.....War Eagle, everybody! It's Great to Be an Auburn Tiger. Auburn loses a tough struggle against a hard-nosed LSU team, 26-21. The Tigers had their chances, but defensive breakdowns in coverage cost the home team the lead in the 3rd quarter. Then, after a huge drive to to retake the lead, and a big defensive stop, Auburn failed to run the clock. LSU got another chance, and cashed it in on another breakdown in the Auburn coverage.
.....Both Auburn and LSU were VERY strong up front on defense early. In the second half, though, Auburn's nose guards got roughed up a bit. LSU was able to isolate the noseguard in the middle, and spring a fullback and tight end to take out Auburn linebackers. Charles Scott had a bushel-full of ten yard runs up the middle. Auburn's corners played well at times, but at times were out of their depth. They faced some tremendous athletes, and had difficulties. When Auburn went to the bench, they were promptly torched on a post for a touchdown. Due to the threat of Charles Scott on the ground, LSU was able to force Auburn safeties to cover dangerous receivers one on one. LSU was conservative for a while, but once they decided to throw on first down, the thinnest point on our defense was exposed.
.....On offense, LSU dominated our line up front. We cleaned up the penalties, but we absolutely could not move LSU off the ball. LSU forced us to make quick throws. They were NOT going to let the running game beat them. If we tried to go five wide, LSU blitzed. We made some of our worst plays off that "outnumber 'em" blitz. We continue to be plagued by dropped balls. I counted six. In the receiver corps, it was great to see Tim Hawthorne step up. He's got to continue to make plays, if we're to get better. Prior to Hawthorne and Dunn making some big plays, it seemed that the only Auburn receivers that a defense needed to defend, were Smith and Billings. Just let the others run free, and blitz. Chris Todd is probably going to catch a lot of blame for this loss, and as usual, he did make a few bad throws and decisions. We've gotta let him play though, as we saw with LSU's quarterback. I think he got better as the game went on.
.....Special teams imploded. We couldn't kick deep, we couldn't punt a ball farther than 30 yards, we let balls roll down deep, and we didn't block on returns. Wes Byrum did hit his kicks, so that's something. But our strength disappeared. The onsides kick was the worst. You KNEW it was coming. We were turning our backs to run down, and then not block on the kick return. Les Miles HAD to try it. Not only were we way back on it, they were able to catch it, block, and run, without an Auburn player in sight.
Defensive Line: B+. At times they made plays, but at times they were dominated. I give a grade this high, because LSU is probably the best offensive line we'll face all year. Our guys fought hard, and should be proud of themselves. Bonus for Gabe McKenzie's pick-six!
Linebackers: C. We got posted up on those inside runs, a lot. In the end, Charles Scott and LSU quarterbacks as runners, were too strong for the AU linebackers.
Secondary: C-. The secondary got burned repeatedly in the second half, being forced into a lot of man coverage by the success of the LSU running game. We don't have enough cover guys to play man against a good receiving corps like LSU. Once the quarterback settled down, we were in trouble.
Punting: D-. I'm giving this a passing grade only because we didn't get one blocked. Otherwise, it was abysmal, with a lot of short, low kicks. We got a LOT of lucky rolls. Additionally, we failed to capitalize on several mistakes by LSU return men.
Punt Returns: C-. No turnovers, and one good fair catch that saved us from being coffin-cornered, but Dunn let a LOT of balls roll.
Kick Returns: F. No blocking, and we can't even line up right. WAY too many whiffed blocks. And you can't retreat before the ball is kicked, with your back turned. You KNEW Les Miles was going to try that onsides kick!
Kickoffs: D-. We looked like last year's early team, again. If you are going to squib kick, you can't kick it right to an opposing player. You should have them scrambling to fall on the bouncing ball, if you're going to squib it.
Placekicking: A+. Wes Byrum made all three extra points. Otherwise, we were too consistent at getting sacked back out of field goal range.
Offensive Line: C. Points off on just a few bad plays in protection. These guys played strong against a defense determined to load the box, especially in pass protection. Chris Todd generally had time to throw, unless LSU sent six or more. Our run blocking was not as good, against a monster LSU front.
Receivers: B. Too many drops to give an A, but there were some encouraging signs. Rod Smith remains dangerous, and Montez Billings made plays. Tim Hawthorne and Robert Dunn stepped their games up. Tommy Trott made good blocks, but he looked like he brought last year's hands to the game.
Running Backs: C-. Had several missed protections. Tate and Lester combined for probably 70 yards. Several fumbles. On a day where we needed to knock out a few first downs, we generally couldn't.
Quarterback: C. Can't give higher than that, with more picks than touchdowns. Todd showed improvement, against a very tough defense. That's his first time to face a monster SEC unit like that, and I thought he had his moments. At times, Todd is wildly inaccurate. He also will learn that you just can't take a sack when you're in field goal range, standing with an empty backfield, and the defense showing a six man rush.
.....There have been calls in previous comments, for me to grade the coaches. While I'm not ready to start that, I thought there were a few notable failures. Obviously, our special teams had a really bad day, and seemed like they were not ready to play. Or even line up correctly. That's a tough grade for Eddie Gran.
.....Tony Franklin had some obvious good ideas on how to attack the LSU secondary, but in a low-scoring game, he MUST coach Chris Todd to let go of the ball before we get knocked out of field goal range. We had an under center, power formation schemed up for this game, and it got us a touchdown. WHERE was it, when we had taken a 21-20 lead, and needed to run some clock? HOW in the world does Franklin justify a five-wide set, a quick count, and a throw to LSU's bench, in that situation?
.....Once we knocked Andrew Hatch out of the game, Rhodes seemed to put WAY too much emphasis on blitzing Jarrett Lee. We let their running game get going, and we did not have what it takes to man up with a spread-out LSU formation. For the first time this year, Rhodes got seriously out-schemed, in the second half. In fairness to Rhodes, we did get overpowered at the point of attack a lot, in the second half. It was a choice of letting Charles Scott gut punch us to death, or having safeties cover wide receivers. Play action on first down killed us...
.....I'm sure Les Miles will take more criticism for outrageous game decisions, but from where I sat, I thought he and his staff called a better game than we did. Gary Crowton is scary, when they let him open up the offense...
.....We Auburn Tigers can't cry about this one for long, though. A ticked off Big Orange bunch comes in next week, and we face another talented group of athletes. Both Auburn and Tennessee are implementing new offenses, and from my perspective, Auburn does seem to have a leg up, having had success against LSU. UT didn't fare so well, against Florida.
.....War Eagle, and good night!