So last week I talked about how Auburn fixed their number one problem: negative plays. Well, the next on the to-do list after a game with 6 FGs and no touchdowns was to fix the red zone efficiency as the coaches made very clear in the press. So how did they do? Pretty well right?
You know how coaches tend to be all rah-rah when playing a close game against a tough opponent but they turn into unpleasable monsters against cupcakes? After trying to answer the red zone question, I kind of feel like I understand where those coaches are coming from. No disrespect to the Warhawks of Funroe, LA, but Auburn could lean on superior personnel to make plays or they could be deliberately stubborn with their play calling. This makes giving Auburn an excellent grade on their red zone performance this week difficult. So let's take a look at what happened with each score by the 1st team offense.
Touchdown Drive #1:
1st & Goal - Cox and a pulling guard block to the right. The play side linebacker is initially engaged in a block but either beats his block or is forgotten about and disrupts Johnson before he can get started.
2nd & Goal - Auburn comes out with a jumbo package with 6 O-Lineman with two receivers lined up tight. It goes for a decent gain, but I can't help but wonder if they missed out on an opportunity here. Here's the pre-snap:
I'm no professional, but that looks like a loaded box to me. A lot of defenders are looking inside, even the deep safety is running in. Only the two wide corners aren't playing the run. And with big Tony Stevens at the bottom of the screen, I like my chances with White throwing the ball to him with a one on one situation. Instead, Stevens saunters inside after the snap and the safety closest to him makes the stop untouched.
3rd & Goal: White rolls to the short side of the field, doesn't have much open but is running out of time. He makes a quick decision and dives into the end zone just before a defender can meet him. I would LOVE to know if White keeping this ball was a designed option for the play. I'm grateful for the quick head and feet of White in any event.
Touchdown Drive #2:
OK, not technically a red-zone trip, but too pretty not include. White does the old deep end around play action, which I feel like shouldn't occupy any defender at this point but for some reason freezes just about all of them. Look at the flat-footed defenders in this picture with three WRs streaming past them downfield. White makes the easy throw to a wide-open Kyle Davis on the skinny post.
Touchdown Drive #3:
2nd & 6 from the ULM 7 - Jumbo package again with a tight formation. Auburn fakes a jet sweep. At the top, WR Darius Slayton is assigned a LB to block but loses. This leaves Johnson looking at this:
He should be dead meat, but thanks to a fantastic individual effort, he beats two defenders who are in perfect position and gains the first down inside the 1-yard line. Again, I'm grateful for the effort, but if this were a top half SEC defense, Auburn would be looking at 3rd and long.
1st & Goal - Johnson is stuffed for no gain.
2nd & Goal - Auburn lines up again in the jumbo package, pulls the extra left guard to the right and Johnson follows behind him for the score. You will see this play again.
Touchdown Drive #4:
1st & Goal - Good gain of six yards up the middle by Miller.
2nd & Goal - Would you look at this pre-snap match-up and choose to throw a quick swing pass to the top? Because I sure wouldn't:
Sure, only one of the WRs at the top is being covered closely, but there's two more that should be able to get there in a hurry, and that's precisely what they do. I don't mind the quick swing pass, it's obviously going to be a part of the Malzahn-Lashlee playbook, but if it could be banned from the red zone, I wouldn't shed any tears for it.
3rd & Goal - Out comes the jumbo package, same pulling guard, same touchdown.
Touchdown Drive #5:
Again, not a red zone trip, but a nice play. Auburn fakes the quick pass to a jumping receiver while three WRs blow past the defense.
If anyone in the flat is jumping with their hands in the air asking for the ball, that's the surest sign that the ball is going deep that there is against Malzahn. The four wide receivers to the top was a glaring red flag that funny business would be happening as well. I still love the swing pass pump fake, though.
Touchdown Drive #6:
1st & Goal - Miller is stopped for no gain.
2nd & Goal - Auburn decides not to wait for 3rd & goal to bring the jumbo package, pulling guard touchdown machine in. Sure enough, touchdown.
So What Am I Saying?
I'm probably nit-picking too much, but I feel like the Auburn first-team offense was a bit of a one-trick pony in the red zone. Far too many plays were really bad, and only one was dependable. Don't get me wrong, the jumbo pulling guard play is a great one and I have to give full credit to the staff for drawing it up and players for executing it so well. I just hope we have some other things cooking and maybe some wrinkles for this specific play because it was the exact same every time. I want to believe Auburn made progress on their red zone problem, but I have some reservations. Fortunately, the Bulldogs will be an excellent step up as a measuring stick.
- Auburn increased their throws on 1st down to almost 25%. Excluding the 1 sack, White was 8 for 9 and averaged 10 yards per attempt on 1st down. A step in the right direction to be sure, but I'll still take some more of that action.
- Auburn still mostly ran it between the tackles, but they were not as conservative in the run game as they were against LSU. There were a handful each of successful jet sweeps, toss sweeps, QB keeps by White and even a rare sighting of the successful end around. I think having these plays are important to keep what we fake a legitimate threat. I'll be interested to see whether we bring out the ULM game plan or the LSU one for State this week.
- Auburn increased the quick swing passes from 2 against LSU to 5. It was feast or famine with gains of 12, 7, 1, 0 & -4 yards.
- Remember how excited we were when Gus trusted Duke Williams enough to make the slant route a part of the offense? Well don't get too excited yet, but this is the second game in a row where on 3rd & long we've targeted Ryan Davis on the slant for a 1st down.
- Negative plays are still being held in check. There was only 1 non-sack, non-garbage time negative play. And yes, it was the quick swing to Hastings.
- I usually don't go in for these sort of notions, but I fully support the idea of putting Franklin in as the jet sweep man. You talk about having to honor the fake, no defense could afford not to honor Franklin in that position. My only concern is you know Gus is then going to have Franklin throw out of that look at the absolute worst time.