Auburn punched Texas A&M in the mouth this past Saturday afternoon and by the time the Aggies regained their senses it was a little too late to make a difference. The Tigers’ offense put two quick touchdowns on the board in the 1st quarter, capitalized on a short field to start the 2nd half and then drove it right down A&M’s throat to put the game away for good in the 4th quarter.
Here’s a closer look at each of those big time drives.
Surprisingly, it was Shaun Shivers and Harold Joiner with the early touches on Auburn’s opening drive. An ineligible man downfield penalty put Auburn in an uncomfortable 1st & 15 early but a nice gain by Joiner followed by a penalty by A&M trying to substitute while Auburn used pace got Auburn out of the early hole. That set up a 2nd & 3 on the far hash mark which is where Gus Malzahn decided to spring his first trap of the day.
If you watched any of A&M’s games so far this season, it was really easy to notice how aggressive their defense plays. They specifically love to shoot gaps when an offense pulls their offensive lineman. If it jumps off the screen to me then you know Gus Malzahn and Kenny Dillingham saw the same. They came prepared.
The Tigers are showing Buck Sweep to the boundary. Boobee Whitlow has just checked into the game and with it being 2nd & short, A&M’s defense is in attack mode hoping to force a 3rd down. Watch #1 come screaming downhill when he sees Marquel Harrell start to pull. The backside defensive end also crashes hard. Nix gives it to Whitlow who follows his pullers to sell the sweep play but then tosses the ball to Anthony Schwartz who is coming back around on the reverse. Bo Nix throws a nice block to spring Schwartz free and after that it’s an Olympic calibre athlete just out running everyone on the field.
Tendency busters are always beautiful. They are even more beautiful when it breaks your own tendency while capitalizing on your opponent’s. It was a heck of a way for Auburn to kill some of that early energy in Kyle Field.
After going nowhere on their 2nd drive, Auburn’s offense got rolling again late in the 1st quarter. The Tigers faced an early 3rd & 2 so they brought in Joey Gatewood to try and get the conversion. Again though Auburn was looking to break tendencies.
Auburn did not give it on the jet sweep once against Kent State two weeks ago when Joey Gatewood came into the game. Given the short yardage situation and past tendencies A&M was likely expecting Gatewood to keep it. Auburn shows GT Counter towards the boundary but instead of keeping it and following his pullers, Gatewood gives it to Stove on the speed sweep.
There are two critical blocks that make this play. First, Prince Tega Wanogho is lined up the to the right of Jack Driscoll and does an outstanding job of sealing his man inside after getting pushed back on the snap. Second, watch Sal Cannella dart in and pick up the crashing the safety, washing him completely out of the play. With those two blocks, Stove can turn up field and pickup the first down.
On the very next play, Auburn goes speed sweep again the opposite way with Anthony Schwartz.
I wanted to highlight this play to shout out Malik Miller. The veteran doesn’t have the most glamorous job on this team but when he’s in the game it’s usually to block and this is why. Again, A&M’s defense is extremely aggressive and when they see Schwartz coming across the formation the safety to the play side comes flying downhill. Miller though gets out wide and is able throw an outstanding block pushing knocking the safety out of the play and allowing Schwartz to get free for a nice pickup.
Two plays later Auburn was back in the endzone.
Once again, Auburn breaks a tendency with great success. We knew at some point Joey Gatewood would get to throw it but apparently A&M’s defense did not think it would be this play.
Auburn is in a tackle over look again with Prince Tega Wanogho lined up alongside Jack Driscoll. John Samuel Shenker is in Tega’s place and since he’s the end man on the line of scrimmage and isn’t covered up, he’s an eligible wide receiver.
The Tigers send Schwartz in motion across the formation which draws plenty of attention but most of the Aggies’ eyes are on Gatewood. The cornerback to the boundary chases Schwartz across the formation while the safety comes flying downhill (noticing a theme?) which leaves Shenker all by his lonesome in the endzone. Spencer Nigh throws an insane block to give Gatewood just enough time to plant his feet and deliver the TD pass to his tight end.
The endzone view gives you a better perspective of both Nigh’s block and how much A&M bit on this play.
After a not at all good 2nd quarter by the offense, Auburn’s defense hands the O a present when Daniel Thomas forces and recovers a fumble on the first A&M offensive play of the 2nd half. The Tigers’ offense went to work, quickly finding themselves just inside the redzone.
Malzahn apparently was a fan of Kent State’s pre snap motion circus as he breaks it out himself on this play. The shift works though because it gets Auburn with numbers to the far side of the field where the Tigers have three wide receivers. Looks like Nix wants Seth Williams up the seam but quickly reads the Aggie defense is sagging back to take it away and finds Anthony Schwartz on a nice comeback route.
I continue to be impressed with the speed at which Nix processes things. He’s not been as accurate down the field as you would like but he’s doing an outstanding job getting through his progressions and getting the ball out. Each week I see him stare down his first read less and less. Now he just need him to hit some of those bombs over the top.
AUBURN THROWS A SLANT FOR A TOUCHDOWN! AUBURN THROWS A SLANT FOR A TOUCHDOWN!
Auburn is in a 2x2 look while the Aggies are in some kind of 2 high safety coverage that I think is Cover 2. Nix is reading the flat defender. If he sinks back into zone then this ball goes to Jay Jay Wilson in the slot. He chases which opens a wide throwing lane to Seth Williams.
AuburnSports.com’s Jay Tate did a great job breaking this play down earlier this week and pointed out that Williams uses a skip on his release here just like he did when he ran the fade last year for a pair of touchdowns. A&M was clearly respecting his ability to get outside and make a play thus the soft coverage which in turn opened things up for the slant for a touchdown.
Auburn’s final TD drive was a thing of beauty. The Tigers traversed 69 yards on 12 plays eating up 6:01 of game clock. Even more beautifully 11 of those plays were on the ground meaning Auburn lined up, ran the dang ball and stuck it in the endzone to respond to A&M’s first touchdown of the day. Consistency might not yet be there but this group steps up when they have to.
But things almost got off to a bad start.
Here’s that Kent State like pre snap shift they ran earlier with great success. This time though Auburn is late getting on the field so the play clock is already winding down. Nix notices it, abandons the timing of the motion to get his guys lined up in time and gets the snap off just as the play clock hits 0. Boobee makes a nice back side cut that goes for a big 1st down gain.
Again, Nix has to get better pushing the ball down the field for Auburn to really morph into a championship contender. But it’s plays like this that make you so hopeful for the future. The true freshman plays with outstanding awareness and continues to do the little things that help you win. The timing with his wideouts will click but to already be aware enough to make decisions like this on the fly to avoid putting your team in bad situations is a rare skill to possesses at his age.
Later in that drive, he again showed he’s got the clutch gene.
This was the only 3rd down Auburn faced on the drive and the only time the Tigers went to the air. Auburn has trips to the near side with Stove running a go route to drive off the cornerback, Wilson running a speed out and Cannella running a “Stick” route. Nix wants Sal initially but doesn’t like what he sees. He takes a quick peak at Wilson who is also well covered before working back to Seth Williams who is running a dig on the backside. Williams does a great job getting inside leverage and separation. Nix sees it, gets the ball out quickly and on target for the first down.
The biggest issue I had at times with Jarrett Stidham is it felt like he was a second slow getting off his first read. Against Oregon, Nix seemed to have tunnel vision at times but as the season has gone on, he’s gotten better and better at working through his progression. As a result, he’s come through a few times with some big 3rd down conversions working to his 2nd or 3rd read.
There are still moments where his first read isn’t there and he panics in the pocket but the frequency of those occurrences are dropping dramatically. It’s becoming more standard for him to stay in the pocket, work through his progression and find the open man. It’s been fun to see his development so quickly which is why I believe the deep passing game will soon get clicking.
The final score of the day was on Auburn’s favorite new play - GT Counter.
Auburn opens with an empty backfield trying to spread the Aggies defense out. Whitlow motions into the backfield just before snap and you can see A&M actually has numbers on this play inside the box. Horton and Driscoll pull around with Horton fitting on the DE. Driscoll was going to pull around and take the scraping linebacker but Boobee Whitlow shows 0 patience and instead explodes through the hole before Driscoll get around. Tega does an outstanding job getting to the 2nd level to seal the linebacker while Shenker drives his man out of the play. Whitlow breaks the one tackle that could have ended things and dives into the endzone.
I thought we saw better patience overall by Boobee but not on this play. I suspect he will receive some correction to give this a half a second longer so his 2nd puller can get around and fit. Still, given the aggressive downhill nature of this defense maybe it was a good idea to take advantage of the open running lane while he could before there was any penetration backside.
Either way, Boobee found the endzone and reminded A&M fans that their greatest tradition of all is losing to Auburn inside the “Hate Barn”.
Never try to out barn a barner ya’ll...