College Football Mailbag (cont.)
Posted: Wednesday October 3, 2007 12:43PM; Updated: Wednesday October 3, 2007 3:20PM
Has Auburn's Tommy Tuberville solidified his spot as the top big-game coach in the country with his nine wins in his last 10 games against Top 10 opponents? He also holds 5-0 record against top five teams during his tenure at Auburn.
I first read those oft-quoted Tuberville statistics sometime Sunday, and I've found myself pondering them ever since. Let's be honest: That is freaking phenomenal. The only coach in America who can claim statistics like those right now is Pete Carroll, whose teams have won 10 of their last 11 against top 10 foes (going back to 2002, whereas Tuberville's have all been since 2004) and is 4-1 against top five teams (all coming in bowl games).
But while they're both clearly great big-game coaches, Carroll is universally regarded as one of the very best, if not the best, coach in the country, whereas you rarely hear Tuberville's name come up in such discussions. For me, the main reason Tuberville has never cracked my "Top 10 coaches" list in three years of doing them is that for all those big wins, his teams (with the exception of that one, perfect season) always seem to lose at least a couple games they shouldn't. Just look at this season: The Tigers beat No. 4 Florida in The Swamp but lost at home to Mississippi State. Last year, they beat two of the top three teams (Florida and LSU) in the season's final AP poll but lost at home to Arkansas and Georgia teams that were unranked at the time.
I was trying to figure out this phenomenon when I remembered something ESPN sideline reporter Holly Rowe said during the first half of Saturday night's game. She said she'd seen Tuberville in the tunnel prior to kickoff and that he looked "as intense as I've ever seen him." Well, of course she hadn't seen him like that before -- prior to her much-deserved promotion this season, Rowe had been stuck doing the Noon ESPN2 games (or something like that). She's probably used to seeing Tuberville before some of those not-so-big games. If you've never been around Tuberville, he is without question the most laid-back head coach of any major program. While most of his colleagues are Type A, tightly wound balls of stress, Tuberville's every-day demeanor is that of a guy who's out fishing.
Don't get me wrong, I love the guy's personality. But it may also explain the disparity. Because Tuberville is so laid back most of the time, I bet when he gets really fired up for a big game (as Rowe saw him), his players truly take notice. (Whereas if they played for a guy like Ed Orgeron, they probably wouldn't know whether they were about to face Florida or Florida International). Players feed off that kind of energy. But then when Auburn plays Mississippi State, he's probably more like his every day self, and the players feed off that energy -- or lack thereof -- as well.
Can you tell I put a little bit too much thought into this?
In Urban Meyer's first year, he attempted to install his spread-option offense, but when Chris Leak and the players from Ron Zook's recruiting classes could not adequately perform in Meyer's offense, he adapted it to Leak and the offense's strengths. Now that Meyer has his players, he is again trying to make his Utah offense work at Florida. After the Ole Miss nail-biter and the Auburn loss, how many more losses will it take before Meyer realizes that his scheme does not work against the typical-SEC defense?
Florida has had success in all other aspects of recruiting -- so why can't the Gators find a dependable running back? It seems clear that Tim Tebow can't be the running game all by himself.
We've seen the spread work at enough different places in different conferences -- from Oregon to Louisville to Northwestern to Cincinnati -- that I simply don't buy the "SEC-is-too-fast-for-it-to work" argument. Shoot, it just worked to the tune of 59 points against Tennessee two weeks ago! The Vols may not have one of the conference's better defenses this year, but do you really think if we lined up Tennessee's defenders and Auburn's defenders at the goal-line, pressed our stop watches and let them to the run to the 40 that the Tigers would all be waiting at the finish line by the time the Vols got there? I highly doubt it.
Any offense, however -- including the spread -- is susceptible to fast defenses if it's unbalanced. That was the problem for West Virginia (against USF), when their running game stalled and they had to rely on a shaky backup QB's arm, and that's what happened to the Gators against Auburn. Like Joe, I'm mystified how, in three seasons, Urban Meyer has yet to procure a go-to tailback (besides USC transfer Emmanuel Moody, who's not eligible until next year). In fact, it's so improbable that I have a feeling that's not the case, either. Kestahn Moore seemed to be doing fine, averaging a respectable 5.3 yards per carry his first four games, but against Auburn, he got just three handoffs (for 7 yards).
At his Monday press conference, Meyer admitted, "we need to get a little more touches to [Moore]," but what about this comment immediately after the game? "At no point did I feel comfortable enough to turn around and hand it off." Whoa. It's sounds like he's saying his offensive line was incapable of run-blocking Auburn's defenders. If that's the case, then yes, it might be time to think about reining in the spread and bringing in an extra blocker like he did two years ago -- because I can assure you Tebow is not going to run for 130 yards against LSU.