A few months ago, I would have called this a "trap" game. Thursday night? Conference Game? At a resurgent team who hasn't played a home Thursday night game in decades? That's a recipe for disaster. Especially with Arkansas looming next week.
Then the rest of this season happened, and this went from "trap" to "oh please just let us win this one." Kentucky isn't great, but they're not bad, either. Mark Stoops has them on the right track. Auburn, however, has struggled to find any sort of identity on offense and the defense has just been bad. Really bad.
Sure, there have been moments of brilliance. They've gotten opponents to third down quite a bit. The problem is stopping them, there. 3rd and 5 or less? I'm confident the Tigers can stop them. 3rd and long? Just go ahead and chalk up a first down. Oh, and depending on field position (Or not. Miss you HBC.), the opponent might as well just go for it, too.
I don't have any explanations to offer, really. I'm not that confident that this defense is going to improve very much this season. I am, however, getting more confident that the offense can do enough to give us chances, though. \
Let's look at some goods and bads.
Sean White. After two weeks of folks questioning whether he could really run the offense, I think he answered critics last night. No, he's not Nick Marshall. He's not Cam Newton. He's Sean White. He can run enough to keep defenses honest. He can make all the throws he needs to. He has great presence in the pocket and ability to step up, stay calm, and get the ball away. He can run Gus Malzahn's offense well enough to win.
If he'd just gotten that pass to Tony Stevens on target, we'd be singing his praises even more, today. He really didn't throw an uncatchable ball that I remember (other than the one where he and Ricardo just weren't on the same page). 17/27 isn't fantastic, but it'll work. Especially when you get 255 yards of offense from it.
Kerryon Johnson. Johnson is going to be special in this offense. He's got great hands for catching the ball out of the backfield. He's got a great burst of speed. He uses the spin move at the right times. He's great with the Wildcat. I love seeing the ball in #21's hands.
Spreading The Ball. Yes, I know Duke Williams wasn't targeted much in the games he played. However, no one else really was, either. Is that because Duke was always a primary read and he was double-covered or just covered really well? I don't know. What I do know is that Sean White looked at and threw at a variety of receivers, last night. Louis, Marcus Davis, Tony Stevens, Kerryon Johnson, Jason Smith, and Peyton Barber all caught passes. Barber's may have been one of the biggest, since that 16 yard gain is what put the Tigers in field goal position right before the half.
Kick Returns. Johnson, Ford, Countess, and others have put the Tigers in excellent starting field position this season when the ball is kicked to them. Having returners who can get the ball past the opponent's 30 more often than not is a big boost.
Carlton Davis. I've highlighted three freshmen. Take heart, folks. The future is bright. Davis had the great interception in the end zone to stop one of Kentucky's drives. He then managed to get just enough of a hand in to break up or at least distract a Kentucky wide receiver on what would have been another clear touchdown grab. Davis has started the last few games and has seen a lot of action. He's still got some learning to do, but you can see a very bright cornerback growing up right before our eyes.
Daniel Carlson. He missed two field goals two weeks ago. One was long and one had a bad/mishandled snap. He bounced back in a big way Thursday night with two in the 30 yard range and one from 50+. He has three field goals from 50+ and Scott Scroggins pointed out on Twitter that this matches all other SEC kickers combined. #Legatron, y'all.
Injuries. Roc Thomas and Montravius Adams both left the game with injuries. I'm still unsure of Roc's injury. I saw on Twitter last night that Adams' was a shoulder. Losing Roc isn't as big a blow as Barber and Johnson have taken over so much of the offense, but it does hurt depth and he is still an explosive player capable of making big runs and he has great hands. Losing Adams would be near devastating. He's been one of the only consistent forces on the defensive line, and depth there is a big issue.
That Punt. Ok, really, who plans for the opponent only sending 8 men out and not even being focused or ready when the ball is kicked? Still, though, it seems like in a situation like that Auburn should have SOME sort of plan to quickly audible into a fake on a 4th and 1. A first down due to that and the game ends right there.
The Defense. It's really not quite as bad as you may think. Don't get me wrong, it's bad. Bad enough that I don't see how we're going to ever stop some of the teams left on our schedule. But, there's really one thing that's killing the Tigers defense more than anything else, right now.
Ellis Johnson called them "garbage plays." Our offense calls them "explosive plays." They used to be called just "big plays." Those are the bane of Auburn's defense, right now. For some reason when an opponent needs a big chunk of yards, they're able to get them. Often it's because of over pursuit, missed tackles, or just not paying attention, too. Or the opponent makes an unbelievable catch.
What do I mean? Well, let's consider three big conversions/plays last night. I hate that I even have to say "three" and that those aren't all. The first was the 60 yard run. If McKinzy wraps up, that's a five yard loss and it's 3rd and 8. Instead, it was a 60 yard gain. Then there's one of the deep passes. Yes, if the DB had turned around he may could have done more to break it up. He was still in good position, though. The Kentucky receiver just made an amazing one handed grab while leaning around him. Then there's the QB scramble. We forced him out of the pocket, which was great (yay, pressure!), but then there was NO ONE watching to clean him up once he passed the line of scrimmage. Granted, they wanted to stay with their man until he DID cross, just in case, but once he crossed, GO BACK AND GET HIM.
Some of these things should be fixable. Others we've seen all too often and will probably just have to live with for a little while. If Auburn can clean up a few more of these mistakes that let the opponent get big plays, the defense will look and play better. "Boom" Williams didn't really have a big night outside of his 60 yard run. Kentucky has lived on explosive plays this season. They did so again last night. Auburn will have to clean up allowing those if the Tigers want to have a chance to do anything going forward.
Give credit to Kentucky's offense, too, though. If it weren't for a lot of very key drops, I'd probably be saying "all is lost" with this defense. Getting a pass rush is absolutely essential at some point. Lambert showed some flashes, last night. I'm beginning to wonder if his knee is only now getting back to 100%. Still, though, I trust Coach Boom knows what he needs to do to fix things in the future. Just like Gus didn't forget how to offense (y'all made me use "offense" as a verb, damn it), Boom hasn't forgotten how to defense. He'll get it fixed. It just might not happen this season.
Mack Brown's Color Commentary. Awbrun. Mortravius (or was it Mortavius?) Adams. Keyron Johnson. These are just a few. At one point he talked about how well the secondary was playing. Folks were questioning whether he was even watching the same game. At one point I was convinced that he was not, because he referred to the "Florida defense." Mack doesn't really seem to pick sides or a narrative to kill as much as Verne and Gary do, but his constant mistakes and questionable knowledge (he didn't remember the rule that the clock rolls once ball is spotted even on out-of-bounds plays and has done so for a few years) just made him awful to listen to. Eventually I'm going to take everyone's advice when I'm home and sync the TV with Rod and Stan. I just hate being behind and seeing things happen on Twitter, first.