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Nerd’s Take: Touchdowns Are Fun

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Auburn’s offense exploded for 51 points on the road against a really bad team. What does it mean?

Auburn v Missouri Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Well that was fun.

Yes, I know Missouri is bad at football. Like REALLY bad. That was a team that doesn’t really seem sure about what or who they want to be, especially on defense, and a team in desperate need of some playmakers. Because of that, you can easily shoot down any positives from Saturday with the simple “but Mizzou sucks” excuse.

But I don’t care about Missouri. That’s not what my focus was this week. Instead, I wanted to see what Auburn did. That’s the same approach I had when rewatching the Georgia Southern and Mercer games as well. Against those two teams, there was a lot I didn’t like. I didn’t see a QB look all that comfortable until the game was well underway. I didn’t see anybody on offense willing to step up and make those 50/50 plays. I didn’t see a gameplan attempting to utilize the strengths of this offense. I didn’t see an offense that took holding onto the ball seriously.

That changed Saturday. From the get go, Jarrett Stidham was locked in and ready to play. He made quick decisions and sharp passes. If the play wasn’t there, he didn’t bounce around in the pocket unsure of his next move. Instead, he tucked it and got yards. This wide receiving core that has struggled to show up the first three weeks came to play and showed us a glimmer of that potential we all hoped to see. The offensive game plan was built around getting all the weapons involved and attacked the defense where they were vulnerable. There were zero Auburn turnovers. Those are all positive signs of change, regardless of the opponent.

Oh and the defense just kept doing what they do and Legatron regained his form. Not a bad day.

Attacking the Edge

Last week, I talked some about Auburn’s struggles in the run game due to some missed assignments but a lot of the times because of an overloaded box. In all honesty, after watching Missouri’s games against Purdue and South Carolina, I fully expected Auburn to attack the perimeter with a healthy dose of bubble and quick screens like they did against Mercer. Mizzou gives a ton of cushion on the outside and I expected Auburn would have a number’s advantage. Instead, Chip Lindsey decided to opt for strategy #2, the outside run game.

The reason the outside run game works as a counter attack to overloaded boxes is it effectively cuts the box in half. The idea being that once that backside defender arrives, the offense should have already picked up 4+ yards on the play. Take Kam Martin’s long run for example.

Missouri has 7 men in the box to Auburn’s 6 blockers (though you could probably count Nate Craig-Myers as being in the box as well). The Tigers are running Buck Sweep to the boundary. Missouri has four defenders to Auburn’s three blockers on the right while Auburn has an advantage to the left with four blockers to three defenders. That’s the direction the buck sweep goes. Nate Craig-Myers peels around and seals the MLB, Chandler Cox fits on the DE, Prince Tega Wanogho takes the DT while Horton pulls around and crushes the CB. Martin is off to the races and the Tigers have a big play.

The very next play, however, Auburn runs into an overloaded box and gets nothing.

Numbers matter and each week Auburn gets better at putting their guys in situations where the numbers favor them. Attacking the perimeter with the outside run game is a perfect way to counter attack these overloaded boxes while still getting to run the football. Auburn, for the most part, didn’t really test the perimeter the previous two weeks. However, with Kerryon Johnson back in the lineup and Kam Martin out of witness protection, the Tigers returned to running the ball both inside and outside resulting in a 5.0 yards per rush kind of day. They even, gasp, ran it outside on back to back plays Saturday, something I am not sure they have done all season.

Jarrett Stidham’s Growing Confidence

Stidham’s biggest issue so far this season has been his slow starts. It took him a whole half to get comfortable against Georgia Southern and about a quarter and a half against Mercer. That was not the case this week, he was locked in on the first snap.

First off, credit to the offensive line for this massive pocket. It helps when the defense only rushes three and you keep two backs in to block but after all those sacks early this season, any successful pass blocking is something to be happy about. Auburn is taking a shot right out of the gate. The Tigers are running a route combo called “Mills” or “Pin” where the post and dig routes are run from the same side. Stidham is reading the safety to the field. The safety steps up to take the dig underneath leaving Kyle Davis 1v1 on the cornerback. Davis gets inside leverage, sealing the DB away from the ball with his body and does a nice job attacking the ball in the air for the big play. This set the tone early for Auburn’s offense and gave Stidham a shot of confidence to start the game.

But it wasn’t the deep throws that made me the happiest (though I loved them), it was instead Stidham’s quick decision making when things didn’t go right.

This is a run pass option where Stidham is reading the SAM (#4). The SAM attacks, so Stidham correctly pulls the ball and looks to pass. However, credit to Mizzou’s defense for having the right defensive call in place as the CB sits down underneath taking the out route by Ryan Davis and the safety is there over the top to cover Kyle Davis. But instead of panicking, Stidham sees that nothing’s there and promptly tucks it and runs for a nice pickup.

This isn’t a play that changes the game or anything but this does show how much more comfortable and confident Jarrett Stidham is getting in this offense. Instead of bouncing around in the pocket and getting sacked or forcing a throw that’s not there, he takes what the defense gives him and sets Auburn up for a very manageable 2nd down.

Richard McBryde Spotlight

A lot of youngsters got a chance to play a bunch of snaps Saturday night. At about the 9:21 mark in the 3rd quarter is when the defense really began to turn things over to the reserves and the 4th quarter was basically just true freshman, walkons and a converted wide receiver in the game. However, former 4* LB Richard McBryde found his way onto the field early in the game. With Tre Williams sitting out due to injury, it was clear Travis Williams wanted to get the redshirt sophomore lots of meaningful snaps. Overall, I thought McBryde played outstanding.

It wasn’t perfect. He struggled at times with his run fits and assignments, something that shouldn’t be a surprise for a guy that hasn’t gotten a ton of live reps.

I believe McBryde is responsible for the A-gap on this play. However, he sees the RB jump cut and McBryde bounces outside to try and make the play thinking the back is headed outside. The RB, however, cuts into McBryde’s vacant gap and picks up a decent gain. This is an example of a young player wanting to do too much instead of trusting his assignment. Stephen Roberts is filling that B-gap in a hurry so there’s no need for McBryde to bounce outside. Great teaching moment for a young player.

However, other times McBryde confidently stuck to his assignment and made some really nice plays.

McBryde is responsible for the B-gap on this play. Before the RG can get off his double team and reach McBryde, he’s already past the OL and tackling the RB at the line of scrimmage. That’s exceptional quickness for a kid listed just shy of 240 lbs.

With Tre Williams graduating after this season, Auburn will be looking for someone to be the #2 MLB next season behind Deshaun Davis. I have a feeling McBryde can be that guy. I was extremely high on McBryde coming out of high school and though it’s taken some time for him to learn the scheme and find his place, I think he’s really getting close to realizing his full potential which should be exciting for Auburn fans. I mean this is our #5 linebacker destroying QBs.

Me likey.

Touchdown Auburn

I love it when this section takes up a third of the article. Means Auburn is scoring touchdowns and Auburn scoring touchdowns is fun.

As Justin Ferguson pointed out on Twitter this week, the Wildcat package isn’t defined by who is taking the snaps but by the unbalanced formation. So while Jarrett Stidham is taking the snap on this play, this is technically Auburn’s Wildcat package. Nuances aside, this TD is all thanks to great blocking up front. Tega seals his man while Braden Smith gets to the next level and takes out the linebacker. Chander Cox does enough to slow down the DE and allow KJ to scoot into the endzone for the first TD.

This time it’s Kerryon taking the direct snap out of the Wildcat. It’s not the greatest of pushes up front but enough bodies lean on enough Mizzou defenders for Johnson to find a big enough crease to fall into the endzone.

This time the blocking isn’t great but it doesn’t matter. Tucker Brown gets beat inside on the backside but Johnson promptly disposes of the threat with a nice stiff arm. The right side of the line does a good job washing down the defenders while Mike Horton pulls around and kinda sorts blocks #28. Good job by Johnson of quickly switching the ball to the other arm to avoid being stripped at the goal line.

Auburn hasn’t shown many variants to the Wildcat package when Kerryon is the ball carrier this season with pretty much every play being power to the unbalanced side. Missouri’s defense is well aware of this and all of their linebackers get sucked in. For some reason, Mizzou’s two backside defenders think Jarrett Stidham is a dangerous threat on the outside and go with him. Johnson makes a great read to see the wide open hole and finds the endzone. #22 is playing some really lazy defense on this play for Missouri. A give to Eli Stove probably would have been a TD as well.

Touchdown #5 for Kerryon is once again Johnson just making a play. Auburn is not in their Wildcat look instead in just their base 11 personnel (Note: someone on Twitter correctly pointed out last week I could/should probably call this 20 personnel as Chandler Cox is more a FB than TE) and it looks like Auburn is actually running the read option on this play. Stidham probably should have pulled this and trotted into the endzone as the OLB crashes in unblocked. It ends up up not mattering as KJ leaps before the backer can get there and stretches the ball over the goal line for another touchdown. Still, in the future, if this is actually a read option play Stidham needs to keep this and get the easier score.

Auburn busts out the wheel route for the final touchdown though it’s not the wheel man that scores. Kerryon Johnson is running the wheel while Nate Craig-Myers appears to be running a seam route. The wheel is covered but the safety falls down leaving NCM wide open. Stidham has plenty of time and hits Craig-Myers in the numbers who then waltzes in for his first touchdown of the season. Stidham bombs to Nate Craig-Myers is what I expected to see more of this season.

Final Thoughts

This was the best Auburn has looked across the board all season long. That appears to be how it goes with Gus Malzahn. Struggle through the first few weeks before finding the right buttons to press and turning into a top team only to have the wheels fall off at the very end. Hopefully, the second part of that pattern remains true as the Tigers enter the meat of their SEC schedule. Mississippi State this Saturday followed by Ole Miss, a road trip to LSU and a road trip to Arkansas before finally a bye week. Auburn’s offense appears to be finding themselves but this weekend will be the real test of that theory.

The Bulldogs got trounced by the other Bulldogs this past weekend but showed against LSU two weeks prior that they are a dangerous team. Any time Dan Mullen is on the other sideline you better be ready. I am hopeful that the offensive strides we have seen the last two weeks are proof that Auburn’s offense is about to really start rocking and rolling. But until they can prove it consistently against quality opponents, there will still be a lot of doubts. Put 30+ on Mississippi State this weekend and it will be hard to not start feeling excited about the potential of this team. Struggle or lose and things might start to go sideways. We will learn a lot this Saturday.

War Eagle!