Rarely has a bye week come at a more opportune time. We are hurting physically and mentally. We need to regroup and try to get healthy. We also possibly need to stop beating ourselves up quite so much. The disappointment permeating the first half of this campaign is tangible. Fans, as well as players, need to shake it off, look at things objectively and move on. We are 3-3 which, ironically, is a better record than we had after six games last season. The kick to the stomach was the Ole Miss game – a win was there for the taking until a late 75-yard breakdown. Given our injuries and off-field distractions, no one really can complain about losing at SC – or even to a Missouri squad that is going to beat a lot of people.
We have a very difficult schedule the next three games – but each game is an opportunity. Georgia is more banged up than we are and we get them on national TV at the dangerous 11 a.m. slot. We catch Florida, later, in a trap setting as well. It is hard to sugarcoat our odds on the road against the supreme dual threat QB, Johnny Manziel – but that game will be an exciting challenge as well. The final three games are certainly all winnable. The UT game should be a genuine, no holds barred rivalry game. There is much to look forward to. And even more if you sneak a peek at next year’s schedule. We need to regroup, try to build some confidence, get healthy, and stop focusing on so many negatives.
At the same time, the braintrust has some important answers to chase down this week. Our defense has been both disappointing and hamstrung by injuries. We opened the season playing a soft scheme and wisely seem to have jettisoned this approach. We still, however, have gaping holes on pass defense in the middle of the field – these gaps have haunted us all year and particularly on third down. We need to drop defenders back and find a way to take these free lanes away. With linebacker injuries particularly crippling, we will see if any redshirt decisions are made over the bye week as well. Kenny Ladler (who made 14 tackles against Mizzou) and Andre Hal have been bright spots. The D-line has talent and depth – but they have lacked results to date. We are getting close to the QB, but not recording the sacks or disruptions we need. Much like last year, we are also falling short in forcing turnovers.
On offense Austyn Carta-Samuels has been a pleasant surprise (although the Mizzou outing was not his best performance.) Jordan Matthews has solidified his NFL stock. Jonathon Krause has also stepped up. Frustratingly, our backs have shown promise, but our running game as a whole has failed to gel. The O-line is banged up and the bye week made a big difference in the trenches last year.
The offensive braintrust’s main dilemma appears to be that we need to figure out who we want to be. It seems we are infatuated with the spread, hurry-up offense – but this leaves our banged up defense on the field too long. We frequently seem better equipped to slug it out in a more blue collar way. We have had success with long sustained drives out of the wildcat set, but we often do not stick with the running game. We have been terrible – 10-0, 28-0, 20-0 – out of the gate in each of our SEC games. We likely need to focus on getting our sustained, ball control, running game (and play action) working earlier to avoid the crippling starts that have become routine in SEC play. We have also been predictable and ineffective running between the tackles from the spread. Hopefully, we will re-inject some misdirection running schemes into the spread playbook – this would benefit both Seymour and Kimbrow who thrive in open space. On the bright side, we are developing an effective screen game – and both Seymour and Tate have proven to be able receivers. We have also added some intriguing wildcat wrinkles where Carta-Samuels shifts back to QB or takes a pitch and can throw. Bottom line: we are scoring more than enough points to be successful. The far bigger problem is that we are allowing over 40 points per game in SEC play.
The big game in Conference this week, on paper, is Florida at LSU. The Gators remain undefeated in league play – but they are a full touchdown underdog in Baton Rouge. Their highly touted defense will face their first stiff test of the season – LSU’s lowest scoring output of the year is 35 points. Interesting game, with an over/under of 47, which means Vegas thinks LSU should have enough offense to take down the Gators at home, but neither offense will dominate.
After the thorough beating administered to us last week by Missouri, I am a believer in the Tigers. Meanwhile, Georgia is decimated by injuries, especially on offense. While Georgia is an 8-point favorite at home – the Bulldogs are on upset alert. For that matter, Georgia was lucky to survive in Knoxville last week. Mark Richt will have his hands full regrouping and re-shuffling the troops. And if Georgia takes Mizzou lightly, this game could produce a real shake-up in the standings. Just the same, Aaron Murray is still at the helm and Georgia’s let-down after the LSU win (followed by the flood of injuries) may mean the vulnerability shown last Saturday was only a mirage. It will be interesting to see what tactics Todd Grantham comes up with to try to stop Mizzou’s varied attack.
Another fascinating SEC tilt is Texas A&M at Ole Miss. The over/under of 74 may be low here. Texas A&M was not great in their lone road game of the year – but Ole Miss has not yet recovered from their beating at the hands of Bama. It carried over to a loss at Auburn last week, and with LSU next on the schedule, this A&M game becomes a fairly desperate one for Ole Miss. A&M, favored by only 6, seems like a pretty good bet. South Carolina is also a 6 point favorite at Arkansas. The Razorbacks have acquitted themselves relatively well, but are simply outmanned in league play. SC has been listless two weeks in a row – but should have enough in the tank to handle this road game. The Clowney drama is an unhelpful distraction, but not an insurmountable one. Bama is at Kentucky where the Wildcats are also playing better, but remain winless in conference. This match-up will be an insurmountable one for the Wildcats, who are 27 point underdogs.
In out-of-conference games this week – Auburn should club Western Carolina, while Mississippi State hosts a tricky 5-1 Bowling Green squad. After a spirited, hard-fought overtime loss to Georgia, UT gets a bye. We join them on the couch this week – and also at the drawing board. The good news is, we responded very well coming off our bye last year and looked like a new team in the second half of the year. The bad news is, we face top ten opponents Georgia and @ Texas A&M coming off the bye. We have much to fix.