In the past, I’ve always done a #rewatch on Twitter to breakdown some of the critical elements of the game. Thing is, it never really had a good flow to it. Then I figured, why do it on Twitter when you have a much better platform available to you? Let’s go to the tape...and by tape I mean the youtube quick-cut.
- Auburn’s first two offensive plays were straight out of last year’s playbook. The under-center jet sweep handoff to Eli Stove, then Malzahn’s classic rollout smash picks up the first first down of the year.
- First miscue (2:18 of the video): Stidham tries to pull out from under center too fast on a quick pitch on 3rd and 3. It looks like Kerryon might have had a lane to pick up the first down.
- Auburn’s second drive stalled out on the 3rd and 7 incompletion to Darius Slayton. Tough to determine “blame” on this one. If Stidham puts it maybe a few feet further out, it’s a touchdown. I’m sure Coach Kodi Burns would tell you Slayton should have caught it. Give credit to the defender as well. He grabbed Slayton’s trailing hand and got away with it.
- Much of Auburn’s defensive success was due to the Eagles’ linemen not getting into the second level. At the 6:57 mark, Georgia Southern’s left tackle ignores Nick Coe to attempt to block DeShaun Davis. Coe takes Werts, so he pitches. Davis just blows by the left tackle and races into the backfield for the pitch-man. Davis didn’t completely get Fields, but he got enough that Holland and a recovering Coe were quick to clean things up. Plays like this kept the Eagles in 3rd and long, where they aren’t comfortable.
- GSU’s Flynn averaged 38.9 yards per punt, but he was really inconsistent. Case in point: he had a 61-yarder late in the game, and a 20-yard effort that set up Auburn’s first touchdown drive. That averages to 40.5, but the 20 yard shank hurts a lot more than the 61 yard effort helped.
- TOUCHDOWN #1.
OH YOU KNEW IT WAS COMING. BUCK SWEEP Y’ALL. BEEF COMIN DOWNHILL. SPEED ON THE EDGE. The Eagles had been over-playing the inside runs, and the buck sweep is a great constraint to stop that. Stove motions away from the play. James takes the DT. Cox is supposed to take the play-side DE, but he races into the backfield and takes himself out of the play. Nate Craig-Myers does a great job walling off the play-side linebacker with a legal crack block. Horton and Smith pull into space. Horton’s job (red line) is to get the MLB, but he’s taken himself out of the play. Smith plows the poor cornerback, and Kerryon’s speed does the rest.
- I don’t know if it’s an adjustment for this game, or if it’s a plan going forward, but the only players in a 3-point stance on several plays were the interior defensive linemen. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this continue against about half of the schedule (i.e. Clemson, Ole Miss, Mizzou, and Texas A&M, and not Arkansas, LSU, Georgia, or Alabama).
- 9:10 mark: Georgia Southern tried to convert a 3rd and 11 with a screen, which would take advantage of Auburn’s aggressive pass rush. However, Marlon Davidson saw it the whole way, Stephen Roberts threw off a blocker, and Derrick Brown went from “rushing the passer 10 yards into the backfield” to “tackling the receiver for a loss along the sideline” in about 3 nanoseconds. Y’all this just might be the most talented defensive line I’ve ever seen in orange and blue, with all due respect to the 2013, 2010, 2006, 2004, and 1993 groups*.
- 10:40 mark: Stidham never really should have thrown this one. Hastings had zero separation. Give the defender credit, though. He undercuts Hastings and makes a great catch.
- 13:05 mark: here’s the one issue you can have with RPOs. Stidham has no protection if GSU sends more defenders than he has blockers on the blind side. I’ve seen people blame Kerryon or Wanogho for this one, but either the line has to shift left to adjust to the extra rusher, or Kerryon has to somehow get around Stidham after the run fake. Maybe Stidham can get it out faster to an open Stove, but this one failed on play design and pre-play checks.
- 16:03 mark. There’s nothing wrong with Stidham checking down to Kerryon here. He’s got Kerryon in space against a linebacker. Instead, he steps up and rifles a pass to Slayton, who makes a great catch before going out of bounds. It shows just how confident Stidham is in himself. That’s important, especially after a sack-fumble and interception ended his last two drives. Short memory is important in a quarterback.
- 17:07 mark. Hastings goes five yards, determines that the Eagles are shading him inside, then turns out, catches an easy throw, and races for a nice gain. It’s probably best not to try and cover Will Hastings with a linebacker.
- 19:37 mark. That’s Jeremiah Dinson cleaning things up for a loss. His first game back after getting cheap-shotted by garbage human Ricky Seals-Jones way back in November of 2015. It’s great to see him back.
- TOUCHDOWN #2 (22:22 mark). Here’s one that’s similar to a play Malzahn has run before, but Lindsey brings a new wrinkle. Stove motions in as an h-back, then goes across the formation during the play-fake. Stove has to stay behind the line of scrimmage, since Slayton is blocking. There’s only one defender, and he takes Stove. Stidham pumps to make sure he stays with Stove, then cuts upfield and takes it in untouched. Nice little play design here.
- 24:05 mark. This is picture-perfect option defense. Coe takes the QB and forces the pitch. Davis takes away an inside cut, and Dinson takes away the outside lane. Ramsby hesitates then gets buried.
- 25:24 mark. Same play from 17:07, but this time GSU gives Hastings the inside option. He takes it for an easy first down.
- TOUCHDOWN #3. This is an RPO. The Eagles lose this one on math, alignment, and good Auburn blocking. The line from right guard Braden Smith to the left sets a wall. James lets the end try to go outside, then walls him off. Stidham hands off with the math advantage in the box. The play-side safety is worried about Hastings, and the play-side corner is tracking Slayton’s hitch route. From my angle in section 13 (behind the play, left corner), I stood up with Martin took the handoff.
- 27:08 mark. After getting their first first down of the game due to penalty, the Eagles make sure they get a legitimate one. Atkinson follows the dive man a little too long, and Werts gets into space.
- Two more runs get the Eagles another first down. They’re finally moving the ball! They’ve got 1st and 10 at the Auburn 23!
For some reason, Georgia Southern’s right tackle takes Derrick Brown. The right guard is left blocking no one. Jeff Holland is unblocked. Oops.
- I’m not sure why Auburn doesn’t just take this one into the half after the first two plays gain nothing. Sure Slayton makes a nice move, but he doesn’t protect the football, and now the defense is stuck defending inside their own 40 for no reason.
- 35:17 mark. Rollout smash again. Stidham smartly takes the hitch. That’s the key to the play. You can’t get greedy and take the corner when it isn’t there.
- TOUCHDOWN #4.
The Eagles blitz, and Auburn has a nice route combo to beat it. The inside receiver (red route) goes deep, taking the press defender with him. The deep defender can’t get to Ryan Smith (yellow route) before an easy catch. Smith breaks his tackle, then leverages Eli Stove’s downfield block to dive into the end zone.
- After a short run on first down, Werts gets sacked on back to back plays. On second down, Tre Williams delays his blitz and is on a 10 yard sprint before nailing Werts. On third down, no one up front accounts for the twist from Davidson after he lined up on the inside. So in back-to-back plays, Werts gets a free shot from Tre Williams and then Marlon Davidson. If he didn’t spend all of Sunday in an ice bath, he’s the toughest kid on their roster.
- 50:16 mark. The Eagles best chance to score fizzles out on 4th and goal. Great job here by Darrell Williams to track Fields out of the backfield and drop him for a loss.
- Stidham’s last drive was the best he looked all night to me. He made a perfect throw to Canella as he broke open, only for it to be dropped. On 3rd and 11, he bought time and found Martin for a checkdown to get close to the marker. Then...
- TOUCHDOWN #5. This was an old Malzahn staple. Stove comes in orbit motion. Stidham play-fakes, then drops a beautiful pass in the back corner for Hastings. A drone couldn’t have dropped it in Hastings’s hands any better.
- I know several people wanted to see Malik Willis in garbage time, but Adams has earned the shot. Also, we need to know how much the offense drops off with him in the game. It’s not like Willis won’t have another opportunity in two weeks if they don’t want to redshirt him.
- The only thing I wanted out of the Eagles’ final drive was to keep them under 100 total yards. I was somewhat surprised they went for the Hail Mary with 9 seconds left, but Thomas came up with the pick and kept them at 78 yards.
The yardage numbers tell the story: 535 to 78. Auburn’s defensive line dominated the game. I could have put up a bullet for nearly every play that Auburn’s two interior linemen either got penetration or stood GSU up at the point of attack. Even when they didn’t make stops, they cleared room for Tre Williams to make plays. It was the best game from an Auburn defensive line in a long time.
Stidham did look rusty, and the receivers didn’t get great separation, but Auburn didn’t try much. After the 1st quarter, I only noticed 2 or 3 true RPOs. Even then, it’s tough to tell because several Auburn receivers ran routes rather than blocking. It serves the same purpose, but sometimes makes it tough to tell if it’s really an RPO. If Kerryon’s injury isn’t serious, then this was as successful as an opener as we could have hoped for.
*-Disclaimer before my father bursts through the door and reminds me that Benji Roland, Ron Stallworth, and Tracy Rocker led a defense that allowed about 8 points per game: I’m too young to remember 1988 in real time.