Rather than have the extremely long report that you have become accustomed to—I decided to break it up into three pieces over the next two weeks. I will be reporting on my analysis of the Auburn team and comparing it to Oregon, and on a separate report I will explain why/how Oregon will win the NC game. However after viewing six SEC games that Auburn has played, it has become apparent that Defensive Tackle Nick Fairley is the best and worst of college football and deserves a report of his own.
He is quite good at timing the snap count and having a step into the gap before the O-Linemen can come out of their stance. It is crucial that we not be so predictable with the QB clapping his hands, plunging his shoulder down with the ball being snapped a moment after. Nick will eat this up. For 300 lbs, he has OLB quickness and DE type speed in pursuit. The element that impresses me the most about his physical tangibles is his strength and yet agility. Many times I watched in slow increments of a play as Fairley appeared to be handled by the Offensive Guard, but then his strength would begin to overwhelm the man assigned to him. The Offensive Tackle would come over to help, but Nick’s speed into the gap means that the instant where positioning is needed for leverage for the OL is lost. Now his explosion strength takes over and he blasts through the two to sack the QB.
I’ve noted plays where he was double-teamed to begin with and yet he still wedged into the gap and used his strength and then explosion to burst the blocks and nail the RB for a Tackle-for-loss. He can truly impact a game, change the play calls, and set up poor choices on second and third downs. His talent is amazing and undeniable, hence his awards for being an All-American. It is simply astounding that he can do this in three and a half seconds! Overcome the strength of a 300 lb O-Lineman, burst through the gap, and make the tackle in that short time? Holy Crap.
There are some among Oregon fans who scoff at his potential impact, as “we’ve faced Stephen Paea of Oregon State and handled him just fine.” The truth is that Paea was injured most of this season, did not play much of the first half in the Civil War, and had limited impact through the game. He was not blowing our OL backwards like last year, nor changing the plays and game plan as in 2009. Others say that Jurrell Casey of USC is comparable, but he is a gap-stuffer. He does not have the agility and explosiveness of Nick Fairley, thus we have not faced a DT like Fairley since we dealt with a healthy Paea last year along with UCLA’s Brian Price. (And both really changed the play-calling and games) Others mention the 2007 Sun Bowl where we neutralized an All-American DE, and thus can do the same here? No. It’s easier to Zone-Read a DE and run away from him than a DT who is in the middle of most plays and can cave in the pocket. Add to the confusion is how they move Fairley back and forth between the two sides, so we cannot escape the huge impact he will have on the game. He is truly a great-great player whose talents anyone would love to have on their own team.
However, there is another side to Nick that is “Fairley Bad.”
I’m watching the Auburn-Kentucky game and am quite concerned with a penalty that he drew on the first play of the second quarter. After the Wildcat QB throws the ball we see Fairley is already upon him and usually the DTs hit the QB with their body, bounce off, and both parties roll away. You cannot ask a DT to completely change his body trajectory in mid-air to avoid a collision, hence the leeway given to the defense in this typical situation. But this tackle-after-the-throw was different. He wrapped up the QB, took two steps forward and upward and then DROVE him into the ground. He used the force of the rush and all 300 lbs crashing on him to try to create an injury to the ribs or internal organs. It was deliberate and done skillfully with his agility and strength; he was trying to take the QB OUT. The officials agreed and accessed the 15 yard penalty,—but if your QB is injured, then what? Is the minor penalty an easy trade for Fairley? I took a breath at the moment after impact and would not have been surprised if there had been an immediate injury, or one that surfaces later. I was concerned for Mike Hartline, the Kentucky QB.
I’m watching the next game against Arkansas and noted at the 9:55 mark in the second quarter how Fairley contorted his body in mid-air again. He hits the QB after the throw, but manages to line up his body to land with bludgeoning force upon the Razorback QB, Ryan Mallett. If this was gymnastics you would admire the body control during the fractions of a second. But watching his full 300 lbs. crunch on the QB had me wondering if we would see an injury. Yep, we get the word that Mallett was out for the rest of the game with a concussion. What was a close game was turned over to an inexperienced sophomore QB, who played extremely well for Arkansas for awhile before committing some newbie errors to wrap up the game for Auburn. Very disconcerting.
The next game against LSU turned into a “two-fer” for Mr. Fairley. At 1:51 in the second quarter we see Nick launch himself into Tiger QB Jarrett Lee after the ball is thrown. As he blasts the QB backward and to the side—we see Fairley align his body again to crunch the QB with his 300 lbs and watch as he drives in with scary force into the turf. Lee gets up holding his right wrist in pain as it was pinned underneath and was at the bottom of the overall impact. Yikes. This QB could not run, but he could throw decent enough to keep their offense balanced, and now he was out entirely.
This game is incredibly close because although the other QB at LSU, Jordan Jefferson, is not a good passer, he is good at running the football himself. It’s a nail-biter game until 7:01 left in the 4th quarter and Nick Fairley is getting a sack on the LSU quarterback. This time he hits Jefferson, turns his body and lifts the QB up and smashes him down to the turf the way you would see a wrestling freestyle slam on the mat. Nick just demolishes this fellow with his huge body weight crushing him on impact. Then as he rises from his victory we see Fairley rake his hand upward on the neck and face of the LSU QB with such force to pop off the chin strap. Now Jefferson is injured, and the other QB (Lee) had recovered enough from his sprained wrist to come in and replace Jordan and bravely try to play it out. Unbelievable. This monster Defensive Tackle injured TWO QBs in one game? Yikes.
You have heard about the Georgia game, or saw the YouTube, but it really is quite unreal until you’ve seen the whole game. In the first quarter with 10:15 left we see Fairley drill the Bulldog QB, Aaron Murray, lift him up and launch downward into him upon impact with the same devastating, injury producing method of prior games. At the end of the play we see Fairley pull his face mask up through the face of the Georgia QB which rips off skin on his chin. Murray had to have his chin taped up so as to protect exposed flesh from the dirt of the field. That had to hurt…..
At 2:19 in the first quarter we see the patched up QB done throwing the football on a play and looking downfield. Fairley gets a five yard head start to build up speed, lowers his head and SPEARS the unsuspecting QB in the back—with his helmet, right on the numbers! It was a ghastly hit meant to inflict injury to create a clear advantage for the “burners.” It makes me shudder to watch the replays of it.
Nick finally made his bones in this game at 2:05 mark in the 4th quarter. The QB has thrown the ball and is looking downfield for the result, and his follow-through already had his throwing arm clear across his body. Fairley was being blocked and pushed downward, so as he was going down he contorted his body to get his head lined up and jutted his helmet into the planted knee of the QB. Murray went down in great pain; he was out. I simply could not believe what I saw in this game!
It’s one thing to lose your head in the heat of a game and commit a poor judgment act that might hurt someone, and we can cut some slack with that. However, when it occurs with this frequency and with this large an injury report in the SEC—it becomes a PLAN. A PLAN to take out the opposing QBs, that has to occur with the silent consent of the Defensive Line coach, the Defensive Coordinator, and the Head Coach at Auburn. This is someone who should have been ejected and suspended by the conference or the team with the second intentionally injurious act. The fact that has been allowed to continue is noteworthy on several levels.
Years back we were playing Mississippi State on their home field and we saw our superstar DT get his knee destroyed by an intentional cowardly play. It was a punt return that had been caught, finished and Haloti Ngata was trotting up the field. A Bulldog player blasted his knee in a meaningless play which ruined his year, required endless rehab, and might have finished his pro career before it began. (Baltimore Ravens) Remember what the TV commentator Gene Stallings, the former Alabama HC said? He said it was legal, within the rules, and was playing hard before the whistle blows. That chicken-hearted spin is what I’ve seen some Auburn fans use to defend the terrible actions of Nick Fairley. It’s understandable that Georgia players were going for the knees of Fairley and trying to hurt him in return. One could make the point that if we lose our QB—then Cam Newton should not be allowed to play after Darron Thomas goes down like the Arkansas, LSU, and Georgia QBs. It is no secret that our original #2 QB is gone for the year from an injury, and if Thomas is hurt we turn to a red-shirting freshman with not a single play of experience. Sounds like a good strategy! Years later, they only remember that you won-right?
There will be Tiger fans who will call me “a wuss, or a whiner”, but these same fans would be the first to howl if THEIR Heisman winning QB was injured under questionable circumstances. My concerns are not imagined, but based upon his track record. Those hits may have been legal, but are they done in the spirit of sportsmanship of the student-athlete, and in the ethics and morals promoted by the NCAA? Consider the “Golden Rule” here.
I’m an honorable man. I do NOT want Fairley suspended or hurt; I do not want Cam Newton to be injured or found ineligible. I want the full team playing the whole game that brought Auburn to their #1 ranking so that we might see who is truly best. If we win, then the victory is all the sweeter beating such a good team. If we lose, then we salute them and hold our head high knowing that there is no dishonor in losing to a great team.
Is Auburn going to be honorable?
Charles Fischer firstname.lastname@example.org If you wish to cut and paste this onto an Auburn site—that’s fine. Just e-mail me a link and password if needed so that I might engage in reasonable debate with those who disagree.