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Deep Cuts: Alabama State

Shaun Shivers sure showed some big time potential Saturday and Daniel Thomas continues to be an impact player for the Tigers early this season.

Alabama State v Auburn Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

Auburn fans got to see a little of everything Saturday from a pick 6, to a 50+ yard bomb, to even a punt block for a touchdown. They also got a taste of the future with guys like Shaun Shivers getting a chance to show what they can do for the first time as an Auburn Tiger. Today, we take a look at what Shivers brings to the table at running back and take a closer look at Daniel Thomas’s two big plays on defense.

Drew McCracken

This week, I wanted to do something a little different (mainly because Auburn ran such a basic playbook) so we are going to talk about what makes a great running back and how Shaun Shivers did a text book job of doing that midway through the 4th quarter this past weekend. To set up the play, Shivers had just rushed for 10 yards and a first down at the AL State 44.

As you can see, Auburn is in a modified pistol with an H-back slotted to the left of the quarterback, 2 wideouts to the far side and one to the near. Alabama State is in a base 4-3 with a safety high.

Cord Sandberg takes the snap and turns to give it off to Shivers as the line pushes left on a slant. The H-back pushes to the outside to help seal off the edge. At this point, Shivers can follow him as the play is designed to do, unless he sees a lane to cutback to at the line of scrimmage. From Shivers body position, this is exactly what he is planning to do. However, it is moments after this that he sees a hole open up and buys a few seconds to see if the hole develops.

His patience pays off as in a split second, he recognizes a lineman who will crack back and clear up the hole that Shivers will hit right as the O lineman will get to his man.

And here is the fruit of that patience as Shivers hits the second level and busts through for 16 yards and another Auburn first down. Two plays after this, Shivers would finish the drive in the endzone. Great running backs understand their blocking scheme, have the vision to see holes opening before they fully do, possess the athleticism to take advantage of those running lanes and have the toughness to finish every single run with authority. We saw all of this on display Saturday when Shivers touched the football.

Let’s take a look at this artistry in motion.


I loved both of Daniel Thomas’s interceptions so much that I couldn’t decide which one to break down, so obviously I had to do both.

The first interception happens late in the first quarter. After Jarrett Stidham connected with Anthony Schwartz for 57 yards, Alabama State starts their next possession on the 25 yard line. The Hornets are running what looks like an RPO concept (WR on far side blocks) out of the gun with trips to the near side and one receiver up top. Auburn is in their base 4-2-5 defense in what appears to be Cover 1 pre snap but I think ends up actually being Cover 2 (Jeremiah Dinson initially drops eyeing the boundary WR while Auburn’s CB to the nearest side bails just before the snap with his eyes looking inward like he’s in zone coverage).

If this is an RPO concept, I am not quite sure who the QB is reading. It could be a presnap decision to throw it based off numbers in the box (AU had a 6 to 5 advantage) or he’s reading Daniel Thomas on this play who initially drops back a step. Either way, the QB elects to pull it and throw the quick hitch. The minute the QB starts his motion, Thomas sees what’s coming and attacks.

I think the QB was a touch late getting this throw out but it’s still a phenomenal play by Thomas. In just seconds, he diagnosis what’s coming and closes fast enough to pick this thing off and take it to the house.

It’s typically a bad sign when your QB breaks off his release in order to get a head start on making a tackle before his pass has even been caught.

Check it out in real time below.

Interception #2 comes midway through the 2nd quarter. Auburn has started rotating some young guys in but the majority of the 1st team defense is still on the field. Alabama State bunches trips to the boundary on the far side of the field. Auburn is again in their base 4-2-5 look with the near side corner back (Roger McCreary) lined up in the box since there’s no wide receivers to his side of the field. The Hornets are trying to run a Now or Quick screen (teams have like a bazillion names for it, Gus calls it a “Spot” screen) to the deepest WR in the trips. Auburn counters by having Daniel Thomas up at line of scrimmage to jam the WRs coming off the snap. However, they aren’t going to run routes but instead block for the screen play.

Or at least they are going to try and block the screen play. Thomas, again, quickly diagnosis what’s coming and attacks. He splits this double team beautifully though I think there was some confusion between the Hornets’ wide receivers on who was supposed to take Thomas.

After getting through the blockers, Thomas makes a diving interception. He’s not only thinking and reacting quickly, he’s also finishing the plays. He could have just swatted this pass away but instead turns this into an immediate scoring opportunity for the Tigers. Considering no one had more than two interceptions for Auburn last year, pretty positive sign one guy has already matched that two weeks into the 2018 season.

War Eagle!