Saturday night was one of the most enjoyable times I've had in Jordan-Hare Stadium in a long time. Other than two busted coverages and a bad fumble, the Tigers executed well and did exactly what they needed to do against an opponent like Arkansas State.
These thoughts and observations are without having rewatched the game. All I've seen are some highlights. Here we go!
1) Sean White is the QB.
Gus Malzahn said early this week that Sean White was the quarterback and Auburn fans were justifiably skeptical of whether he wouldn't still go musical quarterbacks. He kept to his word, though, and Sean White's performance showed why he was named the starter at the beginning of the season.
Sean White is 1st @FootballAU QB to have a 70% completion % w/ 3+ passing TD & 300+ total yds since Cam Newton vs. Chattanooga on 11/6/10.— Scott Scroggins (@ScrogginsNoggin) September 11, 2016
Yes, it was just against Arkansas State. However, the key for me was that Sean showed he is capable of running the football. Whether he carries the ball 10 times in any game from here on out doesn't matter. Teams will have to account for the fact that he can do it. I've been arguing for months that this is all Sean has to do to make the rest of the offense open up.
2) The Running Backs Are A Lot Of Fun
Kerryon Johnson's 47 yard scamper was something special. He has the moves and speed to turn nothing into greatness. Auburn has had great power running backs, but Johnson shows he can be even more. He's a playmaker who adds another dynamic to the Auburn rushing attack.
Of course, he also has to make sure he holds on to the football.
Kamryn Pettway, meanwhile, has to have Auburn fans shaking their head in wonder at why he didn't get any carries last week against Clemson. The offensive line was opening much better holes last night, but Pettway showed a burst, power, and speed that is surprising for a man his size.
Malik Miller and Kam Martin got in on the action late in the game. They didn't do much, but they did get some experience and Auburn wasn't exactly trying to score at that point.
3) The Difference In Wide Receiver Play Is Night And Day
I love Dameyune Craig. He's one of my all-time favorite Tigers. I loved having him on staff. He was a recruiting master. However, the WRs underperformed at all facets of the game from route running, to blocking, to - most importantly - catching.
In fairness, Auburn has a history of recruiting "athletes" and converting them into wide receivers. Right now, most of the Tigers' receivers have been playing that position all through their high school and now collegiate careers.
Still, though, Auburn's receivers are blocking and catching so much better than they have in recent years. Tony Stevens, who has struggled with catching the ball consistently in his career, had a career night with 4 catches for 75 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Will Hastings' touchdown catch was picture perfect with getting both hands up and watching the ball in. He was wide open, too. His burst and agility allows him to flip the defender and almost always get open. He's been targeted 5 times this season. Four were first downs (three catches, one drawn pass interference) and the other was a touchdown. That's an impressive start to your career.
Hastings is a sophomore. Darius Slayton, who caught 3 passes for 55 yards, is a redshirt freshman. Kyle Davis is a true freshman. The Tigers' receiving corps is young and they are something special. We needed options to step up, and they have. That bodes very well for the rest of the season.
4) The Front 7 Are Amazing
Holding any team to 66 yards rushing is an impressive feat. The Red Wolves did throw for 260 yards, but around 100 of those yards were on two pass plays. The defense pressured Chad Voytik all night, and recorded a few sacks doing it. The linebackers were flying to the ball and tackling well. We knew the defensive line would be something special. We hoped the linebackers wouldn't be a liability. The linebackers went from question to strength real quick, and it's a joy to watch.
5) The Defense, As A Whole, Is The Best We've Had In Years
Is it a bit disconcerting that the Tigers got beat deep twice? Yes. I haven't rewatched the plays to see what happened, there, but it's still not good. Arkansas State struggled to move the ball the entire night, but they picked up two touchdowns thanks to those two busted plays. I hope that's a wake-up call to them, because it was those plays that are the only reason this game wasn't a shut out.
Aside from those two plays, the defense continued to play as they did against Clemson. They were fundamentally sound, didn't over-pursue plays, tackled well, and just looked like a very well-coached unit. They need to clean up those bad breakdowns on deep balls, but overall I'm thrilled with what Kevin Steele & Company have put on the field.
Daniel Carlson is credited with 21 points on the night. Prior to this game, I think a lot of people would look at that stat and think he kicked 7 field goals. Instead, he had three field goals (long of 42), six extra points, and a touchdown. Yes, a touchdown.
Was it smart to show that play against Arkansas State? I think it was. Now, every team will have to account for it. It will make selling out for the block on one of his FGs a bit more risky of a proposition.
Plus, it was a whole lot of fun to see.
7) The Game, In General, Was Fun
It's been a long time since I've had that much fun at an Auburn game. Aside from the two bad pass plays and Kerryon's early fumble, I spent the whole night with a smile on my face and watching Auburn play well-executed football.
The scary thing may be that even with Auburn racking up over 700 yards of offense, I still feel like the Tigers left a lot of opportunities on the field. Sean White missed a wide open Darius Slayton in the end zone just before the end of the first half. There were a few other missed opportunities to get big plays, too.
Auburn had 14 plays of 15+ yards. They had two more plays of 14 yards. Those are the types of plays that let the offense run fast and that can get the defense making mistakes. Auburn needed to get the offense running like it's supposed to, again, and they did just that last night.
8) The Oaks Were Rolled
[NAME REDACTED] didn't win. The tradition lives on, and it always will.
I like where things stand right now. The Tigers defense went toe-to-toe with Clemson last week and did enough to win. The offense started to come alive in the 2nd half. They improved dramatically this week. They're starting to click right when they need to.
That's important, because next weekend Texas A&M comes to down with a John Chavis defense and a very dangerous offense. The next two weeks will set the tone for this season. A let down loss could put the Tigers in a funk before the LSU game. A big time win, and it could propel them to a great year.