Seasons Over: How bout a little matchup fun

While there are many unknowns about this 2010 team in terms of NFL ability, we do know that the 2004 had a tremendous amount of NFL talent.

So, let’s take a look at the matchups based on what we know of their college ability: [poll id=”2″]

2004’s strengths:

1. Ability to control the clock

Marcus McNeil and Ben Grubbs were both solid offensive linemen who could control the line of scrimmage against anybody.  Center Danny Lindsay had experience and intelligence to set the blocking scheme presnap.  Running back had the ability to substitute without losing a step keeping Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams’ legs fresh.  Ben Obamanu, Devin Aromashadu, Anthony Nix, and Courtney Taylor were four possession receivers that Jason Campbell could rely on.

2. Tremendous speed on defense

Travis Wililams, Karibi Dede, and Antarrious Williams average around 210 pounds but with their lack of size came their speed.  This speed advantage at linebacker meant that the defense was consistently engaging in gang tackling on every play thus preventing big run plays that would pick up large chunks of yardage.

The defensive line also had a speed advantage every play due to the athletic ability of Jay Ratliff and Stanley McClover.

Needless to say, no teams were going to outrun this defense.

3.  Size advantage on both sides of the ball

The offensive line averaged 300+ pounds, and on defense, while size lacked in the linebacker positions, it was a strength on the defensive line.  TJ Jackson and Bret Eddins were both tremendous linemen who played with size and strength.  Jay Ratliff was also a heavy player who could also use NFL speed when rushing the passer.

Campbell vs. Neiko

Jason Campbell had a cannon for an arm and speedy receivers in Obamanu and Aromashadu.  With most of the attention being paid to the running game by opposing defenses, Campbell was often set up with easy play action passes that could go downfield.

Speaking of the running game, Carnell Williams was shifty and quick and Ronnie Brown was big and strong.  Both had breakaway speed and both were highly perceptive to reading blocks and reading defenses.

Their experience also helped in blitz pickup.  Campbell was always going to have time with these two in the backfield.

Last but certainly not least, screens were a killer with this group.  With the threat of the running game along with the threat of play action passes and the amount of effort it would take to blitz the QB, screens were highly effective.  Throw in the fact that the two guys catching screens were experienced all americans.

5.  Solid kicking

Phillip Yost had a big leg to drive the ball into the back of the endzone on kickoffs and also set up long field goals when the offense ever did stutter.

Kody Bliss was possibly the best punter in the country and could pin opposing offenses deep in their own territory.

2004’s Weaknesses:

1.  Killer instinct on the coaching staff

Many times this team had the ability to blowout a quality opponent but failed to do so.  The playcalling often went conservative and relied heavily on running the clock out.  While this never posed a problem in obtaining a victory, it did leave some to question if the team was really as dominant as they appeared to be.

2.  Experience and ability in the secondary
With Carlos Rogers being a dominant corner, the secondary was able to look better than it was.  Will Herring had tackling issues at the FS position and Junior Rosegreen lacked overall speed.  Rosegreen often made up for his lack of speed by being a dominant hitter.

The other corner back position was shakey at best but provided just enough coverage to give the fast front 7 time to disrupt what the opposing offense was trying to do.

The X Factors:

1.  Carlos Rogers shut down an entire side of the field.  His ability to single handedly lock down a team’s best receiver opened up a huge blitz package and also disrupted the timing of an opposing team’s offense.

2.  Stanley McClover, Quentin Groves, Marquis Gunn- All three were terrors in rushing the passer.  Tremendous speed and depth provided the ability to consistently get in the back field on 3rd downs.

3.  Overall talent – It’s hard to question the talent of this team knowing that four players would be first round draft picks in the 2005 draft and also knowing that numerous others would be high draft picks later on down the road.

2010’s Strengths:

1.  Quarterback

The obvious is obvious.  Cam Newton’s ability to launch the ball 70 yards down field with accuracy combined with his ability to accurately and intelligently run the intermediate passing game combined with his ability to move in the pocket to buy more time combined with his unheard of ability to run down field made him one of if not the most dominant force to ever play college football.  Teams could not gameplan for him and even when it seems like teams had success, such as the Oregon defense in the BCSCG, he still put up gawdy numbers (265 yards passing with 2 TD and 67 yards rushing)

2.  Change up at running back

Michael Dyer provided strength.  Ontarrio McCalebb provided speed.  Mario Fannin picked up the blitz.  Eric Smith threw the blocks.  Cam Newton was the do it all.

Once opposing defenses were worn down trying to shut down Cam and Ontarrio, Dyer could come in and pound the ball for chunks of yardage.  This was a strategy that consistenly worked all season.

Not only was this team apt at running up the middle and hitting the corner, they were always willing to throw in the reverse to keep defenses on their heels.

3.  Experience and talent at the offensive line position

Four experienced veterans with a size advantage were able to pave the way for the talented runners.  While the line struggled against blitz pickup when facing NFL-talented defenses, they were usually able to give the quarterback a lot of time to make a decision to run or pass.  They also had a high level of endurance as they were able to blow defensive linemen off of the ball late in games.

4.  Nick Fairley
If Cam Newton is one of the most dominant forces in the history of offenses, then Nick Fairley is one of the most dominant forces in the history of defenses.  With very little help around him in terms of NFL talent, Nick Fairley was able to help lead this Auburn defense to the national championship.  His uncanny ability to rush the passer along with being a gigantic presence in clogging up the run game was unstoppable.  No one can block this guy.  He was also tremendously aggressive and was often the subject of discussions of dirty play as he injured numerous players (legally most of the time) throughout the seasons.

5.  Big Plays

When it seemed like the offense or defense was struggling, the playmakers would come through and make big plays.

Nothing open downfield?  Cam Newton takes off for 20 yards.
Need to run out the clock?  Michael Dyer hits a 15 yard gain on 2nd down.
Need to keep up with the opposing team’s offense?  TZach, Darvin Adams, or Emory Blake picks up a gain of 20 on a long pass play.
Need to shut down the other team’s offense?  Nick Fairley with a big sack or an athletic interception.

This team made the plays when it had to.  That’s not just a way of describing the big plays; it’s a fact.

2010’s Weaknesses

1.  Secondary

If it wasn’t for the emerging pass rush and dominant run defense, this secondary could have been an all timer.  All time worst.

Big plays were consistent.  Busted coverages were rampant.  Missed tackles were all over the place.  Injuries were an issue.

Teams could exploit this secondary when they had time to throw.  If it wasn’t for the demigod-like play from Nick Fairley, this secondary might have given up record numbers.

2.  Ability to handle the blitz from talented defenses

If the 1st half of the Alabama game taught us anything, it was that blitzing Cam Newton could disrupt everything he was good at.

The offense would miss blocks and the running backs would miss pick ups.  Cam’s strength and quickness was no match for fast defenders like Courtney Upshaw and Donta Hightower.

Also, LSU’s secondary was able to shut down our receivers.  While our running game was highly effective in that game, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if a team could blitz effectively while shutting down the pass game like LSU did.

3.  Broken Tackles

This improved greatly once the 2nd half of the Alabama game started.  But before that, one can’t forget the difficulty this team had to simply make a tackle.

The X Factors:

1.  Determination, Drive, and The Ability to Never Quit

I’ve never seen a team with the endurance to go through multiple games that required a Herculean effort to win.  But with the coolness of Cam Newton and the confidence from the other players, this team never quit.  Not even when down 24-0 in the 1st half against a talented and well coached Alabama team in Tuscaloosa.

2.  Cam Newton

It can’t be stated enough.  No matter who this team was playing, no one could gameplan for Cam Newton for 4 quarters.  Even when you shut him down, his numbers were impressive.  Even when you shut down the pass, the run game was huge.  Shut down the run game?  The pass game was huge.

3rd and 2?  No problem.  Cam would bulldoze the defenders for 4.  3rd and 15?  No problem.  Cam would run for 20 or throw for 30.

The Results (in my humble opinion):

1.  2004 would score at will against this 2010 team.

While Nick Fairley is a dominant defender, the 2004 team could easily gameplan for him.

The 2004 team had the most solid, dominant offense I’ve ever seen in SEC football.  Talent and experience at every position.  Tremendous ability.  Change ups at running back.  An NFL caliber quarterback working a west coast system with perfection.  Big play receivers along with sizable possession receivers.  Blitz pick up was solid.  The screen game was solid.

Combine the 2010 team’s weak secondary with the weak tackling and I think you see this 2010 team put up 38-45 points.

However…

2.  You can’t stop Nick Fairley every play

Fairley would still get his stats and his big plays.  He would get ahold of Campbell and even rough him up a bit.  He would have a few plays where he would demolish a running back 3-4 yards in the backfield.  He would clog up the middle of the offensive line and open up lanes for other defenders to rush through.

Maybe not consistently, but he would make his presence known at some point in the game.

3.  2010 would start slow but pick up momentum heading into the 4th quarter

Much like the beginning of the Alabama game, I think the defensive speed, size, and blitz package would be too much for the 2010 offense to handle.  Large, athletic linemen plugging up running/passing lanes with speedy linebackers rushing to through the backfield.  Carlos Rogers, much like Patrick Peterson, would shut down a large portion of the field and the rest of the secondary could gameplan to shut down the rest.  Cam would be forced to move out of the pocket, but with the talented defensive linemen, he wouldn’t get very far.  Dyer, McCalebb, and Fannin would all be tackled for very little gains against this talented front.

When faced with 3rd and long, Cam wouldn’t be able to run very far with the speed of the 2004 defense.  He also wouldn’t have time to throw a deep pass with speed demons like McClover and Groves rushing the outsides.

I think it’s very plausible to say that going into the 2nd quarter, the score would be something like 21-7 or even worse for the 2010 team.

4.  Halftime would be crucial

Once the 2nd half starts, the game would change like it did for most of the 2010 season.  Cam would get rolling and his unstoppable ability would pulverize the 2004 defense.  Considering the 2004 defense was a bit undersized (especially with the linebackers), Cam’s size would wear down their ability to tackle well.  This would set up Dyer to get going late in the 3rd quarter.

Once the running game got going, the passing game would open up.  Carlos Rogers might shut down Darvin Adams, but how would the rest of the secondary handle guys like Lutz, TZach, Blake, and Kodi?  I imagine a few big plays would happen, and 2010 would score quite a few touchdowns in the 2nd half.

5.  2004’s ability to control the clock would prevail

Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown would be crucial in the 4th quarter if the 2004 team had any chance to win.

The running game might take a hit against the 2010’s defense, but the effective playcalling by Al Borges combined with the execution by Jason Campbell would open things up a bit.

I don’t think the 2010 could shut this 2004 offense down like they did the 2010 Alabama offense.

A few good screen plays and a few pass plays down field would get the 2004 team a few more touchdowns.

The Final:

2004 Auburn 38  2010 Auburn 35
While 2010 Auburn’s resiliency is unmatched, things would have gotten just a bit too far out of reach with the 2004 team’s ability to control the clock.  A few big plays would put 2010 back in it, but when the 2010 team got around to making a last minute comeback, they would find themselves down 38-28 hoping to score and then get the ball back on an onside kick.  Tuberville put a lot of focus on special teams defense (onside kick returns; punting; covering downfield), and I think they would recover the onside kick.

**This is a really difficult comparison to make.  2004 had more solid overall talent, but how do they handle Cam Newton, the ultimate X factor?

**I 99.9% believe that 2004 Auburn would jump up big like 2010 Alabama did.  But would Tuberville go conservative, like Saban did?  Would his lack of killer instinct enable Cam Newton, Malzahn, and Chizik to get going and make another big time comeback?

**What about Cam’s size versus 2004’s small linebackers?  How many yards would Cam get before they dragged him down?

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