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Last week I voiced my concerns about our Bulldogs.  This is a season where expectations were higher than perhaps ever before, or at least higher than they have been since State was coming off their SEC West championship.  Maybe it's the cynic in me, but when expectations are high like that I tend to take a step back, take a deep breath, and try to assess things as objectively as possible without my emotions clouding my judgement. 

What I saw was a lot of talk about some great athletes.  A lot of talk about our offense.  A lot of talk about our secondary.  But not much was said about our D-Line and our O-Line.  Then last week, I saw a glaring weakness in this football team.  At the line of scrimmage, on both offense and defense, we are significantly weaker than we were last year.  Now, I'm not a football expert, but I know enough to know that Gene Chizik has access to game films and that he watches them.  And I know that when he watched State's film against Memphis he would see what I saw...a third string tailback running rough-shod through our front seven. 

I was hoping that it was just first game jitters.  Or maybe our D wasn't up for Memphis.  Or maybe we missed Fletcher Cox.  I was wrong.  Yesterday, Auburn did what Memphis did, except they scored a lot more points.  They did it with basically one play...the inside give to Dyer off-tackle.  He scored twice with it and ran for a whole lotta yards when he wasn't scoring.  It was that same play, over and over, and State never stopped it.  Auburn averaged over 6 yards per play.  Time and again our corners and safeties had to come up to make tackles.

Not once did I see a defensive lineman make a play.  Did anyone of you?  No, they were being pushed around by a young offensive line that had no business pushing us around.

Cam Lawrence had a big game with 14 tackles.  He attacked the ball and was always near the play.  Yes, he seemed to take a bad angle a few times but overall he had a good game.  Perhaps his numbers were partly due to the poor D-Line play, but give him credit.  He's the only one in the front 7 worth mentioning.  Our LBs looked lost in pass coverage.  A first year starting QB was able to setup comfortably in the pocket and throw little dink passes that shouldn't be there if the LBs were doing their jobs.  Brandon Maye has so far come up short, best exemplified when he wiffed twice at Emory Blake when Auburn scored to tie it at 21 (a BIG turning point in the game).  That kid has more talent than he shows.  Boy do we need him to step up. 

The Secondary once again shined.  They are the only bright spot of our defense and will make us competitive against teams like Arkansas.  But, again, I think a lot of their productivity is because they are forced to make plays that the front seven should be making.  Banks and Broomfield get big props.  So do Mitchell, Bonner and Nickoe (what a hit!  And it didn't warrant a flag).

Field position killed us.  Auburn downed 4 punts inside the 20.  Our kickoff protection was lacking.  How many times was Jameon Lewis tackled by the first man through?  Meanwhile, Auburn seemed to start every possession with a short field mainly because our kick coverage wiffed on 3 or 4 tackles before finally bringing the guy down.  It's shocking that Auburn didn't return a kick for a TD.  Field position is why Auburn had 150 yards less in total offense and yet still won by a touchdown.

Offensively there isn't much to criticize.  How can you criticize a team that racks up 530 yards with 97 plays.  97 plays?  That's incredible.  Relf looked good.  He overthrew 2 deep balls that he usually puts right on the money and his one INT could have been thrown better, but it was deflected and that's not always the QBs fault.  He was hurt by dropped balls, hopefully that gremlin isn't rearing it's head again like last year.  Ballard shined as usual, especially the second half.  No doubt it's their senior leadership that kept this team composed and calm after spotting Auburn 14 points in a hostile environment.  I was very impressed with how the Dogs came back and made this a game.  State teams in the past would have cashed out and started looking to next week.

I was also pleased with the backup play of Clausell and Dillon Day.  It's nice to have that kind of depth.  But, losing Carmon will hurt us badly, and so will losing Saulsberry.  I think the O-line showed some improvement, particularly late in the game when State was able to run up the middle at will, proof that our conditioning is on the money.  But, Relf was again roughed up too much.  There is definitely room for improvement in the trenches. 

As for the officiating, so what?  Yes, they blew the 4th down measurement, but it shouldn't have mattered.  You're nationally ranked and favored by seven against an inferior opponent.  One bad call shouldn't cost you that ballgame. 

As for the play calling, I don't have much to argue about.  We needed one yard, Ballard was given a shot, then Relf.  Those are our two go-to players, and they're the ones I want to carry the ball in that situation.  Maybe I wouldn't have gone under center but, regardless, State should've scored and they didn't.  Like I said, it shouldn't have been that close to begin with.  The offense scored 34 points.  They came up one inch short of 40.  Let's not blame them.  They did their job and did it well.  34 points should be enough to win EVERY TIME!

LSU comes into town and they bring a bigger, more experienced offensive line and a bigger, more powerful running back.  That doesn't bode well for our paper thin defensive front seven.  I like Chris Wilson and I'm not ready to throw him under the bus, but he has some big problems to fix and fix fast.  Honestly, with what I've seen the first two games State is staring down the barrell of a 6-6 season.  Besides Ole Miss and Kentucky, is there another SEC game we can win if we don't fix our defense?

Nope.

Auburn isn't that good.  We shoulda won this game.  And we have some much tougher challenges coming up on our schedule.

I have faith in Mullen and I think it will get better.  We WILL beat someone that we're not supposed to beat and who knows what can happen on Thursday.  But LSU is gonna be tough.  We have La Tech the next week which means we're probably 2-2 heading to Athens in what will probably be a must win game for us to have the same kind of season we had last year.  Otherwise, we could be taking a step back.  The schedule is just that brutal for us this year.

helmet2Helmet Stickers:  Chris Relf and Vick Ballard carried this offense.  Also, I gotta give props to Dillon Day for coming in at center and not missing a beat, not one bad snap.  Brandon Heavens made a nice TD catch, and Perkins' option run was electrifying.  On defense, I give a sticker to Cam Lawrence and the entire secondary:  Banks, Broomfield, Mitchell and Whitley.  They carried this unit and will be the strength of our D all season.  If they get some help from the front seven this State team could become quite nasty for the rest of the SEC.