War Eagle, everybody. It’s a rare victorious Sunday on the Plains, and it’s time now for the Acid Reign report on Auburn’s 51-7 win over Alabama A&M. It’s always good to get a win, but this game likely did not make much difference in Auburn’s preparation for Alabama next weekend. It was probably good to get a few key players some rest, if nothing else.
The single best aspect of this game is that Auburn stormed out of the gates quickly, and ripped out to a 21-0 first quarter lead. The Tigers served notice early that there would be no hope for the visitors. We haven’t seen a big early lead for Auburn since the national championship team opened up with five straight touchdowns on Chattanooga two years ago.
Auburn’s offense was very vanilla on the day, much like the New Mexico State game. What was different this time was that the Tigers used a lot of I-formation early, and Auburn runners ran wild. Even with the usual array of failed first down calls, the Auburn runners proved to be easily able to convert 2nd and 10 into first downs, or scores. We have two running backs that are averaging over 6 yards per carry on the season, and we’re handing them the ball less than 22 times combined, per game. Tre Mason is just 80 yards shy of a thousand yard season, and yet he’s been allowed only 80 carries in 7 SEC games.
Jonathan Wallace continues to manage the game well, but this was hardly a brilliant performance against A&M. Despite a lot of time to throw, Wallace was only able to hit 10 of 18 passes, and frequently missed wide open receivers down the field. Most of his completions were on short passes, as the Aggies were giving ground to the speedy Auburn receiving corps.
The Auburn defense finally found a line and running game they could dominate this week, holding the A&M offense to just 22 net rushing yards. That’s a bit skewed due to 36 negative yards being counted against the run, on a bad punt snap that went over the punter’s head, but even taking that loss out, A&M managed just 2.2 yards per carry. What was more concerning was that Auburn still gives up a ton of cushion on outside receivers, and doesn’t cover tight ends or backs out of the backfield. Only two sacks, and allowing a 60 percent completion percentage to Alabama A&M’s quarterback has to be concerning.
Special teams were generally solid once again, except for one pretty horrible 11 yard punt. Quan Bray let one of the weird line-drive punts A&M was doing go over his head for 56 yards, but made them pay with 48 punt return yards on 3 returns. Cody Parkey hammered 6 touchbacks, and the coverage teams smothered return men.
Unit Grades, after the jump!
Defensive Line: C. These guys held up ok against an offensive line that averaged 314 pounds per man, but only tallied ten total tackles and two Dee Ford sacks. LaDarius Owens and Gabe Wright each had a tackle for loss.
Linebackers: C. You’d think it would be time to rest the starters here, but after Justin Garrett was hurt very early, Jake Holland had to play nearly every snap at middle linebacker, and he was coming off injury problems. The linebackers filled holes decently, but had coverage issues, and had to have a lot of help from the secondary making tackles. The entire linebacker corps tallied just 14 total tackles.
Secondary: B. I have to still complain about large cushions on receivers, and a tendency to ignore tight ends and slot receivers, but this unit contained pretty well, with only one trick play getting down the field for more than 20 yards. The group also did well coming up and tackling, and helping to slow the running game down. The secondary combined for 21 total tackles. And kudos go to safety Trent Fisher, for breaking a year-long interception drought. Fisher stepped in front late, and took it to the house for a pick six!
Punting: C. Steven Clark had a routine, high 40 yarder, and a terrible 11 yarder that just went basically straight up. On the plus side, Auburn punted only twice in the game.
Punt Returns: B+. Quan Bray was fooled once by a line-drive ball kicked over his head, but he snagged three punts and picked up 36 yards.
Kick Returns: B. Texas A&M tried to avoid Onterrio McCalebb, and kicked low kickoffs right at Quan Bray. This didn’t allow much coverage time, and Bray had the ball back out farther than the 25 each time on three kickoffs.
Place-kicking: A. Cody Parkey hit on each of 7 extra points, and hit 6 touchbacks on 8 kickoffs.
Offensive Line: B. This group abused a defensive line that only averaged 237 pounds per man, with a new lineup. Chad Slade got the start at left tackle in place of Greg Robinson, and Christian Westerman got his first start at left guard, with John Sullen moving over to the right side for this game. Auburn allowed two sacks in this game, and six other tackles for loss, but only about half were on line failures. A&M was sending a lot of guys on the blitz in the second half, when it was obvious Auburn was through passing. Reese Dismukes picked up a holding flag, as did Greg Robinson when he got into the game late.
Running Backs: A. It’s always a good day when you have two hundred yard runners. Tre Mason picked up 181 yards on just 12 carries, and a near-record 86 yard scoring run. Onterio McCalebb also ran well, with 104 yards on 15 carries for the senior. Jay Prosch blocked extremely well, overpowering the small front seven of the Bulldogs. Prosch continues to be a great short-yardage running option, as he took one ball, was hit behind the line, and dragged the whole defense three yards into the end zone for a touchdown!
Receivers: A. This group had a good day blocking downfield, and caught pretty much everything thrown their way. It was good to see guys like DeAngelo Benton being thrown to, and hats off to C. J. Uzomah for the catch of the day on a ball thrown behind him. He suffered a broken finger just a couple of weeks ago, and to be playing and catching balls this soon is amazing.
Quarterback: C+. I think everyone would have liked to see a higher completion percentage in this game, as a number of open receivers were missed down the field. I think we have to remember that Jonathan Wallace has only been a starter for three games, and is still a true freshman. For all of my complaining, Wallace had no turnovers, and averaged 9.5 yards per pass.
Again, it was great to see Auburn backs running wild in this one, as it hasn’t happened nearly enough this season. I’m of the opinion that Arkansas, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt could have been beaten this season if Auburn had just run the ball more with lead blockers in place, and we’d be talking about possible bowl destinations, rather than the worst season since 1950. It’s also great to have a quarterback that apparently has a bright future. He certainly hasn’t been perfect, but Wallace has run the team efficiently, and has more touchdowns than turnovers, something we haven’t seen since Cam Newton left. In four games running the offense, Wallace has yet to finish below 50 percent passing.
With the big win over the Bulldogs, Auburn has completed the cupcake portion of the schedule, and now just one game remains. It’s a big one, in Tuscaloosa in the Iron Bowl. With the future uncertain, and nothing to lose, these Tigers can go into Bryant Denny Stadium and lay it all on the line. I’m thinking this is a dangerous game for the Tide, as they’ll no doubt be looking ahead to Georgia and Notre Dame.
War Eagle, folks! And let’s celebrate the win! And congratulations to Auburn’s seniors for a great showing! It’s now Iron Bowl week, and we’ll enjoy reminiscing about a great rivalry once again. Should the Tigers win this one, I think a lot of jobs may be saved.