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Auburn Grades
Posted by Woody Woodruff on Tuesday December 03 2013 @ 10:19AM CST
[ The Commissioner's Blog ]
It is the little things that matter. That was the point that Benjamin Franklin was making with his poem about how a missing horseshoe nail led to the loss of a kingdom. Great enterprises can come to naught because of the neglect of seemingly small details.

The same is true in sports. The biggest of big games can turn on players and coaches paying attention to the little things. Little things; like finishing a catch that would be a first down, false starting on a place kick, committing personal fouls, avoiding blocked kicks, playing your assignment.....or not.

At one time or another, Alabama neglected all of these little things in the 2013 Iron Bowl. Because of little things, Alabama failed to convert a 4th and one in the Auburn red-zone, nullified what would have been a first and goal, allowed Auburn runners to gash the defense, and left receivers open for easy touchdowns.

Coach Saban always says that results follow how well the team performs. That is why The Process focuses on performance. Playing to a standard. If each player plays to a standard, then the team as a whole plays to a standard. Results will take care of themselves.

By this measure, the final score of Auburn 34 - Alabama 28, was the justly deserved result of how Alabama played on Saturday. Luck was not a factor. Neither was officiating. Alabama deserved to lose the game because of the way it played.

Even so, with just over 10 minutes to play in the game it looked as if Alabama had finally found itself. Throwing out of his own end zone, AJ completed the longest touchdown pass in all of Tide history to Amari Cooper. But neglect of little things took its inexorable toll.

On the ensuing possession, the Defense stuffed the Auburn rushing game and forced a turnover on downs at the Auburn 35. TJ Yeldon picked up a first down on a 13 yard run, but the following three plays earned 9 yards and on 4th and 1 from the Auburn 13, a missed block on the line of scrimmage allowed Auburn's Carl Lawson to stop Yeldon for no gain.

Again, the Defense responded. Nick Marshall was sacked for 9 yards on first down. Two incomplete passes later Auburn's outstanding punter, Stephen Clark, kicked to Christion Jones who returned the ball to Auburn's 25. But a run run by TJ Yeldon for what would have been a first and goal at the AU 5 was nullified by a holding call, and a field goal try was blocked.

A late hit gave Auburn 15 extra yards of field position and a coverage mistake by Cyrus Jones gave a wide open receiver an unchallenged catch-and-run for a game-tying touchdown with :32 seconds to play.

The game's final play, a 100+ yard return of a missed 57 yard field goal attempt, is the sort of highlight that will be endlessly replayed. The Auburn football "tradition" has now been expanded to two national championships, two blocked punts, a Hail-Mary pass and a kick return. But Tide fans know deep down that when busted coverage allowed Auburn to tie the game, a Tiger victory was inevitable. Does anyone really think that Alabama could have won in overtime? I don't.

The stack of too many neglected little things had, by game's end, become an insurmountable psychological obstacle. By that time, Alabama had made enough little mistakes to lose three games. So it is somewhat fitting that in a metaphorical way it did. Not only did we lose the Iron Bowl, we also lost the SEC and BCS Championship Games by foreclosing the chance to even play in them. Unlike the 2011 and 2012 seasons, no amount of BCS bracket-busting can put a one loss Alabama into the title game. On Saturday night, down in the Village, the 2013 Crimson Tide was left wanting too many horseshoe nails.

Here's how I grade the game:

Offense: F The offense achieved 19 first downs on 495 yards of total offense; number which in most other contexts would be indicative of victory. But here again the little things plagued the Tide. Alabama converted only 4 of 13 third downs; only 1 in the first half. Although TJ Yeldon gained 141 net yards rushing, he was called upon 26 times compared to Kenyan Drake's 33 yards on 4 carries, and was the Tide's only consistent running threat. At this writing, I do not know whether Drake was injured during the game. If not, his absence from the game is baffling (see coaching grade to follow).

AJ completed 17 of 29 pass attempts for 277 yards and 3 TDs. Amari Cooper (6 catches for 178 yards) was his favorite target, and their 4th quarter throw and catch from inside the Tide 1 yard line will set a mark that might one day be equalled but never topped. Kevin Norwood caught 3 passes for 45 yards and a TD. His best catch of the game was a deflected pass that he snagged and turned up field for a key first down.

The Offense put together only 5 drives that gained more than 40 yards [49, 67, 56, 83, 99] which netted three TDs and two missed field goals [another one of those little things].

Defense: F Some of the defensive statistics are impressive: 7 tackles for lost yards, 2 forced fumbles, 3 sacks, 4 hurries, a recovered fumble. Others, however, indicate a lack of consistency and failure of attention to little things: AU earned 22 first downs, rushed for 296 yards, had two backs rush for more than 100 yards each, and converted 8 of 15 third downs.

CJ Mosley was the leading tackler with 14 total stops [10 solo]. Trey DePriest recorded 11 tackles and Landon Collins was credited with 9.

Special Teams:

Punting: C Cody Mandel dropped the snap on his first punt attempt. The ball was partially blocked. For this reason, his otherwise excellent average of 51 yards per kick is subject to a material downgrade. Christion Jones had an excellent 19 yard punt return-only the fifth return allowed by Auburn's punting unit all season.

Kickoffs: B Cade Foster averaged 63.6 gross yards per kick and the coverage unit contained Auburn's big-play return game achieving a net average of 40.6 per kick.

Place Kicking: F Alabama missed 3 and had a 4th attempt blocked. This was the worst display of place kicking by an Alabama team since the 5 missed kicks against Arkansas when Mike Shula was the head coach. It surpassed the dreadful performance in the 2011 LSU game.

Coaching: F The players were not ready for what Auburn did, and what Auburn did was no different than what Auburn has been doing offensively all year. The number of players listed in the participation report is surprisingly small [47] and Alabama was penalized 6 times for 45 yards. Auburn was only flagged 3 times for 21. The decision to go for the first down on 4th and 1 is debatable, but certainly within the realm of reason. The decision to send Cade Foster out to attempt his third FG attempt [second from 44 yards] is less so. Although Saban's post-game remarks have been criticized in some circles, I find no fault in them. He knows the psyche of his team better than anyone and I will not second guess him here.

I wrote in last week's edition that you could close the book on the 2013 graduating class and they would have a record of achievement hard to match. The same thing is true today. There is only one more chapter for AJ, CJ, Kevin,Kenny, Cade, Cody, Anthony, Deion, Ed, Tana, John, Nick and Kellen to write. We won't know for another week the setting for that final chapter. Some observers predict that a one-loss Alabama is likely to receive an at-large bid to play in the Orange Bowl. There are far worse ways to end a championship run; just ask the Auburn seniors about that.

Right now, however, the pain of losing to Auburn, and the concurrent loss of the opportunity to make history, is too sharp. The knowledge that the team and its coaches allowed victory and history to slip through their fingers like so much beach sand, is hard to absorb. Some people, have taken to social media-that scourge or modern life-to savage individual players, especially Foster. Shame is too little to wish upon such people, but banishment is impossible and shunning is impractical.

For the last several years, I have been getting a new hat at the beginning of every season. Most years, it has been one of those white hats with the Shirt Shop elephant logo embroidered on the front. This year, I was given a red one embroidered with the outline of the State of Alabama and the number 15 in the middle. It is still in good shape, and there will be no need to replace it come August in order to update the number.

Alabama's journey on the Road To 16 just got at least 12 months longer. I don't know about you, but I would not want to take that trip with anyone in the driver's seat other than Nick Saban. And that, my friends, is a rather big thing.

The Grades will return after the bowl game. In a week or so, look for The Commissioners MVP's for 2013.

Roll Tide y'all.

The Commissioner

< Shane Writes from Beyond | Almost Shane After the Game >

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