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Touchdown Auburn: Akron Edition - Part Two

Welcome to the Jarquez Hunter show.

Akron v Auburn Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

On Tuesday, we took at look at Auburn’s first four touchdowns against Akron. Today, we break down the final four which features a heavy dose of Auburn’s flashy freshman tailback.

By this point in the game, Auburn had things well in hand but Bryan Harsin still wanted to rep some specific concepts and situations. Given the fact the Tigers put a final touchdown on the board with 40 seconds left in the game, it’s probably safe to say that Harsin isn’t one to completely take his foot off the gas.

Here’s a closer look at those final 4 beautiful scores.

Auburn started this drive with tremendous field position. The Tigers try to catch Akron off guard with a reverse to Demetris Robertson but the Zips defense stayed discipline. A nice back shoulder throw to Shedrick Jackson initially moved the chains before Bo’s first incomplete pass and a missed block lead to 3rd & 6.

Like every snap Saturday night there is a tight end on the field. The Tigers are in 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end) with two wideouts lined up to the far side. Auburn has slide protection to the left while Bo rolls right. It’s a switch concept on the outside with Ja’Varrius Johnson breaking outside from his slot position while Robertson works inside.

This is a great throw by Bo. This play is actually pretty well covered but he fits this ball low and to the outside where only his man has a shot at catching it. Johnson does a great job getting his hands under the ball to snag it for a first down.

Shout out to Tank Bigsby for picking up the linebacker and giving Bo some extra time to get rid of this ball. That extra time allows Nix to set his feet and deliver an accurate pass.

A couple of plays later, Mike Bobo calls a concept Auburn fans should recognize.

I wrote about this Split Zone RPO back in 2018 when Auburn used it extremely effectively against Washington. I am not sure if this is actually an RPO or just a play action pass but the general idea is the same as what I wrote back then.

The Split Zone is a variation of the Inside Zone and Read Option concepts that Auburn has come to rely on in their rushing attack. The offensive line uses Inside Zone blocking principles but like the Read Option, leaves the end man at the line of scrimmage unblocked. However, the QB is not reading that defender but instead a blocker (typically a fullback, tight end or h-back) comes across for a kick out block which can open up a nice cutback lane for the running back.

Gus Malzahn loved to motion in a wide receiver to the H-Back spot to run this concept. Eli Stove was featured heavily as the pass option during his career. This time though Auburn gets the tight end involved which makes this play even more effective as you would expect a tight end to come across as the blocker. Instead, Shenker slips into the flat and Nix hits him in stride so he can turn up field and make a play.

Look at the big man making dudes miss.

On the very next play, Auburn uses a similar idea out of a different formation but this time with Bo Nix keeping the ball.

The Tigers actually have three tight ends on the field with Luke Deal and Tyler Fromm lined up to the top of the screen and John Samuel Shenker at the bottom. Shenker motions across meaning all 3 tight ends are to the boundary when the ball is snapped. I am unsure if this is actually a read or just a called keeper but either way Bo follows Shenker around for a nice gain.

Watch both Brodarious Hamm and Luke Deal fire off the ball to drive their men completely out of the play. Nice job by the big fellas up front.

A Tyler Fromm false start pushes Auburn back but they return to the goal line just a play later. That allows Bobo to break out a very new personnel grouping for the Tigers.

There are FOUR tight ends on the field for this score. Initially, Luke Deal is lined up at fullback but he motions to the boundary while John Samuel Shenker replaces him at fullback. What’s up with this funky shift? Well it’s all about finding advantageous matchups by creating extra gaps for the defense to defend in the run game.

This pre snap motion overloads the right side of the line. That forces the defense to adjust. If they over adjust to compensate for all the girth on that side of the formation then the Tigers can run this ball weak side. If they don’t adjust, like on this snap, Tank just follows his blocker to the right for 6 points.

I should note though that despite having a numbers advantage on this snap, Tank still has to run through contact to score. The reason being no one picks up Akron’s middle linebacker who is hiding behind the nose tackle. He crosses over and fills that play side A-gap. I imagine they’d like Shenker to pick him up but I suspect he never saw him. Thankfully Auburn has a literal Tank in the backfield for just these kinds of situations.

Harsin decides to keep the starters on the field to start the 2nd half so they can rep getting the ball coming out of halftime. It almost didn’t go well as a busted assignment lead to one of the few negative plays of the night. The very next snap SHOULD have been a tackle for loss as well but there’s a reason Tank is considered by some to be the best running back in America.

This is the difference between good and elite talent. Keiondre Jones, who overall had a great game, gets beat off the snap and there’s a defensive end immediately in Tank’s face. To make matters worse, Akron is blitzing the nickel who is aligned to that side. There’s no way Tank should escape this but he does.

#4 puts his foot in the ground, deftly changing directions, speeds to the outside, somehow gets the corner and busts free for a long gain. This is why recruiting is so important. You can scheme up all you want but sometimes you just need dudes that can make plays.

I believe this is the first time Auburn used this formation Saturday night. They’d end up using it very effectively most of the 2nd half. The Tigers are in 12 personnel with both tight ends lined up off the line of scrimmage. This is a straight drop back and Bo gets this ball out quickly to Robertson on the speed out. But pay attention to the middle of the field. Look at the routes by the tight ends and the back slipping out for a checkdown. Auburn didn’t attack the middle of the field much against the Zips but it’s definitely coming.

The very next play goes the distance.

There’s that same look in 12 personnel. Auburn’s offensive line shines on this play. Nick Brahms handles the nose while Brandon Council and Austin Troxell combo the backside defensive end. Shenker cuts the backside outside linebacker while the weak side linebacker runs himself out of the play. Shaun Shivers sees the hole open in the backside A-gap, puts a foot in the ground, cuts back and then explodes into the open field for a touchdown. Beautiful play.

I really loved the downhill zone/duo concepts out of Pistol looks the Tigers ran this past weekend. Seems to be a great fit for this group of running backs.

On the next series TJ Finley enters the game but interestingly Harsin lets him get a drive with the first team offensive line. However, it’s the true freshman tailback that was the star of this series.

It’s not often that fans are hyping the #709 player in the class but the buzz surrounding Jarquez Hunter has been hard to ignore. I was high on Hunter when he committed to the Tigers because I felt his skillset was a perfect fit for Auburn’s new zone heavy scheme.

Hunter’s a wide framed back with an impressive combination of burst and power. When he sees a lane, he’s got the acceleration to explode through the lane and break free for a touchdown. There’s no wasted motion in any of his runs and he’s incredibly physical at the point of contact, allowing him to consistently break tackles and pick up yards after contact. He’s a great fit for Bryan Harsin and Mike Bobo’s zone heavy run scheme and someone that will have a chance to see action early for the Tigers given the need at running back.

However, I was not prepared for how good he would look in his first action. His burst and change of direction surprised me. My big question for him was speed. He sure looked quick Saturday night.

The other freshman to get a lot of hype in fall camp was actually a walk on and he got his first carry later in that drive.

Sean Jackson shared the backfield with former Auburn commit Armoni Goodwin at Hewitt-Trussville. Goodwin was a high profile recruit but Jackson, despite having a highly productive junior season and a strong senior campaign, was over looked by pretty much every Power 5 program. Auburn gave him an opportunity to walk on and he has not disappointed.

He can’t go on scholarship this year because it would count towards Auburn’s initial counter totals but don’t be surprised if he’s given one in the spring. This dude can play.

But it was big TJ Finley that got to finish the drive off.

Feels good to have a staff that recognizes putting your 6’7” QB under center and letting him lunge forward is the easiest way to gain a yard.

Akron put together one of the best keep away drives I have ever seen in the 4th quarter. They ran 13 plays and possessed the ball for nearly 9 minutes but covered only 40 yards. That long drive kept Auburn’s offense off the field but even with under 3 minutes to go in a blowout the Tigers were still hunting for more points.

Finley is under center and it looks like the Tigers want to run outside zone to the boundary. However, the left side of Auburn’s line struggles with their blocks so Hunter cuts this back beautifully for a HUGE gain. Hunter’s combination of vision, change of direction, power, and burst makes it hard not to see him as Tank’s successor in 2023. This kid could be special.

Hunter lost his shoe on that run so Jackson returned to the game for another snap. Once again his power impressed.

The walk on true freshman isn’t going to win a lot of footraces but he’s far from slow. He bursts through the line for a big gain but finishes the run off with violence blowing through a would be tackler, keeping his feet and fighting for a few extra yards.

Finally, Hunter rushed for his first of sure to be many touchdowns as a Tiger.

AU had a ton of success running out of this bunch trips concept. The tight end pair of Brandon Frazier and Landen King do a great job washing away the left side of Akron’s defensive line. Hunter sees it and runs through the gaping hole before running of #44 for the 2nd time that drive.

War Damn Eagle!