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Nerd’s Take: Tigers Take Care of Business

Auburn went on the road and won at College Station for the third straight time setting up a potentially epic finish to the 2017 season.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Texas A&M Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t always pretty but Auburn did what they needed to do on the road in the SEC West. They played an early morning game against a team desperate for something good to happen. After falling behind early, Gus Malzahn finally coached aggressive to finish a half and he was rewarded. It wasn’t perfect but win and advance is Auburn’s mantra from here on out and they did just that Saturday morning.

Offensive Line Injuries

So what exactly happened in that first quarter? It’s actually pretty easy to explain: injuries. Mike Horton and Darius James have been banged up over the past few weeks and attempted to take the field against Texas A&M. Rewatching the first quarter, it was clear that was a bad decision as both were clearly hobbled with their respective injuries. Horton especially looked a shell of his usual self. Usually a powerful force in the interior, the big man played top heavy and struggled to deliver any power from the lower half of his body. A&M’s first sack is a great example.

Watch how Horton stumbles out of his stance. It’s clear he doesn’t have his legs completely underneath him and gets driven back into Stidham’s lap and it results in a sack. Later in the quarter you can see another example of Horton struggling with his feet.

Horton correctly peels off his double team to take the stunting DT but he just can’t get his body to move at the speed of his brain. The result is pressure on Stidham and a blown up play. You have to appreciate both kids giving it their all but sometimes it doesn’t matter how much heart or guts you got if your body just can’t get it done.

The Tigers made a change in the second quarter bringing in Prince Tega Wanogho at left tackle, Marquel Harrell at left guard and flipped Austin Golson over to right tackle. The change worked as Auburn’s first drive with the new offensive line resulted in a touchdown. You can just see the difference in pass protection on this play.

As the game went on this group of five got better and better eventually leading to a dominating 13 play 96 yard touchdown drive that ate up just over 8 minutes of game clock and put the game away. While both Harrell and Wangho still struggle at times with their assignments (as seen here), it was clear they were both in better shape physically to get the job done and it showed on the scoreboard as well. I would think that this group would be the starting five against Georgia but I don’t think that will be announced until game time. If Horton and James return to the starting lineup then keep a close eye on them in the first quarter against the Dawgs. Auburn will need their best offensive line performance of the season to move the ball against that front 7 and a big part of that will be having guys physically ready to go.

Appreciating Kerryon Johnson

Auburn is Running Back U. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Because of that, many outstanding running backs have come and gone. Each leaving their own mark in Auburn’s impressive running game history. Kerryon Johnson is doing just that this year and man it’s been fun to watch.

The former #43 player in the country spurned Alabama’s offer to come play safety to join Auburn’s backfield back in 2015. Since then we have seen flashes but injuries and loaded backfields have kept Johnson from really being able emerge as a superstar. That’s changed this year and Johnson is on his way to a historic season. At fifteen rushing touchdowns this season he leads the Power 5 in rushing touchdowns. He’s already 6th in single season rushing touchdowns in Auburn history, needing only three more touchdowns on the ground to move to the #3 slot.

So let’s just take a moment and appreciate the awesomeness of KJ who put on one of his best shows Saturday.

A lot has been made in the past about Kamryn Pettway’s NFL chances. I think Kerryon Johnson has just as bright a future at the next level as Bubba. Such a great football player and representative of Auburn University.

The Future

As one of the original Tadarian Moultry fanboys, I just had to take a moment and relive his first career sack. I thought Moultry was one of the top 20 players in last year’s class and truly believe he’s Auburn’s next defensive star up front. Saturday was a taste of what is to come from the former highly ranked recruit.

Touchdown Auburn

Another week with plenty of touchdowns to breakdown. Let’s get to it!

Auburn’s first touchdown is a thing of beauty. Usually in this look the Tigers run a quick toss to the strong side of the formation. This time, however, they fake the reverse to freeze the defense just long enough so Kerryon Johnson can find some open space in the flat. Six points for the Tigers.

After a frustrating first half this touchdown pass felt like the spark Auburn needed. Ryan Davis has become such a weapon that motioning him now opens up opportunities for other wideouts, namely Darius Slayton. Auburn sends Davis into the slot next to Darius Slayton. That motion causes the safety to the near side to move overtop Davis while the safety to the far side moves to the hash. Now Slayton is in man to man coverage with no safety deep over the top due to Auburn’s big personnel. Slayton initially gets re routed a bit but does a great job using his speed to get on top of the cornerback and use his hands to get some separation. Great snag for six. Auburn hasn’t had a consistent deep threat since Sammie Coates but Slayton is quickly filling that void.

Who doesn’t love a good special teams touchdown? Well at least when it’s your team doing the scoring... This is all Nick Ruffin who deftly navigates Texas A&M’s blockers and does great job getting his hand in the right place to block the punt. Disappointed Hastings did not scoop it up and flip it into the endzone but take what you can get I suppose.

Auburn’s playcalling at the goaline was awesome Saturday and this was another example. A&M is understandably stacking the box expecting run which leaves Darius Slayton and Ryan Davis in 1v1 coverage up top. Slayton’s running a corner route while Davis hits the quick out. Slayton’s route takes him into the Aggie DB responsible for Davis, leaving #23 wide open for the score. Not sure why Stidham hesitates throwing this ball but either way it works.

I included the bomb before the touchdown because how could I not? Again Davis’s motion draws the safety’s attention leaving Slayton all by his lonesome with the CB at bottom of screen. Again he just runs right by the defender and Stidham throws a magnificent ball that drops perfectly into Slayton’s bread basket for the big gain.

The very next play Kerryon Johnson just runs through the one Aggie defender in his way for 6 points. Johnson has a nose for the endzone.

The final touchdown of the day capped off Auburn’s epic 13 play, 96 yard touchdown drive. Facing 3rd & goal Auburn lines up in a familiar formation. Typically Stove’s speed sweep action is used as a way to get the linebackers moving one way so Kerryon can power through the other way. This time though, Stidham gives it Stove and great blocking by Braden Smith and Chandler Cox allow the speedy wideout to turn the corner and find the endzone to effectively end the game. Auburn gave future defenses a lot to think about when it comes to defending this offense in the redzone. That’s a sentence I am not used to typing.

The Final Gauntlet

So here we are once again. For the fourth time in Gus Malzahn’s five year tenure, Auburn is in position to play for an SEC title. In 2013, they finished it in epic fashion with a Hail Mary to beat Georgia and the infamous Kick 6 to beat Alabama. Since then only heartbreak... In 2014, the Tigers lost the flukiest of fluky games against A&M and never recovered getting thwacked on the road in Athens the next week. Then later threw the ball over the yard in Bryant-Denny but couldn’t find the endzone enough resulting in a 1-3 November finish. Then last season, Auburn entered the final stretch as a top 10 team only to see it go up in smoke with Sean White, Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson all suffering injuries. The Tigers played one of the worst offensive halves of football in Athens leading to an inexcusable loss. Then went to Tuscaloosa where they had a chance to strike early but couldn’t find the endzone and let the Tide pull away late.

So how are things different this year? Well for the first time since 2013, Auburn has their starting quarterback ready to go against Georgia. Kerryon Johnson is also as healthy as he could ever be and the Tigers bring with them one of the best defenses in the country. Problem is both Georgia and Alabama have their own juggernaught defenses and dominant rushing offenses. So even healthy this final gauntlet looks daunting.

But make no mistake, Auburn is perfectly capable of pulling this off. Jarrett Stidham’s arm allows Auburn to threaten both the Dawgs and Tide vertically. That in turn could open up some holes in the ground game. Georgia is as run heavy as it gets but boast a very efficient quarterback capable of taking what the defense gives them. However, he’s yet to prove he can go out there and beat you himself. I expect Auburn challenges him to do so. With both games being in Jordan-Hare and Auburn playing some of their best football, it’s hard to not have a little hope the Tigers can do it. At a minimum, it’s time Gus proves he can go out and win a big game. He’s got two opportunities to do just that.

War Eagle!!!