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Position Grades: #13 Auburn 30, Arkansas 28

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Dare I say.... did we see some improvement?

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Auburn John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Well, well, well, here we are. Back in school again. This time, Auburn didn’t exactly fail the class, but they definitely got off on a technicality and earned a passing grade. Were the Tigers the kid in the group project that does no work and takes credit for the entire effort? At least one or two of the position groups were on Saturday. Let’s review:

QUARTERBACK - C

I thought Saturday was Bo Nix’s worst game of the 2020 season. He wasn’t great against Georgia but that was a complete system failure from head coach to student manager. Against Arkansas, Nix looked wildly inaccurate, especially early, and seemed to struggle seeing the whole field forcing targets to his top options despite other receivers being open.

Granted, the poor weather definitely had an effect on Nix early but it just seems like every week we have a new excuse to explain his inconsistency. Yes the offensive line isn’t great. Yes Georgia’s defense is elite. Yes his wide receivers are sometimes dropping balls. And yes, playing in a weather like Saturday is going to affect ability to throw the football. But elite quarterbacks make plays anyway. They find a way to elevate their teammates and make the most of the opportunities available to them. Nix is still not doing that on a consistent enough basis. If Auburn’s offense is going to scare anyone this season it needs the quarterback to prove he can make big plays in the passing game.

RUNNING BACKS - A

Hey, anytime you get a back to hit a mark that makes people say “that hasn’t been done since that year when Auburn went to the national championship”, it’s a pretty solid night. Tank Bigsby proved once again that he’s going to be an actual star in this town for the next couple of seasons, and we don’t want to waste what he’s giving us. 268 all-purpose yards, and his first 100-yard effort on the ground. This is only an A instead of an A+ because he hasn’t found the end zone yet.

Even D.J. Williams looked really good, going for 71 yards at an 8.9 ypc clip. The run game seemed to find itself on Saturday, and that wasn’t a bad defense it was facing, either.

Now, we just need more touchdowns and to see what MAR can do if he ever gets in the game.

WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS - B-

Not a ton to write about here, as only two wide receivers caught the ball on Saturday. Nevertheless, Anthony Schwartz had a career day, with both 10 catches and 100 yards being a personal best. His touchdown, which I’m sure Nerd will hit on later this week, looked like the cartoon trope where one character drinks too much coffee and everyone else is in slow motion. Seth Williams final line doesn’t look that bad, with 3 catches for 70 yards, but when you consider he had three drops, including one for a touchdown and two for first downs, you don’t love it. To be fair, he seemed to be plagued by a back injury, so hopefully that was the cause of the miscues. No other receiver caught a pass, although Shedrick Jackson and John Samuel-Shenker were open on a number of different plays.

I would be remiss if I moved on without talking about the big man, the operator of the Pegasus package, JJ Pegues. Although it was just two carries for 12 yards, the 300 pound tight-end turned power back pulled off a highlight reel #2 on Sportscenter’s Top Plays rush, which included both a spin move to get out of the pile near the LOS, and a hurdle to pick up the first down. I love it.

OFFENSIVE LINE - C+

This group, to their credit, got a lot better this past weekend, especially in the 1st half. Now, some of that is the raw ability of a running back that we may not have seen out of a true freshman since the 2001 season, but nonetheless they improved. Barry Odum did a phenomenal job against us in the 2nd half to stop the run, and our play calling got away from it as well. I absolutely hate how we finished this game. This group had the chance to put Arkansas away and feel like they had a dominant performance under their belt in run blocking (whether that’s actually true or not, it would’ve been nice for confidence), but pissed it away thanks to some questionable play calling from the 2 men on the sidelines that have made a living on being quality play callers. Go figure.

From a pass protection perspective, props to Alec Jackson, who went from someone that I didn’t feel could be depended on the rest of the way and held his own much better than against a far superior Georgia defense the week prior. There were certainly times where we had some major breakdowns in pass protection, but I’m again grading this group on a curve because I think our quarterback is becoming a head case and is making some really foolish decisions in how early he’s escaping the pocket. Bo has to sit back there and sometimes take a lick.

I’m also going to call out Bo Nix here, because I was at the game and noticed something I find alarming...after a bad sack that was a complete miss by Tank in delaying to pick up the blitz (the one where Bo went airborne), Bo was irate with his linemen as he walked to the sideline. Look, I get it. It’s frustrating when you’re trying to make a play and it gets torpedoed by a blitz. But you will never get anywhere as a QB by screaming at your linemen while flailing your arms the way Nix did as he went to the sideline with them and immediately following after they were off the field. That’s not competitiveness coming out, it’s immaturity. Bottom line here in my book is there’s a way to handle your business, and what I saw ain’t it.

DEFENSIVE LINE - C

I’m pleased with surrendering only 119 yards on the ground. I think the guys up front did a serviceable job considering some of these guys aren’t ready to be in a role where they’re getting this much playing time, but injuries have forced that upon them. Rodney knows what he’s doing and this group is going to get better throughout the year by playing a lot of bodies. The key is they have got to stay healthy.

What I’m not pleased with is the lack of a pass rusher on this defense. Suffice to say, I don’t think the Auburn defense has met their high expectations since 2017 thanks to the lack of a true pass rushing defensive end. We desperately need a Buck position that can disrupt the timing of the quarterback, especially on 3rd down, and we don’t have it, hence why we were so blitz heavy on 3rd down from the 2nd level, and paid dearly for it. This will continue to bite us in the ass until we can recruit the kind of player we saw out of Dee Ford, Carl Lawson, or Jeff Holland. And there’s no excuse for why we cannot recruit one of those to Auburn. I would love to think there’s one on this roster, but outside of Romello Heigh and AUNerd’s love of his pass rushing ability, I don’t see it on this roster. We would have already seen that potential out of Big Kat or TD, and Colby Wooden seems as though he’s gotten too heavy for it. Book is still out on Derick Hall, but what I’ve seen thus far out of a pass rush from the Buck position with him isn’t up to what we saw out of the lettermen previously mentioned early on in their careers.

LINEBACKERS - B+

With K.J. Britt out after thumb surgery, and with the holdout of Chandler Wooten, Auburn was down to just a couple of guys on Saturday, but they’re tried and true dudes. Guess who the top two tacklers were for the Tigers.

Zakoby McClain - 13 tackles

Owen Pappoe - 10 tackles, 1 sack

I just wish they would’ve been able to recognize a few things that Arkansas was trying to do, as the Hog running back Trelon Smith tore Auburn up with little runs and catches out of the backfield. Perhaps that’s more on coaching and the disadvantage of not having your quarterback out there in Britt, but it was still frustrating to see. Even so, you can’t argue with the performance.

DEFENSIVE BACKS - D

I’m grading this on a curve, because this unit is currently racked with injuries right now. And yes, even with the curve, I’m still giving them a D. Felipe Franks, with a 60% career completion rate and 7.4 career yard per attempt, went for 318 yards, 10.4 yards per attempt, and 73% completion in the remnants of a tropical storm. Even Auburn’s most reliable corner, Roger McCreary, got beat a few times in this game, although on the big 4th quarter completion an OPI should’ve been called. The group is missing it’s #2 and #3 corners in Jaylin Simpson and Marco Domio, which Georgia and Arkansas both have taken advantage of. The safeties in this game were fine, and I can’t recall any specific busts on their end, but Franks’s passing numbers will reflect poorly on the whole group.

The player who seemed to struggle the most was Christian Tutt, and we’re starting to see a pattern emerge there. Teams have been able to abuse him in man coverage from the slot going back to last year’s Iron Bowl, and I wonder what adjustments Steele has in mind. Whatever they’re doing there now just isn’t working.

SPECIAL TEAMS - A-

Feast or famine. Punts were only okay (42 yard average not counting Bo’s 20 yard shank). Anders kicked out of bounds twice, and he missed a field goal, but....

  • Tank averaged better than 25 yards per kick return
  • Punt returns were good (3 for 30; a “first down” per punt return is good)
  • Jordyn Peters blocked another punt, resulting in a touchdown.
  • Anders hit 3 field goals, including a 47-yarder in the wind and rain and the game-winner

That can’t be worse than an A.

COACHING - B+

Head coaches get remembered primarily for the wins and losses. Auburn won. Gus Malzahn gets another tally in his career win total. The opposing head coach got another tally in his career loss total. So, credit to the coaching staff for getting the W.

That being said, I was hoping the coaches would fire up the team a bit more than the results indicated on Saturday.

Credit to our staff for leaning into the weather. High winds and heavy rain? Pound the ball on the ground. Rain lets up and dries out? Trust Nix to make some throws.

FANS - A+

I could actually hear Auburn fans cheering over the broadcast and that’s huge considering the weather was miserable and there were probably only a few dozen people in some sections. I also liked how mad the few Arkansas fans who were at the game were.