|Big and Beautiful|
That is what the text read that my friend sent me.
Great advice, I thought. We all need to take a step back and breathe. Our expectations of this offense were always way too high. Mine included. I took the performance of our team in Arkansas game from last season as a sign of the way things would be this season. I know better, yet I drank the KoolAide, and passed around pitchers full of the "All Auburn All Orange" liquid to all who wanted to drink.
I should have listened to Coach Malzahn. I know better, yet I let my thoughts go to end of the season, and the glory that I had convinced myself was sure to come.
All during the preseason we kept being warned that we were a very young team. Struggles we were told, are going to happen. Not "may" happen, but were going to happen. What we saw Saturday against a high quality FCS foe was Auburn struggling, and Jacksonville State not struggling.
The end result was a win for Auburn. The final result may be that we see an Auburn football team come together when adversity happens, and overcome that adversity, because they know they can. That is how young teams become great teams. TOGETHER.
Lets look at the game itself. First and foremost it is my opinion that referees across our country still have no idea what the "Targeting Rule" is nor how to call the penalty in a real game situation.
In the case at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Blake Countess, the Auburn DB, was already in the motion of tackling the runner, which happened to be the JSU quarterback, when the runner began to slide. Countess clearly had turned his head to the side, and was not initiating a crown of the helmet to the head of the runner. Simply put, once the two bodies started their motions, it was inevitable they were going to hit helmet to helmet. Blake Countess was not guilty of targeting the QB.
The following is an explanation of the targeting rule from the A.F.C.A. (American Football Coaches Assoc.)
Targeting and Initiating Contact With the Crown of the Helmet (Rule 9-1-3)
No player shall target and initiate contact against an opponent with the crown (top) of his helmet. When in question, it is a foul.
Targeting and Initiating Contact to Head or Neck Area of a Defenseless Player (Rule 9-1-4)
No player shall target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, fist, elbow or shoulder. When in question, it is a foul. (Rule 2-27-14)
Note: Beginning in 2013, ejection from the game is a part of the penalty for violation of both Rule 9-1-3 and Rule 9-1-4.
Target—to take aim at an opponent for purposes of attacking with an apparent intent that goes beyond making a legal tackle or a legal block or playing the ball.
Crown of the Helmet—the top portion of the helmet.
Contact to the head or neck area—not only with the helmet, but also with the forearm, fist, elbow, or shoulder—these can all lead to a foul.
Defenseless player—a player not in position to defend himself.
As you can see, there is much training that needs to be done in the area for the football officials. Lets hope this gets done sooner, rather than later. At most, this situation should have been called an unsportsmanlike penalty hitting above the head, with an automatic first down. I don't believe this was a penalty situation at all. It was a bang-bang play, that resulted in the two players hitting heads. It was not targeting by the definition.
Auburn did not play its best. We all saw that. We also saw that these guys are not going to quit during a game.
I saw some flashes of brilliance from Peyton Barber in the 2nd quarter. In the 4th quarter, and in overtime Barber once again took the game by the reigns, and took the will of his opponents. I will question pulling Barber out of the game while he had some momentum, and inserting Thomas.
Maybe Gus made that move to see if Thomas could create a spark, maybe to to give Barber some rest for the 4th quarter, or simply to put Thomas into the rhythm of the game and utilize him on the TD pass play that worked to perfection. A perfectly thrown ball by Jeremy Johnson hit Thomas in stride. Beautiful.
These query's are why I am not a coach.
It was easy to see that this Auburn team is struggling with injuries. Avery Young, the starting Right Tackle, was held out of the game. That meant a completely revamped right side of the offensive line. Around the third offensive series for the Tigers, this unit started to gel, and played better for the rest of the game. Not perfect, but certainly better.
Our already thin Defensive Backfield took another hit early in the game when Josh Holsey was injured. It was evident the youngsters that played most of the snaps were worried about the deep pass, and were playing with a lot cushion. Giving some space for those short, quick throws that JSU kept utilizing.
Overall, it was scary game that ended up being too close for comfort. Many fans are not happy that an FCS team took Auburn to overtime. I get that. I won't get cheesy here, just know that this team has fight. They know they need to improve. They also know how to win in overtime, just like the 2010 team did. You remember how that turned out, don't you?