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August 30, 2013

Commentary: Don’t get caught up in ‘numbers game’ Saturday

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Forget the numbers.

Look, I know it will be hard. After all, we’ve been bombarded with them non-stop during Auburn’s offseason. It can overwhelm the mind if one stops to think about it; the list is dizzying. The statistics click by at a pace that would please Gus Malzahn.

Ryan Black

Ryan Black

Nick Marshall threw for 3,142 yards and 18 touchdowns at Garden City Community College last season.

He ran for 1,095 yards and 19 touchdowns.

The Tigers allowed opponents to rack up 420.5 yards per game on them last year.

Auburn wants to run as many plays as possible this fall — and for comparison’s sake, last season’s leader was Marshall, which had 92.8 offensive snaps per game.

It goes on and on.

But no statistic has been cited more often that the Tigers’ record in 2012: 3-9. A win Saturday against Washington State could go a long way toward finally putting last season to bed. Malzahn isn’t necessarily putting any additional pressure on himself or the team — at least not publicly.

Not that it should come as any surprise. Malzahn isn’t the type for bluster.

Even he had to admit it would be nice to begin his tenure at Auburn with a victory, though.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s the first game or any game,” he said. “I want us to play. I want us to do things right, to be disciplined and protect the football, play hard. It’s no different than any other (game), but I think it’s common sense. We’ve got a team that had great struggles last year, so definitely it’d be great to get off to a good start.”

And if the Tigers are going emerge with a ‘W’ in Game Numero Uno, it will ultimately rest with Malzahn. Two men will have a say in the offense’s play-calling. Not surprisingly, numbers come into play here, too — it’s a matter of simple subtraction.

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will speak his piece. Malzahn will think about it. And then Malzahn will decide which play to run.

Some Tigers might have to settle for being a little disappointed their number — yes, there’s that word again — isn’t called often. Since Malzahn prefers to lean more toward the run, Auburn’s receivers will have to make the most of their opportunities in the passing game.

Then again, anything beats last season. No player has said it yet, but reading between the lines, it’s easy to deduce: They loathed Scot Loeffler’s pro-style system, which produced a putrid 18.7 points per game.

Yep, more stats.

They’re just impossible to avoid.

Similarly, receiver Quan Bray tiptoed around the elephant in the room regarding Loeffler’s less-than-stellar — to put it nicely — offensive output last year.

No, that’s not Bray’s way.

Like a good company man, he chose to emphasize what he liked about the hurry-up, no-huddle scheme the Tigers will use this fall.

“We have a lot spread guys,” the junior receiver said. “For (Malzahn) to come back, it’s a great thing because we have a lot of speed on the inside and on the outside and we’ve got a lot of playmakers at every position.”

So what kind of — wait for it — numbers will the Tigers tally in the opener?

Bray wasn’t shy about giving his take. Heck, he’s already thrown a number (yes, again) out there for Saturday: He wants to see the Tigers put 70 points on the board.

A lofty goal, if nothing else. A bit misguided, but lofty nonetheless.

Anyone focusing on the Tigers’ point total Saturday is missing the point.

Call it the Reverse Grantland Rice Theory.

When people look back on Saturday’s contest one day, they won’t care how the Tigers played the game.

What will matter is whether the Tigers won or lost.

It’s a harsh truth, but numbers show no favoritism.

Unlike most statistics, it’s an adage worth remembering.

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