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Nerd’s Take: Strong 3rd Quarter Propels Auburn to Much Needed Victory

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Things weren’t looking great at halftime but this Auburn team came out with some fire in the 3rd quarter and got a much needed victory.

Auburn v Mississippi Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

If you read our staff predictions last Friday then you know I was not optimistic about Auburn’s chances Saturday. While I believed they were absolutely more talented than the Rebels, it just felt like this team was on the ropes and close to being knocked out for good this season. Coming off two straight losses, both to two of the worst teams in the conference, it just seemed unlikely this group would be able to rally and put together a strong showing on the road.

I was happy to be very wrong.

Despite what Kirk Herbstreit might have claimed Saturday morning on Gameday, this team has not quit. Auburn traveled to Oxford this past Saturday desperately needing a win and found a way to get one.

That W doesn’t mean the previous inexcusable losses are now excused nor does it mean that I all of a sudden believe this team is going to do special things in November. I’m still mad as hell about that Tennessee game and I am not optimistic at all about Auburn’s chances in the coming weeks. But I enjoyed the heck out of that game Saturday. No matter where you stand on the Gus Malzahn debate, I think we can all agree guys like Deshaun Davis, Marlon Davidson and Boobee Whitlow deserve more than they’ve gotten this year and it was nice to see those guys’ efforts (along with plenty of others) be rewarded.

3rd Quarter Explosion

It’s somewhat ironic that the quarter Auburn fans most fear under the Malzahn regime proved to be his salvation this past weekend. Stumbling to halftime only up 10-6 and the offense looking like it’s usual terrible self, the Tigers’ offense came out roaring in the 2nd half putting 21 points on the board in a hurry. What really stood out though was HOW Auburn moved the football over those 15 minutes.

Against Mississippi State and Tennessee, the Tigers ran 28 offensive plays. Only 7 were called runs. That means Auburn threw the ball 75% of the time in those two quarters. That’s pretty wild for a Gus Malzahn offense. Auburn averaged over 10 yards per carry on those runs though that’s a bit skewed by Whitlow’s long run vs Mississippi State. Still, only one went for less than 4 yards yet for some reason Auburn decided to keep the ball in the air.

You could say the big “tweak” Saturday was Auburn’s recommitment to running the dang ball in the 3rd quarter. The Tigers ran 18 offensive plays. Thirteen of those were called runs. Auburn racked up 135 yards and 3 TDs on those 13 carries. Not bad at all....

Auburn’s offensive line in the 3rd quarter, came out and started moving people in ways they have not all season long. Yes, Ole Miss’s defense is absolutely horrible but Auburn wasn’t getting this same type of movement in the 1st half.

This is Power. The bread & butter of Gus Malzahn’s offense. Auburn did not run this play once (from what I can tell) against Mississippi State. But the Tigers got back to being the Tigers in this quarter and here you can see Power in all it’s glory. Prince Tega Wanogho washes the DT down while Chandler Cox seals the edge. Mike Horton then pulls around and fits on the linebacker allowing Boobee Whitlow to run untouched down the field (before pulling up with a hamstring issue but ignore that). Just beautiful.

Here is Inside Zone and Shaun Shivers is actually able to get going as Marquel Harrell has shoved his man 5 yards downfield and Tega has sealed the DE on the edge. Nick Brams and Mike Horton aren’t dominating but their double team does enough to neutralize his ability to make a play. As a result, Shivers has a clear lane to power through for a nice pickup on 2nd down.

After establishing a dominant rushing attack, Auburn could attack this Ole Miss defense through the air when they wanted to. Facing a 2nd & long, Jarrett Stidham would drop back, climb the pocket and deliver a strike to Seth Williams who in turn broke a tackle and almost went the distance. This is what Auburn’s offense is supposed to look like.

Scoring 30+ on Ole Miss’s defense doesn’t all of a sudden mean everything is fixed. That Rebels’ defense might arguably be the worst in the country but it’s definitely the worst in the SEC. Throw in a putrid 1st half performance and I definitely don’t think fans should believe this offense is gonna drop 30+ on Texas A&M or Georgia in the coming weeks. But it was nice to see this offense do what is should do against a bad defense and doing it the way Gus Malzahn has typically built explosive offenses: power run game that sets up big plays through the air.

Nick Coe’s Big Day

Auburn’s pass rush has been a bit different this season. It hasn’t necessarily been poor but without an elite rusher off the edge, Kevin Steele has had to rely more heavily on blitzing to attack quarterbacks. While that attack has been effective at times, the truth is nothing is as effective as getting pressure with your front 4. Auburn was able to consistently do so the last two seasons thanks to guys Carl Lawson and Jeff Holland doing work from the Buck position. While Nick Coe has been excellent against the run, he’s not really been a pass rush force off the edge so far this year.

Well he wasn’t until this past Saturday.

Coe was unstoppable in Oxford. The North Carolina native recorded 5 tackles and 3.5 sacks Saturday. He got it done in a variety of ways as well. Let’s take a look.

This was Coe’s best pass rush of the day. Matched up against Greg Little (some believe he could be a 1st round NFL Draft pick), Coe chops with his left arm and is able to keep his right one free. That allows him to use his momentum to bend around the corner and make a play on the QB. This is the type of play that will jump out to NFL scouts on film. He wins with hands, leverage and athleticism. More please!

If you had any questions about Nick Coe’s athleticism, this play should answer them. Jordyn Peters is responsible for the TE while Deshaun Davis is matched up with the RB. Both stay in to block so both Davis and Peters blitz the QB. They get some pressure but aren’t able to get more than a hand on Jordan Ta’amu who does a great job escaping and running to open field. Coe, meanwhile, is rushing from a 5 technique and is initially stone walled by the RG. However, he sees Ta’amu scramble, disengages with his blocker and closes with insane quickness. There aren’t a ton of 6’5” 282 lb human beings who can do things like this.

Coe was given a half a sack with Derrick Brown on this 4th down stop according to Auburn’s official stats. Coe is lined up as a DT on this play and appears to be rushing more to contain Ta’amu than to sack him. Both he and Brown do a good job controlling their blockers and getting their eyes on Ta’amu. When the Rebels’ signal caller decides to tuck it and go, the inside lane closes immediately as both Brown & Coe close in a hurry.

Coe’s final sack came on a stunt where he slants inside, intending to occupy both blockers to free Coynis Miller up who is looping behind. Ole Miss’s right tackle does a good job of picking up Miller but one problem. He let Coe get too far inside so when he peels back there’s no one between Coe and the QB. Down goes Ta’amu.

Now outside of the first sack, Coe wasn’t necessarily blowing by Ole Miss’s tackles all day like Lawson or Holland but he found a way to get to the QB multiple times Saturday in key spots. After only recording 1.5 sacks through the first 6 weeks, Coe has logged 4.5 the last two games. That’s an encouraging sign as the Tigers head into a scary looking November.

Touchdown Auburn

It’s been far too long since we looked at Auburn touchdowns. Let’s change that right now.

Auburn capped off their brilliant opening TD drive with a clever little playcall that once again used their tendencies as weapons. Auburn comes out in a heavy formation here with a bunch look to the near side. Anthony Schwartz motions around the back end, faking an end around. His motion sucks in the backside cornerback. Meanwhile, Ole Miss’s two linebackers are frozen by the eye candy in the backfield which gives Whitlow the time to slip out in the flat and catch the easy touchdown.

HOLD ONTO THE BALL WITH TWO HANDS BOOBEE!!!!

Auburn opened the 2nd half by getting the ball in the hands of their playmakers. On the first drive of the 3rd quarter, JaTarvious Whitlow, Anthony Schwartz and Seth Williams all got touches. In fact, Schwartz really scored on a jet sweep but seeing how officials in Mississippi appear to not have the ability to recognize what is or is not a touchdown, Malik Miller would quickly enter the game and cap off the drive. The Tigers run Inside Zone and get enough push in the interior that Miller can just run right into their butts for the score.

So much to like about this play from Boobee until the 1 yard line... Auburn runs Smoke Draw and Whitlow sees a wide open cutback lane. He gets outside then somehow splits two Ole Miss defenders and races to the 1 yard line. However, he stumbles just before scoring, doesn’t secure the football with two hands and the Rebels’ DB is able to punch it free. Thankfully, Schwartz is hustling down the field and dives on it to score the TD. Both of Boobee’s fumbles at the 1 have been effort plays but at some point the young man has to learn to protect the football with two hands near the goaline.

The final score of the day once again comes from Miller. This TD was setup by Stidham nailing Seth Williams on a slant who then broke free and raced to the 1 yard line. The same guy that poked the ball free from Whitlow would make the TD saving tackle (OM needs 10 more guys with his type of effort). Again, Miller enters the game and Auburn runs Inside Zone. Not as great a push this time and a defender comes unblocked through the backside B-gap but Miller just runs through contact for the score.

Auburn now gets a week off to lick their wounds and rest up for an incredibly important matchup with the Texas A&M Aggies. It’s probably Auburn’s best shot at winning another SEC game before this season ends. Sure would be nice to be the team that breaks the home field curse in this series.

War Eagle!