Well that sucked. Auburn’s first play was a sack. Auburn’s last 3 plays were sacks. Let’s try and find out what happened.
DISCLAIMER: I’m not a coach. I’ve never played football outside of practice in middle school. I don’t have the All-22 film. All conclusions here are my best guesses based on watching football my entire life and being a play-design nerd. Those conclusions should be interpreted as such.
1Q, 1st and 10 AU 25, 15:00
Auburn opens up in 10 personnel with 2 WRs to either side. Since I don’t have the All-22 feed, I’m not sure what the route combination is to the bottom. At the top is a smash-concept. Stidham gets man coverage, so the call is usually to hit the corner route to (I think) Ryan Davis. It seems to be well covered. His checkdown, Pettway, is also well covered.
I think he panics too early. Stidham has a good pocket, and Wanagho has walled off his man behind Stidham. He should be able to step up and either wait for someone to break open or get rid of the ball. Instead he flushes right and CU’s linebackers are all over him.
1Q, 2nd and 7 CU 43, 1:47
Intentional grounding counts as a sack for record keeping. This is the trick play. Stidham threw the ball away, and I’m assuming he didn’t know that once anyone else touches the ball, you can’t safely throw the ball away. In his defense, I didn’t know that either. On the other hand, one of the 6 offensive-minded coaches or however many analysts should have known that and directed him as such. If he throws this at Pettway’s feet he’s fine. It was a nice 2nd down call though.
Fault: Play design, coaching
2Q, 3rd and 5 CU 6, 15:00
Auburn is again in 10 personnel, but this time there are trips to Stidham’s left. Clemson only rushes 4. Lawrence rips past Braden Smith and forces Stidham to step up right as he finished his drop. He steps up right into the arms of Wilkins. This one is all on the line. If Stidham has more time, I think he could have hit Pettway right at the sticks.
Fault: O-Line, Braden Smith
2Q, 2nd and 1 AU 30, 0:34
With time running out in the half, Auburn sends everybody out on 2nd and 1. Stidham breaks the pocket and rolls right, but apparently he doesn’t have anything and goes out of bounds with a loss of 1. This goes down as a sack, but it really isn’t any different than a throwaway.
Fault: Unknown, possibly coverage
3Q, 2nd and 5 AU 35, 10:27
10 personnel, 2 WRs to either side. Ferrell times the snap and Wanagho can’t wall him off enough. I think Auburn was running a fake screen to the right, since Ryan Davis is near the backfield when Stidham is blind-sided. I understand maybe taking a shot here, but where is the checkdown. I also don’t recall a hard-count later in the game to attempt to catch Clemson offside. Auburn is lucky to recover the fumble here. It was a 50/50 ball that Wanagho got to first.
Fault: not varying the snap count (though credit Ferrell here)
3Q, 3rd and 14 AU 26, 9:41
The very next play. Same personnel, but trips left. Clemson rushes 5, but showed 6. Stidham steps up and right into the pocket, but apparently he has nothing. God forbid ESPN show an endzone replay. In fairness, this is 3rd and 14, so I’m sure he wanted all of it. Fans hate when you run 3rd down routes short of the line to gain, but it has it’s place. Let your guys try to make plays.
Fault: coverage + no underneath option (just a guess)
Q3, 4th and 3 CU 37,
After a nice 3rd down play where Stidham hit Davis on a crossing route (see? we did run them) to set up 4th and 3, Auburn sugar-huddles with unbalanced 21 personnel. TE Jalen Harris is the weak-side tackle, and Braden Smith is the “TE”. It’s a flood to the right. Cox, the FB, runs shallow, then I’m guessing the receivers run a high-low combo.
For reasons I don’t know, the line shifts left. Clemson’s Lamar waits for a hole to open up, and Pettway is left blocking two defenders while the other 6 protectors block 3. Stidham doesn’t really have a chance here, but with it being 4th down, you might as well throw it.
Fault: play design, O-Line
4Q, 3rd and 7 AU 15, 14:23
10 personnel again with 2 WRs to either side. Clemson blitzes, and while the pickup is pretty good, Wanagho gets beaten by Ferrell. Stidham actually does a really nice job to roll right and try to find someone. On replay, I think he should probably get this one away to whomever was the outside receiver to the right. Though I can’t tell if they come back to Stidham like they should.
Fault: Wanagho, Stidham, possibly an unnamed WR
Q4, 1st and 10 CU 45, 5:21
A Stove sweep and Stidham scramble have Auburn inside Clemson territory on what would be their final possession. Auburn goes with 10 personnel, 2 WRs to either side and a stack to Stidham’s right. This is a screen to Kam Martin, but Clemson red it the whole way. When Wanagho leaves Ferrell, he stays with Martin. Since Wanagho goes downfield and attempts a block, Stidham can’t throw to anyone else. This has to go at Martin’s feet.
Fault: Stidham, but credit 99 for not being fooled here.
4Q, 2nd and 13 CU 48, 4:48
Martin is replaced by Pettway, otherwise the same personnel. Hastings motions right to even the formation and determine coverage. Clemson moves their safeties, so it’s probably zone. Clemson rushes 6, but they rush both linebackers into the same gap. The second linebacker waits for Pettway to pick up #34, then runs right behind him as a free rusher. This is known as a “green dog”. If the play takes too long, and if the line doesn’t react, then Clemson has a free hit on Stidham. Davis is pretty open as he breaks his post to a square-in since the safety stays high, but Stidham either can’t see him or was too focused on Hastings running the rail route.
Fault: a little on Stidham for not reading the blitz and/or not stepping into the throw, a little on the line for not reacting (at the end, there are 4 linemen blocking two players), a little credit to Venables, who didn’t blitz much until Auburn got desperate.
4Q, 3rd and 20 AU 45, 4:03
Auburn brings in Cox to help with protection and sacrifices a WR. It doesn’t matter, because Clemson only rushes 4. Stidham has time, but apparently no one is open. He steps up, then flushes right, but there’s only one receiver to that side. He waits too long to try to throw the ball away, and his knee hits the ground before he puts one right between Kodi Burns’s imaginary numbers. Imaginary because he’s out of eligibility and is the wide receivers coach, not a wide receiver.
Notice I said Stidham flushes right. Stidham rolled to his arm side every time he was under pressure. Even if the left was open. Even if the left was the wide side of the field. Even if there are more receivers to the left. He has to be coached to flush to space, not just to his arm strength. If he rolls left here, he’ll have enough time to set his feet and throw. I’m not sure if he’s been coached into doing it, or if he hasn’t been coached out of doing it.
Some of these are situational. I’ve never been much for throwing the ball away on third down, because you’re just saving a few yards for the punt. 5 of the sacks were on 3rd or 4th down. The real problem is the other 6. Sure, one was an obscure rule, but what about the other 5? They consistently kept Auburn in bad situations where Clemson could ignore the run threat and pass rush at will. Great offenses struggle in those scenarios, and this does not appear to be a great offense. What it can be is good. Good offense with this defense is probably enough to win 10 games (give or take the bowl). Jarrett Stidham has all the arm talent he needs, but he has to get the ball to his receivers. Those receivers have to work to get open. The line has to gel and give him time.
This Saturday is going to be a “get-right” game. It’s a chance for Auburn to clean up its passing concepts and give its players the confidence they need before hitting the road in the SEC. All is not lost, but if changes aren’t made, there are only a few games left on the schedule that can be counted as surefire wins.