From the Sidelines: The sky is not falling

Published 10:26 am Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The stock market is plummeting. Jennifer Anniston is single. USC lost a game before October rolled around. The Tampa Bay Rays are in the playoffs and the Demopolis Tigers are 1-4. Surely these are all signs that life as we know it is drawing to a close.

But relax. The stock market will turn around. Jennifer Anniston’s laundry list of celebrity significant others has taken her through the likes of Counting Crows front man Adam Duritz, Brad Pitt, Vince Vaughn and John Mayer. And, as VH1 has continually taught us, celebrity relationships are not made to last. Like most years, USC is weaker than advertised anyway. The Tampa Bay Rays have been stockpiling legitimate talent for years. And the Demopolis Tigers’ record has fallen victim to high quality opponents at inopportune times.

The only inarguable truths that can be gleaned from Demopolis’ 1-4 start are simple. First, Tiger head coach Tom Causey was successful in his attempts to assemble a tough out-of-region schedule. And secondly, the Tiger record matters very little.

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To speak to the first point, Demopolis’ losses came to two quality 6A schools, Wetumpka and Hillcrest, a 5A school that has been very successful at the 6A level prior to this year, Carver, and a very formidable 4A school, Fayette County. Add to that the fact that three of those games were played on the road and you’ve got a recipe for a difficult beginning.

The four teams who have hung losses on Demopolis have a combined record of 16-2 on the season. Carver and Fayette are both ranked in the Top 10 of their respective class while Hillcrest and Wetumpka are each 4-1 at the 6A level.

So Causey’s quest to roughen the road to the 5A state playoffs has clearly been a successful venture.

Now comes that whole matter of qualifying for the 5A state playoffs.

Despite their unattractive record, the Tigers have not yet forfeited the majority of their self-appointed season goals.

Granted, barring unforeseen shakeups that result in Carver dropping two region games, Demopolis squandered its opportunity to claim the region championship with the loss to the Wolverines. However, should the Tigers prove capable of rebounding and winning out in region play, they would claim not only second place in the region, but also the right to host a first-round playoff game.

So, clearly, the Tigers have a great deal left to play for. And, despite what some may believe, the team is not nearly as bad as its record would seem to indicate.

Demopolis still boasts one of the most effective ground games in 5A. They have the rare luxury employing both a consistent power back in senior Jacob Kerby and a consistent quick back in sophomore DaMarcus James.

Additionally, senior Shelby Speegle and junior Anthony Hardy have shown an ability to make a difference from their A-back spots. Add to all of that the fact that senior quarterback Rick Boone is continually improving in his ability to effectively execute the option read and the Tiger running game has no less than five players capable of breaking a touchdown sprint.

The Tigers have also utilized multiple freshmen linemen along the offensive front. In their own trial-by-fire approach to learning the position, players like Taylor Polk and Allen Tucker have had their highs and lows thus far on the season. However, each has continued to improve and shown flashes of why Demopolis coaches have been confident enough to leave them in.

With the toughest part of the regular season schedule behind them, Polk, Tucker and a handful of other young blockers will be able to use what they’ve learned thus far and build confidence against some of the lesser opponents on the Demopolis schedule.

As for the passing game, success will come as Boone finds his confidence. One look at any Tiger practice session is enough to prove that the senior passer understands and is capable of executing Causey’s offense. Now he just has to settle in and perform with similar efficiency while opposing defenses are coming at him full-speed. If he hits his stride, the 15-20 times a game he will be asked to throw the ball will be more than enough to open up the defense for the Tiger running game.

Defensively, the Tigers are still as good as advertised. The biggest problem plaguing the unit is the amount of time it is asked to spend on the field. The Tiger offense has had an inordinate amount of short drives, adding tremendous pressure to a defensive front seven that plays with high intensity every snap.

If the front seven is ineffective at getting into opposing backfields, receivers are allowed to roam free in the secondary until they eventually break open. That fact accounts for a considerable portion of the secondary’s struggles.

Now, the Demopolis defense isn’t entirely without its own deficiencies. But Causey was spot-on accurate in his assessment that many of those came as the result of the group breaking down into a collection of individuals rather than performing as a unit. That’s a problem defensive coordinator Rudy Griffin will have remedied by week’s end.

So have faith in the Tigers. They may be 1-4 now. But no great team becomes such without facing adversity. And, inarguably, the Tigers have had their share of adversity. But starting with this week’s homecoming game against region foe Selma, Demopolis begin to show the lessons it has learned from its inauspicious first half.