Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Trouble on the Plains

Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it's much more serious than that. ~ Bill Shankly

Let's begin with a word about Ohio State. I caught the very end of the Wisconsin game last weekend. As anyone who follows college football knows, OSU has had problems, mostly because of Beanie Wells being injured and partly because Todd Boeckman can't figure out that he isn't Craig Krenzel. Coach Tressel seems to have casting about for some offense. Evidently he found it in Terrelle Pryor, who, while rough around the edges, engineered a pretty late touchdown drive to win the game. What was impressive was that the drive was not easy; there were some lost yards, a fumble, some incompletions. But, Pryor just kept coming back.

He's a confident young man.

Ohio State ain't out of the woods yet, but at least one can see hope if Pryor continues to develop.

Auburn isn't so lucky. When Tony Franklin was hired last winter, there was great excitement that the "Tony Franklin System" was coming to the Plains. For those of you who don't know, that means the so-called spread offense.

The reason I say "so-called" is that the spread is just like the "west coast offense" and the "fun and gun" and all those other gimmick named offenses that keep popping up. I've seen a bunch of spread offenses, and they all look like old single-wing or double-wing formations, with a little triple-option stuff thrown in. Some teams run the spread and rush a lot; some run it and pass a lot. It's just another offense.

Unfortunately, at Auburn, Coach Franklin's offense didn't run or throw much. In fact, they are currently ranked number 104 out of 119 Division I schools. That's one reason that, as of this afternoon, he is out of a job. As to the other reasons, you have to go to the rumor mill for the moment, because no one is talking.

Oddly, as recently as yesterday afternoon, head coach Tommy Tuberville was saying they were committed to the spread offense. Now, they may still be committed to the spread; they just aren't committed to having Tony Franklin run it.

I have no idea what caused things to tip over the edge, but I can tell you what has bothered me since early in Franklin's tenure at Auburn. The very first thing he did was get Chris Todd to come to Auburn. It seems that Mr. Todd ran the Franklin System in high school and was committed to Troy, where Franklin used to coach. For whatever reason, he was in junior college when Franklin got him to transfer to Auburn. With a bum shoulder.

Now, whether you're running the spread, the double wing, or Knute Rockne's box, a quarterback coming off shoulder surgery is a scary option. When said quarterback, in spring practice by all reports, throws with all insufficient force to dent tissue paper, alarm bells should go off. When it further becomes clear that said quarterback isn't much of a runner (a must for the spread), the alarms should grow louder.

When it becomes abundantly clear that the offensive coordinator will start this guy ahead of a healthy, potentially talented quarterback, it's time to question his judgement. From all appearances, Franklin would have started Todd even if a young Peyton Manning was on the bench.

I saw Todd play against Tennessee. The announcers began apologizing for continually pointing out that Todd's passes seemed to be lobbed softly. They could hardly avoid mentioning it. On some of his passes, you would think that the ball had "Hindenburg" printed on it instead of "Wilson." His lack of throwing strength was pathetically obvious. Given the absence of a throwing threat, Todd's lack of mobility as a runner made the decision to start him look even stranger.

Now, I don't know. Maybe someone other than Franklin insisted on Todd starting. Given the emphasis Franklin made on getting him and the high praise the coach gave him, that seems unlikely.

Not only does the decision to start Todd look funny, the decision to simply ignore Kodi Burns, which appears to have been Franklin's approach, looks even worse. Okay, you want your guy to do well; once it's obvious he physically can't do it (and that was obvious in spring practice, remember), it's time to bite the bullet and get the other guy ready.

And that's only what I saw. Add to that the fact that players were complaining openly to the media about confusion amongst themselves and amongst the coaching staff and the visible evidence of some of the worst play I've seen by a big-time football program. The wonder is that Franklin wasn't fired before the season started.

The ultimate irony is that Auburn's defense has been spectacular, especially given that they spend the bulk of the team's time on the field. With any sort of offensive output, their record would be perfect, and they'd be ranked in the top 5 at worst. Ironically, Franklin had complained that the offense wasn't running enough plays because they weren't moving fast enough. Apparently, it didn't occur to him that if you are constantly three-and-out that you aren't going to run many plays no matter how fast you get to the line.

So Tony Franklin is gone, and Coach Tuberville, known as a defensive specialist is going to be more involved in the offense, which, at this writing is going to be run by a committee.

This coming weeks could be very rocky on the Plains.

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