Auburn 43, Georgia 38: Breaking down Tigers' second-half success and struggles

WarRoom Eagle

In three quarters, Georgia forced Auburn to punt only once as the Tigers built a 20-point lead. In the fourth quarter, Georgia forced two three-and-outs and gained its first lead of the game. Of course, The Play changed all of that.

Everyone is appropriately focusing on the 73-yard touchdown pass from Nick Marshall to Ricardo Louis, but more than 59 minutes of football were played beforehand. Auburn ran and passed with success throughout the first half and only allowed Georgia to score 10 points in its six first-half possessions.

Though the Bulldogs showed some life as soon as the second half started, the Tigers pushed their lead to 17 and then 20 early in the fourth quarter. And while Georgia's offense could not be stopped, Auburn, somehow, went three-and-out twice in a row in the fourth quarter, making that desperate, amazing heave downfield necessary.

Third Quarter, First Auburn Drive

The Bulldogs received the second-half kickoff and scored their second touchdown of the game after 10 plays. The scoring margin had shrunk to 10, but a long Auburn touchdown drive should have kept Georgia at bay.

Video of this drive

Play No. 1: 1st-and-10 at the AUB 23

Nick Marshall passes left incomplete to Quan Bray

Auburn starts the drive in a standard Twins formation while Georgia shows a 3-3 stack and two high safeties. At the last second, the nickel back comes into the box for run support, but that leaves one of the safeties to cover C.J. Uzomah in the slot. He and Quan Bray to the left are being single covered.

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Marshall and Tre Mason execute their play action and receivers run their routes. Bray beats his man by a step and Marshall delivers the ball, but the pass pulls Bray just out of bounds. Bray might have found a way to get a foot in bounds, but it would have been difficult.

Play No. 2: 2nd-and-10 at the AUB 23

Nick Marshall passes right to Sammie Coates for 20 yards

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Auburn stays with the 20 personnel, but Georgia leaves its nickelback over the slot receiver this time. Instead, a safety comes down to present seven men in the box. At the snap, the other safety drops down as he bites on play action. This means Georgia is playing Cover-0, and the corners have to play extremely soft to prevent getting beat deep.

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Marshall sends a strike toward Sammie Coates, who is running a dig route to take advantage of the soft coverage. Coates catches the ball at the 35 and drags the cornerback eight yards farther for a 20-yard gain and a first down.

Play No. 3: 1st-and-10 at the AUB 43

Tre Mason rushes up the middle for 5 yards

With Coates in tight, Georgia brings eight men in the box with a ninth hovering over the slot receiver. Like it had done in the first half, the offensive line shows just how great it is by helping Mason get a 5-yard gain against nine defenders. Alex Kozan pulls around and kicks out nose tackle Chris Mayes, while Jay Prosch led through the line. He chooses to help Uzomah with his block, which allows linebacker Jordan Jenkins to make the tackle. A 5-yard run against that defense if impressive, but an extra block here or there could have sprung a big one.

Play No. 4: 2nd-and-5 and the AUB 48

Nick Marshall rushes up the middle for 1 yard

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On the read option, if the quarterback follows just behind the running back, I'm guessing it was a misread. It's not like Mason is ever going to lead block for Marshall by design. On this play, Marshall sees Leonard Floyd and Tray Matthews to his left, but he decides to keep the ball, even though they are clearly cutting off any outside runs.

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Running up the middle is the only choice Marshall has left, so he darts ahead for a yard. It's worth noting that had Marshall given the ball to Mason, he too would have likely been stopped quickly. Georgia's linemen shed their blocks well on this play.

Play No. 5: 3rd-and-4 at the AUB 49

Nick Marshall passes down the middle to Ricardo Louis for 44 yards

Auburn mixed up the formation for this third down play by bringing in Corey Grant and Louis for Bray and Uzomah. Georgia appears to be playing a more conservative defense, but just before the snap, a safety comes down once again to stop the run. From a stacked Twins formation, Marshall shows play action not only with Mason, but also with Grant ,who motions behind the backfield. Only two receivers go downfield, and, along with Grant, they execute the NCAA concept (Post/Dig/Drag), so named because "everyone in the NCAA runs it."

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This is particularly useful against Cover 1 since the deep safety must either cover the Post route behind him or the Dig route in front of him. In this case. Georgia makes it even more effective because the cornerback and safety don't agree on their responsibilities. Damian Swann and Corey Moore both let Louis fly by, Marshall sends the ball downfield, and Louis makes the catch the before Swann is able to recover and make the tackle at the Georgia 7-yard line.

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Play No. 6: 1st-and-goal at the UGA 7

Tre Mason rushes up the middle for 2 yards

Auburn brings back Uzomah for Grant, and Coates gets in line with the offensive line. One reason Coates basically lines up as a tight end is to counteract the five-man front presented by Georgia, one of the strategies used by Mississippi State to slow down Auburn's running game. The Tigers run Power O to the right with Kozan pulling to lead block for Mason, and he gains two yards.

Play No. 7: 2nd-and-goal at the UGA 5

Nick Marshall rushes left for 5 yards and a touchdown

Brandon Fulse comes into the backfield and joins Prosch as a second H-back. Grant motions from a wide receiver position into the backfield and suddenly Auburn is in the now-famous Diamond formation. But when Grant motions toward the backfield, Swann gets skittish and sprints across the formation while calling for Matthews to watch for the sweep.

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Now, Josh Harvey-Clemons is the only overhang defender to the left and when Jenkins crashes down inside, Marshall decides to head outside.

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As the play-side H-back, Fulse easily kicks out Harvey-Clemons. As the backside H-back, Prosch wheels around for the arc block on the scraping linebacker. I don't know if this is by design, but Jenkins, the player Marshall is reading, tries to prevent Prosch from reaching his target.

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That's a great defensive answer to the arc block, but the H-back is able to stay on his feet and make his way downfield to provide the last bit of clearance needed for the touchdown. Notice that Matthews, the player who moved down to defend the sweep is just unable to reach Marshall in time. This offense does a great job of taking defenders out a play before the ball is even snapped.

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Fourth Quarter, First Auburn Drive

Georgia scored another touchdown to start the fourth quarter, but with a 13-point lead, Auburn continued to run its base offense. Three running plays should have been enough to at least gain a first down, but average production on first and second down and an embarrassing collision on third down quickly handed the ball back to the Bulldogs.

Video of this drive

Play No. 1: 1st-and-10 at the AUB 11

Nick Marshall rushes right for 3 yards

Auburn shows a four-receiver, Pistol formation, while Georgia lines up in a standard 4-2 Nickel defense. Marshall reads the play side defensive end and chooses to keep, but the Bulldogs' nickelback and safety are quick to converge on the outside run.

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Previously in the game, Marshall had actually passed the ball late on a few plays like this, and though it gained good yardage, it didn't look like a polished play. This time, Marshall looks like he can't decide if he should keep it or throw it. Eventually, Louis gives up on being a receiver and blocks one of Marshall's pursuers. Unfortunately, safety Matthews is able to trip him up for a gain of only three yards.

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Play No. 2: 2nd-and-7 at the AUB 14

Corey Grant rushes left for 4 yards

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The Tigers use the quick huddle and then show a Stong-I Deuce formation with two receivers to the left and a tight end on the right. The offensive line takes care of things inside as Marshall tosses the ball back to Grant. Prosch makes a good cut block and Coates successfully carries his man downfield, but slot receiver Trovon Reed isn't able to fully take his man out of the play. Harvey-Clemons is able to slow down Grant just a bit and, for the second play in a row, Matthews flies down from his safety spot to make a tackle. Pretty impressive considering he was limping a bit between plays.

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Play No. 3: 3rd-and-3 at the AUB 18

Tre Mason rushes up the middle for -3 yards

I've never seen this happen, but I am a bit surprised it hasn't happened before. Louis is supposed to be through the backfield by the time Mason gets the ball. Instead, the ball is snapped and Mason receives the handoff while Louis is just cutting through the backfield, and they collide. Yes, Mason needed three yards to get a first down and that's not guaranteed, but the line had Georgia sealed off from the left, and if anyone can bounce a run out wide and get a few yards, it is Mason. Instead, Auburn was forced to punt for only the second time in the game.

Fourth Quarter, Second Auburn Drive

Now only leading by six, Auburn really needed a good offensive series. Instead it got another three-and-out. This time, three passing plays were called, and the offensive line chose a poor time to allow blitzes to pressure Marshall.

Video of this drive

Play No. 1: 1st-and-10 at the AUB 19

Nick Marshall passes to throw it away

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Auburn goes with a four-receiver look against a Cover-0 defense. Georgia shows a 5-2 front and plays man behind it. Marshall shows play action with Mason as each receiver bolts down the field, probably running Four Verticals. but Georgia blitzes with five pass rushers and defensive end Garrison Smith isn't touched.

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Marshall has to escape the pocket as soon as the play begins and never has a chance to make a read downfield. Floyd doesn't allow Marshall to get any yardage on the ground, so the quarterback makes a good decision and throws the ball out of bounds.

Play No. 2: 2nd-and-10 at the AUB 19

Nick Marshall passes left incomplete to Sammie Coates

This is basically the same play as the second play of the third quarter shown above. The safety bites on play action, the corners are playing soft and Coates runs an inside route, this time a Post route. But instead of a strike for a first down, the ball is thrown behind the receiver and it is nearly intercepted.

Play No. 3: 3rd-and-10 at the AUB 19

Nick Marshall is sacked for -5 yards

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Again, the Tigers show a four-receiver formation with three receivers to the field. The broadcast never shows the patterns downfield, but Marshall never saw much of them either. Georgia brought six pass rushers and immediately flushed Marshall out of the pocket away from the three-receiver side. Running out of room and probably having only one or two receivers in view, he ran out of space and time and was sacked by Ramik Wilson.

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Some have questioned the play-calling in the fourth quarter, but all six of these plays have been executed properly multiple times throughout the season. I have never coached at any level of football, but it just seemed like the players might have been a little nervous. Tackling your own players and completely missing pass protection assignments are not problems with the plays themselves. They are just mistakes that happen -- preferably not all at once and in crunch time!

The Rest of the Game

Auburn punted with about five minutes left in the game while clinging to a six-point lead. As Aaron Murray had done for seemingly the entire second half, he completed short-to-intermediate passes on three-step drops to avoid any pressure from Auburn's defensive line. Georgia's receivers were consistently open, and Murray finished the drive and took the lead with a quarterback draw, the perfect call against an aggressive edge rushing defensive line and one that has hurt Auburn a lot this season.

Auburn had less than two minutes to get into field goal range, and it did manage one first down to reach its own 35 yard line, but a failed screen, a dropped 20-yard pass and a sack quickly brought up fourth-and-18 from the Auburn 27.

There is not much of value I can say that hasn't already been said about this play. From the Bramblett call, to the crowd reactions, from the amazement of our own Aubielicious and Chris Fuhrmeister, to the despair of our friends over at Dawg Sports, and even with paint on canvas, this play has been seen and analyzed a million times in just a few days.

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I'll just add this: Notice that Bray ran a Drag route, Coates ran a Dig and Louis ran a Post. The combination that Gus Malzahn himself calls the NCAA concept. Yes, the same call as the fifth play of the third quarter, shown above. A version of the play that got the Tigers in position for their fourth touchdown later became the play that gave them the lead for good.

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