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Evaluating the Auburn Offense - Vanderbilt 2016

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Sometimes your worst is still good enough...

Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

So I think we got spoiled 3-4 weeks ago when we were blowing State and Arkansas out of the water. Auburn has since come down a bit the past two weeks. Maybe that’s understandable on the road vs. Ole Miss, but this Vandy game was different. So what went wrong?

I think for all the glowing coach-speak about their opponent, the Auburn coaching staff didn’t think this game would require as much as their previous opponents. The coaches thought it would be fine to hold White out of this game. While I don’t doubt he sustained an injury last week, this past Saturday would have been a lot easier on Auburn fans if the coaches had let him play from the start. If Sean can throw and run without significant limitations, please play him against conference opponents, Auburn coaches. Add to that decision how conservative of a game Lashlee called. Over half of Auburn’s offensive snaps were their base running plays and a lot of the pass plays were fairly conservative calls as well. The urge to keep the game conservative killed a couple of drives in my estimation. Lastly and most importantly, Auburn players on offense didn’t execute as well as they have been recently while Vanderbilt’s defenders did. Add all that up and the game ends up looking pretty close despite the large talent disparity between the two programs. Because of this, I won’t be showing many breakdowns of fun big gains or touchdowns. It will be more of pointing out where things went wrong.

1st Half

While we all see that we need White in at QB for this offense to reach its full potential, I didn’t think Franklin played badly. My first instinct before rewatching the game was that surely Vanderbilt overloaded the box to stop the run in the first half. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I only saw one instance of Vanderbilt bringing more defenders into the box than Auburn’s formation called for in the first half. Instead, Vanderbilt trusted their front seven to hold their own against Auburn’s run game, and they did reasonably well. They were also determined not to be fooled by misdirection. Then when Auburn missed an assignment, Vanderbilt players were in position to make stops. Take this rare negative play for example:

White hands off to Pettway and the Slayton is responsible for sealing the edge against the outside linebacker. Instead, Slayton misjudges his angle and Pettway gets stuffed.

Another example of Auburn miscues comes here on a Buck Sweep:

Braden Smith at the bottom of the screen is looking to block his defender to the sideline, but he lets his defender slip a little too far upfield underneath him.

After Smith misses on his defender, Pettway runs right into the tackle. Auburn hasn't run nearly as many buck sweeps as they usually do this year, but we all know Braden Smith can do better than that and he will. Of course this was all moot anyway since Kyle Davis was called for holding. And the plethora of holds were one of the biggest problems on the day.

The biggest miscue in the first half was clearly Franklin’s fumble, but ironically, that play was one of my favorite calls from the first half. Auburn starts out showing 4 WRs but then Truitt comes in motion and becomes a blocking back.

Franklin follows behind Truitt and Cox and still would have gotten a good gain despite Cox not getting a solid second block.

As much as that fumble hurts, Franklin ran well in the first half. He had some especially good scrambles out of 4 verticals looks and decent production out of the zone reads with tempo. His throwing wasn’t awful either. This shot shows the drop by Marcus Davis:

It’s clearly not a perfectly thrown ball, but it’s still catchable, at least as catchable as the TD throw to Slayton by White later in the game. And it’s worth noting that Franklin was under duress and on the move during that throw. His other incompletion was a throw away.

2nd Half

Things looked a little better in the second half. The immediate completion White threw sent a signal that the game was back on. Auburn did try to run the Stove jet sweep a couple times in the second half with little to show for it. Here’s the first one:

Stove’s jet sweep against Arkansas was so beautiful (and successful) because the blocking was perfect. It was less so here:

The DE is left unblocked, but without an inside run fake to look at, he stays in position to disrupt Stove. Jalen Harris missed his block on the linebacker and now there’s two defenders in Stove’s face. I do theoretically like Pettway being used as a blocking back to change things up, but on this play he ends up blocking no one. Maybe he supposed to block someone on the third level, but it never gets that far.

Another head-scratcher for me was the tempo zone reads they ran with White. He kept the first one and slid for a decent gain but the rest were designed keepers for Pettway. If White is hurt, I really don’t know why we’re subjecting him to a possible hit. And the play’s output is limited when Pettway gets the ball even when the DE is crashing in on him. We ran three of those zone reads within 4 snaps one drive and it completely stalled the drive.

One bright spot that showed Auburn could move the ball when they got a little more loose with the play calls was this wheel/post route combo (apologies for the wide-shot. ESPN did all sorts of weird things in this broadcast):

It worked out perfectly because the safety at the top of the screen had walked up to the line of scrimmage just before the snap. Auburn then shows play action and once Cox gets behind the safety, he’s toast. White then has his choice of Jason Smith on the post or Cox on the wheel route. Had he looked the cornerback towards Smith before throwing a deeper ball to Cox it would probably been a touchdown.

Conclusions

As much as we complain about this game being tight, it’s really fine. Auburn was in the Tubbershell from the initial kickoff and it worked. We played poorly, the opponent played well, got a couple of miracles and we still won. Vandy is still Vandy and the curse has been lifted. This game should have been 30-16 which would have looked way better. I expect Auburn to look much sharper and more creative against Georgia. Let’s hope we get Pettway back for the Iron Bowl because he is super important for this team.

Other Thoughts

  • I don’t like to complain about calls, but if the refs are going to be super-vigilant about calling Auburn when they hold, it sure would be nice for them to return the favor when Lawson is getting a hug from behind.
  • I don’t understand why announcers are so intent on enraging their audience. You can have an opinion on a call, that’s fine. But why on earth would you belabor your point for 10 minutes? Let it go. Also, I’ll happily listen to conference and playoff scenario talk later, but right now the game is on. Can we talk about that?
  • Auburn ran 4 buck sweeps this week which seems to be up a tick. I think they were trying it out to see how it went. Not sure it was good enough to include in the gameplans for Georgia or Alabama. If you lump the zone reads in with the inside zone plays, then the zone to power/counter ratio was pretty much 50/50.
  • We didn’t run a toss sweep. I liked the toss sweep as a safer change-up play in the running game previously. We did run a fake toss sweep, bootleg throw to Cox. I hope we don’t end up running the same play and the defense reads it and takes Cox’s head off because they don’t respect the fake.
  • Auburn used no less than 9 different personnel groupings. The standard 2 back 3 receiver made up the lion’s share followed by 1 back 4 receiver, but Auburn made use of almost every combination of WR, TE, HB, RB, and an extra O-lineman. I could have done with less than the 7 wildcat snaps we got though.
  • We all know Alabama’s run defense is the best around and I think Georgia’s is good too despite their record so I’m wondering if the staff will ask White to air it out a little more for Amen Corner.

WDE.