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Touchdown Auburn: Oregon Edition

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An in depth look at Auburn’s three touchdowns and the key plays that helped lead to those scores.

NCAA Football: Advocare Classic-Auburn vs Oregon Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

For about two and half quarters, it looked like Andy Burcham was about to have the same first day on the job experience as Rod Bramblett had in his debut. The Auburn offense was struggling, outside of one drive inside the redzone that ended in a pick, there just wasn’t much good happening.

But in the 3rd quarter, Auburn’s offense started to find itself. Following two outstanding runs by the best interview in college football, Mr. JaTarvious Boobee Whitlow, Eli Stove found daylight on the speed sweep for a huge gain.

On the previous play, Auburn used this same sweep action and the Ducks defense didn’t widen at all with Stove. I suspect the coaching staff saw the same thing which is why they decided to hit this on the very next play.

Auburn is using an unbalanced line here with Prince Tega Wanogho lined up outside of Jack Driscoll to the right side. John Samuel Shenker is an eligible receiver backside which is something to file away for the future. The Ducks respond by shifting their Tite front, which typically has the nose tackle head up on the center and the ends lined up on the inside shoulder of the tackles, over a gap to account for the extra gap to the right.

The Tigers actually leave both the nose and play side end unblocked by what looks like design trusting that they won’t have enough time to get up field with Stove coming across full speed. Mike Horton down blocks the backside end while Driscoll releases to the middle linebacker. Wanogho reaches the outside linebacker and does a good job getting him up field and out of the way for Stove. Stove cuts behind Tega and follows his fullback Spencer Nigh who is pulling around to take on the corner. Sal Cannella does a great job sealing the safety and then it’s just Stove’s speed taking over.

That huge gain put Auburn at Oregon’s 11. Auburn then goes hurry up (it might actually be back) which seems to catch Oregon in a moment of confusion. One Duck is sprinting off the field which actually leaves Oregon down a man. Nix quickly recognizes that no one is covering Eli Stove, snaps the ball and gets it out quickly to Eli. Stove makes one man miss and Auburn finally finds paydirt.

The throw was a little high and probably a step further down the field than it needed to be but big props to Bo for recognizing the situation and taking advantage. Also props to Stove for being ready and making a nice play to make sure it resulted in a touchdown. It was nice to see #12 back on the field making an impact again.

After failing to convert on a 3rd & 2 on the next drive, Auburn got the ball back again early in the 4th quarter with a desperate need for a touchdown. That drive became the Boobee show gashing the ducks for 46 yards on 5 carries. His longest going for 31 yards.

On the previous play both Prince Tega Wanogho and Eli Stove left the field gimpy. Bailey Sharp came in for Tega while Matthew Hill checked in for Stove. The Tigers are running a Split Zone RPO concept that they used quite a bit last night. Nix is reading the end on the left side. If he crashes, Nix will pull it and dump it off to Hill. If he goes up field, like he does on this play, Nix gives it.

Two things make this play: Boobee’s footwork and Driscoll’s block. Kim and Horton are combo blocking the center with Horton ideally getting to the OLB at the 2nd level. That doesn’t happen partly because Jack Driscoll takes his man and shoves him into Horton’s backside. Whitlow, meanwhile, draws the linebacker in (who happens to be Troy Dye, a potential 1st round draft pick) with his initial path, jump cuts outside and then shows his burst exploding by both Dye and the safety to get the edge for a big gain.

That play put Auburn in business. Three plays later the Tigers are on the goal line but Boobee is on the sideline exhausted from murdering Duck defenders. That’s when Gus finally remembers he has a 6’5” 235 lb freakazoid standing on the sideline and sends in Joey Gatewood for his one and only carry of the day.

It was extremely effective.

Bust out the 2010 playbook ya’ll. Apologies for getting super technical here but Auburn uses what you might call VERY LARGE MAN personnel on this play. Auburn has a total of seven offensive lineman on the field for this touchdown. Tega is back in the game lined up once again in an unbalanced look to the right of Driscoll. Bailey Sharp takes his place at left tackle while Tashawn Manning checks in at left guard. Why is Manning at guard? Well that’s because Marquel Harrell is lined up at fullback/h-back/upback/giant-man-back to the right of Gatewood. Both Spencer Nigh and John Samuel Shenker are in the game with Sal Cannella as the lone wideout.

I am going to guess this is a run ya’ll...

Gatewood does a fine Cam Newton Superman impression going over the top behind Harrell’s block who folds in the Oregon defensive line. You would like to see him not lose the ball but not a huge deal as long as you break the plane. I suspect Gus might wish he had run this concept four straight times when taking over inside the 5 yard line earlier in the game...

I suspect everyone remembers the final touchdown on the night correct? With only 2:04 left on the game clock, Bo Nix would need to orchestrate a game winning drive in his first start as a collegiate quarterback as a true freshman.

No problem.

Well maybe there were a few problems, starting first with Auburn immediately finding themselves in a 4th and 3 situation. That’s when Nix made one of the biggest plays of the night.

Auburn comes out in a bunched look with Seth Williams and Sal Cannella both aligned only a few yards outside of the offensive line. Spencer Nigh is lined up just outside of Driscoll’s hip while Stove is splitting the difference between Nigh and Canella but deeper in backfield. Stove is going to run an end around to try and occupy the backside of the defense (which it does). Nix fakes it to Stove before rolling out.

Credit the Ducks, they were all over this play. Williams is running a drag route just past the sticks while Cannella appears to be running a deep out. Boobee is in the flat giving Nix three reads on this play. Oregon has everyone well covered and the playside edge defender even beats Nigh’s attempted block to get pressure. But the beauty of rolling a mobile QB out like this is it gives him the opportunity to tuck it and go if he has nothing.

That’s exactly what Nix does. After spending most of the night seeming hesitant about using his legs outside of escaping pressure, Nix decides to stick his foot in the ground and dive for the first down. He gets it by just the nose of the football. Hope is still alive.

After a smoke draw play goes miserably (Boobee misses a WIDE open hole on this play btw), Nix hits Nigh on a quick 3 step drop for a nice pickup. That sets up 3rd down which Auburn is able to convert thanks to some hard running by Boobee. Nix spikes ball to stop the clock and then tries to hit Williams on a back shoulder play but he’s well covered and the throw isn’t great.

All of a sudden, it’s 3rd & 10 with Auburn just outside of Carlson’s range. There’s only 21 seconds left on the clock. Auburn once again needs its true freshman QB to make a big play.

Auburn is running a flood concept here with Williams running 15 yard out route, Shenker on a 5 yard out and Sal with what looks like a deeper over route. Oregon appears to be in Cover 3 which means that both safeties and the field side cornerback are responsible for the deep third of the field. Shenker occupies the flat defender while the linebacker is sitting in his hook zone. Williams’s route threatens the CB deep so he bails to make sure doesn’t get beat deep. That leaves a nice little hole between the deep CB, the sitting LB and the occupied flat defender. Nix for one of the few times that night drops back and gets this ball out on time at the end of his drop. The throw is perfect and on time, catch made and Auburn has a first down.

The Tigers then go hurry up with everyone thinking if they run one more play it’s gotta be some sort of quick out route where the WR can get out of bounds. You know play it conservatively like Chris Fowler speculated on the broadcast.

Nope.

Instead, in a play not that all too dissimilar to his dad’s first touchdown, Nix decides to go for the throat. Defending a 2x2 look, the Ducks actually have seven defenders in the box and only one safety deep. I am not 100% sure what coverage the Ducks are trying to run here but it’s obvious they were expecting a quick hitting route because they have five guys sitting in zone coverage just about 5 yards deep.

Stove’s out route actually sucks two defenders: the linebacker & field side cornerback. That leaves Seth Williams one on one with the deep safety who breaks desperately to try and get in position to make the play. Nix throws this ball short, allowing Williams to come back for it and make an outstanding play boxing the DB out with his body and powering into the endzone. Also huge props to Whitlow for stepping up and taking on the blitzing linebacker which gives Nix the time to step up in the pocket and deliver the game winner.

I will probably talk more about Nix’s overall performance tomorrow. Suffice it to say, he looked like a true freshman in his first collegiate start against a well schemed defense. Auburn’s offense overall struggled most of the night until midway through the 3rd quarter. But when the moment was presented to them to make a drive and a play to win the game, they came through.

So much of what went wrong Saturday night can be fixed with more reps and coaching. What you can’t coach or teach is the mental toughness to not lose confidence or trust after struggling so much of the night. Bo showed that last night. Heck most of this Auburn team showed it too. They all got their butts whooped early but gradually as the game went on they seemed to find their footing. They battled until the end which gave them a chance to win. When the moment arrived, they seized it.

War Damn Eagle!