Auburn 24, Mississippi State 20: Breaking down THE drive

WarRoom Eagle

Auburn needed to gain 88 yards in less than two minutes if it wanted to win in regulation. By taking advantage of receiver-linebacker mismatches, the Tigers quickly moved into State territory. A well timed scramble and a perfectly thrown touchdown pass sealed the win.

There were several things that I found interesting in Auburn's 24-20 win over Mississippi State. What is the deal with the 2-point conversions? Does the defense really play better with Kris Frost over Jake Holland in at middle linebacker? Is Kiehl Frazier suddenly a quarterback again? If so, what about Jonathan Wallace? How did the Bulldogs bottle up the running game so well?

All of that pales in comparison to the final two minutes of this game. Nick Marshall accounted for all but three of the 88 yards in a 12-play drive that won the game. He passed for 66 yards, adding 17 more with his feet, and he showed accuracy, touch and great decision-making the whole way down the field. His receivers played as well as they had all game, catching 6 of 8 passes.

Give the offensive line credit, too. Yes, the passes were quick and the no huddle slowed the defensive line, but Marshall was never even hit or hurried. And when State blitzed, Tre Mason did a fine job picking it up.

The Drive

For formation names, click here. For positions by numbers, click here. (Don't ask Prosch.)

Auburn begins the drive in the spread formation, with Quan Bray at 2, Marcus Davis at 3, Mason at 4, Jaylon Denson at 5 and Sammie Coates at 9. This formation/personnel group is used for the first 10 plays of the drive.

Play No. 1: 1st and 10 at the AUB 12

Nick Marshall rushes left for 6 yards

The drive starts at the Auburn 12 and the Tigers have four receivers, but State comes out with its base 4-3 defense. The first play is a QB draw, meaning Marshall shows pass for a second and then takes off. Most of the offensive line pass blocks, but right guard Chad Slade doesn't bother. Instead, he also waits a second and then goes downfield to find a second-level block.

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Marshall gains seven yards, but a Slade block on the Mike rather than double teaming the Will probably would have helped more.

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Play No. 2: 2nd and 4 at the AUB 18

Nick Marshall passes left to Marcus Davis for 7 yards

Without subbing or huddling, Auburn has State stuck with its current players. That means linebackers are covering the slot receivers. Can you say mismatch? Auburn takes full advantage for five straight plays.

This time, Coates runs a go route, taking cornerback Jamerson Love with him down the field. Davis runs a quick out, away from linebacker Deonte Skinner. Davis is faster and quicker than his defender, so Marshall is able to get him the ball. The same concept is run to the other side as well, but since Davis is to the boundary, it is the easier throw.

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Notice the separation Davis is able get.

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Play No. 3: 1st and 10 at the AUB 25

Nick Marshall passes left to Marcus Davis for 16 yards

State's safeties are playing at least 15 yards away from the line of scrimmage, and I believe they back up even more once the ball is snapped. On this play, Skinner stays in his short zone and free safety Nickoe Whitley drops way back, so there is plenty of space in between. Davis finds himself open, turns around, and catches a 16-yard pass.

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Play No. 4: 1st and 10 at the AUB 41

Nick Marshall passes left to Marcus Davis for 6 yards

Now linebacker Skinner doesn't know what to do. He has been attacked by the same guy two different ways. Auburn goes back to the quick out and Skinner just watches the play. Only a quick reaction from Love prevents a bigger play.

Play4a_medium

Skinner practically walks toward Davis after the catch.

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Play No. 5: 2nd and 4 at the AUB 47

Nick Marshall passes right to Jaylon Denson for 17 yards

Auburn doesn't hurry to run the next play so the Bulldogs are able to change up their personnel. But instead of bringing in another defensive back, they replace a lineman with Zach Jackson, another linebacker. State shifts to a three-man front, probably hoping to confuse Marshall and the line by making them guess where the fourth rusher is coming from.

On this play, though, the Bulldogs only rush three. This gives Marshall plenty of time to let the Switch concept develop. I can't actually see the receivers run their routes, but Denson is lined up inside with Bray lined up outside.

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When they reappear on the screen, Bray has taken an inside route, luring both Jackson and cornerback Cedric Jiles. Like Davis on his second reception, Denson just stops and turns around for the catch between the short and deep zones.

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Play No. 6: 1st and 10 at the MSST 36

Nick Marshall passes right to Marcus Davis for 9 yards

With the ball on the right hash, Auburn's formation flips. Matthew Wells (normally the middle LB) is lined up with Davis on the right side. Auburn goes back to the quick out and Davis makes another linebacker pay, beating Wells for a nine-yard reception.

Play No. 7: 2nd and 1 at the MSST 27

Nick Marshall rushes left for 2 yards

Now inside field goal range, State shifts back to its standard 4-3 defense. It turns out the Bulldogs don't have much depth at cornerback, so using linebackers in coverage is the Bullies' best shot. Auburn runs another QB draw, but all five lineman stay back.

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That's unfortunate because Davis whiffs on his block of linebacker Skinner, who forces Marshall to run to the sideline rather than down field. The cornerback comes up to force him out of bounds, but not before Marshall gains a first down.

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Play No. 8: 1st and 10 at the MSST 25

Nick Marshall passes right to Sammie Coates (incomplete)

The Bulldogs bring a blitz from the right side and Davis reads it perfectly. Making his hot read, he breaks his route off short and turns around in the area the blitzer came from.

Play8a_medium

Coates is also open, running a deep hook in front of the deep zone coverage of the cornerback. Marshall makes the longer attempt to Coates, but perhaps the blitz makes him uncomfortable and his throw is a little off target. Coates gets one hand on it, but he can't haul it in.

Play8b_medium

Play No. 9: 2nd and 10 at the MSST 25

Nick Marshall passes right to Marcus Davis (incomplete)

Auburn goes back to the quick out, and, what do you know, Davis beats Skinner again. But he can't hold on the ball, and suddenly it's 3rd and 10.

Play No. 10: 3rd and 10 at the MSST 25

Nick Marshall scrambles left for 11 yards

State replaces a lineman with a linebacker again and brings their strong safety down, showing a single high safety. A linebacker is showing blitz on either side of the defensive line. At the snap, both the left linebacker and the Mike blitz while the right linebacker drops into a zone.

Play10a_medium

Mason picks up his block on Benardrick McKinney and Trovon Reed and Denson have taken their defenders down field. No one is left on that side of the field, and Marshall takes off. Wells and Whitley are able to chase him down, but only after a gain of 11 yards and a first down.

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Play No. 11: 1st and 10 at the MSST 14

Tre Mason rushes right for 3 yards

Auburn changes formation for the first time in this drive, showing the Stack Twins formation. Auburn also changes its personnel for the first time in this drive. H-back Jay Prosch is brought in for Marcus Davis, probably because of Davis' inexperienced blocking. (You sometimes hear about young running backs that can't stay on the field because they can't provide pass protection. I bet Malzahn feels the same way about receivers who can't block too well.)

The Tigers run a draw with Marshall showing pass and then handing it off to Mason. A few things work well for Auburn on this play. First, State's free safety, Whitley, blitzes from the opposite side of the run, so he is no factor in this play. Second, the passing look brings defensive end Preston Smith way up field, effectively taking him out of the play, as well. Only an excellent tackle by safety Kendrick Market saves a big play, possibly a touchdown.

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Play No. 12: 2nd and 7 at the MSST 11

Nick Marshall passes right to C. J. Uzomah for a touchdown

After a timeout, Auburn changes its formation and personnel for the second play in a row. The Tigers show Slant Opposite Twins, but Brandon Fulse replaces Denson and moves to a traditional tight end spot. Reed comes in for Bray as the flanker to the field, and C.J. Uzomah replaces Coates as the split end.

State shows eight in the box, four lineman and three linebackers with one safety. The field corner is playing off of Reed, the boundary corner is playing bump and run on Uzomah and the free safety is splitting the difference.

Play12a_medium

At the snap, Marshall does a great job of keeping his eyes down the middle of the field, not tipping his hand too early. Safety Whitley actually takes a step toward the field before Marshall suddenly is eying his target to the boundary. Here's video of the play from a different perspective. You can really see Whitley's big step to his right.

With the Marshall pump fake and Uzomah turn around, cornerback Cedric Jiles jumps all over the route, and this is why Uzomah was in over Coates. Uzomah uses his 258-pound frame to muscle past Jiles and 6'4 height to reach the ball.

Play12b_medium

Marshall throws a perfect ball into the corner of the end zone. Not so fast that his receiver can't handle it. Not so low that it gets batted at the line of scrimmage. And not so soft that either Jiles or Whitley can recover to break it up.

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