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Nerd’s Take: Wins Keep Getting Uglier

Auburn has won two straight but they sure haven’t been pretty.

NCAA Football: Southern Mississippi at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll admit it. I thought this weekend would be when things clicked. I thought you might see Auburn’s offense struggle some early only for things to fall into place and the Tigers drop 40+ points on Southern Miss. I fully expected to feel a lot better about this team before it’s trip to Starkville this weekend.

I was wrong.

Instead, Auburn’s offense continued to struggle in it’s search for an identity. To make matters worse, three of the most consistent pieces in JaTarvious Whitlow, Prince Tega Wanogho and Jack Driscoll all left with injuries. There’s a chance none are back for Mississippi State (I think Driscoll will play, not sure on others). This is not an ideal place to be.

But the season is really just beginning. Auburn starts their trek through SEC play this weekend and we have reached Gustober. It needs to be his best ever. With this defense, Auburn’s offense just needs to be average and the Tigers can win 10 games this season. Will they reach that mark? No idea but I do know we are reaching the point in time when things typically get rolling for Gus. Let’s hope that trend continues this year.

This week’s article is a little abbreviated due to it coming out so late (sorry about that again). I am focused mostly on the offense but I just wanna say that you better be enjoying this defense. Don’t let offensive struggles prevent you from celebrating what this unit is accomplishing right now. It’s currently ranked #1 by S&P+ and has allowed the fewest amount of touchdowns this season (5). In fact, they have given up only one rushing touchdown all year, have picked off more passes this year through 5 games than they did in all of 2017 and have at multiple players with more tackles for loss right now than they did all of last season. This group is more than good enough to beat anybody on this schedule if they can just get a little help from the offense.

Rain Delay

I do want to put that 2nd half into some context. First off, there’s no excuse for that type of performance. Southern Miss had to wait just as long as Auburn did and had to play on the same wet field. Their offense found the endzone AFTER the rain delay so please don’t take this as excuse making.

However, I do feel there has been some overreaction to the Auburn’s performance without really taking into account the conditions. Before that rain delay, Auburn’s offense hadn’t lit the world on fire but were also not a tire fire. They had surrendered only two tackles for loss and no sacks. They had scored 14 points and were in fact coming off their best drive of the game when the delay struck.

There’s been videos floating around of Auburn’s OL getting trucked and while you would hope guys would handle the situation better, all of those happened AFTER the delay. It was clear to me on rewatch that Nick Brahms really struggled with his footing as did some others up front. One of Southern Miss’s biggest offensive plays of the day came via three AU players falling down. Conditions like that tend to favor the underdog as it makes the game uglier. That was definitely the case Saturday.

Auburn’s offensive line is still a major concern moving forward especially if they are down their two most reliable options. Not having Whitlow this weekend will be tough too. But before you think all hope is lost, I would wait and see how this offense performs this weekend against a very good Mississippi State defense. I suspect it won’t look as awful as it did at times this past Saturday. I don’t expect it to all of a sudden become the juggernaut we had hoped it would be but I do expect Auburn to play better. Whether or not it will be good enough remains to be seen.

Explosive Plays

One bright spot for this offense was the fact that it was able to generate three 30+ yard plays against the Golden Eagles. Coming into Saturday, Auburn only had 3 of those type of big gainers all season long. If you can’t consistently move the chains then you better at least be able to land a few haymakers throughout the game. Auburn did that Saturday.

Auburn’s first 30+ yarder went for a touchdown to Seth Williams. On the very first play of the game the Tigers run what’s called “Kansas HR” in Gus’s playbook which is a double post concept. What Auburn wants to do is get the backside post in a 1 on 1 situation. Pre snap, this looks like a 2 high safety look but this will actually be Cover 1 Robber. The field safety is robbing the middle of the field so the boundary safety is bailing to the deep middle.

Darius Slayton runs a quick screen to keep his CB out of the play while Ryan Davis and Seth Williams both run posts. Davis’s route is supposed to open up the middle of the field for Williams which it does in this case. In fact, he actually appears to beaten both of his men and could have been targeted for the score as well. However, Stidham’s progression starts on Williams and when he sees he has the 1 on 1 situation he’s lookin for, he tosses it up for the freshman to make a play.

He does.

Props to Stidham for sticking in the pocket and taking a bone crushing hit.

Early 3rd quarter, Auburn struck again for a big gain. Facing a 3rd and long, the Tigers run a simple quick screen to Malik Miller who makes a big run after the catch that includes decimating a poor Golden Eagles’ defender.

Unfortunately, a dropped 3rd down pass prevented any points this possession but that was not the case with the final 30+ yard play of the day.

Auburn again goes max protect to give Stidham time. Ryan Davis is running a deep out and his defender stays short to cover the RB coming into the flat. That means the deep safety is coming down to take Davis. Meanwhile, Darius Slayton is running a post and because the CB has outside leverage, it’s easy for him to get an inside release and run by the DB. The backside safety can’t help in time and it’s a big play.

One of the few times this year this offensive line has built a wall around Jarrett Stidham. Funny what can happen when your strong armed QB has time.

Auburn’s three big plays lead to 14 points on the day. Moving forward, if Auburn can’t develop a consistent rushing attack they are going to HAVE to become more explosive. If the Tigers’ offense can connect on 3-4 big plays a game that might give them enough scoring with this defense to win quite a few games. Again, if you aren’t efficient you better be explosive and Auburn took a positive step in that direction Saturday. Need more of it this weekend.

Touchdown Auburn

Once again, not as many touchdowns as I want to talk about but at least there were as many as there needed to be to get the W. I broke down Auburn’s first touchdown above so let’s take a look at #2 and #3.

Out of the sugar huddle, Auburn runs a speed sweep to the far side of the field. Two big blocks make this play. First, Sal Cannella seals the safety and takes out a linebacker in the process as well. Second, Tega rips his man to the ground to give Schwartz the edge. I suspect if USM had used this blocking technique I would have been screaming for a flag but if they don’t call it then it’s just a great block. Nobody is catching Schwartz when he turns the corner.

I wrote about this play earlier this week. Auburn does a great job of using their tendencies here to spring Chandler Cox free for the touchdown. With Malik Miller checked in, Auburn shifting to a pro look they like to run power out of and it being 1st & goal from the two yard line, everything here feels like power run game. Instead, Stidham play fakes it and Cox leaks out for the easy score. More tendency busting please!

War Eagle!