Take everything we’ve seen of Bo Nix the last two years and throw it out the window for a moment. This is what a former 5 star does against a bad MAC team, and then some. Going 20-22 on mostly downfield passes without anyone else on the field is difficult enough. Bo showed confidence in the pocket, good timing with his receivers, and, what we’ve all been clamoring for, the ability to step into throws. Yes, it’s Akron. But he was effectively perfect. Keep it up, Bo.
Running Backs: A
Whoa buddy. Tank looked even better. He was nimble, but he ran angry. He got downhill quickly. Shivers only got 2 carries, but the second one would have been a touchdown from anywhere on the field. Sean Jackson ran hard, and I think he’s going to be a player we can rely on.
Finally, I absolutely LOVE Jarquez Hunter. He’s quick. He made decisive cuts and got into Akron’s secondary. He even had a great blitz pickup. I’m going to enjoy watching him play for a while.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: A
It’s another solid grade for this group. With essentially no returning production, roles have been completely up for grabs, but everyone who stepped on the field looked good. Ja’Varrius Johnson made a handful of great catches, including adjusting to catch a ball slightly behind him for a touchdown up the seam. Shedrick Jackson nearly matched his 2020 totals with 5 catches and 79 yards. Kobe Hudson looked like a dynamic playmaker and picked up his first career score. Several guys put out great effort to block on the edges for the running backs, including Caylin Newton on Shaun Shiver’s score.
The tight ends had plenty of chances to shine in blocking situations, including several 2 and 3 tight end sets throughout the knight. John Samuel Shenker had 5 catches in the game, the most by an Auburn tight end since Philip Lutzenkirchen had 5 receptions against LSU in 2012.
Offensive Line: A
I’m sure this is getting boring, but when you give your backs room to go for 10+ yards per carry and your quarterback is only pressured once all night, you get an A. The starting group of Troxell/Council/Brahms/Jones/Hamm dominated a smaller and slower defensive line, and even the backups created space for the second team offense to contribute a few scores.
Defensive Front: A
I’m going to list the defensive line and linebackers together for now, as there’s plenty of cross-over with various edge rushers and outside linebackers. Regardless, it’s another high grade. The biggest thing I wanted to see in this game was a consistent pass rush against an inferior opponent, and Auburn’s front seven delivered. All six sacks came from this group, as well as 11 tackles for loss. T.D. Moultry had a career game, and might have finally found a role that suits him as a hybrid rusher/OLB. Derrick Hall was a menace as well, blowing up several plays and running straight through the poor Akron right tackle on a number of plays.
I could name almost every player on the two deep here and say they looked good. If there’s one thing to critique, it’s finishing tackles, but that’s pretty usual for the first game of the season.
Defensive Backs: A (as part of a group project)
Thanks to the hard work of their group partners, the linebackers and defensive line, they get to share in the A grade the defense received as a whole. We didn’t get to see them actually participate much because Akron’s quarterbacks had little time to throw the ball, let alone get it downfield. What we did see were sure tackles on the short passes that were completed, and at least enough coverage to prevent any shots downfield. We may see them coast again this coming Saturday against Alabama State, but they’ll need to be ready for Penn State based on the Nittany Lions’ penchant for deep shots serving as the staple of their offense against Wisconsin.
Special Teams: B
On the whole it was a good day for the special teams, however, that’s more from opportunities from the offense being able to move the football at will. Anders went 7/8 on PATs and had 10 kickoff opportunities with 8 touchbacks and a 44 yard Field Goal to end the half. Make it 8/8 on PATs and that’s as close to perfect as you could ask. In the Punting area, Oscar Chapman only punted twice, once for 41 and another for 22 yards. Not the best by a long shot so that is an area that can use a little work. In the return game, I personally look for the returners to try and get 10 yards a touch because that’s an extra first down for the offense. The Tigers were able to do that on all 5 kickoff and punt return opportunities they had with Demetrius Robertson, Ja’Varrius Johnson and Donovan Kaufman going for 93 yards combined and Kaufman with a nice 30 yard punt return.
Coaching: AI wanted to rate coaching this week because, if you read my season preview and the 6-6 prediction I have for the Tigers, you know I was hard on Harsin for COVID related reasons. I won’t backtrack off of my point of a competitive disadvantage that could loom over a game this season, but I don’t want to linger on it and do want to give a ton of credit where it has been earned by Harsin and Co.It’s easy, as so many have pointed out (myself included), to simply say this was a bad football team so of course you should look competent. That being said, it was abundantly clear that the coaching all offseason around this team was a reflection of what Bryan Harsin cares most about…consistency. Let’s look at some areas where we saw a different football team from a year ago:
- Bo Nix - Where else could I start but here? Sure we won’t know if he’s a different QB until likely a trip to Happy Valley, but Bo’s decision making and trust of a pocket were a direct result of Mike Bobo and Bryan Harsin hammering home consistency with the details of what it takes to trust your pass protection and your route progressions. I was so proud of Bo for where he has taken that coaching and for the only proof of change we have thus far, applied it. Even on some minor pass protection breakdowns, you could tell he wanted to trust his route trees instead of being a worse version of Johnny Football, and he deserves a lot of credit for that. Let’s hope it continues, as it’s clear right now he is firmly in the starter’s chair.
- Offensive line - Nick Brahams has talked about how Will Friend has been an excellent teacher at reading defenses; something that this offensive line has apparently never (!) done before. This group didn’t make many mental mistakes and even a few holding penalties can’t keep me from feeling excited about this group just being better than expected because of sound coaching. They aren’t as talented as we need them to be. They can win us a game or two more than we expect if they progress in playing smart football.
- The front 7 - Man it is so nice to continue to see intensity on the sideline from our defensive staff. Admittedly I worried about how that would look in feeding into the emotion of our guys after losing Travis Williams, but to see the fire on the sidelines on a third down stop and see the aggression from the front 7 makes my heart sing. You knew you’d see excellent play from our linebackers, but the rotation of defensive linemen and not see a technique drop-off was so encouraging. I’m especially proud of Nick Eason here, as it’s clear TD Moultry has responded to his style of coaching far better than Rodney Garner. I’m not here to knock Rodney, but I will say that it’s nice to see our DL get excited to celebrate with their coach after a 3rd down stop than stay away from their coach because an ass chewing may still be coming for a misalignment.
- Special Teams - The only area of coaching that kept this from being an A+ overall. Look, I get wanting to put a look on film on XPs. I really do. I still think it’s stupid. When I was playing HS ball we used to run a swinging gate formation before lining up for XPs, and we missed several XPs early in a season. The holder and the kicker went to our HC and asked us to stop, because it threw their timing off in getting aligned. That missed XP isn’t on Anders so much as it is not having ample time in the play-clock to go through his progression and the holder hurrying the snap, thus holding the ball at an angle. I’m nitpicking here, but when we stopped doing the swinging gate and just lined up to kick it, we didn’t miss another XP all season. Just line up and kick it, coach.
This performance was indicative of the identity Bryan Harsin wants in a football team. A multiple offense that runs every their core plays out of every formation in the playbook. A defense that’s aggressive, even against empty sets, to disrupt the QB. All the credit in the world goes to this staff for playing a clean game with zero turnovers and no dumb penalties. Further credit to having the ball on your own 8 yard line with less than a minute to go in the first half, and trying to get a 2-minute drill in to cut the oppositions throat. It was well executed and refreshing to see after Gus had gotten away from such aggression after around 2014. Every snap is an opportunity, so keep your foot on the gas. I loved it and am optimistic in the culture Harsin is building.
V I B E S: A
Son of Crow
Nothing like an Auburn home game. Student section stayed the whole game, eagle flew good, and the place was loud even on tv.The home uniforms are so choice. Tank taunting on his way to the first score of the season? Immaculate vibes.Life was good Saturday night. Shaun shivers brought the energy of the Tasmanian Devil like always and Bonix looked poised.