Auburn’s most complete game of the season resulted in a fantastic 48-11 destruction of the defending champs, and the first win for the Tigers in the series since 2016. It was a really nice way to show more improvement here in 2020, and the position grades from this one reflect the strides that Auburn has made (or the steps back that LSU has taken, yikes).
QUARTERBACK - A
What more can you say about Bo Nix’s best game as an Auburn Tiger? He went 18-24 for 300 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air, with another 81 yards and a score on the ground. 381 total yards and 4 scores against the defending national champions (no matter how much of a hit they take with Bo Pelini leading the defense) is a pretty solid line, but it was more than that.
I think there was only one really bad throw from Bo on Saturday, and that came early on with a third down toss on the move. He finally hit the deep ball to Anthony Schwartz, which had been a problem even when Flash was wide open down the field. When the running game is working and defenses are focusing on that, it really opens things up for Bo and he seems to thrive. Playing at home helps as well.
He wasn’t nearly as quick to escape the pocket and run, but when he did he was fantastic, and kept the chains moving constantly. Auburn dominated this ballgame, and it was largely on the back of our quarterback. Big improvement for him over the past two weeks with a total 41-54 passing (76% completion rate) for 538 yards and 4 touchdowns with no turnovers.
RUNNING BACKS - B+
This isn’t a knock on the running backs. Tank Bigsby had two touchdowns, and Shaun Shivers set the tone with a couple of really tough runs early, but they were the focus of the LSU defense and that focus allowed Bo Nix to dominate the ballgame both with his arm and legs.
Bigsby finished with 71 yards and those two scores on 15 carries, while Shivers only had three carries. HOWEVER, we finally got to see the much-anticipated debut of Mark-Antony Richards, who came in during the fourth quarter for mop-up duty and ran five times for 16 yards. He looked a tad hesitant, but I’m sure that happens once you get your first game action.
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS - A
Another excellent game for this Auburn wide receiver corps. With Bo finally starting to realize that he has other receivers not wearing #18, and whoever is calling the plays not forcing a pass first approach, everything seems to have become so much easier the last two weeks. Against LSU, four different receivers had at least three catches, and on only twenty-four passes, that’s a solid distribution. There were zero drops in this game, too, which is huge consider the team has posted a 10% drop rate so far this season.
Each of the top three receivers had big time plays, but I want to shout out the rest of the depth chart, as well. Ze’Vian Capers hauled in a touchdown on a wide open play in the red zone, but he also blocked his tail off helping Eli Stove score the first touchdown of the day. Kobe Hudson, Caylin Newton, and others contributed blocking as well, and even the big star Seth Williams helped seal the edge a few times when needed. And of course, our big boi J.J. Pegues had another excellent game, demolishing edge rushers on split zone runs and picking up 29 yards on three catches.
OFFENSIVE LINE - A
What a performance from this group. Since the season started this offensive line has been maligned for pass protection and communication issues that are largely related to having no spring and a COVID outbreak in fall camp that resulted in a lack of cohesion. Then, the most versatile lineman, Brandon Council, unfortunately tears his knee. All season long this group has continued to put in the work and get better each week, and I am so happy to see it pay off like it did against LSU.
We can talk about a lot of the starting 5 from the LSU game, but it starts first and foremost with Alec Jackson. What a wild ride it’s been for him when it looked as though after Georgia that maybe Austin Troxell should’ve been given the green light as opposed to a former defensive lineman. On Saturday Alec proved his hard work is paying off in helping keep the #1 pass rushing defense in the SEC from recording a single sack. Make no mistake, while LSU’s defense is garbage, this was a pleasant surprise considering where this group and offense as a whole were 2 weeks ago. Just impressive all around.
One last thing on this performance. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an offensive line at Auburn do a man dirty and just flat maul the man in front of them. Been even longer since I’ve seen that around the goal line. With that in mind, for all of the highlights from Saturday, there’s none greater to me than seeing a mean streak out of our guys and almost break a man in half. Marquel Harrell has every reason to be proud here, as this is textbook domination.
DEFENSIVE LINE - A+
For the first time since Sensei Mud Jeffrey Holland wrecked opposing quarterbacks, we saw a legitimate pass rush out of our defensive line front off the edge. Major kudos to Derrick Hall for giving the Auburn people hope that we might’ve finally hit a new gear with disrupting the pocket. Giving this coaching staff the comfort in letting your linebackers play the field as opposed to blitzing on 3rd down is a major factor in why LSU was only 5/17 on 3rd down, a number which no doubt is inflated by garbage time.
Additionally, you can’t get much better than holding LSU to 32 yards rushing, which was still under 60 yards when adjusted for sacks. LSU had to come into Auburn with a ground attack to win thanks to a young quarterback, and Auburn was having none of it. This group has taken a huge step forward in finding their identity. Sure, they were never going to be last year’s DL. That happens when you lose a generational talent at defensive tackle. But like the offensive line, they’re getting better. And for all that we can gripe about coaching at time, this staff, on both sides of the ball, is coaching their ass off and this improvement is proof of it.
LINEBACKERS - A for All the tackles
If there was one guy dedicated to stopping LSU’s offense on Saturday it was Zakoby McClain, who turned in one of the more impressive linebacking efforts we’ve seen this year and recently. He was the stopper on most of LSU’s early action, and finished with 9 tackles (all in the first half I believe), destroying backs and creating pressure time and again. He wasn’t alone, either. Owen Pappoe had some really solid plays as the team’s second-leading tackler, including a chasedown of TJ Finley as he scrambled out of the pocket.
For the first time in quite a while, the absence of K.J. Britt wasn’t a problem, but that’s likely more on how the offense was able to control the ball and put the game away rather than our two studs playing any differently. It’s amazing what happens when the entire team plays well.
DEFENSIVE BACKS - A
Another week, another round of shutting down an awesome passing offense. Sure, Myles Brennan was out, and playing a freshman in 2020 on the road is almost certainly going to lead to a bad performance, but the Auburn secondary played great again. Lead receiver Terrance Marshall, Jr. was held to just four catches for 28 yards on nine targets. Nehemiah Pritchett, who may be the most improved player on the defense so far this season, nearly housed an interception, and Christian Tutt added an impressive scoop-and-score in the second quarter to kick-start the rout. After a rough start to the season, this group is settling in nicely against some quality opponents.
SPECIAL TEAMS - A-
I really almost gave them a B, but even the negative plays had positives:
- Kickoff return coverage wasn’t great, but the longest one included an absolutely perfect form tackle by Anders Carlson that saved a touchdown. Plus while the average was 28.3 yards per return, there were also 4 touchbacks and a fair catch.
- There was a missed PAT, but it was the 7th PAT attempted of the day, it was partially-blocked, and it still almost went in.
As for the actual positives, punting was pretty good. There were a couple of touchbacks, but there was also one downed inside the 5. Both returnable punts picked up over 10 yards (including Marc-Anthony Richards first touch of the year on an 18 yard return in the fourth quarter). Zion Puckett snatched LSU’s desperation onside kick in the fourth quarter. That’s winning football.
COACHING - A+
Everything worked. Nothing failed. Proper execution makes everyone look good. Chad Morris called an excellent game for Bo. Kevin Steele schemed flawlessly. I trust Kevin Steele to out-scheme anyone, period.
When the team hands the head coach the game ball, an A+ is the only acceptable grade. This team loves Gus Malzahn. They believe in him, they play hard for him, they don’t quit on him.
FANS - A+
Socially distanced, yet still loud. Also seasonally appropriate attire made for a fanbase that was present for the entirety of the contest. It looked like a genuinely good place to be on Saturday, and I am jealous of all who were in attendance