Monday, September 14, 2015

College Football Notes - Week 2

After getting a record number of SEC teams into the top 25 Arkansas stains their sheets and Auburn barely makes it to the toilet in time, dropping in rank or out of the top 25.

Let's start with the game I went to, Ole Miss vs. Fresno State.

1. Ole Miss.  Fresno State is not a power house by anyone's standards, but were considered a step up over UT Martin.  I've been to UT Martin and I can't imagine how you step down, so I'll have to agree with this reasoning.  Fresno State did win their season opener by 3 touchdowns against a Texas version of UT Martin, so they aren't exactly awful.  But Ole Miss managed to score 73 points on them pretty much at will.

Within the first quarter, Ole Miss had 3 touchdowns and Freeze put in the backup QB's.  Ok, I understand not hammering a team and running up the score, but at least wait until we have covered the spread (OM -28) before letting up or at least the second half.  First quarter is a little early. Why so early?  Well partly because this offense scores so quickly.  If Freeze wanted to, he probably could have scored 5 td's in the first quarter.  They're that quick and Kelly is that good.

So what did this game tell us? It more or less confirmed what we knew last week and demonstrated that that game wasn't a fluke.  Kelly can throw the long ball with accuracy, he makes great reads, and he is a run threat.  Did he have the same level of pressure that Alabama will bring?  Of course not, but against mediocre or less teams he's going to dice you up and feed you to the fish.

Our offense looks incredible right now.  Kelly is spreading the ball around because of his decision making ability.  I'm sure it's killing defensive coordinators.  You can double cover someone and he'll just find the next open receiver.  If you leave anyone open, he's going to hit them and move down the field.  The receivers look more comfortable with him and definitely have more trust in him.

What do we not know?  When Kelly is getting blitzed on a regular basis, how does he handle it?  How does he handle big time pressure and stages?  How does he handle noise? These are the biggest questions and the possible issue we're facing.  I think it was the series after the CJ Johnson interception that he was trying to get Treadwell to go wide out.  There was definitely some confusion and Treadwell wasn't moving.  Finally Kelly threw his hands up, snapped the ball and ran it in.  I don't know who was supposed to do what, but communication will be a problem going into Bryant-Denny Stadium.  Handling it will be a problem if you haven't prepared for it.

The defense looked ok, but definitely not up to last year's standards.  I'm not sure if it's because the second string is playing more often or last year was just too high of a water mark to compare to, but they seem to struggle.  Again, we're not getting much pressure on the quarterback.  This is by design, I get it but that doesn't make me feel better.  Our zone coverage improved, but we got gashed a couple times by the run and the throws to the flats were completed without issue just about every time.  Now, having said that I think our defense is good enough.  We won't stop every time, but we will slow them down.  If the offense can continue to score, we will win the hard games.  It'll just be a grind.

Bama predictions?  Two weeks ago I would have said we lost this game without hesitation.  Now I'm not so sure.  I think it'll be a back and forth high scoring game. The over should be a lock if it's below 50.

This is a difficult game to win, no matter what. Bama will want revenge and Saban will take every opportunity he has to remind his team about last year.  At night in front of 100,000 fans with Game Day and all of the pressure in the world, this is when people snap.  Hugh Freeze has a tendency to out think himself on big games where there's a lot of pressure.  He did it the last time he went to Tuscaloosa and he did it in Starkville that same year.  I'd even say he did it at the last bowl game. When expectations are high, he sort of gets in his own head and I think it causes him a lot of trouble. Bama has one of the top running games in the nation, next to Ohio State and just ahead of LSU. They have a big, strong line on both offense and defense and Ole Miss will likely be playing without Tunsil.

The good news is that Bama is struggling with the quarterback position and it looks like their run can be stopped if you sell out to do it.  Commit players to stop the run, get a lead and keep up TD for TD and you win this game.  Bama's corners are smaller and have yet to do a great job of locking down the backfield.  Kelly should be able to throw on them at will.  It'll all depend on how much pressure they get on Kelly and how long the apply it.  If Bama ever stops blitzing they'll lose.  It's their only hope to stop the pass.  Disrupt the quarterback.

I predict Ole Miss - 44, Bama -34.  Ole Miss jumps out to a small lead, does enough to slow Bama down and hangs on for the win.

2.  Mississippi State. I eagerly watched this game to see how the Bulldogs would do this year and really see what our odds of are of winning the Egg Bowl in Starkville.  Ask any reasonable fan of either fan base and we can all agree that the Egg Bowl is always a toss up.  Ole Miss could win every game and State could have lost every game going into the Egg Bowl and there is no doubt that it's a 50/50 game on that day.  The majority of the games are decided by where the game is played, so it doesn't bode well for Ole Miss at all.

After watching the game, I didn't feel much better.  Mississippi State lost, but they lost to a pretty decent LSU team and given about 30 more seconds probably would have won.  LSU jumped out to an early lead of 14 points.  They were destroying MSU's offensive line and MSU couldn't stop Leonard Fournette.  And then they adjusted.

I hate Dan Mullen for all of his hokey game's man bullshit, but I have to admit he is smart.  He knows his strengths and he plays to them.  Yes he makes some mistakes, but what he has been able to accomplish with what he has been given, there is no doubt he's punching above his weight class.  The offensive line adjusted and were able to buy Dak some time.  Dak stayed in the pocket most of the time and he did a decent job at throwing.  He wasn't razor accurate, but he was making pretty good choices and reads.  The defense committed to stopping the run and they did.  There were a lot of holding fouls called on LSU the second half which helped a lot, but besides this MSU did a decent job the second half and limited LSU to only 3 points.

And then it came down to the kicker.  For me Dan's mistake was not going for it on 4th down and relying on a kicker that hadn't made an attempt at a field goal in over a year and a half.  The same kicker that was barely over 50% when he was kicking and seemed to fold under pressure every time.  If anything, go with the short distance kicker that seemed to have little trouble with the pressure.  I know the manual says go for the kick in that situation, but I would have just thrown the ball.  But it's easy to second guess when it's not your job on the line, so I can't blame him.  EDIT: I read last weeks notes and I called it. MSU needs to give more thought to their kicking game.  So does Bama for that matter.

A couple of notes. Dak is unlikely to win the heisman, but he is more likely to get drafted if he keeps improving his throwing.  I think Tim Tebow has scared him into realizing he will never be a running QB in the NFL.  He needs to be able to make accurate throws, using the run only when absolutely necessary.  If this is Mullen's coaching, then he's doing Dak a real solid and deserves credit for helping his player improve.  On the flip side, if Dak doesn't start running more often, they're going to be a mediocre team at best.  There's not a lot wrong with MSU, but there's not a lot really outstanding either.  But they'll still be a pain in the ass during the Egg Bowl.

3. LSU. LSU missed their opener so they had to settle for State as their first opponent.  It didn't settle real well and it almost came back up on them.

LSU of this year looks to be very similar to LSU of last year.  One dimensional run game on Leonard Fournette's back.  It's a very capable back and he's definitely one of the best out there, but being one dimensional in the SEC will cost you about three games a season. Brandon Harris looked bad to average.  Missed throws, high throws, late throws, so on and so forth. It could be the cowbells and maybe at home with a win under his belt he'll be more comfortable, but right now it looks like the same QB issues as last year.

LSU's defense looked pretty tough at first, but then they seemed to run out of steam.  I'm not sure if they decided to let up or if MSU just made the right adjustments, but LSU could not apply any pressure in the second half.  This gave Dak enough time to make throws and let them score 16 points.  Against a better passing offense, it's going to be hell on LSU.

4. Arkansas.  I didn't get to watch this game, but I certainly heard about it.  The upset of the week, Arkansas which was everyone's darling hard noised, tough as nails, running team shat the bed and lost to Toledo.  In fairness Toledo is a good team.  They had more wins last year than Arkansas did and won their bowl game against Arkansas State.  But of course, they're in the MAC and really Arkansas had no business losing to them.  As an Ole Miss fan, this hurts a little more considering how badly we lost to them last year but seeing Bert's face at the end of that game makes me happier.  I predicted a while ago that Bert would struggle at Arkansas and he has been trying to prove me wrong, but in the long run I may be right.  They're still trying to have their break out season and they may have to settle until next year.

5. Tennessee. Good ole Rocky Top lost to Oklahoma giving up a comfortable lead and finally losing in overtime.  I did watch part of this game and Tennessee really surprised me.  They seemed to be dominating Oklahoma at first jumping out to a 17 to 3 lead in the first half. And then Oklahoma came back with a vengeance and was able to tie it up.  I'm not sure if Tennessee got too complacent or what but at the end of the day Tennessee threw an interception in over time to seal the defeat.  Oklahoma was ranked higher than Tennessee so I have trouble calling this an upset or unexpected, but that is no solace for the fans that turned out in coordinated orange and white.  I think Tennessee will still have a good season, but they're definitely not ready to dominate just yet.  Given that the SEC East is a little weak, they could still win it but I don't see them doing anything else.

6. Auburn.  Auburn had a close call as well, but managed to pull out the win at the last moment over Jacksonville State.  Hmm, that team sounds familiar. Oh yeah, Ole Miss lost to Jacksonville State in 2010, starting a two season losing streak and one of Ole Miss's darkest points in recent history.  Thanks Houston Nutt, you bastard.  It would have only been fitting if Auburn had lost to Jacksonville State after handing Ole Miss one of the most emotional losses of last year.  But it didn't happen.

Yes, Ole Miss once lost to Jacksonville State, but we were not ranked 6th in the nation when it happened.

I only saw part of this game but it's pretty obvious they're struggling with their quarterback.  I wish we could play them tomorrow before they figure it out.  LSU gets next and I have a feeling Auburn is not going to like the results.

So what's the problem?  Well Auburn is struggling offensively.  I have a feeling Johnson doesn't understand the playbook as well as Gus would like him to.  This is going to limit them and as Johnson continues to under perform and starts facing real competition it'll only get worse.

The defense is improved but still struggling under new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.  Auburn really buys into the theory that a bad head coach could still make a great coordinator between the Ellis Johnson hiring and now Will Muschamp.  I'm not so sure history is on their side, but I'm sure Lane Kiffin is looking forward to working there as the new offensive coordinator at some point.

I think Auburn will improve by the end of the season, but I wholly expect them to lose this weekend to LSU in the mean time.

7. Vandy.  No change, still awful.

8.  Florida.  Florida is on Ole Miss's schedule this year and that's great.  Most years Florida is a force to reckon with, but this year they're still struggling.  Everyone likes to talk about their corners, but ECU didn't seem to have that much trouble with them.  ECU is a good team, so a win is still a win, but cutting it close to a good AAC team is nothing to be real hyped about.  Florida is going to be a 5 win team this year.

I didn't really get to watch many other games this week.  I did however correctly pick GT, Ole Miss and Memphis to all cover.  Because of this success, I'm going to post my locks of the week on here.  I'll wait to see the spreads, but be looking for them.

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