Auburn opened the home schedule last night as Tulane came to Jordan-Hare and put up a good fight before leaving with a 24-6 defeat. Excitement was high after the season-opening win over Oregon last week, where Bo Nix hit Seth Williams for the game-winning touchdown pass with just :09 left on the clock. For sure, Nix’s week going to classes had to be something else, but the freshman seems poised.
As for the rest of the team, there were certainly areas of concern after the opener, but you could honestly chalk a lot of it up to playing a borderline top ten team. Oregon was good! They’re still really good! They’re going to have a top draft pick at quarterback and I’d wager a couple of those offensive lineman are playing on professional rosters next year as well. You can’t win every battle and win every game 50-0, sometimes the other side is competent.
Enter Tulane — the Green Wave not of old, but of the Willie Fritz type. After winning 7 games in 2018, they began this year with a huge blowout of FIU, wherein they rolled up 350 yards on the ground. The defensive line has a couple of guys that may end up in the NFL, and their quarterback was good enough to go to LSU for a little bit before transferring.
Many thought that they’d be a good test, but maybe that was typical Auburn fan stuff. Just Auburn Being Auburn. Last night, however, I think we got a little bit of Just Gus being Gus.
Before we go any further, it was an emotional night for everyone on the Plains. In the first home game since Rod Bramblett’s passing, things were going to be tough going through the gameday process without him around. He wouldn’t be on the Auburn Network stage guffawing with radio guests, he wouldn’t be giving his signature tease, he wouldn’t be calling the action, and he wouldn’t be working postgame on the field interviewing the head coach. Yeah, we’ve already been through one game, but the first home game is something else. Thankfully, there was an unreal tribute to him pregame. Rod was one of the best, and the Auburn production team put something together that stood up to his quality of work.
As for the game itself, I think we’ve all seen plenty of these kinds of matchups where Auburn runs as vanilla a gameplan as possible, but last night was something else. Typically, early on you’re going to see a script. Coaches like to plan out the first 10-12 plays or first couple of drives with things that they think will work based on what they’ve seen in film study. Then they call the game after that script ends. Here was an actual excerpt of the end of Drive Number Two for Auburn last night —
1st and 10 at AU48PENALTY TLN substitution infraction 5 yards to the TLN47.
1st and 5 at TLN47J. Whitlow rush over left guard for 3 yards to the TLN44 (SAMPLE,C.).
2nd and 2 at TLN44J. Whitlow rush up the middle for no gain to the TLN44 (JOHNSON,J.).
3rd and 2 at TLN44J. Whitlow rush up the middle for 1 yard to the TLN43 (JOHNSON,P.).
4th and 1 at TLN43J. Whitlow rush up the middle for 1 yard to the TLN42, fumble forced by GRAHAM,L., fumble by J. Whitlow recovered by TLN JOYCE,C. at TLN42.
Four straight runs and we couldn’t get a first down when we started with a 1st and 5. It was a rough sequence to watch. Furthermore, Boobee Whitlow fumbled at the end of it, and that was an unfortunate theme from the victory. Let’s just say that Boobee’s pecs may be a little jello-y today and leave it at that.
What the above suggests is that our offensive line couldn’t do anything. Against a G5 team — any G5 team — our line should be able to open enough of a hole for a running back to get the necessary yardage here. I would think that even Cadillac could check in and make those five yards. Maybe it’s a problem with our running backs. Gus Malzahn admitted that D.J. Williams took a bit of an injury on Tuesday in practice and they held him out. Harold Joiner seems destined for the wheel route role, and Shaun Shivers looks like he’ll be the gimmick back. Kam Martin checked in and had a couple nice runs, but I hate to say it... he just doesn’t quite have the flash that we need.
Instead of trying to establish a running game in the first half, because it clearly wasn’t working, we threw the ball 29 times. Have you watched Auburn football over the past forever? Because that’s not exactly been our MO ever, and definitely not with a true freshman quarterback in his second start.
Honestly, that offense would’ve been fine if we had receivers who weren’t dropping passes or getting injured like crazy. After the longest completion of the day — a 40-yard loft to Seth Williams — Williams came down on his left shoulder and didn’t come back up. He left the game and came back to the sideline in street clothes with a sling... definitely not a good sign for a team that was also missing Will Hastings late last week and other key playmakers like Anthony Schwartz for the most part overall.
Now, injuries are unfortunate and they’re not the fault of the coaching staff, but you have to find ways to make things work. Lofting a home run ball to a receiver with a broken hand isn’t quite my idea of making it work, but that’s what was called early in the game. Perhaps Auburn new that one touchdown might have clinched the game (and it would have, thank you defense!), but you’d think there would be other ways to accomplish it. I just didn’t get any of the decisions that the coaches made last night.
There was no script. There was no prep at all for Tulane! The Green Wave’s offense wasn’t much of a threat, and the defense didn’t have any trouble with them after the first drive, but still. On offense, Eli Stove was the target early and often when it didn’t seem like he had any room to move. Tulane was clearly keyed on him, but we didn’t look elsewhere. I don’t really blame Bo Nix though, because he still didn’t have much more time than he did last week. Our offensive line can’t move anyone and isn’t great at keeping him inside a calm pocket yet.
When we finally did see the running game work, it was because Boobee Whitlow came in at Wildcat (his 14-yard touchdown came out of that formation), or Joey Gatewood came in to run the zone read. As long as it works, right? Well, maybe, but we can’t run those two concepts when we need a running game against the meat of our SEC schedule. We have to be multiple. Bo is the starter, and we have to be able to make the run and the pass work with him in the ballgame.
Look, we’re 2-0, so maybe this is just hand-wringing. Maybe the coaches literally didn’t look at Tulane at all (which would still need an explanation), and we’re putting all of our eggs in the SEC play basket. We’ll be 3-0 heading into College Station, and maybe ranked even higher than #8 in the country (which is where today’s AP Poll stuck us), but after games like last night, it’s hard to see a whole lot of positive results coming from our gauntlet schedule.
Need to see the improvement this week against Kent State, though. There’s got to be some gaping holes for the backs to run through, and we need to see other guys get some real opportunities as the feature back. We need to see some more chemistry from the passing game. We need to see the kind of game that doesn’t cause ulcers, and save that kind of thing for the following week at the very least.
Last night’s a win, unsatisfying as it was, and there are 122 teams that would love to be undefeated and ranked 8th in the land right now, but I’m scared that it’ll be another “Old Overrated Auburn” situation when we see the limitations of this team finally take effect. Is that Chicken Little of me? Perhaps. We’re all conditioned to it to some extent by now.