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Snap Tracker: Offense vs Texas A&M

Auburn’s fast start and ability to capitalize when it mattered most allowed the Tigers to leave College Station last weekend with a huge SEC victory.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 21 Auburn at Texas A&M Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In Auburn’s first 2 games to open the season, Gus Malzahn’s opening script found very little success. Against the Ducks, Auburn went 3 & out to start the game. The following week vs Tulane, Auburn’s opening 4 series resulted in three 3 & outs and a fumble.

Things went quite differently Saturday. All week Malzahn reiterated the need to get out to a fast start on the road in College Station and his team responded. Auburn scored two touchdowns on their opening 3 drives putting A&M on their back foot early Saturday afternoon.

It was as well coached a game as we’ve seen from Malzahn in awhile. Unlike Jimbo Fisher, Malzahn recognized that it would be tough sledding between the tackles Saturday afternoon so instead of trying to establish the run the conventional way, he attacked A&M’s aggressive tendencies by breaking some of his own.

To be clear though Auburn was far from perfect on offense. After that fast start, Auburn fell into a hole in the 2nd quarter going 3 & out on three of their next 4 possessions. That’s been a bugaboo for this offense early this fall. They have been opportunistic and have come through when Auburn has needed them most but they have to cut down on the number of 3 & outs. Not every drive has to end with points but picking up some first downs to give Auburn’s defense a chance to rest and to gain a field position advantage will be critical as the Tigers advance through their SEC slate.

Still, it’s hard not to be excited about this offense moving forward. Each week they seem to get a little better. If they can find a way to be a bit more consistent and Nix can find a way to hit some of these HR balls then they could be more than good enough for Auburn to beat almost anyone left on their schedule.


COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 21 Auburn at Texas A&M Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
  • #10 Bo Nix - 66 snaps
  • #1 Joey Gatewood - 4 snaps

A lot of the talk this week was about how Nix would perform in his first true road start. While Nix didn’t light up the box score and missed some big plays over the top, he took care of the ball and did nothing to diminish Auburn’s chances of winning. He’s not good enough right now to carry this offense but he’s also not losing games for the Tigers. He’s too talented to not eventually start making some bigger plays but as long as he continues to manage the game effectively and come through in critical moments, Auburn will be just fine most Saturdays.

Joey Gatewood’s role continues to grow though Auburn has to do a better job of executing those shift changes when Gatewood comes into the game. On one 3rd & short play, the right side of Auburn’s offensive line went early robbing the Tigers of a possible conversion. Later, during Auburn’s game sealing drive, some formation issues lead to Gus burning a timeout (and a hole in Matthew Hill’s ear) and Gatewood did not return to the field on the next play.

Gatewood is clearly a weapon and Auburn has had a lot of success moving the chains and putting points on the board with his packages. But they have to clean up some of these pre snap issues when subbing Gatewood in. If they do clean it up, then Joey’s role can continue to grow along with his effectiveness.

Running Back

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 21 Auburn at Texas A&M Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
  • #28 JaTarvious Whitlow - 44 snaps
  • #8 Shaun Shivers - 12 snaps
  • #22 Harold Joiner - 5 snaps
  • #32 Malik Miller - 4 snaps
  • #9 Kam Martin - 1 snap

I loved Auburn’s running back strategy this past Saturday afternoon. Malzahn gave running backs coach Carnell Williams the credit for coming up with the game plan to use Auburn’s younger, more speedier backs early in the game so Boobee was fresh in the 2nd half. It worked brilliantly as Whitlow clearly had a bit more juice in his legs than A&M’s defense on Auburn’s game sealing 4th quarter drive.

Shivers continues to flash in his limited work. His numbers aren’t pretty but he continues to run hard and he’s so close to breaking some big plays. There was one moment during that long, impressive 4th quarter drive by Auburn that Shivers almost broke free.

Spencer Nigh lays down an outstanding block while Sal Cannella is driving his man an out of the play. The cornerback is chasing Williams deep which leaves only the safety to make the play. Shivers tries to cutback but the Aggie defender does a good job not over pursuing, coming in under control and makes the tackle. If he misses, it’s “TAILLIGHTS” for Worm.

As for Boobee, I was really happy with his performance Saturday afternoon. He continues to develop as a runner and made some outstanding plays reading his blocks and picking up some nice yardage. This might have been my favorite run of the afternoon.

This is Inside Zone so Boobee’s aiming point is the left A-gap or the area between Marquel Harrell and Kaleb Kim. Kim fits on the inside linebacker but Harrell gets caught in his double team and can’t reach the backside linebacker. Boobee shows tremendous patience and vision on this play, pressing the playside gap which sucks in the LB. When Whitlow reaches the line of scrimmage, he puts a foot in the ground and cuts into the wide open backside B-gap. The result is a nice gain.

It’s not just about making the right cut as a back, it’s also making the right cut at the right time. Boobee still isn’t perfect and has a tendency to get impatient at times or makes a poor decision but every week you see more and more consistency out of him. The Tigers really need to find a way to consistently move the chains with a 2nd back (DJ Williams please save us) so they can continue to use Boobee strategically. He’s not a guy that can grind out 25+ carries every week but if you can keep him between 15-20 touches, he’s going to do some damage.

Also shoutout to Malik Miller for throwing one of the best blocks of the day. The veteran doesn’t get a ton of play but tends to make an impact when he gets his chance.

H-Back/Tight End

Auburn v Texas A&M Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images
  • #99 Spencer Nigh - 31 snaps
  • #42 Jay Jay Wilson - 20 snaps
  • #47 John Samuel Shenker - 20 snaps

I continue to be impressed with Auburn’s three man rotation at the 3-back position. Replacing Chandler Cox was never going to be easy but Auburn has found a way to get reliable production from that position by using three different guys with very little drop in level of play between them. Nigh is probably the best blocker of the bunch while Wilson is the stronger pass catching option but Shenker might end up the best of the group as he continues to show he can do a little of everything.

But I wanted to spotlight Nigh this week. He came through with two absolutely critical blocks in key moments for the Tigers. The first was on Gatewood’s touchdown pass to Shenker.

Gatewood is supposed to roll out to his left but A&M’s defense end comes hard upfield and looks in position to make the sack. Instead, Nigh makes a diving effort to knock the A&M defender out of the way, giving Gatewood enough time to set his feet and hit Shenker for the touchdown.

The other big moment came on Auburn’s final play of the game.

AU runs Split Zone Read. Nix is reading the standup defensive end. Nigh comes across the formation, bluffs the read man and then arcs outside to seal the edge for Nix. Because Nigh leaves the right man unblocked, Nix is able to read this play correctly, pull it and then follow behind Nigh to green grass and victory.

The 3-back is never a glamor position in Gus’s offense but it’s so vital to its success. Auburn needs this trio to continue to play at a high level as the Tigers move deeper into their SEC schedule.

Wide Receiver.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Texas A&M John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports
  • #80 Sal Cannella - 61 snaps
  • #18 Seth Williams - 57 snaps
  • #12 Eli Stove - 54 snaps
  • #5 Anthony Schwartz - 14 snaps
  • #35 James Owens Moss - 6 snaps
  • #19 Matthew Hill - 1 snap
  • #33 Will Hastings - 1 snap

Seth Williams went from being a questionable about even playing in this game to playing almost every durn snap. There is a noticeable difference when #18 is on the field and you have to think the Aggies defense is sick of seeing the sophomore wideout. In 2 games against Texas A&M he now has 6 catches for 69 yards and 3 TDs. Oh and he almost went full Sammie Coates on the Aggies out the gate.

I thought this was one of Sal Cannella’s best games despite not catching a single pass. He was outstanding most of the afternoon blocking on the edge (as were most of Auburn’s wide receivers) which helped play a big role in the Tigers’ ability to get some success running horizontally.

Auburn continues to be cautious in their use of Anthony Schwartz. He’s been very effective in his limited action but it’s a little surprising he’s still seeing less than 20 snaps each week. Some of that is he’s playing same position as Eli Stove and Williams has taken over the 9 spot but Auburn needs to find more ways to get him on the field. He’s just too special a talent to not see 8+ touches a week.

Finally, not sure what is up with Will Hastings. Unless I missed some things, he only had one snap Saturday afternoon and it was the double move where he lost the ball in the sun and Nix overshot him a bit. My guess is with Auburn’s game plan built more on outside running they needed guys out there that could block. As much as love Hastings he’s long been a liability as a blocker. Interested to see if he gets more work this week.

Offensive Line

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 21 Auburn at Texas A&M Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
  • #76 Prince Tega Wanogho - 67 snaps
  • #77 Marquel Harrell - 67 snaps
  • #54 Kaleb Kim - 67 snaps
  • #64 Mike Horton - 67 snaps
  • #71 Jack Driscoll - 67 snaps

I thought overall Auburn’s offensive line had a solid day. They kept Bo Nix clean for the most part and opened up enough holes inside when it mattered most to seal the win for the Tigers. They struggled at times with A&M’s outstanding defensive tackle tandem but when #5 Bobby Brown went down, they capitalized big time and it lead to a crucial 7 points.

Big opportunity for this group this weekend. Mississippi State always has quality players up front but they are not as talented as last season’s bunch and I think Auburn has seen two, possibly three better defensive lines already this season. It could be a chance to gain some confidence before traveling to the Swamp next week to face the most disruptive front 4 in the nation.

War Eagle!