Alabama vs. Auburn: What the Tigers Could Learn from the MSU Bulldogs
The dismal performance of the Auburn Tigers in Athens is well behind them now, and there is no point in looking back.
If the coaching staff is doing their job right, and I suspect they are, they have the team concentrating on the Samford game this weekend.
But, that game should be nothing more than a practice session before the biggest end to the regular season left for them to attain, the Iron Bowl. It’s the only real opportunity for the Tigers to redeem themselves on what had been a lesson in improvement week to week, that is until the Georgia debacle.
It still escapes me, as I’m sure it does head coach Gene Chizik, as to what happened that Saturday afternoon between the hedges.
But that same day, or that evening, the Mississippi State Bulldogs showed a great deal of fortitude and spirit in challenging their neighbor, the No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide.
The 24-7 Tide victory is really no indication of what kind of fight the Bulldogs brought to the game, quite intensely, at least for the first half.
The final analysis has the Crimson Tide knocking off another contender in valiant style, but their valor was not that evident and the Bulldogs exposed some vulnerability that the Auburn Coaches should be paying attention to.
It’s a long shot at best for the Tigers, but at this point, it couldn’t get any worse than last weekend, so what have they got to lose.
Richardson Can Be Stopped
The key to stopping Bama’s running game of course starts with Trent Richardson, and State had his number on several occasions. Yes, he ended the game with 127 yards, but on 32 carries, a career high for him.
In the first half he was jammed at the line more than he broke lose. His total yardage was made up of a couple of long runs in the second half.
In fact, he was dropped for losses in their first two possessions, which were a couple of three and out series.
What Mississippi State didn’t count on was stopping RB Eddie Lacy as the backup part of the tandem that Alabama does so well. Last year, it was Ingram and Richardson. This year, it’s Richardson and Lacy.
Auburn can start now with the defensive running game plan, studying what State did to jam the middle and contain the edges.
T’Sharvan Bell, and his horrendous injury, presents a key loss for the Tigers; given his leadership and his dynamic play making ability. His leadership can remain with the team from the sideline, but his playing will need to be filled by a rotating crew of backups.
Mississippi State effectively shutdown Marquis Maze to 22 yards in receiving, and quarterback AJ McCarron threw for 163 yards, requiring the use of seven receivers in total.
It’s interesting to note that only one of those receivers came out of the backfield, with Trent Richardson catching only two passes for 22 yards. Richardson and Eddie Lacy have been touted as dual threat backs with excellent pass receiving skills, but they weren’t utilized.
Instead the lion’s share of the passing yardage came to little known sophomore Kevin Norton who caught two passes for 60 yards, a receiver who up to this point only has six catches for 90 yards on the whole season.
The Tigers can effectively stop the passing game as long as Neiko Thorpe and Chris Evans start playing a combination of the receiver and the ball, and don’t blow the coverage like they did against Georgia. The Mississippi State game against Alabama could teach them a few things.
The Tide Kicking Game
I think it became obvious against LSU that the Crimson Tide is sorely lacking in the field goal department.
Four missed attempts against the Bengal Tigers and then two in the first half against the Bulldogs is quite a testament to that.
As long as the Auburn Tigers can keep the Tide at a respectable distance, don’t expect that aspect of Bama’s game to improve overnight, or against Georgia Southern prior to the Iron Bowl.
As MSU head coach Dan Mullen said, “We don't have free agency in college, so I can't cut them and go hire a free agent.” The same is true for Nick Saban, and these guys can’t hit a field goal outside of 25 yards.
This is a key area for the Auburn Tigers to gain some momentum in the game, so a solid defense to keep them out of the red zone is essential.
The Tide Defense
It is quite obvious that the Crimson Tide has a superlative defense, as the Bulldogs tried several things that just didn’t seem to work.
MSU was only able to roll up 131 total yards against the Tide, 110 of those in the air.
There were a few questionable coaching decisions by head coach Dan Mullen, such as taking QB Tyler Russell out of the game and putting in Chris Relf, at a time when Russell was on a roll and inside the red zone; a coaching lesson for the Tigers to heed. The momentum for the Bulldogs was just crushed.
Also, a missed opportunity showed off the Tide brick wall after a Mississippi State interception that took them inside the Bama five-yard line.
When studying this contest, there has to be something in offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn’s bag of tricks to get around this Alabama defense.
Perhaps the passing game needs more attention from Auburn, and the hurry up offense that seems to put some defenses on their heels. But the key for Auburn is to sustain the urgency on offense.
A Fighting Spirit
The main element that could possibly put Auburn in the win column against Alabama is the intensity with which they play the game; that, and an error, fumble, penalty and interception-free game.
But, the spirit that they take to the Tide will make all the difference in the world.
That kind of intangible was something you could feel in Mississippi State’s attempt to topple the Tide.
The Bulldogs were not intimidated in the least, and given that intensity, which only gave way to fatigue in the second half, they could have upset the No. 3 team in the country. I know, if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.
But, the point is that Auburn fell flat against Georgia and if they bring that lack of spirit, that unwillingness to fight, then they will end up with a disappointing season, regardless of what would then put them at 7-5, a winning season, sure, but not an 8-4 respectable rebuilding year.
Don’t get me wrong, the Samford game is important, and it’s homecoming, with favorite son Pat Sullivan, head coach at Samford, receiving honors.
But, the most important game of the season happens the weekend after, at home against the Crimson Tide.
This is the Iron Bowl, after all, and upsets were made to happen.