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Auburn’s Offense All About Malzahn? Or Newton?

Jon Solomon of The Birmingham News — one of our favorite SEC scribes — believes that one of Gene Chizik’s best acts as coach was hiring Gus Malzahn “and leaving him alone.”

The Tiger offense is on a record-setting pace.  They average 40 points per game.  They are averaging 300+ yards rushing per game.  They are dominant.

But is it really offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn that deserves the credit? 

Look, I’m not going to take shots at Malzahn.  He’s done a great job this year.  He’s found the right plays for Cameron Newton to run.  And his offense — along with Oregon’s — will no doubt usher in the next big thing in college football: the uber-hurry-up, fastbreak tempo.

But take Newton out of Malzahn’s offense and just how frightening would that offense be?  And if you don’t think that’s a legitimate question, I ask you to compare Urban Meyer’s offense with Tim Tebow to Urban Meyer’s offense without Tim Tebow.

While Malzahn deserves credit for landing Newton, using Newton and using Newton properly, the key for Auburn is Newton, not the system. 

Systems are systems.  Put bad players in a good system and the system fails.  Has Rich Rodriguez system looked as good at Michigan as it did at West Virginia?  Has Steve Spurrier had the offensive success at South Carolina that he did at Florida.

Put good players in a good system and the system thrives.  Put great players in a good system and records are set.  Examples: Newton at Auburn, Tebow at Florida, LaMichael James at Oregon.

I’ll take this a step further.  Let’s put Newton back on Florida’s team, where he began his career.  Would Florida have three losses?  Would Auburn be undefeated?

And what if he had signed with Mississippi State as he himself had wanted?  MSU would likely be undefeated, but would Auburn be averaging 40 points per game with Neil Caudle or Barrett Trotter running the show?

I think you get my gist.

Malzahn deserves praise for dialing up quarterback draws and zone-read plays for Newton.  But it’s Newton that can’t be tackled (or now covered). 

Auburn’s system is just a system.  Newton is the once in a generation player who’s making it special.

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Postgame Thread: Arkansas 49, Vanderbilt 14

Content provided by Razorback Expats.

After a slow start, the Hogs were able to put Vandy away in convincing fashion, rolling to 555 total yards of offense and holding the Commodores to a measly 23 yards after the first quarter (153 total). Continuing with the positives, Ryan Mallett looked very sharp, Knile Davis ran hard once again and, after making Larry Smith look like Cameron Newton in the opening minutes, the defense made him look like, well, Larry Smith for the rest of the game.

On the negative side, penalties remain a major issue and – most ominously of all – Greg Childs left the game with a very bad-looking knee injury in the 4th quarter (when the Hogs were already ahead by 21).

We’ll have more thoughts later…in the meantime, what do you think?

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Ole Miss – Auburn Warning Sign #3

Why are so many talking heads predicting 3-4 Ole Miss (a team with losses to Jacksonville State and Vanderbilt) will upend BCS top team Auburn? 

Below is Reason #3 of the day:

Cameron Newton has looked unstoppable this year… but Auburn’s team has not looked unbeatable.  As good as Newton has been, the Tigers have needed one fourth-quarter rally after another.

September 9th:  Auburn 17, Mississippi State 14
     Cameron Newton was the clear difference in the game.

September 18th:  Auburn 27, Clemson 24 in overtime
     Auburn had to come back from a 17-3 deficit at home and won on a missed do-over field goal attempt by Clemson’s placekicker.

September 25th:  Auburn 35, South Carolina 27
     The Tigers had rallied from a 27-21 4th quarter deficit and Carolina was throwing into the end zone on its last possession.

October 9th:  Auburn 37, Kentucky 34
     Auburn needed a last second field goal to edge the Wildcats.

October 23rd:  Auburn 24, LSU 17
     The Tigers got the go-ahead score from Onterrio McCalebb with five minutes left to play.

Gene Chizik’s team even needed a comeback in their 65-43 rout of Arkansas.  With less than 12 minutes to play, the Razorbacks held a 43-37 advantage in that game before their wheels came off.

You can look at the above facts and easily see why Tiger fans believe their team to be clutch with a capital C.  But you can also see why some pundits believe Auburn has caught more than its share of breaks this season.

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Auburn Hopes To Hold On To #1 Ranking

By now everyone knows that life hasn’t been cushy at the top of the polls the last few weeks.

Saturday, October 9th:  South Carolina 35, #1 Alabama 21
Saturday, October 16th:  Wisconsin 31, #1 Ohio State 18
Saturday, October 23rd:  Missouri 36, #1 Oklahoma 27

Now Auburn is on top of the polls.  Well, sorta.

You see, the Tigers are #1 in the current BCS standings.  It’s Oregon that is #1 in AP Top 25 and USA Today Coaches’ polls.  Which could be good news for Auburn.

If there’s a #1 jinx then it’s Oregon that stands to topple on Saturday when the Ducks play at Southern Cal.  (For the record, we don’t believe in jinxes.  Knock on wood.)

Still, Auburn’s players are aware of the burden that goes along with wearing the #1 crown in any set of rankings. 

“We’re trying to downplay the #1 thing, but it’s on everyone’s mind,” tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen told The Birmingham News.  “It’s just one of those things we realize the #1 team has gone down, and it’s on our mind just for the fact we’re not going to let it happen to us.”

“It doesn’t matter after Week Eight if we’re #1,” Cameron Newton said.  “There’s only one week that it really matters and that’s at the end of the year.”

Still, head coach Gene Chizik knows that his Tigers will face some fired up opponents because of their high ranking.  “I don’t think there’s any question.  Everybody reads it, everybody sees it and everybody hears it.  We fully expect to get everybody’s best shot.”

Auburn’s current #1 stature in the BCS standings marks the first time the Tigers have sat atop a major poll (though the BCS standings really aren’t a poll) since 1985.  In that season, Bo Jackson and crew survived on top for just two weeks before being upset at Tennessee.

Saturday, Auburn travels to Ole Miss.

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MSU’s Diaz The Impact Hire In The SEC

When you hear the words “impact” or “breakthrough” in connection with the 2010 SEC football season, the image of Cameron Newton running over a linebacker probably comes to mind.  Or perhaps you see visions of Marcus Lattimore bulling through SEC defenses.

But there’s another name that should come to mind… even though it probably doesn’t: Manny Diaz.

On October 17th of last year, Diaz’ MTSU defense squared off against Dan Mullen’s first Mississippi State team.  State won the game 27-6.  They outgained the Blue Raiders 333-248, too.  But the aggressiveness of Diaz’ defense caught Mullen’s eye even in the loss.  And when Mullen and last year’s D-coordinator Carl Torbush parted ways at the end of the season, Diaz’ phone rang.

That has all turned out awfully well for the Bulldogs.

It only took a couple of games in 2009 for Mullen and Torbush to cross swords.  The young head coach had this to say after Auburn shredded his Dogs last September:  “We weren’t very aggressive in the Auburn game and I think that showed.  We did a poor job of putting our players in a position to make plays.”  It was only a matter of time before Torbush departed (for Kansas) and Mullen found someone more aggressive.

And Diaz has definitely brought an attacking style to Starkville.  That style has been a key factor in State’s hot 6-2 start. 

“… We definitely come from everywhere — cornerback, safety, linebacker, defensive line,” said linebacker Chris White last week.  “We check a lot, so if the offense is checking to a screen, we’re going to check to a play that stops the screen.  We don’t let them get in an offense to beat us.”

So far this season, Diaz’ scheme has been as tough to score on as any in the SEC.  Against BCS foes (and the Bulldogs have faced four so far), State is giving up a touchdown once every 43.5 snaps.  That’s second in the league only behind Alabama (45.0 snaps) and well ahead of third-place LSU (30.6 snaps).

Compare that to last year when the Bulldogs surrendered a touchdown once every 18.6 plays to opposing offenses.

State’s rush defense has improved (from 3.96 yards/carry allowed to 3.63).  The pass defense has improved (from 7.95 yards/attempt allowed to 6.43).  The Bulldogs are giving up 30 yards less per game (down from 366 to 336).  And MSU has climbed the scoring defense category from 71st last year (27 points allowed per game) to 14th best in the nation this season (17 points allowed per game).

Diaz has made these improvements with only four seniors slotted into his starting line-up (three at linebacker).  His secondary is especially youthful.  And State’s roster isn’t exactly dotted with five-star guys to work with, either.

To be fair, the Bulldogs still have some big tests ahead.  Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss can all put points on the board.  You should expect the numbers to rise in a few of those defensive categories mentioned above. 

But Mississippi State is already bowl eligible just eight games into its season.  As a result, its 2011 recruiting class currently ranks in the nation’s Top 25 according to  Mullen’s club already has a signature, 10-7 win at Florida under it’s belt, too.  And that win can be credited in large part to the defense. 

Manny Diaz might not get the pub of some of the SEC’s higher-paid coordinators, but so far he’s been the impact hire in the Southeastern Conference in 2010.

Lucky thing Mullen inherited a 2009 schedule that featured a game against MTSU on it.  If not for that, who knows where the Bulldogs would be right now.  Probably not sitting at 6-2.

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