For the upcoming matchup with Auburn I got to wondering how Chief and Gus have matched up over the years as DC vs OC/Head Coach. Even as head coach there’s no doubt Gus has his hand on how Auburn runs their offense. Make no mistake Gus likes to run.
I went and looked at their matchups between LSU/A&M and Auburn with Chief and Gus at the helm. I didn’t go back and dig into statistics for each game. I just wanted to see if there was a general pattern and if anyone got the better of the other for the most part.
Here’s the summary of the matchups:
Based on this I’m not sure what to think. Early on it looked like Chief owned Gus with the exception of the year Gus had Cam Newton and even then Chief held that offense to 24 points and LSU only lost by 7. It also appears the home team had an advantage until last season where Gus came in and ran over Chief’s first Aggie defense. All I can really glean from that is Chief got the better of Gus the first four years including Gus’ national championship year as head coach but not the year Gus had Cam. But, Gus has owned Chief their last two match-ups so they’re dead even at 3 to 3.
I like the results the first four times they matched up but man the last two times really make you scratch your head if Chief now struggles against Gus. Is that what we should expect this Saturday? I honestly don’t know. I like to think based on this defense Chief can shut down Gus’ desire to run which you know Gus is going to want to do.
In looking at Auburn’s two games this year they struggled to run against Clemson only getting 87 total rush yards and then blew it open against Arkie St. rushing for 462 yards. They threw for 244 passing yards against Arkie St for a total of 706 total yards with 1 fumble. Surprisingly enough they passed for 178 yards against Clemson but 262 total yards is pretty anemic.
Looking at the Clemson game in more detail Clemson’s defense definitely shut down Auburn’s offense. In addition to the anemic total yards Auburn also had 3 turnovers with one interception and fumble being on failed 4th down conversions. Gus was swapping QBs in and out this game which he didn’t do against Arkie S. That seemed to make the offense take off against Arkie St. so maybe their performance against the Clemson D isn’t an indicator of what a strong defense can do to this offense.
I just don’t know what to think of all that Chief vs Gus so let’s look at some other stuff. Offensively Clemson rushed for 151 yards with 248 passing for a total of 399 total yards but turned the ball over twice. Still, comparing yards and turnovers for that game I’m scratching my head how it was a 19-13 game with Auburn firing at the endzone at the end of the game to potentially win. Clemson should have walked away with that game.
Making it even more head scratching Auburn was 3-17 on 3rd down conversions against Clemson. That’s an EIGHTEEN percent conversion rate. EIGHTEEN percent. Now, they were 3-5 on 4th down conversions which is pretty impressive so basically that means they were 6-17 on those third down conversions but that’s still only 35% which is pretty bad. Crazy enough if Gus had kicked field goals on the 4th downs they didn’t convert the game likely goes to overtime if they don’t win it in regulation.
In looking at the drive charts it looks like Auburn had field position for much of the game. Gus was gambling on those 4th downs as I’m guessing he felt he needed a TD and couldn’t rely on field goals to win the game. I guess he didn’t trust his defense. Odd choices that ultimately cost him a chance at a Top 10 win to open the season. Still, it’s a head scratching game because I don’t know if Auburn played smart considering their competition keeping it close or Clemson just couldn’t get it going.
With that, my thoughts are Kevin Sumlin needs to channel his inner RC Slocum and rely on the run and his defense. I’m not sure if Sumlin has this in him to be honest. Sumlin loves receiving the ball to open up the game but if I’m him I want Auburn to have the ball first. I want to see what my defense can do against Auburn to dictate what I do offensively. If the Aggie defense can hold Auburn to a punt and even better a straight three and out on the first series then I can go conservative on offense. I tell Chief and the D to focus on stopping the run and let Auburn try to pass. Don’t over pursue and hold your lanes and assignments. Have seven guys holding the line of scrimmage and not worried about sacks or tackles for a loss.
Tell the safeties play smart on play actions and movement as we’ll need them to help our corners this game. Auburn will throw the ball at some point so don’t suck up too soon. It goes against what our safeties are best at in supporting the run but we’ll need them to be real safeties against the pass. They’ll still need to do their normal thing of bringing the wood if runners do get beyond the linebackers. Evans and Watts are going to be a big key to what we do diagnosing run or pass correctly. Basically our safeties better not be moving forward unless the ball is beyond the line of scrimmage or it’s a designed blitz obviously. We need to see if our front 7 can slow down or even stop Auburn’s running attack as when the safeties start cheating forward to defend the run Auburn will pop a big pass and we can’t have that. They have to stay disciplined to look to help our corners and not let anyone deep on a play action pass.
Now if Auburn wants to go pass over run and we need to get in a track meet then we’ll get in a track meet with our receivers but I’ll be damned if Auburn is going to run on us like they did last year. Gus likes to run and we’re not going to let them. I don’t trust his QBs against our secondary without establishing the run. Give them some yards through the air but don’t let them rip off long runs against us because that’s what Gus lives for. If Gus gets that you’re dead as he’ll punish you with play action for over compensating against the run. Focus on shutting down the run by staying in lanes and not over pursuing and make Auburn pass in true passing situations. They’re going to get yards but let’s keep them contained on the ground.
Offensively assuming our defense can do what I think they can against the run then I give Auburn a taste of their own medicine. I want to establish the run between the tackles. It’ll be pretty boring and unlike what Sumlin likes to do but it’s what I’d do. It may take a while but I want to show Auburn we’re fully committed between the tackles. Once that’s established then use a lot of play action in the second half to open it up assuming Auburn starts committing to the run. With our interior line I think we can establish the same 3.4 yards per carry that Clemson got against Auburn if not better. If we do that and Chief’s defense holds against Auburns desire to run then we’ll walk away with this game in the second half thanks to play action.
Keep the first half fairly ugly from an offensive and scoring standpoint letting the defenses slug it out. There’s no need to get in a track meet this game unless Auburn dictates that. Maybe Gus opens it up from the get go but I don’t see that happening. He’s going to want to establish the run and pass off that. If we need to adjust then we’ve shown we can apply pressure on the QB but we need to go in focused on shutting down the run through discipline and establishing the run ourselves. Sumlin needs to be having breakfast with RC every morning this week getting advice. Don’t let Knight make any mistakes in the first half and if the flow of the game allows it then let him make plays in the second half to see if we can pull away.
Basically this game is going to come down to head coaching. Gus is going to do what Gus does trying to establish the run and hoping Sumlin wants a semi track meet. Gus’ defense will get off the field if we’re continually looking at 3rd and 6s because we missed passes on 1st and 2nd down. If that happens it works in Gus’ favor based on the Clemson game.
Sumlin needs to do what Mike Sherman didn’t do against Texas in 2011 by trusting his defense and not let his QB make mistakes by keeping the ball on the ground. If Sumlin sees this whole game with his defense and offense working to complement each other then I think this is A&M’s game no doubt. If Sumlin allows his offense and defense to work independently then Gus will own Sumlin this game. It’ll come down to players making plays but it’s up to the head coach to decide the scheme and flow for the game. The loser of this game will be coaching for his life for the rest of the season which makes it hard to predict to a degree. One dog might be crazy enough to try something different and if the other coach is not expecting it then that other coach could be hosed.
Does Gus have tricks up his sleeve? I don’t think so. I think Gus plays Gus hoping Sumlin plays Sumlin so it’s basically a repeat of the Clemson game but Gus doesn’t make the same mistakes on his side rotating QBs and gambling on 4th downs when a field goal can be had. I hope Sumlin plays a little more RC like and gives Gus a taste of his own medicine on the ground believing his defense contains Auburn running game. We’ll see what kind of coach Sumlin is this week as he walks in with the better overall team. Coaching makes the difference here.
I like to think Chief is going to get the best of Gus and with that the Aggies are going to win a close 23-19 game. That seems odd as Gus doesn’t like kicking field goals but if it’s a close game I think he doesn’t repeat his mistake against Clemson. I expect to see something like a 10-6 Aggie lead at half time where A&M scores on a play action deep ball to Reynolds or Kirk and the other points are just field goals due to a defensive battle. If that’s the score at half then the Aggies will prevail. If a semi track meet has broken out and Auburn is grinding yards on the ground then I’m not so hopeful.
For now, I’m hoping those morning breakfasts with RC make Sumlin see the light for this game. Speaking of, our hotel is next to a Waffle House this weekend. It doesn’t get any more SEC than that!