I forgot to do this last week but the #1 point would have been “make sure you spike the ball forward”....
Anyways, Auburn heads to Columbia, South Carolina this weekend sporting a totally earned and deserved 2-1 record. The Gamecocks are a woeful 1-2 but are coming off an absolute beatdown of the poor Commodores. Both teams are getting a number of players back from injury in what could be a pivotal game for both teams.
Neither head coach is sitting on the coldest of seats right now. The specter of COVID-19 makes it unlikely either are let go this fall but both could be facing an extremely negative fanbase for the next year if they don’t start stringing some wins together very soon. Both programs have featured inconsistent offenses over the past couple of seasons backed by a traditionally solid defense. However, Malzahn’s program, at least on paper, is more talented than Muschamp’s. Granted, that was true last week by an even greater margin and we all know how that went for the Tigers...
So what’s it going to take for the Tigers to get rolling again? What do they need to do to escape Williams-Brice with a much needed W? Your resident pretend expert is here to map it all out for you. Just do what I say guys and everything will be fine.
CAN BO NIX ELEVATE HIS PLAY?
Through three weeks of the 2020 season, Auburn has had the best quarterback on the field only once this season. Former walk on Stetson Bennett and SEC traveler Feleipe Franks both out dueled the former SEC Freshman of the Year.
Now, not all of that has been on Bo. Outside of Cam Newton, I don’t really know of any former Auburn quarterback who would have excelled in Athens two Saturday’s ago. Poor weather and some bad drops undoubtedly affected Nix’s numbers and limited Auburn’s offensive attack.
But if you want to be considered an elite quarterback then you have to start making things happen no matter the circumstances. The offensive line is never going to be dominant this fall. There will be more drops. There will be more bad weather. It’s on your playmaker at QB to make plays. There’s been moments where you can see the potential being realized in Nix but that’s quickly followed by an awful misfire or a poor decision.
Bo Nix needs to be the best quarterback on the field this Saturday. No excuses.
TIME FOR A PASS RUSHER TO EMERGE
Auburn has a 3rd down problem right now. They’ve allowed teams to convert on 56% of 3rd down attempts. Of the 76 teams currently playing football this fall, that number ranks 71st. If Auburn’s defense is going to get any better they have to find a way to get off the field on 3rd down.
The problem for this Auburn defense is until they can start to consistently generate pressure with their front four, Kevin Steele will have to rely on the blitz to make quarterbacks uncomfortable. However, that makes Auburn predictable and offensive coordinators are exploiting that tendency. Last week, Kendal Briles drilled Auburn with blitz beaters. Four of Arkansas’s six conversions were dump offs to the running back. Georgia slot WR Kearis Jackson absolutely abused the Tigers winning 1 on 1 matchups on what felt like every 3rd down attempt.
Auburn is putting its back 7 in tough positions because they are having to send extra men to pressure the quarterback, offenses see it coming and are able to call plays to get the ball out of the QBs hands thus negating the blitz. If the Tigers are going to fix this problem it’s going to mean someone on that defensive line steps up and becomes a problem in passing situations.
Big Kat Bryant played few snaps against Kentucky and did not see the field vs Arkansas. He clearly wasn’t healthy against UGA. If he can get healthy can he be the missing piece? Derick Hall flashed at times against Arkansas but was held all night. Can he figure out how to fight through that adversity and get pressure regardless of being held? Colby Wooden has shown some nice burst but can he consistently harass the quarterback in passing situations?
I personally think the best unit for pressuring a quarterback early this season has been Derick Hall, Zykeivous Walker, Colby Wooden and Jaren Handy. I’d like to see that group get some more opportunities on 3rd down situations with no blitzes. Whatever the makeup though someone has to become a threat and trustworthy enough that Steele doesn’t feel forced to send pressure on every single passing down.
Offensively, Auburn moved the ball fine against Arkansas. 6.4 yards per play is excellent and if the Tigers do that on a consistent basis they’ll score some points. The problem though has been Auburn’s inability to finish drives with points, specifically touchdowns. Since scoring three touchdowns on four redzone attempts against Kentucky, Auburn has only scored a pair of TDs in six attempts. That must get better quickly if the Tigers are going to be able to keep pace with some of these more explosive offenses.
Against the ‘Cats, Auburn fed Seth Williams who rewarded Morris’s trust with two outstanding catches for touchdowns. Williams has since dropped two touchdowns the last two weeks. It seems that after a fade attempt Auburn has nothing else in the arsenal to finish the drive.
There’s been a weird obsession with trying to get to the edge in the redzone as well. Against the Dawgs, Auburn ran two QB sweeps with Bo Nix deep in UGA territory, neither of which worked. Against Arkansas, Auburn mind-blowingly ran a sweep to Anthony Schwartz on a soaking wet field 10 yards away on 3rd & Goal.
My suspicion is Morris doesn’t trust this offensive line to finish things off on the ground. Easy to understand that thought but you have to at some point challenge your big fellas up front to get it done. With the emergence of Tank Bigsby and the early success of the ThiccCat (J.J. Pegues) Morris has some viable options other than chuck it to Seth. Let these true freshman make these 7 point and not 3 point scoring drives.