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POSITION GRADES: #23 Auburn 30, Tennessee 17

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn got the fifth victory of the season in what turned out to be a nice rust shaker-offer as they beat Tennessee 30-17 Saturday night. The Tigers were slow to start, but controlled the final three quarter, rolling up 27 unanswered points on the way to improving to 5-2 on the weirdest year of them all.

How’d each position group do? The long layoff led us to have some breakdowns and busts, but overall they had their positives.

QUARTERBACK - B+

Bo Nix had one of his steadiest games as he was forced to take control of the offense without the safety net of Tank Bigsby and a power running attack. With Bigsby’s absence, Bo’s first quarter was a little shaky, but he bounced back in a big way with aplomb in quarters two through four.

Since the fiasco against South Carolina, he’s completed 72.5% of his passes, and he’s found the accuracy on the deep ball (two straight games with bombs to Anthony Schwartz). Against Tennessee and a double-digit hole early, he didn’t panic and picked apart the Vols’ secondary on the way to completing passes to eight different receivers, with three guys grabbing three or more passes.

RUNNING BACKS - B for (Bigsby, please don’t be hurt too bad)

Well, we’re not mainly grading the guy we thought we’d be talking about. I was very excited to see Tank Bigsby run the ball with reckless abandon after two straight Saturdays away from the field, but he was hurt on his second carry and only finished the night with three rushes for 24 yards.

As for his backups, Shaun Shivers and D.J. Williams, both did well in extensive emergency work. Shivers turned out to be the first guy off the bench once Tank went down, and he finished with 14 carries for 66 yards, while Williams had the same yardage and a touchdown but on only 11 attempts. Shivers showed the same aggression in running the ball, but he was a bit more bottled up when Auburn lost a couple offensive linemen during the course of the game. He needs a little more of a lane to get his yardage, and Williams is able to break a tackle here and there and create a little more. Williams finished things off with the touchdown that put the game out of reach, and while the backs didn’t dazzle, they did what was needed and supported Bo Nix and the passing game. Solid B.

WIDE RECEIVERS - A-

When Bo Nix needed some guys to make some catches, they stepped up for him. As mentioned above, eight different receivers (including backs) caught passes, and some of the these were great grabs in traffic. Anthony Schwartz’s long touchdown came as he ran right by a defender, and Seth Williams should’ve had an even more fantastic highlight reel touchdown catch that was ruled incomplete.

Other than that, the tight ends made an appearance, with John Samuel Shenker and J.J. Pegues grabbing three combined passes, and Brandon Frazier played well, getting open even if Nix didn’t see him a couple of times.

OFFENSIVE LINE - B- for Broken

I mean that in a sense of injuries as opposed to actual play on the field. Already playing without Brandon Council sucks, but Alec Jackson and Brodarious Hamm went out with injuries as well during the game against Tennessee. Not having Tank Bigsby also hurts the appearance of how the line plays, but they opened solid holes (if not on a super consistent basis) for Shaun Shivers and D.J. Williams.

Auburn ran for 165 yards on 38 carries (4.3 yards per rush), and allowed two sacks of Bo Nix, but I’d wager that both of those sacks weren’t all on the line.

DEFENSIVE LINE - C-

This was the worst position group of the day. Tennessee’s line sliced through them and allowed for 222 rushing yards, and it wasn’t even tough. Now imagine them defending against Najee Harris and the Bama front. I don’t want to envision the carnage.

There were positives — they sacked Tennessee quarterbacks 4 times, and got good pressure, but the Vols controlled the line of scrimmage all night long and built a sizeable time of possession advantage. We need to see some different scheming or a big improvement for this group to have a chance at stopping Alabama on Saturday.

LINEBACKERS - C+ for Chasing down guys several yards past the line of scrimmage

Yes, it’s true that Owen Pappoe and Zakoby McClain combined for 18 tackles on Saturday night, but the numbers don’t lie. Tennessee gained 222 yards on the ground, averaging 5.4 yards per carry, and did what they wanted in the running game. Eric Gray had 173 yards and a score, and the Vols were able to gain big yardage nearly at will. We’ll always give these dudes the benefit of the doubt, especially since they’re playing without the monsters from 2019 on the defensive line in front of them, and K.J. Britt’s still not cleared to play. Pappoe/McClain are taking a ton of snaps, but they’ve got to find ways to make more stops around the line of scrimmage instead of several yards downfield.

DEFENSIVE BACKS - B for Big Boy Interception by Smoke Monday

There were some breakdowns in the Auburn secondary on Saturday, but overall it was a solid effort. We saw the Tiger defensive backs make mistakes early on with some coverages (particularly Christian Tutt on a couple of third downs), and with angles on that big third down draw play as well, but certain plays make up for a lot.

Smoke Monday’s 100-yard pick six was fantastic, as he baited Guarantano into that throw the entire way, and then snaked in front of it. It was good to see Roger McCreary play well and lock down his guys, and Jaylin Simpson ended up with a huge pass breakup in the end zone. We’ll need all of them to play exceptionally well this weekend against Alabama.

SPECIAL TEAMS - A

Anders Carlson went 3-3 on field goals and 3-3 on PATs, while booming 4 touchbacks out of 7 kickoffs. Auburn even showed Alabama what they should’ve been patient with last Iron Bowl, just in time for this upcoming Iron Bowl! No breakdowns, and Tennessee only averaged 20 yards on the two kickoff returns they attempted.

COACHING - A-

Let the record state that I was NOT a fan of the pre-halftime shenanigans. This could have backfired pretty poorly. Lucky for us, ole JP on the visiting sideline blundered his opportunity just as badly.

That said, Auburn continued to do an excellent job of scheming their way to another win. Auburn’s emphasis on interception-return coverage could arguably be the reason Auburn is 5-2 right now. That’s a coached skill, folks. Turnovers have an element of luck to them, but what happens after is coached. Credit to Auburn for making the most of this.

And don’t think I didn’t notice Gus putting some punt-formation trickery on film just in time for Alabama.

FANS - A for Attendance

Watching on TV, they were loud, and I could hear them, and the stands didn’t look empty. Mask usage was... iffy, but I guess it’s outside.