Freshman Tre Mason races 97 yards on the return!
AP Photo/Dave Martin
War Eagle, everybody! It's time now for the Acid Reign report on Auburn's narrow escape against Utah State. Favored by 3 touchdowns, Auburn needed two scores in the last 2:07 of the game to pull out an improbable 42-38 win. The Aggies gashed the Auburn defense for 227 rushing yards, and 448 total. Meanwhile, the Tiger offense was determined to live off runs to the short side of the field, and screens into coverage. The Tigers finished with a dismal 78 yards rushing against a 2-6 WAC team. The most alarming aspect of this game was that the Tigers rarely won up front on either side of the ball. This team will face an uphill climb this season, as the schedule gets tougher in a hurry. The one saving grace is that young teams tend to improve most between weeks one and two.
The 38 points Auburn gave up are the most Auburn has allowed to any non-conference opponent since Louisiana Tech in 2001. More galling is that all of those points are on the defense. The offense did not turn the ball over, nor did the kicking game allow a big return or have a lousy punt or kick. The defense was pushed around for those points. Some of the time, guys didn't seem to know their assignments. You'd have a run up the middle, an unblocked defensive tackle, and still the play would pick up 8-10 yards. More alarming were the times that the whole front seven was locked up and driven back. This team gave up 4.3 yards per rush and 7.1 yards per pass, with not even a hint of a turnover generated. There were a couple of silver linings. The secondary did miss a few tackles, but they were not often beaten deep. Nosa Eguae and Dee Ford were the stars, with a few timely stops.
What a game by the special teams units! They got a lot of work due to an inconsistent offense, and 6 scores by the opposition. The Auburn coaches kept Tre Mason under wraps as a return man prior to this game. Utah State lined a few kicks to him, and were burned for for a touchdown and a 44 yard average return. Trovon Reed was acceptable in his first start as the punt returning, preventing one punt from being downed on the one. Cody Parkey was perfect on his place kicks, and boomed 4 of his 7 kickoffs for touchbacks. I think we've had trouble managing 4 touchbacks a season lately! Steven Clark had no bad punts, and a 43.5 yard average. The dangerous Kerwynn Williams was held to 56 return yards.
Auburn attempted to use a fairly run-oriented game plan on offense, spiced up by a few tricks. The Tigers' longest run on the day was 14 yards, and that was a late draw play out of the spread. Utah State had 7 or 8 in the box, and the Tigers were slow to adjust. Mistakes abounded on a green line. The Tigers had 7 penalties for 60 yards, and most of them were on the line for false starts and holding. Particularly galling were screen pass calls over and over into the boundary, and on 3rd and long. Shades of Pat Dye! When finally called on, the Auburn receiver corps shined. These guys did not drop anything, got wide open, and made a ton of yards after the catch. Although the handcuffs were kept firmly on for most of the game Barrett Trotter had a very successful debut, with no turnovers, 11.3 yards per pass, a nifty 73 percent completion percentage, and Cam Newton like passing efficiency.
Unit Grades, after the jump!
Defensive Line: D. We have not seen an Auburn unit get pushed around that badly since we trailed Arkansas 27-0 back in 1995. (2002 Arky was a close second). Kenneth Carter led the line with 5 tackles, but many of those were downfield. Occasionally, we'd have a guy flash through, but there were few sure tackles in the backfield. The lone bright spot was that we did have an effective pass rush off the edge late, when we needed it. This unit MUST become more aggressive.
Linebackers: D. I can make similar comments about the linebackers as I did about the line. Guys were not tough enough, and got mauled by blockers downfield. There were coverage issues on the middle screens, and one deep ball when we were supposed to be in Tampa two and didn't drop deep enough. The worst part were missed tackles. A WAC quarterback should not be able to stiff-arm SEC linebackers. Eltoro Freeman was sorely missed, as the starters had to play most of the snaps.
Secondary: C-. With one exception, the secondary didn't let receivers make big plays deep. Tackling was spotty, and Utah could run the quick screen and slant passes without much resistance. Often, we'd have third and long, and the corners would give up a huge cushion well beyond the first down marker. It was virtually impossible to close before the short receivers had made the catch and run for the first down. When the other team chews out 27 first downs, you are playing WAY too far back in the secondary.
Punting: A. Kerwynn Williams managed only 1 return for 10 yards on 4 punts. Steven Clark easily had his best day as a Tiger punter, averaging 43.5 yards per punt and dropping one ball beautifully on the one yard line.
Punt Returns: C. Utah state punted three times, and Trovon Reed had 2 returns for 13 yards. Believe it or not, that's about twice our average from last year. One of those was a bouncing ball that Reed fielded at the three. Reed saved us from being pinned deep on that one probably, but also risked a costly turnover. We had none of those common block-in-the-back calls.
Kick Returns: A-. I counted off on one little miscue in the 2nd quarter where both return men were trying for the ball, but it's hard to argue with a 36.7 yard return average. This unit provided 257 yards worth of hidden yardage, and Tre Mason's touchdown helped keep us in the game in the early going.
Place-kicking: A. We haven't had 4 touchbacks in a game since Matt Clark in 2006, and that was kicking from the 35 yard line. Cody Parkey was great. Slight demerit for allowing Kerwynn Williams 23 yards per return. Still, you kick it 5-10 yards deeper, the return man has more room. I missed it during the game, but on the highlight, it was obvious that the onside kick was performed by Chris Brooks, not Parkey. Special teams coordinator Jay Boulware had both kickers on the field for added confusion. I think that kept Utah State from loading one side or the other with hands people. Brooks tapped the ball upwards perfectly. Emory Blake did a great job of catching that pop-up high.
Offensive Line: C. Some will be surprised with this grade on a day with only 78 rushing yards. There were mistakes, to be sure, but a 5-man line can't block all 8 guys in the box. We had cover-one robber defense most of the day, with all the linebackers plus the strong safety in the box. Reese Dismukes had a tough day up front, getting doubled in the middle frequently. Jared Cooper drew two holding flags, and we had a couple of false starts. Pass protection was pretty good for the most part, with only a few breakdowns. The line held their own, but did not consistently move the defensive front.
Running Backs: C+. The runners did OK when they had any room, and did not fumble. H-back blocking was not good. Too often, those guys were lumbering forward with their heads down, finding nothing but empty air, and falling on their faces. We really miss Eric Smith and Mario Fannin here. Their guy was usually taken care of. Seemed to me a lot of the day, the H-back didn't know who to block. We're going to have to do a whole lot better to run the ball in the SEC. Either that, or go to a Mike Leach Airraid with 4 wides.
Receivers: A. The Auburn receiver corps won the game. They didn't get too many opportunities, but if the ball was in their zip code they caught it, and refused to go down easily. Travante Stallworth really stepped out and became that second receiver. Double Emory Blake at your peril. Trovon Reed was elusive on the quick screens. Phillip Lutzenkirchen was old reliable when called on in the clutch. Overall blocking was good on the outside, but Lutz didn't have his best game inside. Stallworth is new to the "Kodi Burns position" also, and it showed. It's harder to run a blocking target down in space.
Quarterback: B+. It was not a bad debut at all for Trotter. His biggest mistake was one muffed snap, but it cost the team nothing as Trotter hit Stallworth for a score on the next play. To me, he had too much of a tendency to check down to draws and screens on long yardage, but that was probably by design. Trotter showed good survivability in the pocket, evading pressure and avoiding taking big hits. I don't think you'll hear too many complaints about Trotter's numbers. He showed a good knack for hitting guys in stride, where they could make plays with their feet.
I am happy for the win, because things did not look good with three minutes left! One thing opponents should take note of: if that clock doesn't read 0:00, Auburn isn't beaten yet. Kudos to the team for never quitting! We're going to have to get a whole lot tougher for the Mississippi State game next week. It's another early kickoff, this time on the SEC Network. We won't be able to wait till after 2 o'clock to win against the Bulldogs.