When Texas A&M travels to Auburn this weekend for its matchup on The Plains, everything will be on the line.
SEC West contention, faint College Football Playoff hopes and the futures of head coaches Kevin Sumlin and Gus Malzahn, respectively.
The winning coach will have everything in front of him. The loser will be fighting an uphill battle for national relevance for the rest of the season in the hopes of holding on to his job for another year.
Sounds like a lot of pressure, right?
Compared to the pressure coaches put on themselves, not really.
“Every place I coached—high school, Oklahoma State, Miami, Dallas, Cleveland, North Carolina—there were always pressure and expectations,” former coach Butch Davis told Bleacher Report. “But none were more than the pressure you put on yourself. You can only control those things that you can control—your attitude, presence around the players and staff, with confidence that if you make the right decisions and do all you can do, it has to be good enough. Never work or prepare with regrets.”
With skyrocketing salaries and the facilities arms race, things have changed quite a bit in the coaching industry over the last decade.
“Coaches are under great deal of pressure and microscope because of salaries,” Davis said. “There are huge expectations, and I’m not sure that it won’t get worse. It used to be good enough to go to bowl games and maybe win a conference championship every four or five years. Administrators were patient, because most of them had been coaches and knew the challenges and difficulty in building a program.”
Fans, boosters and even decision-makers might expect contention on an annual basis for some of the game’s biggest prizes, because that pressure is built into the job description nowadays.
“Watch how many guys get fired because, ‘We are paying you, what? And you haven’t gotten us to the playoff?‘” Davis said. “Administrators crack under donors, media, bloggers, etc., and the quickest answer is to get a new coach.”
The quickest answer isn’t always the right one, though.
So while the fanbase of the losing team on Saturday night between the Aggies and Tigers might run quickly to Home Depot to load up on pitchforks, it’s probably best to give it time to see how both programs evolve over the course of the next two-and-a-half months before pink slips get written up in ink.
The defenses for both teams have clearly improved, both have shown signs of offensive prowess over the course of the first two games of the season and the future could still be bright even for the loser.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Texas A&M’s offensive line deals with Auburn’s defensive front, which B/R national video analyst Michael Felder ranks third in the nation. Conversely, Auburn’s offensive line—which was much-improved last week vs. Arkansas State—will have to contend with the nation’s fifth-best defensive line, according to Felder.
With both teams hoping to establish the run early, this will be won and lost in the trenches.
Etling Is The Man…Maybe…Sort Of
The mystery surrounding LSU’s quarterback position has been one of the hot topics heading into the Tigers’ showdown at home against Mississippi State on Saturday night, and head coach Les Miles is playing it close to the vest.
Well, sort of.
Miles wouldn’t go as far as naming a starter, but he did imply that he has one player in mind.
“We’re going to keep that in-house,” Miles said on Wednesday’s SEC coaches teleconference. “I can’t imagine that Danny Etling would not take the first snaps, but we’re going to let the week play out.”
Etling was 6-for-14 for 100 yards, one touchdown and one interception in relief of junior Brandon Harris last week in the Tigers’ 34-13 win over Jacksonville State. But he was 0-for-6 with that one pick in the second half after the Gamecocks got a chance to talk about what he brings to the table at halftime.
Does that mean that Harris is done at LSU? Not necessarily, ominous tweets notwithstanding. Miles is preparing Harris—who started every game last year and one as a true freshman in 2014—in case he’s called upon.
“That’s certainly the issue, making sure he knows this is a team and he needs to be prepared to play significant snaps,” Miles said. “We think that he would understand his role, and it’s one that would allow him to compete from this point forward to start.”
Let’s break this down as simply as possible. Miles knows that Etling provided a spark last week, which is something the offense desperately needs. He also doesn’t know how Etling will react when an SEC defense not only rattles him but has time to prepare for a more traditional passer.
He has to keep Harris ready in case Etling‘s spark extinguishes.
Path To A 3-Peat
Ole Miss is looking to become first team to beat a Nick Saban-coached team three straight years since Purdue did it to Saban’s Michigan State Spartans from 1997-1999, and the key to doing that comes up front.
The Rebels boast one of the most fearsome defensive fronts in the conference, which is something that has caught the attention of Saban on film.
“This is, by far, the best front we’ve played against,” Saban said. “They’ve got good pass-rushers, really good quickness up front, bigger guys who can thump and play the run.
The Rebels notched six tackles for loss in each of their first two games, including against an experienced Florida State offensive line that struggled with the pressure in the first half of the season opener. For Saban, hearkening back to fall camp and the basics will be essential to ending the losing streak and stabilizing the Crimson Tide offense.
“To me, it’s the basic fundamental execution that we need to improve on up front,” Saban said. “Whether it’s steps, hand placement, finishing blocks, making the right calls so we give ourselves the best chance to have a successful play. Pass protection will be critical because of the pass-rushers that they have in this group. This is going to be a real test.”
To compound issues, it’s not like Alabama has been itself on the ground. The Tide is averaging just 4.36 yards per carry and just 3.16 yards per carry on first downs, according to CFBStats.com. If the defensive front and, more specifically, the pass protection is a concern, avoiding those obvious passing situations by having success on first and second downs is a must for the Tide this weekend.
Trouble In The Trenches?
There’s no other way to say it: Georgia got whipped at the line of scrimmage by Nicholls State’s defensive line last week in the surprisingly tight 26-24 win over the Colonels.
You know it, I know it and first-year head coach Kirby Smart knows it.
“To play offensive line, you have to have the demeanor that you’re tougher than the guy across from you,” Smart said. “You’ve gotta play physical and relentless the whole game. We certainly did not get much movement, did not get as much push. They. Just. Played. Harder. Than. We. Did.”
He’s not wrong.
Georgia averaged just 4.28 yards per carry, was tackled for loss seven times and got pushed around for pretty much the entire 60 minutes.
That should terrify Georgia fans, because road trips to Missouri and Ole Miss—two traditionally tough defensive fronts—are around the corner.
Missouri is still making the transition to new head coach Barry Odom and haven’t lived up to the “D-Line Zou” moniker just yet, but Smart knows what kind of problems the Tigers present.
“They’ve got some really good athletes up there,” Smart said. “Really disruptive guys—and traditionally they have had that. You see that in those guys—especially the front guys—they seem to be bigger than in the past, especially inside.”
Those guys inside include 325-pound A.J. Logan, 355-pound Josh Augusta and 320-pound Rickey Hatley. That’s not to mention former stud recruit Terry Beckner, a 290-pound, ultra-versatile weapon who gives Odom options up front.
Missouri’s offense looked functional for the first time in what seems like forever last week when it gained 8.29 yards per play against Eastern Michigan. It’d be best for Smart and the Bulldogs to not find out if that is an emerging trend, control the line of scrimmage when they have the ball and keep Tiger quarterback Drew Lock and Co. off the field.
Lingering Injury For An Important Gator
Florida wide receiver Antonio Callaway has been a big piece of the Gators offensive puzzle so far this year, catching 13 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns, returning six punts for 36 yards and two kickoffs for 53 yards.
But the star sophomore has been limited this week due to a quadriceps injury suffered against Kentucky last weekend.
“He tried. He went through most of [Tuesday’s practice],” head coach Jim McElwain said. “It’s one of those deals that, the more you run and the more you heat it up, the looser it becomes. He definitely wasn’t himself and yet, a lot of times on Tuesdays, that’s the case.
“You could see that he could run a little bit better as he worked through it.
The Gators shouldn’t face much of a challenge from North Texas this weekend. But the road trip to Tennessee—a game that decided the SEC East a year ago—loomed large on Rocky Top last weekend.
Don’t be surprised if McElwain plays it extremely cautiously with Callaway this weekend to make sure he’s ready for the Vols in Week 4.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
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Source: Bleacher Report -SEC Football