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Nerd’s Take: New Stars Emerge

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Auburn sloppily did what they needed to do Saturday and along the way they might have found some new impact players.

NCAA Football: Alabama State at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn wasn’t necessarily their sharpest Saturday. Going 3 & out against a lower calibre FCS squad on your first possession isn’t exactly encouraging. A busted play on 2nd down setup a 3rd & long which could have been easily converted if not for a drop by Seth Williams. Then Auburn moved the ball on their 2nd possession down the field with relative ease only for Boobee Whitlow to cough it up. Quickly after the turnover, Daniel Thomas gets caught flat footed and Alabama State is in striking range.

Gus your thoughts?

But after the Hornets missed a field goal things got rolling for the Tigers and they laid down a 63-9 beating of the Hornets. I would have liked to have seen Auburn start this game sharper and obviously four fumbles ain’t a good thing but Auburn did what they needed to do. They pummeled an opponent they should pummel and were able to get almost every backup some action in the game.

There isn’t much to talk about in terms of scheme or questions answered after this game. It was clear Auburn wanted to get some younger guys more snaps and to put some reps of certain plays on tape against an overmatched opponent. But in doing so, a few young guys really stood out as possible players that could have a big impact on Auburn’s 2018 season. Obviously more than just these three guys had good games but I thought the way these three impacted the game really stood out.

Anthony Schwartz

We all knew Anthony Schwartz was fast. When you are setting high school sprinting records and competing in world competitions, it’s clear you can move. But Saturday, Schwartz showed he’s more than just a guy that can run straight down the field really fast. Auburn got the ball in his hands a number of times and he did WAY more than just run by people.

Schwartz could have easily just kept running around the edge here past Chandler Cox and probably have been tackled at the 20 yard line for a nice gain. Instead, he hesitates allowing Cox to get ahead of him. Thought it’s not the greatest block in the world, it does enough to free up a little more space and Schwartz picks up 5-10 more yards than he would have had if he had just run as fast as he could around the corner.

Here you see a little power in Schwartz game. He’s not going to be running many dudes over but he’s got enough strength to run through arm tackles on the perimeter. The Hornets’ DB makes a nifty move to dodge Chandler Cox’s block and has a chance at the tackle but Schwartz just runs through it and picks up some additional yards.

Auburn has had some talented guys run these speed sweeps in the past. Onterio McCalebb was a terror, Corey Grant was explosive, Ricardo Louis was effective and Eli Stove has been outstanding. But I think there’s a really good chance Schwartz takes this aspect of Auburn’s attack to a new level. He’s faster than all of those guys (which is insane) but also possesses the skillset to make guys miss in the open field and to not go down on first contact. Anytime he is on the field, defenses are going to have to use at least one man to keep track of him. That, in turn, should open up more opportunities for players elsewhere.

Shaun Shivers

Shivers was one of the most overlooked players in Auburn’s 2018 signing class. Being Auburn’s 2nd commit of the class and there not being a ton of drama around his recruitment, there just really wasn’t much to report on him. I don’t think I wrote often at all about Shivers other than “he’s still committed and doing well this season”. Then fans see his size and assume scat back. Heck, he didn’t even get to be called the fastest guy in the class thanks to Schwartz. Throw in two other more highly rated backs signing and you can see why Shivers didn’t get the attention he probably deserved.

Well he has everyone’s attention now.

The Hollywood, FL native burst onto the scene this past weekend with an impressive performance. But what really stood out about Shivers wasn’t so much that he dominated but HOW he dominated. You expect Auburn to out athlete Alabama State so him running by dudes isn’t a shocker. But what Shivers really showed was a deep understanding of Auburn’s blocking scheme, incredible vision and a “come get some” attitude. Every single play he looked for someone to hit to finish his run. Consistently, he made the right cut, at the right time.

One drive in particular stood out. Auburn ran Outside Zone (a concept they haven’t used much under Gus Malzahn) out of a modified Pistol look (a formation they don’t use that often) three times in a row in the 4th quarter with Shaun Shivers. Every single run went for a first down and eventually lead to a TD. Let’s take a look.

As you can probably guess, Outside Zone is similar to Inside Zone except that one is aiming between the tackles while the other is looking to stretch the defense horizontally. With Outside Zone, the goal is to get everybody moving one direction allowing the running back to read where any gaps open up on the defense and then attack that weakness. Shivers does it perfectly in play above. The Hornets’ strong side linebacker scrapes all the way outside the tackle box taking away that running lane. But that also means he’s vacated a gap which Shivers attacks. His H-Back doesn’t get much of a block on the middle linebacker but it doesn’t matter. Shivers is so explosive he runs right past him and powers forward for 3-4 more yards after contact.

Same play, same formation just going the other way. ASU’s defense WAY over runs this play and opens up a huge cutback lane backside. Shivers sees it and is able to put a foot in the ground and explode through it before the defense can react. He runs through an arm tackle and then lowers the boom on the 3rd level defender to finish the run.

This is next level stuff right here. Outside zone again out of the same Pistol look. Shivers sees a hole open up behind Calvin Ashley, cuts behind that block, then immediately makes a 2nd cut across the field where there are no defenders. The ability to process all that’s happening in front of him while playing at this speed is incredibly impressive. This isn’t just a guy being a better athlete. This is a guy that understands what he’s supposed to be doing, executing it at a high level and then making a play when he sees the chance. He’s patient, explosive, smart and powerful. If I’m Auburn’s coaching staff, I’m ensuring he gets at least 10 touches a game. He’s too good to not use.

KJ Britt

The final youngster I wanted to highlight is Kenney Britt. The Oxford, AL native is the heir apparent at middle linebacker and he acquitted himself well Saturday. I knew he was a thumper. Anyone that’s watched his HS tape can see that pretty quickly. What I wasn’t sure about was whether he had the speed to play sideline to sideline. I’m starting to think he does.

He also flashed the ability to shed blockers and scrape to the outside to make a play. It ain’t easy navigating through all this traffic and still running down a ball carrier but Britt gets it done.

Deshaun Davis has been the heart beat of this defense for the past three seasons. Auburn is going to really miss his leadership and talent when he’s gone. But I think they have a new stud ready step in when called upon. I fully expect to see Britt play more meaningful snaps in the coming weeks. It’s vital Auburn gets him more reps in big moments so he’s ready to lead this defense in 2019. I think he will be up to the task.

Touchdown Auburn

Plenty of touchdowns this past weekend to breakdown. Hopefully, there are plenty more to talk about next week.

I talked some last week on the Split Zone concept that Auburn is using more this year. Last week, it was used in an RPO that got Chandler Cox free in the flat. Stidham read the same man this week but instead of dumping it off to Cox, he took it himself while Cox sealed the edge. Auburn has so many different looks they can run off this one concept and so far through two weeks they have used it effectively.

It doesn’t get much simpler than this right here. Anthony Schwartz is running a simple post route. His speed is on full display here as you can see how far the DB is playing off to begin with yet Schwartz still runs by him. But the star of this play is Jarrett Stidham. He takes what looks like a 7 step drop, gets the ball out on time and hits one of the fastest players in the country in stride. Just beautiful.

Just moments later, Auburn is in the endzone again. I broke this play down earlier this week. Daniel Thomas is an instinctive player who has made a major impact these first two weeks. Auburn will need him to continue this high level of play as they enter the SEC part of their schedule.

Touchdown #4 comes on one of Auburn’s foundational run plays - the Inside Zone. This is a great play by Kam Martin. There’s a lot of traffic in the interior so Martin rightfully bounces this outside but a streaking linebacker flies past Mike Horton and into the backfield. However, Martin does an outstanding job of sliding off the tackle and finding the endzone. Watch big Prince Tega Wanogho on this play. He takes his man for a ride.

You could tell Auburn was working on some things in special teams. Here they go all out for the punt block and literally everyone gets home. Seriously, watch how no one on the line of scrimmage for Alabama State even gives a cursory shove to Auburn’s gunners. Jordyn Peters gets the block and Devan Barrett scoops and scores. Gives a little shoutout to Tre Smith with the flip.

Things are rolling now. Daniel Thomas has just come up with his 2nd interception of the day and Auburn is in attack mode. Tigers break out a nifty little reverse here. Will Hastings motions around the backend and that sucks a number of ASU defenders. The Hornets brought a blitz from the boundary side which Chandler Cox picks up but that slows him in sealing the edge for Schwartz. But that’s the nice thing about having elite speed, things don’t have to always be blocked perfectly. Schwartz sprints by him and then finds his way into the endzone. Schwartz should really help this Auburn run game as the threat of him on the outside is going to get defense’s attention.

This drive was lead by Shaun Shivers doing serious work but they let Harold Joiner finish things off. The Tigers are in the Wildcat and honestly, it’s a bit of a broken play. ASU’s DT slants past Calvin Ashley right into Tashawn Manning’s path so Joiner doesn’t have his pulling guard to run behind. The backside linebacker comes flying in untouched but trips over the bodies in front of him. None of it matters as Schwartz motion pulls the one guy that could have made this play and Joiner has an easy path to the endzone. This is a great example of what Schwartz adds to this offense.

After three consecutive outside zone runs for big gains, Auburn is knocking on the door for another score. This time around, the coaching staff lets Shaun Shivers finish what he started. It’s that Split Zone concept again and everybody does their job. Easy but well earned 6 points for Shivers.

The final TD is a beauty. Malik Miller is in the game and Auburn is running Split Zone once again. The Hornets send a blitz which is easily picked up by the H-Back. That means there’s no one home on the backside of this play. Miller does a great job cutting away from the safety and finding pay dirt. Miller has obviously slid down the depth chart so I’m really glad he took full advantage of his few opportunities. Seems like a good kid who just has had some real unfortunate injury luck.

War Eagle!