Last year the Auburn Tigers were in the perfect storm for winning football games as a combination of factors fell into place to produce a team that won the SEC and national championships.
One of the main reasons the 2010 Tigers were such a powerful team was the play of a veteran offensive line featuring four starters who had been in the program for four years. Combine that with three outstanding wide receivers, plus the best quarterback in the country, and the Tigers really had something going, especially when the quarterback was excellent at converting third down plays and avoiding turnovers like Cam Newton was.
Although there wasn’t a player who was the go-to guy at running back last season, the committee of runners was more than good enough to get the job done with Onterio McCalebb, Michael Dyer and Mario Fannin to hand off and throw the football to in addition to having a great runner at quarterback.
The 2010 Tigers certainly weren’t great defensively, but they had some strong players and some experienced players, guys who stepped up and made winning plays when games were on the line. A good example was at defensive tackle where Nick Fairley was a great talent and he lined up beside a pair of seniors, Zach Clayton and Mike Blanc, who also had talent plus plenty of experience in game situations.
Throw in the fact that the Tigers had a strong senior kicker and an experienced senior punter, the kicking game was a plus for the Tigers. Combine all of those factors with a schedule that featured most of the tough games at home and that added fuel for the perfect storm of 2010.
When you take away most of the factors that led to success for the Tigers last year and line up this year’s team against a more challenging schedule playing inexperienced quarterbacks, that is formula to not have success. That certainly explains why the Tigers are playing in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve instead of the BCS Championship Game next month.
At this time last year the unbeaten Tigers were preparing to play Oregon for the national title after cruising past South Carolina in the SEC Championship team. This year’s team has five losses and there are multiple reasons for that.
This year’s team went with a less experienced offensive line and just one guy, Emory Blake, who has proven he can be a big-play receiver. Combine that with quarterbacks who came into the season with little or no college game experience and what looked like it was going to be an issue was an issue.
In contrast to last season, the defense didn’t play with a senior in its front four and really missed its veteran linebackers, Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens, who played so much football for the Tigers. With the exception of Neiko Thorpe and T’Sharvan Bell, who was hurt during the season, the Tigers were counting on a lot of young players in the secondary.
Combine those defensive issues with the ones on offense and the perfect formula was in place to lose a lot of football games when you factor in what I think is one of the most demanding schedules an Auburn team has ever faced.
The Tigers overcame some of those issues with a great overall performance from special teams. To me that is a good sign for the future because a lot of young players are involved in special teams play. That shows there is a lot of talent for the coaches to develop in the coming seasons.
The 2010 Auburn team could have easily lost a couple more times, but found ways to win the close games while pulling off a road upset against a Top 10 team on the road at South Carolina. Auburn’s coaches got a lot of credit for doing an outstanding job with the 2010 team, which was well deserved. It’s possible they did just as good of job coaching this year, but it was such a different team the results were very different. The 2010 season was one of those years when things fell into place for the Tigers, and 2011 was one of those years when they didn’t.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)
Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American player at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn, he also served as a head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming. Dye participates in the Legends Poll, a Top 25 rating of the best teams in college football as determined by a panel of all-star former head coaches. Dye writes three columns for AUTigers.com--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat’s Picks.
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