a redshirt freshman, in only his second career start. UT did sack Florida QB Tim Tebow three times, in addition to forcing a fumble and an interception from Tebow.

Given the loss of UT’s senior MLB, Monte may opt for the double eagle look he used often against Florida. (For those unfamiliar with the “eagle”, picture a 5-2 defense, with the defensive tackles and inside linebackers swapping alignments.) That scheme can easily be played with only two linebackers, using an extra defensive lineman. If that happens, it means three down linemen in the middle, and increases the Vols’ chances of getting an inside push on the pass rush. In that event, AU will need to move Todd’s throwing position outside, something they have shown they can do very well. Having both guards and the center covered also means there is no one other than a running back to pick up an extra rusher from the back side. All the more reason Todd needs to be throwing from either side of the formation, versus the middle.

Auburn leads the series with UT, and has won four straight against the Vols, including last year’s less than epic battle of not-very-goods. Possibly the biggest factor in this one is the home field. The crowd will be raucous, as this is pretty much a must-win game for the home team. If Auburn’s young players can keep their poise, not let the noise affect them, and not let Monte Kiffin confuse them, they can pull this off. If not, we are 4-1 and facing a challenge virtually ever week for the remainder of the season. Regardless, *how we play* will tell us a lot about what we can expect from here out. This game has the potential to be one of the most physical of the year, and if Auburn is up to that challenge, this game could be a cornerstone for great things in years to come, as well as a 2009 season that virtually no one really expected.

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