Was it perfect? Of course not. But this is that kind of B+ you get after staying up all night partying, walking in to the test blind, and somehow pulling out a decent grade.
TJ Finley’s 1-for-4 drive aside, Backyard Bo put up one of the Bo Nix passing lines possible, going 23/44 for 255 yards and a score. It was barely 5 yards per attempt, and it was just over 50% passing, but it didn’t include any interceptions. And, of course, it provided one of the most jaw-dropping, mind-blowing, anger-inducing (for LSU fans) plays I’ve ever seen from an Auburn quarterback.
PLAY OF THE NIGHT— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 3, 2021
Bo Nix made the entire defense miss before throwing this TD! pic.twitter.com/FGQM1JpgSK
For everyone who’s called for Bo to be able to use his legs more, this was the night. Nix ended up with 74 yards and a score on 12 carries, including 13 broken tackles.
Running Backs: B+
Not all B+’s are equal. This one feels like the kind where you may not have done well on the big assignment, but you nailed every bit of extra credit offered.
Once again, the opposing defense keyed in on Tank Bigsby, stuffing the box and holding him to just 27 yards on 9 carries. Some mistakes belong to Bigsby, sure, but for the most part there was no room to run for the sophomore. Jarquez Hunter had a solid night, with 75 yards on 7 touches, with about half of that came on a huge toss play on the final scoring drive to get Auburn into scoring range.
But the biggest shoutout goes to the guy with the least work. Shaun Shivers, the veteran of this group and also the back who saw the fewest touches, was electric out of the backfield. Despite recording no carries, Shivers caught five balls for 38 yards including a huge first down conversion on 3rd and long with Auburn’s back against the endzone in the fourth quarter. “Worm” may not ever anchor this Auburn backfield, but after a tough early season where he missed three weeks due to COVID, he may have finally found his role in this offense.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: C+
One week after firing WR coach Cornelius Williams, the receiver group had an... interesting, we’ll say, game in Baton Rouge. There were a fair share of drops still, and Elijah Canion did not get to make the trip due to an injury, but in general the organization that was lacking previously seemed to be in better shape. Yet, the wide receivers only tallied 9 receptions for 94 yards.
We already discussed Shivers’s contributions in the receiving game, and the running backs as a whole caught 7 balls for 54 yards. The biggest contribution, however, came from strangest place - tight end. John Samuel Shenker had a career night snagging 5 balls for 102 yards, making him the first Auburn tight end with a 100+ yard game since Andy Fuller in 1994. Along with Shenker’s big game, Tyler Fromm brought in his first (and second, and third) career reception for 40 yards and a score. For a position that was highly recruited but rarely utilized over the course of the Malzahn era, this was a massive night.
Offensive Line: C-
I’m not really sure what to make of this performance by the offensive line. It certainly wasn’t a disaster - Bo didn’t take any sacks, and the running backs still rushed for over 6 yards per carry in limited touches, but at no time did it ever feel like they were pushing around an LSU defense which is SEC average at best.
I didn’t spend the game thinking the offensive line was going to cost us, so I’ll give them a passing grade, if only barely.
Defensive Line: A-
Sure, LSU has had one of the worst ground games in the Power 5 through five weeks, but you can’t argue they’re not more talented than Georgia State. LSU running backs ran for just a hair over 3 yards per carry on 13 carries, an outstanding performance for the Auburn front. However, Auburn rarely played more than three down lineman, opting for a 2-3-6 or 3-3-5 look as LSU leaned on Max Johnson and the passing game. This allowed Colby Wooden and Derrick Hall to have monster games, combining for 15 tackles, 2 sacks, and a pass break up that nearly became an interception.
While missing TD Moultry, Eku Leota added on another late sack for the second week in a row off the edge.
With Auburn opting not to utilize many defensive linemen against an pass-heavy LSU offense, it was up to the linebacker group to anchor the middle of the defense on Saturday. And, this may shock you, Zakoby McClain was up to the task. McClain was all over the field with 12 tackles on the night, making plays against running backs and slot receivers alike. In the second half with LSU running four wide receivers heavily, McClain showed his versatility and played as a dime back to keep himself on the field.
I doubt this happens with a healthy Owen Pappoe, but Smoke Monday stepped in and played linebacker in the second half of this game. In an effort to put more defensive backs on the field against the LSU offense, and knowing Monday’s propensity to occasionally get beat deep, he played a healthy dose of snaps in the box. He patrolled the middle of the field in a shallow zone, and occasionally flowed out to the flats or blitzed to make plays in space where he’s at his best. It was a delightful coaching move in this matchup, and one we might continue to see against teams like Ole Miss.
Defensive Backs: B-
The transition to the Derrick Mason defense hasn’t been easy. Blown assignments and incorrect alignments have plagued this defensive back group in the early part of the season, and those problems looked to rear their ugly head once again in the first quarter of this game. Max Johnson accomplished one of the most incredible stat lines I’ve ever seen on the first drive, going 6/6 for 132 yards and a touchdown, mostly in conjunction with star receiver Kayshon Boutte. Again, that’s 132 yards on one possession. Wild stuff.
But the defense settled in as the game went on, and the prolific LSU passing offense ended up with a fairly pedestrian night. After the first drive, Johnson was just 20/40 for 192 yards and an interception. It’s tough to read too much from this ugly of a game, but put a pin in this - if the secondary has a strong second half of the season, this is the week they turned it around.
Special Teams: B
Anders Carlson was automatic in the first four weeks, and he finally showed he was human in this game. Carlson connected on a 49 yards just before the half, but mishit a ball on an attempt from 50+ in the 3rd quarter, and had another long kick blocked after that.
Despite the kicking mishaps and a lack of any other kick or punt blocks, the special teams still had a decent night. Oscar Chapman punted 3 times for 40 yards per attempt, and pinned LSU inside the 10 on two of those kicks. The LSU kick return team brought the ball out of the endzone just once for a 17 yard return, and said return ended with one of the most violent (and more importantly, CLEAN) hits you’ll see in college football this year.