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Touchdown Auburn: Akron Edition - Part One

Too many scores for one post.

Akron v Auburn Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

As I mentioned Saturday night in Snap Judgements, in a game like this it’s less about the results and more about the process. We knew Auburn was going to whoop Akron but how they went about it is what has me excited. The Tigers attacked the Zips defense all over the field and made everyone a weapon. It was a refreshing experience for Auburn fans who have become accustomed to seeing the Tigers stumble around for a couple of quarters before pulling away late by overpowering them on the ground. I’ll also admit, I am excited to begin dissecting and understanding this new scheme. There’s a lot to learn.

Given the sheer volume of scoring drives on Saturday, I decided to break this week’s Touchdown Auburn feature into two separate posts. Today, we will look at Auburn’s first four touchdowns. Tomorrow, hopefully, I’ll breakdown the final four.

Let’s get to scoring.

Following an Akron drive that impressively gained a net of 4 yards despite running 9 plays and possessing the ball for over 5 minutes, Auburn’s new offense took the field for the first time in 2021. Auburn opened with two Tank Bigsby runs netting 8 yards on RPO concepts. Facing a 3rd & 2, I was terrified the Tigers would open the Harsin era with a 3 & out but Auburn converted easily.

The Zips gave Auburn’s wideouts a lot of cushion Saturday night in an attempt to not give up too many home runs over the top. Bo Nix sees pre-snap that Shedrick Jackson has plenty of space to work. Auburn runs all curls here and Nix hits Jackson for the first down.

I don’t love this throw by Nix. He leads Jackson into contact instead of putting the ball between the numbers. The throw is high and leads Jackson into the defender. That doesn’t matter against a team like Akron but could be the difference between a first down vs UGA and a 3 & out.

Bigsby powers forward for 9 yards then Auburn takes to the air again.

Auburn is in 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end) with John Samuel Shenker lined up in the slot up top. This ends up being empty protection with Tank motioning out of the backfield before the snap. Akron drops 8 so Auburn’s wideouts go hunting for soft spots in the coverage. Jackson finds a nice little pocket and Nix hits him for the first time.

I love how Nix manages the pocket on this snap. He subtly slides to his right and steps up to deliver a strike to Jackson for the first down. Again though, I don’t love the accuracy on the throw. Jackson executes his route perfectly but Nix throws hard and high to Jackson’s left. It’s an impressive catch by the senior who snatches it out of the air but you’d prefer to not make this such a difficult reception. Hit him between the numbers possibly even giving him the chance to turn up field and make someone miss.

The very next play goes the distance.

This is a new wrinkle to Auburn’s run scheme. Like most Bryan Harsin offenses, the Tigers ran a lot of zone heavy concepts. Inside zone will continue to be a staple but Harsin and Bobo have added a lot more variety.

This is Wide Zone out of a Pistol formation. I will probably write something more in depth down the road seeing as how popular this play appears to be for the Tigers but for now I’ll let BruinReport’s Chris Osgood summarize.

Wide Zone is a compromise between Inside Zone and Outside Zone, without the possibility of a quarterback option to keep the ball. The intent of Wide Zone is to get away from the defense’s center of mass and make the defense move laterally, while still retaining a bit of a downhill emphasis. Youtube coach Tom Codutti routinely emphasizes that the running back on Wide Zone needs to make his cut commitment and be vertical at the fifth step.

As an aside, the term Midzone could be used interchangeably with Wide Zone, where an offense is aiming the running back at an offensive tackle. We’re settling on Wide Zone since UCLA does this exclusively from under center or the pistol. If UCLA were to run behind an offensive tackle from offset shotgun (which they haven’t), we’d disambiguate that into a Midzone label.

This is beautifully executed by Auburn’s offensive line. Austin Troxell scoops his man out while Brandon Council climbs to the 2nd level and stuffs the linebacker. Nick Brahms works his combo block with Keiondre Jones up to the backside linebacker. Demetris Robertson comes in to crack the safety and even though he doesn’t get him the safety has to alter his angle towards Tank to avoid Robertson allowing the best running back in the country to easily slip the arm tackle and break free for the long touchdown run.

Nice first drive for the Bryan Harsin and Mike Bobo era.

After a 3 & out by Akron (a theme for much of the game), Auburn’s offense takes over inside their own 35. Tanks busts a 16 yard run to open the drive and then Auburn takes to the air once again.

I mean of course I had to spotlight the first tight end reception right?

Auburn comes out in a tightly bunched 2x2 look in 12 personnel. The Tigers are running a Flag-Flat concept which was one of Gus Malzahn’s favorites when he was on the Plains. The illustrious WarRoomEagle wrote extensively about this concept back in 2015. Both sides of the formation are running this route combination and if you notice Nix had Luke Deal wide open too at the top of the formation.

Alec Jackson checked in on the 2nd series at left guard and promptly got whooped in pass pro. Thankfully, Nix gets the ball out quick delivering a perfect ball to Shenker for a nice pickup. After rewatch, I have no idea why there is still an OR between Council and Jackson. I imagine we will see that rotation end come week 3.

Auburn’s next play was a sight for sore Auburn fan eyes.

The Tigers want to take a deep shot but the Zips keeps a safety deep and I am guessing it’s covered up. You can see old Bo fight new Bo on this snap. When his first read is covered, he initially reverts to old Bo by wanting to scramble right. However, new Bo takes over and he resets his feet, looks for his checkdown in Tank Bigsby and delivers it to the back for a big pickup.

What impressed me the most Saturday about Bo wasn’t his completion percentage or gaudy success rate. It was his decision making. I never saw an ill advised throw or a panicked scramble. He looked poised and in control. We will see if this new Bo can show up every week but this was obviously an excellent start to his junior campaign. If he can improve his ball placement then Twitter memes might start becoming a reality...

Late in the drive, Auburn faced another 3rd down. Again the Tigers were able to keep the chains moving through the air.

I love this play design. The Tigers are in 11 personnel with trips to the field. Before the snap, slot receiver Ja’Varrius Johnson motions across the formation. This motion gives Nix a chance to identify the coverage pre-snap. If someone follows Johnson, chances are good the Zips are in man. That doesn’t happen, instead the linebackers bump over signaling they are likely in zone.

Nix confirms that post nap when the boundary corner opens his hips towards Nix and has his eyes inside. Johnson converts his wheel route into a curl just past the sticks. Jackson’s route pulls both the corner and the safety leaving JJ wide open. Again, I would have liked to have seen a more accurate pass as the throw is low but Johnson scoops it up and it’s first down Tigers.

A holding penalty backs Auburn up in the redzone but the Tigers bounce back in a big way by getting the ball in Shaun Shivers hands in space.

Mike Bobo had to have noticed how much cushion Akron was giving specifically to the wideouts lined up to the field. Here he takes advantage of it by hitting Shivers in the flat. Some outstanding blocks downfield by Shenker and Malcolm Johnson Jr. frees Shivers up to do what he does best at the goal line — run through people’s souls.

It would not shock me if at some point you see Auburn run some variations off this concept where Nix pump fakes to Shivers in the flat then comes back to one of those wideouts breaking inside. Something to watch for in the future.

A 4th down stand thanks in large part to the big paw of JJ Pegues gives Auburn great field position. As AuburnObserver’s Justin Ferguson noted, Bryan Harsin has historically loved to immediate attack off a sudden change situation. That’s exactly what the Tigers do on this next drive.

Auburn lines up under center for one of the first times Saturday night. The Tigers have 2 tight ends on the field and end up faking 2 different runs. First, there’s the fake jet sweep and then NIx fakes a stretch handoff to Shivers in the backfield. After those play fakes, he sets his feet and finds a wide open Ja’Varrius Johnson on the deep crossing route.

Beautifully executed by AU.

The Tigers open their 4th drive with a quick screen to Demetris Robertson for a nice gain. On 2nd & 2, Auburn shows a new formation for an old concept to pick up the first down.

Auburn again has two tight ends on the field. They are bunched in a trips formation to the boundary alongside Demetris Robertson. This is an Inside Zone play that Auburn fans should be extremely familiar with by now. Under Harsin, Auburn’s offense will have multiple core concepts that they will be willing to run out of any formation or personnel group.

This play is executed perfectly by the Tigers. Brodarious Hamm comes in on the down block washing the defense end out of the play while Tashawn Manning climbs to the 2nd level. Luke Deal’s man crashes in to the wrong gap and out of the play while Shenker seals his man to the outside. Poor Robertson is used as a battering ram by Tank who gashes the Zips for a nice pickup.

Two plays later and Auburn was back in the endzone.

Bryan Hasin specifically praised Bo Nix for this touchdown in his post game press conference. Nix’s progression starts to the left but he works back to his right. Akron starts with a 2 safety look but the field safety is replacing the blitzing nickel defensive back. The other safety rotates to the middle of the field while the boundary cornerback is bailing deep. Kobe Hudson finds the weak spot down the seam and Nix delivers a strike for a touchdown.

Also check out the protection up front. Both Nick Brahms and Alec Jackson handle their men while Manning and Hamm team up on the far side defensive end. Austin Troxell does a great job getting eyes on the blitzing DB and he pairs with Tank to keep him out of the play. It’s just Akron but there were times in the past couple of years where simple blitzes like this would get home. Great job by all 11 offensive players doing their job to put 6 points on the board.

War Eagle!