Have you noticed that Auburn isn't running many sweeps anymore? Where did Corey Grant go? When the run does go wide, why isn't it the home run threat it used to be?
AU_Jonesy made the comment yesterday that wide receiver blocking must improve for this offense "hit hyper-drive" again. That piqued my interest, so I found as many sweeps as I could. I searched for plays that were noted as "off left/right end" with Corey Grant or Ricardo Louis as the ball carrier. There were seven that went for 10 yards or more, so we should be able to see what successful receiver blocking looks like. But none of them went for even 20 yards, so there is room for improvement.
(One of the seven sweep plays started while the video was showing K-State fans and their finger contortionist skills, so it's not included.)
Vs Arkansas, 3Q 5:30, 1st and 10 at AUB 11
Corey Grant off right end for 19 yards
Here we see the two basic types of blocks you will see on the perimeter. Brandon Fulse cut blocks the first linebacker, meaning he dives at his legs in order to bring the defender to the ground momentarily. Meanwhile, Melvin Ray stalk blocks the corner, sizing up the defender's intentions, maintaining leverage and preventing immediate pursuit. Both blockers do a nice job and spring Grant for the longest sweep play of the season.
Vs San Jose State, 1Q 7:45, 1st and 10 at AUB 40
Corey Grant off right end for 18 yards
This time, the sweep goes to the three-receiver side. The outside corner is playing soft and retreats as soon as the ball is snapped, so Quan Bray job is pretty straight forward. The slot corner initially turns his back to the ball to keep D'haquille Williams from running an inside route, but Duke ends up getting inside leverage and forces the defender out wide. Finally, Marcus Davis is assigned the outside linebacker, and though he gets his hands on him, the defender is able to bounce away, recover, and ultimately make the tackle with the help from a safety.
Corey Grant off left end for 11 yards
On the very next play, Auburn runs a sweep the other direction. Bray (off screen), Williams, and Davis repeat their assignments and, again, the linebacker bounces off of Davis. Davis actually falls down trying to keep the block and it mucks up Grant's running lane, but not before the play gained 11 yards.
Vs Kansas State 4Q 9:43, 1st and 10 at KSU 29
Corey Grant right end for 13 yards
The Kansas State Wildcats did a great job of limiting Auburn's run game, and, even though this play went for 13 yards, it shows just how tough those yards were. Auburn's play call is similar to the sweep vs Arkansas above, but K-State plays it very differently. Fulse still cut blocks the first linebacker, but the linebacker sees it coming and mostly evades it. Also, Ray can't stalk block the corner because a safety is crashing down at the play. He actually gets pushed back a few yards. That leaves the corner free to make the tackle on Grant.
Fortunately, Grant made this play work despite all that was going wrong. He was fast enough to get outside despite the shoddy blocking at the point of attack and he was mobile enough to make that cornerback miss. Only a solid play by the backside linebacker prevented a bigger play.
Vs LSU 4Q 11:30, 2nd and 9 at LSU 44
Corey Grant off left end for 16 yards
Auburn runs another sweep to the three-receiver side, but LSU is playing man coverage, so Marcus Davis can't make a play on the first linebacker. Instead, Grant has to outrun him, which he does. Meanwhile, the defenders are unaware the ball is coming their way on the ground since they are focusing their attention on the receivers in front of them. This opens up tons of room for Grant to easily gain 16 yards. However, it could have been more if Davis' block had made more contact. His defender is the one that corralled Grant toward the sideline. But at least we got to see Grant's earth-shattering shoulder put to good use.
Vs Mississippi State, 4Q 11:07, 1st and 10 at AUB 25
Ricardo Louis left end for 10 yards
This play quickly overloads one side of the field by running the sweep toward two receivers and behind two lead backs. The two receivers chase after soft coverage to make blocks down field while Fulse takes out the first linebacker and Cameron Artis-Payne cut blocks the overhang defender. The two cut blocks are very effective and Louis has a great lane to run through. Unfortunately, the playside safety dodges the block by the slot receiver (Jaylon Denson?) and makes the tackle after a gain of 10 yards.
These were successful plays, but there are plenty of examples where a cut block was ineffective and the play was stopped for just a few yards. Or worse, an outside defender beat the receiver's block and made a tackle for loss. And when things have gone right, the sweeps have not been as potent as they used to be. Yeah, 10-20 yards on a run is a great play, but where are the 40+ yard touchdown plays down the sideline?
Hopefully, the perimeter blocking improves in the second half of the season. The players can clearly execute the blocks, but they need to be consistent to eliminate the negative plays. If there is a breakdown, it has to be down field or after the initial threat has passed so that the runner can still get some good yardage. And, every now and then, they need to put it all together and get Grant or Louis to the end zone for a quick score.