By The WarBlogler
Going into the season opener, we all knew the questions that surrounded the Auburn football team. Will Malzahn's offense be Franklin 2.0? Will Chizik show us why he only won five games in two years at Iowa State? How will Todd handle the starting spot again? And although this was just one game, against a WAC opponent (albeit a decent one), a lot of those questions started to get something close to positive answers.
For starters, this is not Tony Franklin's spread, and besides the fact that the wideouts, and sometimes the quarterback, are spread across the line of scrimmage, the plays don't resemble anything put on the field by Mr. 5 o'clock Shadow. Malzahn's offense has all the bells and whistles of a shiny new spread, but with the way the running plays are designed, it's like it was made for Running Back U. Not once did I think that the players who were mostly recruited to run a West Coast offense, weren't made for this fast, flashy, ball of fun. It was between the tackles (or over and around the tackles if you're talking about Onterio McCalebb), setting up play action, pump fakes, and long bombs, with an occasional fake give, pitch, and pass. I've never seen plays so cool. The whole game I was like a little kid yelling "Oh man! Wow, that was awesome!", and that was even when the play tanked. Point blank: this offense is fun, but more importantly this offense is productive (see: 556 yards). Oh yeah, it's balanced too (see: 301 rushing, 255 passing).
The biggest criticism of the Auburn administration this offseason was obviously the Chizik hire. Most of that criticism as gone away due to a strong coaching staff and their recruiting prowess. The only factor keeping the fans from complete trust was winning. 5-19, 5-19, yeah, yeah, we get it. Would Chizik look like a coach who went 5-19 in his first game at Auburn? Again, it was just La. Tech, but I would say no. Chizik walked (well actually stalked) the sideline like he had won the last three Super Bowls. He definitely didn't act like a man that knew he had more than half the stadium just waiting for something to complain about. He was a man on a mission, a man with a purpose, a man who planned the work and worked the plan. I don't care if he was 5-19 before Auburn anymore. He knows what he has to do to turn that into 100-19, or at least acts like he does, and something can be said for that.
On a side note, the most unsettling problems that I saw Saturday night were the drive-extending, only-reason-La. Tech-scored-a-point penalties, and the almost unprovoked fumbles. The Bulldogs first scoring drive was aided by a pretty bad pass interference call on 3rd down, and back-to-back facemasks. Coach Chizik called these penalties "try hard" penalties and I completely agree. Unless you played at Miami in the 90's, 99% of facemasks are usually not intentional. What made these penalties so frustrating was that they usually occurred on 3rd down, during a sack or tackle for loss, and allowed La. Tech to hang around longer than they should have. The positive from this is that, like Chizik said, these penalties came from playing hard, flying after the ball, and trying to make a play. We can safely say that these penalties won't be a recurring, every game thing. They seemed to be just a little bad luck.
What I will also chalk up to bad luck were the two fumbles that occurred on promising drives. Ben Tate fumbled inside the 10-yard line and Darvin Adams fumbled after a decent gain on a pass from Todd. Both seemed to just have the ball knocked out from a normal tackle. Not a punch out or a strip, just a plain a tackle. Either way, I'm sure this will be corrected, or let's a least hope so. Take away the "try hard" penalties and the two fumbles, and this game wouldn't have been close by halftime (i.e. there would have been a lot less toothless smiles in Atlanta).
Something I didn't really worry about, but most armchair quarterbacks did, was Chris Todd. Would this be the same noodle arm as last year? And once again, it was just La. Tech, but I will say no. Todd made maybe 2-3 legitimately bad throws, but no bad decisions from what this guy could see. He knows the offense, he knows the coaches have his back, and he knows the team has his back. And like Chizik, he almost looks like he doesn't care what the naysayers say anymore. He's bought in, and knows this is going to work. If he throws an interception, chant "Kodi, Kodi", he doesn't care. He'll just come back and throw a 93 yard, perfectly-pump-faked touchdown pass in your face. And that's what an SEC-caliber QB has to be able to do.
Oh, and another guy who's bought in is Mr. Auburn, Kodi Burns, but you already knew that. Dang this team has the chance to be scary good. Kodi, Mario, Onterio, Zachary, Darvin, Tate...I see playmakers, but that's for another post.
All in all, the first half was scary because of the penalties, but the second half was great. A huge weight has been lifted and we can look forward to SEC play. Hopefully, that's when more of these questions will start to disappear.
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