Auburn Falls in Atlanta.
Tre Mason darts through traffic.
War Eagle, everybody. It’s time now for the Acid Reign report, on Auburn’s 26-19 loss to the defending ACC champion Clemson Tigers. The teams met in Atlanta Saturday night, and the result was similar to the last two contests between the teams. Clemson ran at will, overpowering the Auburn defensive front. Generally speaking, when Clemson was stopped, they typically did it to themselves with mistakes. While Auburn showed promise in a lot of areas, seeing the defensive line pushed around by a Clemson offensive line with 4 new starters was a bitter pill to swallow. Clemson rang up 320 rushing yards, many of them after contact, as Auburn’s defenders failed to wrap up on numerous occasions.
While Auburn’s line was pushed around on running plays, they did generate a better pass rush than at any time last season. If Clemson’s Tadj Boyd didn’t get rid of the ball quickly, he was knocked around and forced into mistakes. Unfortunately for Auburn, the secondary played exactly like one would expect a unit with three of its members making their first start. Boyd was able many times to take the snap, take a short drop and fire to wide open wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins or tight end Brandon Ford. And then Auburn would be chasing a guy down in the open field once again.
Having receivers get open for short completions is nothing new to Auburn fans. We’ve seen plenty of that the past few seasons. And last year, seeing defensive tackles getting pushed aside or knocked back was common. This year, after a year of workouts, that wasn’t supposed to happen. And yet, facing a line full of new starters, guys were getting pushed around once again. What was most disappointing of all were many, many missed tackles.
Except for one short punt, Auburn’s special teams couldn’t have played much better. Punts were un-returnable, Cody Parkey kicked mostly touchbacks, and the two that were returned were snuffed well short of the 25 yard line. Parkey made all 4 of his field goal attempts, including a career long 46 yarder.
If the defensive line was a disappointment, the offensive line was surprisingly decent. With 3 new starters, there were some mistakes made, but this unit protected well, and opened up running lanes, even against 7 or 8 guys in the box. With Clemson camped out on the line, Auburn needed to find open receivers down the field. That did happen a couple of times, but way more often the ball was sailed high, or short-hopped to the receiver. Auburn’s Khiel Frazier made his first career start, and I think he’d like to have some of those throws back. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Frazier didn’t try to force too many into coverage. He managed the game decently, and that’s something that can built upon. If a guy can make good reads, his footwork can be corrected.
Unit grades after the jump.
Defensive Line: C-. When tackles were made on the line in the middle, it was because Corey Lemonier or Dee Ford pinched down to the middle and made the play. While Ford and Lemonier made some plays doing that, they also opened up glaring contain problems, flashing inside, while Clemson was running an off-tackle play, or sweep. Starting tackles Jeffery Whitaker and Angelo Blackson combined for just one tackle and one assist. Whitaker’s name doesn’t even appear on the tackles list.
Linebackers: D. Defensive coordinator Brian vanGorder’s defense was designed for the line to create trouble in the backfield, and free up linebackers to make plays. Auburn’s crew of two seniors and one junior were freed up, to get mowed down by H-backs and tight ends, or to dive and miss, or to make lunging grabs. Most of this crew’s 28 tackles were assists, chasing runners down after they’d made a big gain. Of those 28 tackles, only 7 were unassisted. That pretty much tells the tale, as does Clemson’s 320 rushing yards. I give a passing grade here only because of Darren Bates’ heads-up interception that set up a go-ahead field goal.
Secondary: C. If the mission of this group was to prevent the deep ball, the day was a rousing success. Clemson did not complete a pass over 25 yards, and that one was a catch and run. On making tackles on the sideline, this unit had lots of trouble. It also looked like the two new safety starters were a step slow on recognition, and flowing to the ball. They had to make a ton of tackles, but it was often after the damage was done. This unit contributed 47 tackles to the cause, which is way, way too many in the secondary.
Punting: A-. Once again, Steven Clark hit some towering shots that were likely close to hitting the Georgia Dome ceiling. Two of his three punts were killed inside the 20. Points off on one kick that only went 30 yards, and pulled the average down to 39.3.
Punt Returns: B. Clemson only punted 3 times, and twice there was no way Bray could get to it. On his one return, he got away from the initial contain, but the blocking did not set up for a big return. This is the first year in many years that we’ve had the luxury of a proven return man going into the season, and not worrying about a rookie, or a guy with a history of fumbles. Bray’s gonna make some plays this year, if the defense can make some stops.
Kick Returns: C. Most of Clemson’s kicks went to the end zone, but there was one kick to the goal line, which Quan Bray returned to the 21. Blocking was poor on that one, and Bray made half that making tacklers miss.
Place-kicking: A+: Cody Parkey pretty much was successful in everything asked of him, hitting 4 field goals, and either generating touchbacks or a couple of short returns on kickoffs.
Offensive Line: C+. I expected to be issuing either a D or an F here, but this unit surprised me. Sure, there were plenty of mistakes, such as probably a half-dozen off-target deep snaps. Left tackle Greg Robinson hit the trifecta with two false starts and a holding penalty. For the most part, though, this unit blocked the front four, and opened running lanes. I was particularly pleased with true freshman right tackle Avery Young. That guy is going to be a monster sooner rather than later! I saw one time that Young got beat with a swim move to the inside, but most of the time Young handled the dangerous Clemson ends. Penalties aside, Greg Robinson was a driving force on running plays, and protected pretty well. I also have to salute Tunde Fariyike for a good job with line calls. Generally speaking, the line knew who to block on any particular play.
Running Backs: B+. Letter grade off for Tre Mason’s early fumble, but this unit was pretty solid. Jay Prosch didn’t touch the ball, but he was a force in the running game. The only real fault that I can find with the running backs is that we didn’t give them the ball enough. I think we might could have really worn on the Clemson’s thin front seven, had we not insisted on throwing repeatedly on first down.
Receivers: B. Working against a veteran Clemson secondary, it took a while for the veteran guys to get free, and by that time Frazier was scrambling. I thought that outside of Emory Blake, downfield blocking could have been better. Points off on Trovon Reed for running a route beyond the back of the end zone. That can’t happen. If you run out of bounds, you’re out of the play.
Quarterback: C. On a night with a lot of missed throws, I have to give Frazier credit for managing the game, and not turning the ball over. (The one pick was a desperation play with little time left in the half, and turned out better than a punt would have.) He certainly could have done far worse in his first start against a blitzing Clemson defense, and a very green offensive line. What I’m sure will be stressed this week in practice were fundamental breakdowns. Frazier looked so good on A-Day, setting his feet, following through, etc. In this game, often he was throwing off his back foot, backing away from the throw, or not stepping up when the pocket was still intact. Auburn had guys on the shallows wide open just past the line of scrimmage, and Frazier seldom got the ball to them. Had he done so, it would have greatly cut down on those 8-man blitzes Clemson was sending.
From an offensive standpoint, this game was frustrating to watch. The team was blowing up big holes, and running wild, then suddenly we were in the shotgun on first down, and overthrowing an open receiver. We’d go from mashing Clemson, to 2nd and 10, or 2nd and 15 with a penalty. So many promising drives melted down on a first down penalty or bad throw. As much as I hate to say it, this was very reminiscent of Tony Franklin play-calling. The crowning Franklinism was the 3rd and 12 short-side screen to McCalebb. It was the most useless playcall of the day.
I’ll always wonder if this game could have turned out differently with about 20 carries each from Mason and McCalebb, and another 15 by Frazier on the designed keeper. It would have certainly helped the defense out!
Somehow, some way, Auburn must get better tackling. They’ll face even faster runners next week in Starkville, and a more experienced offensive line. LSU’s monster line and runners come to town in 3 weeks. Against modern multiple offenses, the good defenses have to have speed, and make tackles in space. I think Auburn showed the speed against Clemson, but the tackling must get better. Let’s hope Auburn improves drastically in week two.
For those who tried to tune in to our open thread and play by play, I apologize. That thing was a mess, and I know many folks were not seeing the comments at all. We’re still working the kinks out, unfortunately. We’ll make an announcement on any changes, hopefully later this week.
There’s nothing for Auburn to do but keep working and try to get better. I’ve got a feeling that this may be a pretty rough September, but I think by November, this will be one of those nasty teams no one wants to play! War Eagle, folks! It’s great to be an Auburn Tiger!