Oh boy, this ought to be a hoot. Auburn got trucked in Athens, with very few players bringing the effort necessary to win a game against the most talented team per capita in the country.
Some position groups might not have even been there with the way we played, while others showed that they indeed wanted to play Auburn football. How did we grade? Read along:
QUARTERBACK - R (for RUN FOR YOUR LIFE)
Bo Nix was not great this past Saturday. Now, a lot of that had to do with a game plan asking him to be a hero against the best defense in the country behind what might be the worst offensive line in the conference. He was not put in a position to succeed and it resulted in catastrophe for the Tigers offense.
But that doesn’t mean he was a passive participant in that, uh how can I put this nicely, “poopshow” of a performance. Elite quarterbacks raise the play of their teammates. Elite quarterbacks make big time plays even in less than ideal circumstances. Elite quarterbacks still lose but they elevate their offense anyway.
Bo Nix is not yet an elite quarterback. He might still become one but he’s not there yet. There were chances for Auburn to land some haymakers. It’s unlikely any would have left UGA on the mat for long given the Dawgs dominance along the line of scrimmage but there were some chances where Nix could have given his team some confidence. Two deep shots to Anthony Schwartz jump out, especially that 2nd quarter miss where Schwartz had a step on his defender and a touchdown would have made this a 17-7 game.
If you are going to be a championship calibre quarterback you have to hit those shots when you get a chance. Nix is still not doing it. He has to get better and do a better job capitalizing on big play opportunities especially against elite teams. We saw these same misses last year in College Station, Gainesville and Baton Rouge. Until that changes, there’s a firm ceiling on this offense that will prevent this team from winning anything meaningful in the next 2-3 years.
RUNNING BACKS - A-minus
DISCLAIMER: This ranking is solely predicated on measuring the effectiveness of those who played, which was few
Auburn probably found the back of the future on Saturday night in Tank Bigsby, who got his first real extended action with Shaun Shivers’ injury and D.J. Williams’ apparent lack of speed. What we saw in Athens was the only player who 110% wanted to be there, win, and wasn’t afraid of Georgia. Everyone else played scared or tight. He finished with 8 carries for 31 yards and 7 catches for 68 yards, a couple touches consisting of heroic efforts to negate plays that would’ve otherwise been huge losses. He honestly showed the kind of wiggle and strength that we saw out of his position coach in Sanford Stadium in 2001, but we had less help on Saturday. Georgia was also better than they were eighteen years ago.
The position group is given an A- because of D.J. Williams’ ineffectiveness (no carries, 1 catch for -4 yards), and because there’s still room for improvement from Tank in spite of his great night. Tank can become the absolute start back at Auburn, but we have to figure out how to use him and reward him for being the only guy leaving everything out there on Saturday. An offensive line wouldn’t hurt either.
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS - D (for Drops)
I will say, there weren’t a ton of opportunities for the receivers to show out in this one. With a lethal pass rush from Georgia, and Bo being lucky to just get the ball in the air near the intended receivers, any production from them would have been a gift. That being said, this group gets heavily penalized by a severe case of the drops. Sure, Seth Williams’s drop would have been a highlight real touchdown if he had reeled it in, but we also saw Shedrick Jackson drop two balls as well (one of them ended up being called for targeting, but my point stands).
The highlight of the night certainly goes to J.J. Pegues, who only recorded three touches for eight yards, but the big man converted third downs on both of his carries out of the Wildcat. Props for that I guess.
OFFENSIVE LINE - L (for Lost.)
The next time you hear someone defend Herb Hand and JB Grimes, show them this:
This is one of the most pitiful efforts in the history of Auburn football. No I’m not talking about the game. I’m talking about how vastly under-prepared this position group is from a personnel/roster management standpoint. After having 2 transfers start in 2017, the regression of offensive line play at Auburn from 2018 - present has been the root problem of this football program. We have not been able to run the football since Kerryon Johnson got hurt against Alabama and now in 2020 we cannot protect the quarterback. What’s so damning about this is that SO MANY PEOPLE SAW THIS COMING.
I can’t even blame Jack Bicknell for this because I think he’s the first offensive line coach Auburn has had since Jeff Grimes (should’ve been retained after 2012 by Gus) who understands how to recruit offensive linemen at Auburn. But he’s probably unable to fully fix it until 2022 at the earliest! And yet, none of these issues are new! None of this is a surprise!
The identity of any offense is based around its offensive line, which explains at least in part why we looked so completely lost as a unit Saturday night. But as bad as the line looked, the real shame is on whoever it is on that sideline who insists upon rotating offensive linemen 2 games into a season. Sure, this group didn’t have this summer to build cohesion thanks to COVID. That’s tough for any group. But you are extending this problem out by continuing to rotate guys. And I don’t think it requires a lot of thinking to see that the most ideal starting group right now probably looks like this:
- Left Tackle - Austin Troxell
- Left Guard - Brandon Council
- Center - Nick Brahams
- Right Guard - Keiondre Jones
- Right Tackle - Brodarious Hamm
Even with that group, the grades looked abysmal Saturday night based on what was said by the PFF folks. But this position group cannot get better without playing together. Run with these 5, and let them take their lumps and grow. In the meantime, the unit looks lost. I will say that it sure doesn’t help that it was abundantly clear that we were tighter than the Fat Man Squeeze at Rock City thanks to a group of coaches who don’t appear to trust their players and go into a turtleshell each time we play a competent football team away from Jordan-Hare Stadium. You could see that in the opening drive with penalties.
So yeah, the offensive line, and whoever is on that sideline refusing to trust his players and doing this rotation BS deserve a grade worse than F. They deserve to be called out for being LOST.
DEFENSIVE LINE - H (for How?)
I think we all expected this defensive front to regress significantly from last year. Nothing about that is a surprise when you lose a generational talent like Derrick Brown, who friend of the program Justin Ferguson swears is the greatest defensive player in Auburn history. Certainly an argument can be made. That being said, how in the hell do you get blown off the ball this poorly? How in the hell have several of these guys, who have played a significant number of snaps in this defense, not improved since the first year they stepped on campus?
This is the first year that we haven’t had a sure-fire NFL defensive lineman on this team since Gus got to Auburn. And that would be enough of a reason to be upset but also understand why our backs broke in the 2nd half...if that had happened. Instead, this group was dominated from the start, letting a walk on quarterback keep his jersey clean for the majority of the game, and let Georgia bully you in the run game all night. This score could have been 21 points worse, but Georgia was having too much fun pushing our defensive line into the belly of our linebackers.
I expected a regression, and I have confidence in Rodney Garner. Really I’m more angry at the offense since 2016 for wasting 4 years of championship-level defense than I am a bad night at the office without the NFL talent of a year ago. But none of that should make you, me, Gus, Rodney, or anyone associated with this program any less embarrassed by the utter domination by the Georgia offensive line.
LINEBACKERS - D (for Dreadful)
I understand that it’s difficult to make plays when offensive linemen are hitting you, but when you engage a running back (even a five-star one) you don’t need to be getting pushed back every single time. K.J. Britt, Owen Pappoe, and Zakoby McClain again combined for a ton of tackles (28 total), but they came several yards downfield almost every play. McClain had the lone tackle for loss of the group (a sack), but the group lost contain when blitzing, couldn’t hang with the backs out the backfield on short passes, and gave ground on run plays up the middle.
Refer to the guide below, from Harry Potter. These guys were still in the right place a lot of the time, but they didn’t make the plays necessary, and the middle of the field was a place where Georgia got a bookoodle of their yardage. 28 total tackles is nice, but we’re throwing them a D for Dreadful anyway. Be thankful it’s not T for Troll.
DEFENSIVE BACKS - C (for Coverage Optional)
This secondary had a range of performance on Saturday. Roger McCreary for the most part shut down George Pickens, allowing the star receiver just 26 yards on two catches from five targets. One of those catches (and 21 of the yards) were from a touchdown, but the coverage wasn’t necessarily bad there. It was just a perfect pass and catch from the offense. Jordyn Peters and Jamien Sherwood proved to be just fine at safety, with the pair combining for 27 tackles. Generally you want your front seven picking up most of the tackles when the opponent is running the ball down your throat, but nevertheless, that isn’t the safeties’ fault.
Now comes the part that was... not good. At all. Georgia was able to pull a page out of Alabama’s playbook and just abuse Christian Tutt, with Kearis Jackson picking up nine catches for 147 yards. Nehimiah Pritchett struggled mightily as well, although it’s hard to blame him as he was filling in for an injured Jaylin Simpson.
SPECIAL TEAMS - B (for not Bad)
Congratulations, boys. You’re not the reason Auburn lost. There’s probably only one other position group that can say that. Carlson hit both of his field goals. Punt coverage was good. Kickoff coverage wasn’t great on the first one to ding it back to a B. That’s about it.
COACHING - D+
Auburn’s coaching was suspect Saturday. Down 3 scores late in the first half, Auburn elected to kick a field goal, to make it a...three score game. The decision to keep rotating the offensive line is not one I understand. And some of the offensive playcalls around the goal line were...well, they were blah. Auburn couldn’t out-talent Georgia Saturday. Ultimately, that’s on the coaches for recruiting. And if you can’t out-talent an opponent, you have to out-execute and out-scheme. Auburn did neither of those things. I won’t fault the coaches for in-game execution, but Georgia didn’t look surprised by anything Auburn threw at them.
Credit to Kevin Steele (I sound like a broken record) for impressive halftime adjustments. Holding Georgia to only 3 second half points is the only thing saving the coaches from a failing grade. This team didn’t totally quit.
FANS - F
They were Georgia fans, so they probably barked at strangers and were generally lacking in self awareness. Also, their student section didn’t seem to follow any COVID restrictions.