.....War Eagle, everybody! The Auburn Tigers emerge victorious this week, putting away the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles, 27-13. While it could hardly be called a flawless victory, the Tigers appeared to improve in several phases of the game, against a more dangerous opponent. Alarming were the numerous fumbles and turnovers. More critical, though, for the second week in a row, was the inability of the defense to cover tight ends and slot receivers inside.
.....All eyes (including mine, from Section 30, Row 24, seat 13) were on the Auburn offense, after a sparse passing attack in week one. Chris Todd, in his first start, ran the offense crisply, in the first half. With a big lead, the offense got stagnant in the second half. This week, it was Kodi Burns' turn to be ineffective, on the field.
.....The Auburn defense was again dominant up front, severely limiting the rushing opportunities of all-star running back Damion Fletcher. However, the defense continues to allow tight ends to run free over the middle. Shawn Nelson and Deandre Brown had career days. Auburn failed to rattle freshman quarterback Austin Davis, and Davis had the hot hand, in the second half.
.....Auburn's special teams were pretty solid, this week, and ULM will probably rate their own performance on special teams as a big disappointment.
.....The worst performance, by far, of any unit in the game, was the job done by the officials. Who WERE those clowns? It was a horribly inconsistent job, and at times, they didn't even have a handle on the new clock rules. These guys evidently have never SEEN a block in the back, or a clip. I don't think they were biased, because they harmed both teams pretty equally. Man, I hope those weren't SEC guys! Once, they even called a foul on number 88. Keep in mind, that's Terry Beasley's retired number. It hasn't been worn for decades at Auburn. Terrible.
.....The trip down was ominous, this morning, as a blinding downpour hit Childersburg, creating near white-out driving conditions. By game time, though, the sun was out, and it was hot in the stands, at Auburn. An occasional cloud would cover the sun, prompting cheers of "War Clouds!" and "War Breeze!"
.....The pre-game eagle flight was unusual. At least 4 or 5 circles were made over the east upper deck, before the victory lap around the stadium and the descent at midfield, and the celebratory meat-bit. This show never fails to raise the hair on the back of my neck!
.....At the half, we were treated to an all-star cheerleader show. Nothing like staring at several hundred high-school cheerleaders, all at the same time! The Auburn band was excellent, as usual, both on the pregame show, and the halftime show. USM did not do a band show.
.....It started to cloud up a bit in the third quarter, much to the relief of the sweltering crowd. Then, the raindrops started. Very rapidly, it became a torrential downpour! Half the crowd ran for it, and left, as Auburn was up 24-0. While it felt great, I was carrying a radio and a digital camera. I learned something. Those disposable ponchos are useless in that situation! By the time I had the package open, unfolded the poncho, separated the ends you put over your head, and got it on, I was already soaked to the bone! And the wind kept blowing the hood off, anyway. Yay, waterproof fanny pack! I don't care HOW goofy it looks! The rain was over in ten minutes, and the sun was back out. Nothing smells like a wet, sweat-soaked crowd, baking in the sun. Eewww.
Defensive Line: A. Despite facing a much tougher, veteran unit, the Auburn line dominated. Auburn tackles, in particular, routinely shoved USM linemen backwards, disrupting plays. SenDerrick Marks was particularly explosive. If there's a flaw, it would be that the pressure lessened in the second half, and USM had time to throw. The game was out of hand, though, and the line was being asked to do it without any blitzing help.
Linebackers: B. I'm giving this grade based on the team giving up only 29 yards to Dameon Fletcher. The linebackers did let Fletcher get loose on several screen passes. There were a few instances where reserve linebackers were out of position. The greatest alarm, though, was a complete inability of anyone to cover tight end Shawn Nelson. I could blame the linebackers, but to me, it looks like the scheme. Our linebackers are playing the run, and preventing the 5 yard curl. Universally, they let the tight end go, beyond 5 yards. This has to be by assignment. That turns the tight end over to a safety, but our safeties usually play back 15 yards, preventing the big play. This leaves a big 5-8 yard seam in the middle every play. USM exploited it over and over again. We can usually recover and make the tackle, and maybe the coaches feel that teams won't beat us with short throws inside. I predict that offenses will continue to take advantage of this situation, till it gets fixed. The problem has been evident from A-Day onward...
Secondary: B-. This could have been much higher, but it fell as the game went on. Mistakes were made outside by both starters. Safeties did a good job of chasing plays and preventing big plays over the top, for the most part, but there were a few busts late. Our closing speed is GREAT, at all four positions! We drew a few flags, but made plays on the ball. The over-the-shoulder interception by Jerraud Powers was a thing of beauty. Terry Beasley never made a more picturesque catch! Note to coach Rhodes: yes, the tight end IS an eligible receiver, and we need to cover him.
Punting: A. Clinton Durst continues to boom the ball, averaging 44.3 yards a punt, and that average includes one pooch attempt that went into the end zone for only 36 yards. These balls were high, and the Auburn coverage limited USM to less than three yards per return. By comparison, USM punter Britt Barefoot averaged 40 yards a punt, and they were consistently low. Early, Barefoot was booming it long, but Robert Dunn had room to run. After Dunn's punt return for a TD was called back, USM started kicking 25-yarders out of bounds. Auburn stomped USM, here!
Punt Returns: A. Great decisions, great runs, by Robert Dunn. When they start kicking out of bounds to avoid you, you've DONE something!
Kick Returns: C+. Only 2 opportunities, 38 yards. Pedestrian numbers by Davis and Fannin. We're not blocking these well.
Kickoffs: B. We're still not kicking it into the endzone, but it is consistently getting to the five yard line, with good height. Coverage was excellent, giving up only 18 yards or so a return. Points off on an ugly kick out of bounds, late.
Place Kicking: A+. Made 'em all, even a 52-yarder!
Offensive Line: C+. Auburn made some moves for this game, starting Ryan Pugh at center, and moving Jason Bosley out to right tackle. Results were mixed. At times, the line dominated, but there were also some serious errors, penalties, and confusion. Too many times, there was a lineman in the QB's face before he completed his drop. That can't happen! USM lineman Anthony Gray caused problems, inside. We should have been a LOT more dominant against a green unit, and Hugh Nall can't be pleased.
Receivers: B-.While this group had a pretty good game, I'm seeing an alarming trend. We were celebrating a plethora of stars in camp, this year, but now, we seem to be back to the same 4 starters from last season, with little behind them. Trott, Smith, Billings, and Dunn all made plays, but it was short stuff, in traffic. The suspension of Chris Slaughter, and injuries to James Swinton, Phillip Pierre-Louis, and Montez Billings, have hurt. Tim Hawthorne, Terrell Zachary, and Quindarious Carr aren't showing big play ability. Mario Fannin is lining up outside some, but we don't seem to be willing to throw it to him. Defenses aren't going to worry about it, till we do. We're continuing to see dropped balls. If there's a bright spot, it's blocking. We're asking these guys to play like tight ends, and they're really getting into it!
Running Backs: D-. I think lost fumbles should cost a letter grade each. Everyone except Tristan Davis coughed it up, today. At least Eric Smith's was a wet ball. The running backs didn't protect terribly well, either. There seemed to be some assignment issues, although USM WAS slanting and stunting a good bit. Some nice, hard runs by Ben Tate, and Tristan Davis' electrifying first carry since 2005 keep this from being a failing grade. Barely. I wouldn't want to be those guys, facing Eddie Gran, Sunday!
Quarterbacks: C+. This started off WELL. We wondered how Chris Todd could start, after what we saw on A-Day, and against ULM. He showed us, in the first half. There were some little mistakes, but Todd was efficient and accurate. Every time he scrambled, I cringed. Indelibly burned in my head is an image of number 12 trying to run, and getting hammered into a pretzel. I was shocked every time Todd got away. Todd made some nice reads, and nicer throws. That falling-foward flip to Tate was AMAZING, even if I'm pretty sure the replay official blew the call. In the second half, quarterbacking went downhill. USM choked up on the short routes, and Todd's blistering percentage dropped. We're still not getting the deep ball done, and SEC defenses will exploit that. It was Kodi Burn's turn to look miserable. Clearly, he doesn't have his speed back. He lofted one good deep pass, but it was just out of bounds. He floated a lazy throw over the running back's head for a near pick-six, and was done for the day throwing.
.....Auburn fans should be happy with Auburn handling a team that put up 600 yards of offense a week ago. There are still some wrinkles to be worked out, but this Auburn team has a lot of promise. I predict that the Southern Mississippi offense will BLISTER Conference USA. They have a LOT of weapons! For Auburn, the REAL season begins in earnest, at Starkville Mississippi. War Eagle!