AN EASY ONE
Since the Mountaineers are faced with a tough task, we'll lob out an easy trivia question for this week. Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has the Auburn offense clicking in his first year on the job on the Plains. What coaches with WVU ties did he work with at his former job? Answer at the end of this column.
New timing rules instituted three years ago and modified prior to last year have cut the number of plays in a game dramatically. However, Auburn has found a way to get many of those back – by playing very quickly. So far this year, the Tigers have 162 offensive snaps – an average of 81 per game. That totally would have been very good prior to the timing rule changes. Now, it's outstanding. By comparison, West Virginia, which doesn't play slowly, has 128 offensive plays through two games.
Of course, other factors besides the speed of the offense go into such a stat, including offensive success rate and they types of drives. Scoring in three plays or scoring in eight still puts six points on the board, but has a different impact on stats such as number of plays and time of possession. While reading too much into any stat can be dangerous, it's clear that Auburn has kept the ball a great deal and fashioned several lengthy scoring drives. The Tigers already have four scoring drives of at least 10 plays this season, including three that took 13 plays. Last year, Auburn only had two scoring drives all season that used at least 13 plays. In addition, all six of the Tigers' scoring drives against Mississippi State covered at least 72 yards.
Word from inside Auburn is that there is some concern about the Tiger defense – especially its linebackers. Injuries, graduation and early departures have left Auburn thin at that position. However, the excitement over the offensive production has overshadowed those issues, because when you're scoring 43 points per game, your defense usually doesn't have to play great in order to win.
West Virginia is no slouch offensively, either, so this would seem to point to lots of points on Saturday night. However, how often do we see conventional wisdom take a beating in these circumstances? Would it be that big of a surprise to see a 7-3 game midway through the second quarter?
THE REALLY IMPRESSIVE NUMBER
Just about everyone knows that West Virginia is 60-1 since the 2000 season when it scores 30 or more points in a game. That stat gets thrown out and updated every time the Mountaineers pass that scoring total, but really is that so surprising? If you score 30 points in a game, shouldn't your team be winning at least 97% of the time? Auburn, for instance, hasn't lost a game since 1996 when it was plus-30 on the scoreboard
The stat in this category that catches the eye is on the Auburn side of the ledger. The Tigers are an impressive 73-8 when scoring at least 20 points in a contest. Going back 16 seasons, AU is 116-15-1 when topping the 20-point mark. That speaks to Auburn's defense just as much as it does to its offense.
THREE THINGS WE'RE REALLY TIRED OF
1) Conference strength arguments. Yes, the relative strength of conferences should be a factor in ranking teams. But it shouldn't get all of the attention that it does, because it's already accounted for in strength of schedule components in the BCS rankings. And using them to bolster arguments for getting, keeping or stripping an automatic BCS bid are ludicrous.
Results of intraconference match-ups are often misinterpreted as well. For example, the Miami-FSU opener was an entertaining game, but many pointed to it as a face-saver for the ACC. Why, because both teams scored a lot? Maybe both defenses just stink! Unfortunately, most voters and media, along with many fans, don't stop to think about this. Offensive output equals greatness, with no thought for overall talent level.
2) Fan negativity. No matter the outcome of a game, fans everywhere are complaining. Are they more vocal now, or is it just easier to hear them with all of the methods of communication available these days? Certainly, negatives can be discussed, but the constant bleating of "fire the coach" or dissatisfaction because your team doesn't run or throw it enough, or whatever, becomes wearisome fast. Try to get a little enjoyment out of the games, perhaps?
3) The Big East adding another member. It's not going to happen. Every circumstance or event, however, seems to kick off a fresh wave of speculation – and most of it is simply ridiculous.
STARTING STREAKS If Scooter Berry can't make a start this weekend, it would elevate Alric Arnett, J.T. Thomas and Selvish Capers into the consecutive starts streak lead at 16. However, this stat, like many others, can be misleading. On a multiple set offensive team, starting often comes down to the luck of the draw, especially for wide receivers, tight ends and running backs, who might not be on the field for a game's first play. A lot more attention is given to this sort of stat than it deserves – and we just added to the problem. Sorry about that.
Auburn is 267-67-7 (.793) all-time at Jordan-Hare Stadium. There's something rhythmical, or symmetrical, or something, about those numbers. Does this have anything to do with the game? Not really. I just thought it was neat.
Malzahn was the co-offensive coordinator with former WVU assistants Herb Hand and Paul Randolph at Tulsa last year. The trio worked for another former Mountaineer assistant, and now Tulsa head coach, Todd Graham.
Need one more connection? Former West Virginia graduate assistant Bob McClain is a first year tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator for the Golden Hurricane.