The first drive was a microcosm of the entire game. The offense played well, were driving, looked good, and then absolutely could not convert in the red zone. The Tigers ended up with four trips inside the Bulldog 20 yard line and came away with 6 points from those four trips. Score touchdowns on those trips and we're talking about a good Auburn victory.
The offense failed to finish on every drive. Sean White looked to have a good command of the offense in between the 20s. The play calling and his receivers failed him at times, but he also made freshman mistakes in not throwing the ball away, too.
Such is the 2015 season. Strange things have been happening. Daniel Carlson missed only his second field goal of less than 30 yards of his career after nailing bombs from 40+ for the rest of the year. There was one bad center/QB snap and it came at the worst possible time. An offensive line that has been blocking fairly well for the QB in the pocket suddenly let everyone through. Constant dumb penalties put the Tigers behind the chains. It's a game of little things and tonight the little things all went the other way.
A defense that we've been deriding all season long since the first half of the Louisville game played it's tail off in the second half and only allowed 3 points in the second half, tonight. For all the anger directed at Will Muschamp's unit so far, I really think they turned a corner, tonight. Get a pass rush going and it could be special.
I don't ever like to say "we should have won this game." What I will say is that "we COULD have won this game." You have to give credit to Mississippi State for getting it done in the red zone. But Auburn had every opportunity to win it. Auburn led in most every category, but didn't get it done when it counted. Time of possession, total yards, and first downs were all in our favor. It was just a matter of shooting ourselves in the foot and not finishing the job.
Things We Learned:
The Defense Improved And Can Get Better
Sure, there were still issues, but I'm happy with the way the defense played, overall, especially in the second half. I don't know what Will Muschamp did to them over the week, but shaking up the line up appeared to light a fire under a number of people. It's a shame Tre Williams got hurt, since he was playing like a beast on that drive until that point.
There's still work to be done (a pass rush, a pass rush, my kingdom for a pass rush), but I'm ok with holding Mississippi State to 17 points when only three of them were in the second half.
We Have Red Zone Issues
This goes back to last season. I don't know what our coaches need to do to fix the play calling or how they can get more out of the players, but if we were better in the red zone we beat Mississippi State last season (or come dang close) and we beat Alabama. It cost us the game, tonight. The penalties, the not throwing the ball away, any other small thing that bugged you all goes away if you just finish in the red zone. It's the difference between 28 and 6 points. It was the difference in the game.
Sean White Is The Quarterback.
I love Jeremy Johnson. I want nothing but the best for him. I wanted him to come out and lead this team to greatness. After last week I was still prepared to be behind him and support him because we know what he's capable of doing. But a change needed to be made, and it was.
Wow, what a change. For whatever criticism any of you might have of Sean White, remember one thing: this was his first action in college football. He had not taken a snap in real game action since fall of 2013 when he was still in high school. For the most part he looked comfortable. He was good at stepping up and getting passes off in the face of pressure. I'd say over half of his 8 incompletions should have been caught.
What's one of the most important things for Auburn is that he ran the football and he ran it well. He kept on the read and gained a lot of yards. He looked quick, he split defenders, and he looked much faster than I gave him credit for being. He does what we need: he gives Auburn a serious threat to run the football, which opens up the running game for the running backs. It began to show as Auburn started gaining chunks up the middle.
And A Bonus Fourth: Peyton Barber Is Still A Beast
I love Roc Thomas, but he needs to use his speed and not his spin. Jovon Robinson has been hurt for most of the season. Kerryon Johnson has some flashes of brilliance and uses the spin move better than Roc does, in my opinion. But Peyton Barber. No one wants it more than Peyton. He has been a force of nature carrying the ball up the middle, and has been a flash of brilliance all season long. Hopefully things will open up for him even more, now.
We lost. It sucks. But there's a lot to build on in this game. We didn't get blown out. We could have easily won this in a big fashion. We failed to convert where it counted, so we didn't. But this is not the team that got destroyed by LSU last week. It's not the team that struggled against Jacksonville State.
It's a team that fought. Clean up the penalties. Convert when it counts. This team still has a chance to do special and fun things this year.
War Eagle. Always.