Auburn didn’t get it done this past Saturday. Too many missed opportunities and mistakes against a salty LSU squad resulted in the first (hopefully the last right?) L of the season. There were some bright moments to celebrate and build on from Saturday which Mr. McCracken will highlight. But there were also some frustrating lows and some big questions left to be answered which Mr. Nerd addresses below.
We will go a little good cop, bad cop today on the Cuts with me being the good cop this week. I loved this play when it happened for a number of different reasons and wanted to make sure to praise the offensive coaches for it.
Ok, as you can see it’s 1st and 10 for the Tigers at the -39 (their own 39 yardline). Shotgun formation with 2 wideouts split to both sides. What does that normally mean for offensive play selection? (in unison…) INSIDE DRAW. Yes. That is the trap Auburn has fallen into and went to as recently as the Washington game. However, this was a change of pace and it worked beautifully as Stidham play actions to Whitlow and pulls back for a pass. Let’s look at his options on the field.
First off, thanks to Gary for ruining my screen shot, but I cleaned up his scribbles as best as I could. As for the design of the play, these are pretty basic routes here for the normal football fan, unless you are an Auburn fan. So far this season, the Tigers have utilized the crossing routes over the middle of the field, and the best part about this is that the true freshman wide receivers have been the ones to be the fearless ones taking those routes. In this example its Seth Williams, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite players this season. The interesting part of this play is that the line gave Stidham time and he could have let the routes develop a touch more to risk a bigger play. I believe he made the right decision here as it took a diving heel tackle from the LSU defender to save a touchdown. Let’s take a look at how it played out.
Let me start off by saying I was ok with going for it on 4th & 1. I understand the “take the points” argument and in hindsight it sure would have been nice if LSU had to score a touchdown at the end to win the game. But if Gus trots out Anders and he misses the field goal or Anders hits the field goal and LSU scores a TD at end of game, people would be moaning about not going for it on 4th & short. Bottom line is Auburn fans have been clamoring for Gus to coach more aggressive. Well that’s exactly what he did midway through the 1st quarter. If you can’t get a single yard then you got problems. And well.... Auburn has problems.
As for the actual playcall, it was eh.... You would like to see Auburn just go under center here and sneak it over for that yard but considering how Kaleb Kim gets no push on the play that probably doesn’t work either. Anyway, let’s take a look at the actual playcall and breakdown what went wrong. Spoiler alert, a lot went wrong....
I didn’t add any fancy overlays this time around because I think it would have just been more confusing than what I am about to write. I will do my best to try and explain what I THINK is supposed to happen on this play.
Auburn is in an unbalanced look with Prince Tega Wanogho flipped over to the far side and they are running one of the foundational pieces to Auburn’s rushing attack - Power. LSU has 3 down linemen in their “tite” front adjusted for Auburn’s unbalanced formation. I talked about how Dave Aranda likes to defend Auburn’s unbalanced look in my defensive scouting report last week. Instead of the nose tackle being head up on the center, he’s lined up over top the right guard Mike Horton. The near side DE is lined up on Marquel Harrell’s outside shoulder while the far side DE is lined up on Jack Driscoll’s outside shoulder.
What should happen on this play (or at least my possibly wrong understanding of what was supposed to happen) is for Kaleb Kim to take the near side DE, Mike Horton take the nose tackle, Jack Driscoll to combo block the far side defensive end before working his way to Devin White (near side ILB playing the Rover position in Aranda’s system), Marquel Harrell pulls around and slams into Jacob Phillips (far side ILB playing the MAC position) and Chandler Cox then kicks out to the SAM (known as the F-Backer in Aranda’s scheme). If everyone does their job, this should be a first down for the good looking Tigers.
Welp, we aren’t off to a good start are we?. Kaleb Kim is being driven back by Rashard Lawrence (#90) which is forcing Marquel Harrell to take a bit of a wider path than I suspect he’s supposed to. You can also already see that Horton is getting beat across his face. Meanwhile, Driscoll is slow to get off his combo block and to Devin White who is already beginning to diagnose what’s going on. It’s hard to tell in this still image but Cox is actually looping around to the other ILB instead of taking the OLB. Now that could be what he’s supposed to do but in the majority of examples I’ve seen from Gus Malzahn’s playbook the 3 back is typically responsible for either the DE or the LB outside the tackle box when Auburn is running Power. I also doubt Auburn is supposed to just let that OLB run straight into the backfield untouched but that is exactly what happens....
The carnage is much clearer on this image. Driscoll is too slow to get to White who blows right by him. Cox has looped around and is squaring up Phillips which appears to be the guy Harrell is aiming for as well. No one has picked up the SAM who is already breaking down to read where Boobee is going.
So to summarize, there are two unblocked LSU linebackers in the backfield while two LSU defensive linemen are shoving two Auburn offensive linemen three yards deep. I imagine this was not how Gus Malzahn drew this play up.
You can’t really see White on this play but he’s about to truck Boobee. The F-Backer is about to join him as well. But dangit, we got that MAC linebacker blocked!
The inability to consistently execute Auburn’s main running concepts has been the bane of this running game’s existence in 2018. This type of breakdown has happened multiple times through the first three weeks. Sometimes it’s a guy not completely sure who to block. Other times it’s guy knowing who to block but getting physically dominated. More often than not, it’s both.
Maybe the fix is personnel. Maybe inserting Nick Brahms and Austin Troxell gives this OL the kick it needs but that’s far from certain. At the end of the day, these are veterans who should know better that are not consistently executing their assignments. If Auburn wants to win anything of note in 2018 this has to get fixed and it has to get this fixed fast. JB Grimes was brought in specifically to address these issues up front. He’s got two weeks to get it sorted out before Auburn travels to Starkville, MS for a possible 3rd top 15 showdown of the season.