Alright, we’re halfway through the season. It goes quick, doesn’t it?? All of a sudden, here we are. Six game down, six games left to play. Suffice to say, I have a feeling that the final six games will be much more eventful than we all expect. That’s just kind of the way that Auburn football works.
So, how’d we fare through the first six games? In a nutshell, pretty well. To put it in Auburn terms, “the eagle flew pretty good”.
In all phases of the game, we’ve seen ups and downs (maybe not really from the defense), but at this point, things are looking up and there’s not really a ceiling in sight. The offense improves every week, the defense has been steady, and the special teams shouldn’t lose us any games. Meanwhile, the coaching decisions have been getting better and better each week. After the Clemson game, it’s hard not to improve.
- Total Offense: 452.7 ypg (39th nationally)
- Scoring Offense: 35.8 ppg (34th nationally)
- Rushing Offense: 228.0 ypg (22nd nationally)
- Passing Offense: 224.7 ypg (70th nationally)
- Passing Efficiency: 161.87 rating (13th nationally)
Okay, first of all, a bunch of those numbers are still affected by the stat line from the Clemson game. Just 6 points and 117 yards will do that to you. Not to mention, we’ve played the backups through large portions of the first three conference games. Even with doing that, we’ve managed to score 51, 49, and 44 points in succession against SEC defenses. I don’t care if the conference seems down this year, that’s impressive against any Power Five defense.
It started out with an effective but clunky outing with Georgia Southern, who was great at all. We knew there were some issues, like the pressure on the quarterback and the lack of push in the running game. The receivers weren’t catching passes as well as we’d hoped they would be doing either, and so all in all it wasn’t a particularly pleasing game. We saw the bottom fall out at Clemson, and then the close win over Mercer pushed a bunch of fans onto the anti-Gus bandwagon. To be fair, it was hard not to agree with them.
In that win, it was clear we didn’t really do much in terms of prep for Mercer at all. We worked on ourselves, and it paid off. Jarrett Stidham had a very efficient outing, but the turnovers left a bad taste in our mouth. We’d get better. Immediately.
On the first play against Missouri, we hit the deep ball to Kyle Davis and the rout was on. That continued over the next two games with the right offensive line combination providing protection for Stidham, and he found his receivers. They were getting open, they were catching passes, they were stretching the field, and harassing opposing defenses.
Mississippi State was more of the same. Reckless abandon on the deep ball and a quick first half that got away from the visitors gave us an easy win, and then this past weekend it was a similar story, but without the deep ball. We went intermediate and picked the Rebels apart, all while working on the run game as well.
How about the rushing attack? It didn’t fare all that well to begin the year. Yes, we ran for 351 yards against Georgia Southern, but it didn’t have the same zip we’ve seen in the past from a Gus offense. Clemson showed us just 38 yards on the ground, and then a hobbled Kam Pettway ran for 134 yards against Mercer. It was clicking yet. Even against Missouri it didn’t look right, despite Kerryon Johnson’s five touchdown runs from short range.
It wasn’t until the visitors from Mississippi came calling that we saw things begin to work up front, opening holes for the run game. It probably helped that teams were starting to respect the ability of our passing game to get behind them, but Johnson combined for six more touchdowns over the past two weekends, including a 204-yard effort against Ole Miss.
After being on probation in the minds of many fans, Chip Lindsey’s now able to enjoy the fruits of his labor, and Gus Malzahn’s got a top ten team with one of the most efficient offenses in the country. All it took was a few games to get some rhythm. I dare say that if we’d played Clemson in week four as opposed to week two, we play them much closer and maybe beat them.
- Total Defense: 287.5 ypg (13th nationally)
- Scoring Defense: 13.0 ppg (6th nationally)
- Passing Defense: 176.3 ypg (20th nationally)
- Rushing Defense: 111.2 ypg (22nd nationally)
Whatever complaints we had about a slow start for the offense, none of that applies to the defense.
From start to finish, they’ve been a relatively impenetrable unit all year long. We saw the kinds of pressure that we haven’t been able to enjoy in the opener against Georgia Southern, as they allowed just 78 total yards, including 13 TFLs and 5 sacks. It was one of the most dominant outings in years.
At Clemson, it was similar, we just played a much better offense. The good Tigers allowed just 14 points and 281 total yards, and with any sort of offensive effort, we would’ve won that game. Against Mercer, Missouri, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss, we got pressure with the front four, saw sure tackling from the linebackers, and blanket coverage from the secondary. Seriously, the last time we had a defense like this was sometime in the Tuberville era. Like the glory days of the Tuberville era.
Believing that the opponent won’t be able to score more than a couple of meaningful touchdowns has meant that the pressure on the offense to improve every time has been minimal. A good defense like this allows us freedom to make mistakes and grow as an offense. We got used to this sort of thing last year, with Kevin Steele coaching a hell of a defense from game one. It’s only continued this season, but with improvements despite losing guys like Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams.
Marlon Davidson, Derrick Brown, Jeff Holland, Nick Coe, Dontavius Russell, and Paul James up front have been wreaking absolute havoc, and I haven’t seen surer tacklers at linebacker in a decade or more. Tre’ Williams, Darrell Williams, and Deshaun Davis have been magnificent in the middle, and the back end boasts guys with experience like Tray Matthews and Stephen Roberts coupled with exceptional talent like Carlton Davis.
We’ll be in every game we play this year due to the defense, barring injury. It feels really nice, like one of those weighted blankets people have been raving over lately.
What can you say about this unit? We boast Daniel Carlson, who’s made a few miscues this year, but he’s still the best kicker in the country, and now the SEC’s all-time leading scorer. He should put some space between him and the next guy with several games left to go, and so his record will stand for quite awhile.
Punting has been an adventure, with Ian Shannon winning the job after Gus Malzahn deemed it our biggest weakness at SEC Media Days, but he lost it to Aidan Marshall pretty quickly. Overall, Marshall’s been reliable, but nothing special. Honestly, we haven’t needed to punt much over the past three weeks.
We finally saw a nice long return as well in the kickoff game. With Carlson booting them through the end zone every time, we don’t need to worry about that on kick coverage. With speed at kickoff return coming from the likes of Noah Igbinoghene, it was only a matter of time before he went a long way. Stephen Roberts has shown that he can bust a big one in the punt return game, but he hasn’t gotten much of a chance yet this year.
Overall, special teams might actually be the weakest point on the team, but I don’t think they’re the type of weakness that will lose us a game. We just may not win any games thanks to them.
Looking at this as a whole, I’m pleased with where we’re at right now. Obviously, we still control our own destiny and everything’s still in play. We’ll look ahead to the rest of the season later today, but it’s looking up. There are a couple of statement games left on the schedule, and Amen Corner’s going to be a hell of a ride this year, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.