A miracle throw and catch saves the day!
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign report, on Auburn’s heart-stopping 43-38 win over the Georgia Bulldogs. It was a game that was over early in the 4th quarter for the Bulldogs, then it wasn’t when Georgia fought back from 3 scores down. It was over for the Tigers on 4th and 18, then the play of the year made it over for Georgia, except that they weren’t done. It was over for the Tigers when Georgia drove to the Auburn red zone with just seconds remaining. We’ve seen this before, 11 years ago, when Georgia hit a hail Mary TD to take the game away from Auburn. On the last play of the game, Dee Ford slammed the door on Aaron Murray, the ball fluttered harmlessly to the turf, and Auburn had won one for the ages, 43-38!
Conventional wisdom regarding the outlook of this game was that Georgia would not allow Auburn to run the ball, and the Tigers would have to win this on on the arm of Nick Marshall. Auburn did attempt nearly 4 times the number of passes that were thrown during the Tennessee game. However, Georgia did not stop Auburn on the ground, as the Tigers piled up 323 rushing yards. Auburn’s run game is a deadly multi-headed hydra, with Tre Mason, Nick Marshall, Corey Grant and Ricardo Louis all doing damage on this day.
Every week on the Auburn boards, we get some wacky comments about Nick Marshall not being an SEC quarterback. Can we finally close the grave on that notion? Against the best defense Auburn has seen all year, Marshall finished with 318 total yards, no turnovers, and three touchdowns while hitting 57 percent of his passes for a gaudy 8.8 yards per pass. Folks, Marshall is up to 8th in the SEC in total offense, and he missed a whole game and most of a second. He’s ahead of guys like Connor Shaw, and A. J. McCarron.
All was not superlative with the Auburn offense, however. The Tigers nearly threw the game away in the 4th quarter, and aside from the 73 yard touchdown bomb, it was an offensive melt-down of epic proportions. We had offensive linemen downfield on passing plays, holding penalties, guys whiffing on blocks or getting blown off the ball on short yardage, pockets collapsing on a 4 man rush, and a pair of dropped passes. On one play, Ricardo Louis collided with ball carrier Tre Mason and knocked him down in the backfield on a crucial third and short.
The defense similarly collapsed in the 4th quarter. They did a good job of limiting Georgia for 3 quarters, then opened the gate in the 4th. Auburn gave up 231 yards in the 4th quarter, on 26 plays; an 8.9 yards per play average. It was a tough day up front for the Tigers, who managed just 2 tackles for loss and 1 sack on the day.
Auburn won the special teams battle on the day, but it was not the game-breaking performance this unit put on a week ago. Another blocked kick is troubling, and Steven Clark’s shanked punt with a slim 37-31 lead was nearly a back breaker. On the plus side, Cody Parkey drilled all 9 kickoffs for touchbacks, and Georgia did not have a single return yard on the day.
I’m not going to get into too many specifics on the officiating in this one, but I’m certainly going to be wondering how Penn Wagers and his crew still have their jobs after this horrendous season. They are absolutely baffling to watch.
Unit Grades after the jump!
Defensive Line: C. The line got pressure on Georgia at times, but had little success getting Aaron Murray on the ground. Pressure means nothing if the opposing quarterback is drilling your secondary for 415 yards at a 67 percent completion clip. The defensive line contributed just 13 total tackles, on a day when Georgia ran 74 offensive plays. The good part is that the Tigers did limit the run a bit better than in previous weeks. Todd Gurley had 79 yards on the ground, as Georgia largely relied on its aerial attack, and Auburn’s total inability to shut down short passes.
Linebackers: D. By any measure, this was a very sloppy game for the Auburn linebackers. They tallied only 16 total tackles in 74 offensive snaps. Time and time again, Aaron Murray would dump the ball off short to a wide open back or tight end, and the Auburn linebackers had that same deer in the headlights look Tennessee’s defenders had last week. Short passes turned into way too many 20+ yard gains in this one. Passing grade is mainly due to a few good stops in the run game.
Secondary: C+. Auburn’s secondary has had to make the lion’s share of the tackles this year, and it was certainly true in this game, as they contributed 31 total stops. It has taken its toll over 11 games, though, as often the first arriving member of the secondary didn’t get the ball carrier down. In their defense, Georgia has some big, strong receivers and running backs like Gurley, Michael Bennett, and tight end Arthur Lynch. Lynch was a big problem in coverage, and honestly, Murray didn’t go to him often enough.
Punting: C+. Steven Clark only punted 3 times in this one, allowing no returns and putting up a 40.0 yard average. Clark’s first two punts were good, traveling 48 and 41 yards. The last was a disaster, shanked for just 31 yards. It gave a surging Georgia offense the ball at Auburn’s 45 yard line, which the Bulldogs promptly cashed for a 38-37 lead.
Punt Returns: C+. There were no dropped balls on the ground on four Georgia punts, but the Tigers did run into the kicker once, which Georgia curiously declined. I’m not sure why they passed on 15 yards of field position, unless they were really THAT worried about Chris Davis. Davis did have 1 return for 6 yards, but Georgia largely did a good job of kicking away from him.
Kick Returns: C+. Georgia kicked off six times, and the best Auburn could do was 23 yard return by Tre Mason. An 18.0 yards per return average looks pretty poor on paper, but Georgia was using some non-standard kicks in this one, bouncing the ball, or sky-kicking it short.
Place-kicking: B+. Cody Parkey hit all 9 kickoffs for touchbacks, which means that Auburn didn’t have to worry about a kick coverage score. There was one blocked field goal attempt, but Parkey hit the other three attempts, plus all of his extra points. For the season, the senior is 13 of 17 on field goals, good for 7th place in the SEC in scoring with 89 points on the season.
Offensive Line: B+. It’s hard to fault a line that paves the way for 332 rushing yards against Georgia, and a 556 yard offensive day. However, there were problems late in this game, including an ineligible man downfield call on Reese Dismukes that wiped out a first down. Much like Auburn, Georgia rotates its defensive linemen liberally, and I think they somewhat wore the Auburn line down.
Running Backs: A. Again the Auburn backs ran hard, lost no fumbles, and made plays. I counted a few points off for a Tre Mason false start. Corey Grant got a bit more work in this game, and responded with some big tackle-breaking runs. Mason continues to close in on some Auburn records, and he posted 115 rushing yards.
Receivers: A-. In a year with a lot of dropped passes, Auburn receivers caught the ball in this one, including Ricardo Louis’ amazing grab to win the game. Louis was also a weapon in the running game, gashing the Bulldogs for big yards on speed sweeps and reverses. Auburn continues to block well on the edges, and the return of Brandon Fulse gave Auburn even more power running the ball between the tackles. Points off on a crucial holding penalty that killed a drive in the 4th quarter, on Melvin Ray. Quan Bray was also called for a hold earlier.
Quarterback: B+. Georgia did a better job than most teams at defending Nick Marshall, but he still finished with over 300 yards and no turnovers. Granted, his last pass was the wrong read, and underthrown, but it still added 73 yards to the stat page. I believe you have to throw deep some, and try to let your receivers make a play. Thankfully, it happened at the perfect time for the Tigers yesterday!
Who predicted that Auburn would take 10 wins into the Iron Bowl, this year? Certainly not I! These Auburn Tigers have put together a pretty special year, whatever happens from here on out. And this team can go to Atlanta to play for the league title with a win over Bama. It’s not a conversation I figured we’d be having, that’s for sure!
The 4th quarter of this Georgia game was one of the more gut-wrenching games I’ve watched in a while. It rivaled the first half of the 2010 Alabama game, where we all had high expectations, and it seemed to be all crashing down. Somehow, some way, these Tigers found a way to win a game against a rapidly improving Georgia squad. With 4 losses, Georgia is likely looking at an Outback bid at best, and possibly falling all the way to the Music City Bowl. They’ll have more time to heal, and they’ll be an even better team by then. Look for a mismatch in that one.
The Auburn Tigers have played themselves into contention for SEC and national titles. My hat is off to this team, and they have my admiration and awe. It’s been one of the more fun teams to watch in my long tenure of watching the Tigers. War Eagle, folks! It is truly great to be an Auburn Tiger!
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