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A Look Back, Auburn vs Mississippi State

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Watching the TV feed after watching from section 13

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Given the news from last night/this morning from Las Vegas, I’m looking for a reason to disconnect a bit. How about watching Auburn eviscerate Mississippi State one more time?

Video

Breakdown

  • Stidham did a good job on the second play. I think he wanted Kyle Davis on a deep cross, but apparently it wasn’t there. Both checkdowns were covered, which meant it was a good time to run. Picking up the first down was huge because it set up a first and 10 call where MSU couldn’t suspect anything...
  • ...and Auburn responded by running the inside zone/quick screen RPO. Auburn got the snap off with 32 seconds remaining on the play clock, and they had 6 blockers for 6 box defenders (7 and 7 if you count Nate Craig-Myers and the CB guarding him). State showed two high safeties. One followed the screen action while the other got too far down into the box. Braden Smith came off of his double-team and nailed the linebacker who took the open gap. Johnson just had to run behind his best lineman. The safety would eventually catch a not-100-percent Kerryon, but it was still 1st and goal.
  • TOUCHDOWN #1
    I have no idea how Gus decided to kick on 4th and goal at first. Even if Johnson didn’t punch it in, it still would have been the correct call to go for it. Auburn’s defense is good enough that you can be more conservative on 4th down, but that would have been ridiculous. For the TD itself, Casey Dunn made a great block to open the hole. Prince Tega Wanagho, wearing #99, didn’t really have anybody to block as Kerryon ran right behind him.
  • Even if the flag was waved off on review, I have no idea what Tray Matthews was thinking on the 3rd down targeting play. There was no need for that.
  • The play before the fumble, Stidham got greedy. The safety for MSU had help over the top on the fake screen, and Eli Stove was wide open for a checkdown. I’m sure was coached to take shots when he had them, especially given what we saw as the game went on, but that was a missed opportunity.
  • I assumed the incompletion/fumble was a touchdown live. You could not hear the whistle in the stadium. Auburn dodged a bullet on that one.
  • Auburn used the backup defensive line to start the possession after the fumble. State was able to convert on 4th and short, but they were able to hold MSU to short gains until the starters could come out on shut down the drive.
  • State is a very good offense in short yardage. They had 3rd and 1 at Auburn’s 12, then the crowd and State’s own offensive line turned it into 3rd and 11. That’s the potential for 4 points wiped off the board.
  • First play of Auburn’s ensuing drive was an RPO with Buck Sweep and the quick screen. I think my heart skipped a beat.
  • The best thing Lindsey did in this game was break tendencies. Auburn has been so run heavy under Gus that any play action on 3rd and short is going to result in favorable coverage. As Lindsey put it after the game, they had practiced the Wildcat-flea-flicker about 30 times. They were just waiting for cover 0. 3rd and short was a perfect time for it.
  • The next two plays were the Buck Sweep RPO again for a first down and then...
  • TOUCHDOWN #2
    Inside Zone and quick screen RPO. For the first time all game, State only had 2 defenders outside. Kyle Davis did his job and Ryan Davis was quick enough to score his second career touchdown against the Bulldogs. State fans, your thoughts?
Perfect
  • Given Fitzgerald’s running ability, Auburn should be in some trouble here:

DeShaun Davis is the only free defender, and he’ll have to work around a block to try and get Fitzgerald, while also trying not to over-commit. Big gain right? No. Because Auburn has a healthy Jeremiah Dinson. He threw off 81’s block and grabbed Fitzgerald by the shoestrings. One yard gain. It wasn’t pretty, but it was another example of how Dinson’s ability as a nickel defender gives this defense an edge against modern offenses. He has quickly become my favorite defensive player, with apologies to DeShaun Davis.

  • After forcing a punt into the endzone, Auburn found 3rd and short again. Again, Lindsey broke 2013-2016 tendencies. With 2 backs, a tight end, and Eli Stove in motion, Auburn threw the ball. State picked up the TE and Darius Slayton, but Stove was all alone down the sideline. The reason? Slayton just happened to run his route right into the linebacker who might have picked up Stove. Legal pick and an Auburn first down. The drive would stall out, but it still gets future opponents to back off on future third downs.
  • Give Stephen Roberts a lot of credit for grabbing a short punt that hit Kyle Davis. He tried to wave everyone off, but Davis couldn’t get away fast enough. That’s a big play because...
  • TOUCHDOWN #3
    Hastings has been so good at running corner and out routes that when he stuck the double-move to the post, he created 10 yards of separation. He’s Auburn’s fastest player in the 3-cone drill, and he showed the footwork there. Stidham just had to lay it right in his hands. State fans, your thoughts?
Indeed
  • Javaris Davis’s best play of the game may have been dodging an offensive lineman and nailing a State receiver just as the ball got there on 3rd and 4. Yes, I know what he did later. The next play was the fake punt, which was a great play by Daniel Thomas. I don’t know what Auburn’s opponents think they’re showing on punt defense, but that’s two failed fake punts in consecutive weeks.
  • How good has Will Hastings been for Auburn? State actually double-covered him on a 3rd down. He tried the option route where he goes in or out based on how they shade him, but State had him bracketed. There’s another tendency Auburn needs to break now.
  • Here’s one I can add from being in the stadium: don’t freak out about Carlson’s miss. He overplayed the wind. It had been coming from behind him and to his right the entire game, and it died right as he went to kick it. Oh well.
  • Despite an early hands-to-the-face penalty, Andrew Williams probably played his best game as a Tiger on Saturday night. He broke free of his block and raced down the line on a toss sweep to set up a 3rd and long.
  • Auburn’s next drive was hurt by a 2 yard loss by Stidham on 1st and 10 at the 25. Stidham correctly pulled on a zone read, but Tucker Brown couldn’t keep his block. Eventually Auburn failed on 3rd and 1 on a Wildcat counter.
  • State’s biggest play of the night victimized Richard McBryde. He let a receiver get behind him, and even a terrible throw by Fitzgerald (it nearly clanked right off of Atkinson’s helmet and was low and behind a wide open receiver) couldn’t stop a big gain.
  • It was tough to see in the stadium, but the review on Fitzgerald’s run was correct. We thought it might have been a fumble and Auburn recovery, but we couldn’t really see Fitzgerald’s rear end was down.
  • The State touchdown is probably on my man Dinson. He was the closest defender, and stayed inside with the play-action as Johnson strolled right by him. He’s still been fantastic this season.
  • As we walked to get a couple of Cokes at halftime, I told my wife we needed a stop and a touchdown to start the second half. After State got two 8-yard runs, Derrick Brown came through for me on the first part. He shoved State’s tackle right into the runner on 1st down and got the Bulldogs behind the chains.
  • On the punt, we needed a goal line camera. There’s no way 24 didn’t possess that ball across the plane of the goal, but then Stidham and Stove bailed us right out of it. Incredible protection up front, and Stidham threw Stove open past the single-high safety. Perfect play.
  • Stove accounted for 87 of the 99 yards on that TD drive. There was a great block by Cox to spring him on a 3rd and short sweep that got Auburn inside the 10.
  • TOUCHDOWN #4
    Power from under center. Nothing too special. Just a tough run by Kerryon.
  • INTERCEPTION
    You can’t play the smash concept better than this. Carlton Davis and Javaris Davis pattern-matched the routes, meaning that Carlton fought through the deep receiver to take the short one. Javaris had great coverage on the corner, and Fitzgerald threw a terrible pass anyway. To be honest Javaris should have caught it, but it was nice to see Tray Matthews catch a deflected pass in Jordan-Hare.
  • Okay, so I’m confused on this play. The penalty called is that an eligible number was covered. This is a penalty in the NFL (due to people getting mad that the Patriots did this), but as far as I know, this is not a penalty in college. Auburn has run this exact play several times under Gus Malzahn, the most famous being a huge third down conversion in the 2013 SEC Championship Game:

I know I never heard that they changed the rule in college. Certainly Auburn’s staff wouldn’t have called this play if they knew it was now illegal. Very strange.

  • The drive then stalled out when Kyle Davis didn’t finish his block on a screen to Kerryon. To be honest, I think it was a result of him getting a bit of a cheap flag that called back a touchdown against Missouri. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.
  • Pettway’s fumble after the 4th down stop was his last carry. I don’t think he plays against Ole Miss.
  • Any momentum State had after the fumble was immediately snuffed out by Jeff Holland. They tried to pull a guard and get to him on play-action. It worked about as well as when Auburn tried it against Clemson.
  • Stidham’s best throw all night was the 3rd and 3 throw to Kyle Davis. He got the safety to look at Ryan Davis on the slant, then dropped one perfectly into Kyle Davis’s hands. Can’t throw it any better than that.
  • TOUCHDOWN #5:
    There isn’t a running back that puts on an Auburn jersey that doesn’t want to go over the top of the pile from the 1 yard line. Kerryon got his.
  • INTERCEPTION/TOUCHDOWN #6:
    Receiver was open, but Fitzgerald just doesn’t deliver a catchable ball. Javaris Davis didn’t drop this one, and he had an easy trot to the end zone.
  • During State’s next drive, the announcers lament that Auburn has bad luck getting Georgia as an East opponent this year. I have no words.
  • It looks like State had a backup defense on the field, but Malik Miller ran well. I’d like to see him get Pettway’s carries next week if Kam Martin can’t go again.
  • TOUCHDOWN #7:
    #14 on a zone read pull. I got a bit verklempt. Auburn should have gone for 2 here. Mullen deserves it. He knows why.
    This also came right as the band was playing “Livin’ On A Prayer”. That tradition started when I was at Auburn, and it still works.

With all due respect to Big Kat Bryant’s first career sack on the last play of the game, we’ll end it there. This was a dominant performance by Auburn. Keep in mind there were 3 fumbles in this game, and State recovered all of them. Given the number of passes defended, Auburn was actually unlucky to only have 2 interceptions. It only got truly ugly in the fourth quarter, but Auburn controlled this game the entire way. There was no 3rd quarter Malzahn lull. This was a talented team putting away an overmatched opponent after halftime.

War Eagle!

PS: While I was writing this, a Southern legend passed away. Today can go to Tuscaloosa. RIP.