Newton rolls out with a lot of room!
War Eagle, everybody! It's time now for the Acid Reign report on Auburn's 52-3 victory over the Louisiana Monroe Warhawks. Shaking off usual early game sleepwalking protocol, the Tigers started fast, and steamrolled to a convincing win over the outmatched Warhawks. Less than 5 minutes into the game, Auburn was ahead 14-0 on 4 offensive plays, and the game was never in doubt. The Tigers emptied the bench as this one went on, and the reserves played well, keeping ULM from scoring a touchdown.
It was an idyllic 80 degree day in Auburn, with very light traffic. Imagine arriving a couple of hours before kickoff at Auburn, and there are only two tailgate spots taken in Graves Ampitheater. That's what happened Saturday. We were able to just grab one of many empty picnic tables, and eat within sight of the stadium. There were literally more police in the area than fans. Stadium officials claim an attendance figure of 80,759, but visually the crowd looked much smaller. I'd estimate that maybe 60,000 people were in the stadium, peaking right around the start of the 2nd quarter. Less than a quarter of that crowd remained at the end of the game.
Except for a pair of throws into coverage, Auburn pretty much did what it wanted to on offense. The only Auburn punt on the day was a 22 yard pooch job by Cameron Newton in the 2nd quarter. On the second play of the game, Onterrio McCalebb turned the corner on a 50 yard scoring run. On Auburn's next series, Newton executed a pair of ball-fakes in his own end zone, then launched an Auburn record 94 yard TD pass to Emory Blake. Blake was so wide open that no one was within 40 yards of him when he caught the ball. The offensive line dominated. Even deep into the depth chart with walk-on runner Davis Hooper carrying, Auburn consistently gouged out 5 yards on dive plays. Best of all, this week the Tigers did not fumble.
Defensively, we've still got issues on short coverage outside. Louisiana gained most of their 270 total yards on completions within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Often, we tried to cover their best receiver, Luther Ambrose, with a linebacker. Ambrose led all receivers in the game with 7 catches for 56 yards. The Tigers grudgingly went to a nickel package later in the game, and slowed Ambrose down. Even with veteran runner Frank Goodin on the scene, the Warhawks only totaled 38 rushing yards on the day. Even with star end Antoine Carter not playing, the Tiger front dominated ULM's offensive line. For the fourth week in a row, the relentless Tiger pass rush beat the opposing quarterback into submission. ULM starter Kolton Browning played some courageous ball, but was knocked out of the game after a violent collision on a scramble in the 3rd quarter.
Special teams consisted mostly of extra points and kickoffs. On Auburn's first kickoff, ULM executed a nice bit of trickery, as Tavarese May took the kickoff upfield to the short side about 9 yards, then handed off on a reverse to Isaiah Newsome sprinting to the wide side. The play ended up picking up 38 yards and put ULM on their 48 yard line. Credit Tigers Drew Cole and Wes Byrum for getting Newsome out of bounds and preventing a score. That was the only joy on the day for ULM on special teams. Thereafter, Auburn limited the Warhawks to less than 20 yards per return. Byrum handled the early kickoffs, and Cody Parkey took over in the second half. Both kickers kicked 'em inside the ten consistently. Cameron Newton attempted his first pooch punt. That thing was not pretty. It was a wobbling wounded duck that only traveled 22 yards, being downed at the ULM 23. Tigers would have been better served to go for it on 4th and 2 from the ULM 45. Quindarious Carr fielded 3 of 4 punts, with no bobbles.
The scoreboard told the tale at the end.
Unit Grades after the jump!
Defensive Line: A-. Even with Dee Ford starting in place of the injured Antoine Carter, the line was stout. I counted off for just a few missed tackles in the box. Nick Fairley added another sack and 3 tackles for a loss in limited minutes, but jumped offside once. Even the reserves dominated. We saw Kenneth Carter, Jamar Travis and Derrick Lykes getting their first minutes of the year in the 4th quarter.
Linebackers: C+. We've got a tendency at linebacker to fly in, hit hard, and not wrap up. Darren Bates was the worst offender Saturday. Josh Bynes didn't play many snaps, and it showed. We played a large chunk of the game with Jake Holland in at middle linebacker, seeing his first action of the year. Holland's going to be a good one, but he was often out of position in his debut. For the most part, the play of the line negated any advantage for ULM. We saw lots of Jessell Curry in this one, as well as Eltoro Freeman. Late in the game, Harris Gaston made an appearance. In addition to missed tackles, linebacker pass coverage isn't getting it done. I was shocked at the defensive idea that a linebacker can cover Luther Ambrose. That didn't work at all. Linebackers turned other inside receivers loose on slants and middle screens, too. Of all the linebackers that played, only Holland turned in a tackle for loss.
Secondary: B-. Auburn was dinked and dunked all day on short passes, but I think that was by design. The Tigers didn't give up any big scoring plays. The longest pass of the day for the Warhawks was only 21 yards. We rotated a lot of players in the secondary. Neiko Thorpe and Demond Washington played a lot in the first half, with rests provided by T'Sharvan Bell and Chris Davis. In the second half, Bell and Davis started, then were replaced down the stretch by Anthony Morgan and "mystery guy" who was wearing number 11 with no name on the back of his jersey. (#11 is not in the Auburn Participation report, either.) At safety, the Tigers went with a three man rotation early with Zach Etheridge, Aaron Savage and Mike McNeil. McNeil played deeper into the game than the other two, but in the end gave way to Ikeem Means and Drew Cole. We had some good, active hitting by safeties all the way down the depth chart. In the end, ULM managed only 5.6 yards per pass, with a pick and 3 sacks. It wasn't a pretty performance, but with only 3 points on the scoreboard, it was effective.
Punting: D. Cameron Newton attempted the only punt of the day for the Tigers. From the opponent's 45 yard line, you'd like to AT LEAST make the 20. Passing grade for not getting it blocked, I suppose.
Punt Returns: C+. We fielded 3 of 4, with no fumbles. The one that was not fielded hit at the 11, and bounced crazily close to several Auburn players. It was a dangerous play that ended up with the ball downed on the 3 yard line. ULM had it well covered, but Carr should have fair-caught that ball. On Carr's 3 returns, he managed 26 yards. We didn't block very well on those.
Kick Returns: C. There were only two for the Tigers, and Demond Washington turned in his usual 27-yarder on the verge of going all the way. The other return saw Phillip Lutzenkirchen (I'm going to make more of an effort to spell his name correctly, from now on!) batting down a squib kick, collecting it, and lumbering forward for 6 yards.
Place-kicking: A+. Whatever troubles Wes Byrum may be having that we don't know about (per special teams coach Jay Boulware), they didn't show Saturday. Byrum was perfect on his single field goal try, and on all seven extra points. In my opinion, the worry over Byrum is overblown. I think only one of Byrum's 3 misses is his fault, the short one against USC that clanked off the upright. One missed kick, folks! One was blocked at MSU, on poor protection. The other miss was a 53 yarder in a breeze.
Offensive Line: A. It wasn't a perfect performance, but it was darned close. Mike Berry got called for an illegal block. There were no holding calls, or procedure penalties. The bottom line is that this unit crushed the ULM front. Even when the reserves came in late, we were plowing forward for 5 yards every play. We can win a lot of SEC games if the line keeps playing like it did the last two weeks.
Receivers: A-. It was generally a good day. Newton was sometimes throwing the ball high, but our guys went up and got it. The best of those high snags was Quindarius Carr's TD grab. He really sacrificed his body to get those feet down! We're blocking the bubble screens well. We could have piled up 700 yards on bubble screens, if Gus had chosen to run a lot of those. I only saw one that didn't work. Kodi Burns had a dropped pass in the end zone, but in his defense, he was clobbered on the play by two men. Cam threw two passes into coverage, but you'd like to see the receiver protect the QB by knocking the ball away. Kudos to ULM corners Otis Peterson and Robert Nelson. They did a better job of not giving up separation to our outside guys than anyone we've played this year.
Running Backs: B. Even without Cam Newton in the rushing picture, the Auburn backs piled up 190 yards on 26 carries. That's a 7.3 yards per carry average. Considering how dominant the line was, I'd have liked to have seen more. It was good to see Mario Fannin ramming into the pile and holding onto the ball. After the fumbles this year, there have been many calls for Fannin to return to the H-back slot. If he can have games like this past one, we need him toting the rock, I think. Onterrio McCalebb turned in a 50 yard sprint to open the game, and pretty much disappeared thereafter. The least impressive back was Michael Dyer this day. He got a lot of attention from the Warhawk D, and managed only 22 yards.
Quarterback: B. Kudos to the staff for setting it up for Cam Newton to work on his passing. We know he can run. The jury's still out on Cam as a passer. The numbers show a single interception, a 73 percent completion percentage, and a gaudy 12.8 yards per pass average. There were a couple of ugly ones. Cam underthrew a fade to a well-covered Terrell Zachary that was intercepted at the one, and tossed another ball into double coverage in the end zone when there were a couple of wide-open check-down receivers available. There were several other high balls that the receivers climbed the ladder and brought in anyway. Still, it was a pretty good day in limited work, and Cam did nothing to hurt his high passing efficiency rating. Barrett Trotter was impressive running the team, and did a great job taking off and diving for a TD when the right side of the field opened up. He landed on his head in the end zone, and came out of the game. Hopefully, he's OK. Clint Moseley finished up without putting the ball in the air, but had a couple of tough runs against the stacked Monroe defense.
Auburn did what they were supposed to in this game, and that was to dominate, work on problem areas, play a lot of people, and not take any serious injuries. I think we were successful on all fronts. For this Auburn Tiger, it was a great day to travel to Auburn, and not have to sweat the outcome. I haven't seen many blowouts while I was in the stands, and I still enjoy it. I also enjoyed the extra room provided by the folks next to me who didn't show up for the game.
At this point in the season, it looks like it's a two team race in the SEC West. Alabama made a statement Saturday night by dominating the Florida offense. Alabama is unlikely to lose before the Iron Bowl. South Carolina is probably the best opponent left on their schedule. The way Auburn overpowered that defense, can you see them stopping Ingram and Richardson? I can't. Arkansas loses any tiebreaker with Alabama, and I don't see LSU making it much farther unscathed. I have no words for that mess at the end of the Tennessee game. They were showing the Les Miles post-game comments on channel 42 news in Birmingham, and that man couldn't even string together a coherent sentence!
Land mines remain on both Alabama and Auburn's schedules, but there's a good chance the winner of the Iron Bowl will be the SEC Champion this season. Auburn's greatest challenge prior will likely be when Ryan Mallett and the Razorbacks visit in 2 weeks. I don't like a lot of the matchups in that one. Next week, it's revenge time. Kentucky embarrassed us in our own back yard last year, and we must return the favor in Lexington! After two weeks yelling in the stands at Auburn, this week I'll be back in my easy chair with my salty snacks and wireless keyboard. War Eagle, and let's smash the Wildcats!