Remember how we said Auburn got a passing grade because of a technicality last week? Well, they pissed off the teacher, and now that “C’s get degrees!” mentality has us flunking the course just before midterms. Let’s review:
QUARTERBACK - F-
Here’s three stat lines, and I want you to tell me who the quarterbacks are:
Player A: 28/45, 322 yards, 7.2 YPA, 2 TD, 2 INT, 0 uncatchable passes, 4 carries, 0 yards, 2 sacks, 1 fumble
Player B: 11/27, 145 yards, 5.4 YPA, 1 TD, 3 INT, 11 uncatchable passes, 10 rushes, 17 yards, 2 sacks
Player C: 24/47, 272 yards, 5.8 YPA 1 TD, 3 INT, 11 uncatchable passes, 15 rushes, 69 yards, 3 sacks
As I’m sure the stat line looks familiar, Player C is obviously Bo Nix against South Carolina. Player B is, yet again, Bo Nix, this time against Florida last year in the Swamp. Lastly, Player A, with almost certainly the “best” performance of the three, is Jarrett Stidham in the 2018 Tennessee game.
While Stidham does get the benefit of playing at home, I would argue it was the worst home field advantage Auburn has put forth in an SEC game in the Malzahn era. I don’t have a real point in giving you these stats lines, other than that Bo’s performance in this game is in line with the worst of the last few years at Auburn.
The cherry on top? Having the whole world see Bo getting into it with his #1 receiver and offensive coordinator on the sidelines. That’s an F every time. Maybe it would be a little understandable if the rest of the offense wasn’t clicking, so let’s check in on the ground game...
RUNNING BACKS - A+
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS - C-
Whether you’re on Team Seth or Team Bo, I think everyone can acknowledge that this wasn’t the brightest three hours for the wide receiver corp. Although the passes from Bo weren’t the best to work with, this group still had way too many drops, including one that led to an interception. Eli Stove and Anthony Schwartz had decent games, combining for 13 catches, 119 yards, seven first downs, and a touchdown. Even the non-big 3 (Williams, Stove, Schwartz) got in on the action, with Ze’Vian Capers, DJ Williams, Luke Deal, and Shedrick Jackson combined for seven catches on 11 targets and 79 yards.
The real sticking point, though, is Seth Williams. Four catches for 74 yards isn’t the worst stat line, but when you realize that came with 13 targets (with two going for interceptions), it’s not quite as rosy. Whatever the issue is between him and Bo needs to be worked out quickly, because an offense can shut down in a hurry if two of its most important players can’t get along.
OFFENSIVE LINE - B
Nobody is saying they played a perfect game, but as much as we’ve dogged them the last three years, they were not the problem Saturday. Giving up the sack on the hail mary before the half hurt, but they also were an instrumental part of getting the ground game going. The ground game totaled 6.3 yards per called rush, and the offensive line provided plenty of room for the running backs. On average, rushers gained 3.4 yards before contact, up from the season average of 2.08. For comparison’s sake, Georgia is averaging 1.96 YBC, and Alabama is averaging 2.28 YBC.
In pass blocking, the line did allow 3 sacks (I’m not sure if that includes Bo’s grounding or not), but on fifty-seven drop backs, that’s not the worst rate. Going forward, I’d like to stick this offense in a position to succeed, and that’s pretty clearly by running the ball.
DEFENSIVE LINE - C+
While it didn’t seem like the defensive line made a ton of big plays in this one, they didn’t necessarily play poorly. The Gamecock ground game was held below their season average in success rate (37% vs 43%), and the Auburn front held rushers to a lower average yards before first contact than their season rate (2.07 vs 2.30).
Where they struggled, though, was in the same place they’ve struggled since Jeff Holland left - the pass rush generated pressure on just three of 24 passes (12.5%), down from South Carolina’s season average allowed of 24%. Getting any sort of pass rush from the defensive line would do wonders for the rest of the defense, but for now it’s relatively non-existant.
Colby Wooden led the unit with six tackles and two TFL, and generally looked like the best player on the defensive line in this one. The redshirt freshman is a turning in a splendid season so far.
LINEBACKERS - B-
This grade is on a curve, given the depth issues this group is dealing with. Zion Puckett even had to moonlight a few plays. Pappoe and McClain did everything they could. McClain had a sack on a perfect green dog blitz early in the game that led to a South Carolina punt. Pappoe got his first career interception by making a diving grab of a pass broken up by Christian Tutt. Those two led the team in tackles (McClain 13/9 and Pappoe 10/5).However, it wasn’t perfect. Cam Riley got his first start, but he didn’t register a stat. On South Carolina’s only full touchdown drive, no one covered themselves in glory, and the biggest play of that drive included Pappoe washing himself into the wrong gap on a critical 3rd down play. I know the offense didn’t help them, but you would like to see this group make a play or two more to help win the game.
DEFENSIVE BACKS - C+
The South Carolina passing game never really got going, but credit the South Carolina offensive staff (blech) for not asking their quarterback to do too much. The Gamecocks only called 25 pass plays out of 66 total snaps, instead forcing the issue on the ground when Auburn continuously gave them a short field. While Auburn limited the damage through the air to just 144 yards and a touchdown, it still felt like there were a few coverage breakdowns (and a phantom PI call on Roger McCreary) that were killer.
Again, the safeties were solid in this one, although not tasked with a ton of work. Pappoe and McClain were all over the field with 23 tackles, limiting the opportunities for Sherwood and Monday to get in on the action. That’s a good thing for the defense in general, but it doesn’t help the DB’s get a better grade.
SPECIAL TEAMS - B
Anders was a perfect 3/3 on his FGs, though none was longer than 38 yards. Four of his kickoffs were touchbacks, and another was fair caught at the 1. But the one that wasn’t a touchback was returned 34 yards. Tank Bigsby’s only chance at a kickoff return was just 23 yards, but it came on a kickoff that only reached the 8, so that is a positive.
What drops the letter grade to a B is an absolutely dreadful job on punt returns by Christian Tutt. Kai Kroeger punted 5 times for South Carolina. One of them was a touchback. The rest were all downed by the Gamecocks, including 3 inside the 20. Tutt’s inability to actually field the ball on punts is bordering on ridiculous. It is putting a mediocre offense in an even bigger hole by losing 10-15 yards of field position. If he is being coached to do this, or if his job is not in jeopardy, it’s a further indictment of this coaching staff.
COACHING - F
I haven’t had the time/heart/desire to re-watch this game for a full critique, but coaching must be given an F this week. The Bo/Seth drama needs to be resolved. Coaches need to get a grip on this before anything happens. You could make the case the clock management just before halftime cost Auburn the game. A field goal there gives Auburn a 5-point halftime margin (6-point margin if Auburn kicks the PAT like a normal person, but whatever). This extra 3 points would have proved extremely valuable in the 3rd/4th quarters. The 2-point conversion – look, I get it. You probably got a good look. I love the aggressiveness of it. People only hated it because it didn’t work. An extra 2 points here would have been extremely significant later in the game. Bo is typically a very conservative quarterback. The only time he takes risks are when he throws 50/50 balls to Seth. Nobody on that staff knows Bo better than Chad and Gus. They must recognize when he’s rattled, when he’s forcing it. Horn was too dadgum good. Plenty of people have/will focus on letting Bo win/lose the game, instead of putting the ball in your hottest hand (Tank), so I won’t dwell on that.