Tigers celebrate Melvin Ray’s touchdown!
(A.P. Photo by Chris Carlson.)
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign report, on Auburn’s 34-31 loss to Florida State in the BCS National Championship Game. The Tigers put forth a valiant effort against a talented Seminole squad, holding serve for most of the game, before falling on some late miscues. While a close loss in a winnable game stings, I think all Auburn fans are very proud of this team and what they’ve accomplished. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not too shabby to finish second in the nation, after last year’s debacle!
With the game on the line, Auburn had a few mistakes a national champion just can’t have. A missed medium-range field goal in a 3 point loss was big. Allowing a 100 yard kick return touchdown was bigger. But no play from the game stands out more for me than early in FSU’s game winning drive, where two Auburn defenders allowed a quick slant pass to go for 49 yards, and into scoring position. There was just over a minute left. Had either Auburn defender knocked Greene down, it would have cost FSU one of their last two timeouts, or a big chunk of the remaining clock, and they’d still have been 60 yards or so away from a win, trailing by 4 points.
We have heard for the last 30 days that Florida State would shut down Auburn rushing attack, just as we’ve heard that the last half dozen opponents would. Auburn finished with 232 rushing yards. While that’s over a hundred yards below the Tiger season average, it’s hardly a “shut down” number. However, Florida State’s defense did disrupt and dictate what Auburn could do. Conventional wisdom on how to stop a wildcat offense is to “cowboy blitz,” which is basically a corner blitz. Florida State treated Auburn’s offense like the wildcat, blitzing corners, nickel backs or safeties very frequently. They played mostly zone behind those blitzes, which opened up some big holes, but Auburn was largely unable to exploit them consistently with the passing game.
The official stats credit Auburn with 217 passing yards, but that’s erroneous. The error is that Tre Mason’s 12 yard TD catch was recorded in the receiving column as 42 yards, and it carried over on the passing side, also. Auburn actually only threw for 187. The good news is that most secondaries are not good enough tackling and rolling coverages over to adopt FSU’s scheme to slow Auburn down, next year. Another major factor in this game was the Seminole defensive line. Honestly, it’s been a while since I’ve seen Auburn lose any battles up front on offense. Finally, another big tip of the cap to Tre Mason is in order. With very little room to run on most carries, he generated 195 rushing yards in this game, and accounted for a couple of touchdowns. (Update!!!! I had forgotten about the last “lateral it around” play of the game. Tre burst upfield for about 30 yards on that, even though he wasn’t the initial receiver. So those 42 receiving yards are legit, as are Nick’s 217 passing!)
If I had been told before the game that Auburn would hold the FSU offense to 385 yards and just 27 points, I’d have expected an Auburn blow-out. Ellis Johnson had a great plan for this game, and Auburn’s front seven played lights-out. Coverage in the secondary was good for the most part, too. We heard for weeks that FSU’s receivers would eat the Auburn defensive backs up, but that did not happen. Auburn covered well, and broke passes up. To put this effort in perspective, Auburn held the nation’s highest scoring offense to 385 yards. Nine Auburn opponents this season generated over 400 yards on this defense. Only Western Carolina, Florida Atlantic, Arkansas and Tennessee did not roll up at least 400. That’s some serious improvement in the past month!
Before this title game, we weren’t sure if the Auburn defense could hold up, or if the Auburn offense wouldn’t be rusty from the 30-day layoff. We were sure, however, that Auburn would field top-notch special teams. It was very odd to see the Auburn special teams having problems. There was a 33 yard miss on a field goal. Kick coverage was atrocious, and yet Auburn could manage only 2 touchbacks on 6 kickoffs. Return men dropped balls. It wasn’t all bad on special teams, though. Steven Clark had another outstanding game punting the ball, with no returns, and 5 of 6 killed inside the 20. Chris Davis had a good punt return to set up a score. Auburn was successful on most kick returns, also.
Unit Grades after the jump!
Defensive Line: A-. I docked a few points for occasional contain errors, but overall this unit played very well against a great offensive line. As usual, statistical wealth was spread out over 7 different players, but the unit came up with 12 total tackles and 3.5 sacks. Dee Ford led the way with 2 sacks. He’ll be missed next year, as will Nosa Eguae’s quickness and agility in the middle.
Linebackers: B. There was one 21 yard Winston scramble, and a big run up the gut by Freeman where I thought the Auburn backers were out of position, but they played a pretty good game overall. Cassanova McKinzy led the way with 9 tackles. The linebacker corps totaled 21 tackles, out of 60 total credited to Auburn. That’s over a third, but remember that Auburn has only 2 guys on the field at one time, out of 11 players.
Secondary: B+. I counted off for a few errors such as the big slant pass late, and a critical pass interference call on Chris Davis that put the ball inside the five, but I felt like these guys did a great job against a very good receiving corps and a Heisman-winning quarterback. Winston was held to 237 passing yards, at just 6.8 yards per pass. The secondary combined for 23 total tackles and 6 pass breakups.
Punting: A+. Steven Clark didn’t hit a bad punt all night, and coverage was tremendous. Clark hit 6 punts for a 43.2 yard average, and 5 of them were downed inside the FSU 20 yard line. None of these balls was returnable. Clark doesn’t have the distance numbers of some former Auburn punters like Terry Daniel or Kody Bliss, but I don’t think we’ve ever had a guy that could keep the ball away from return men like Clark does. It’s going to be hard to replace the senior, next season.
Punt Returns: B. Chris Davis fielded each of the 6 FSU punts. He had three fair catches, and 2 good returns, one of which went for 22 yards through tacklers and set up a touchdown. Davis did muff one punt, but was bailed out when Patrick Lymon recovered the loose ball.
Kick Returns: B-. Jay Prosch did bobble a short kickoff and had to fall on it, but when Auburn got a chance to return the ball, they did well when Quan Bray fielded it. Bray had 2 returns for 50 yards total. Chris Davis had one that only went 17 yards, and pinned Auburn deep.
Place-kicking: C-. Cody Parkey did hit 2 touchbacks early, but uncharacteristically 4 of his kickoffs were returnable, and FSU made Auburn pay, averaging 43 yards per return. One of those returns was for 100 yards, and a go-ahead score. Auburn’s coverage just could not get off blocks for the most part. Parkey also missed a routine 33 yard field goal attempt.
Offensive Line: B-. Auburn won some battles here, but lost a good many, also, for the first time all season. Noseguard Tim Jernigan was a particular terror, as he’d appear to be blocked, but power through the blocker or slide off to rack up tackle after tackle. Jernigan had 9 total tackles, and caused real trouble for the Tiger offense. Defensive end Mario Edwards was a problem also, getting around Auburn tackles to collect 3 sacks and 6 total tackles. FSU’s play up front forced Auburn to double team at times, and hurt Auburn’s pulling guard schemes. Still, FSU couldn’t quite take over the game here, as Auburn gave as good as it got, and appeared to be winning the fatigue battle towards the end.
Running Backs: A-. Tre Mason’s 195 rushing yards and 12 yard receiving touchdown are impressive. However, he didn’t have much help in this game. Florida State’s linebackers were difficult to get a hat on, and they were very quick to the ball. Telvin Smith led the way with 15 total tackles, 11 of them solo stops. The Tigers could get nothing going outside the tackles, unless it was Mason bouncing one out there.
Receivers: B. I counted off for an early Louis drop on a sure touchdown, and Tiger receivers had a troublesome time blocking a very fast and aggressive FSU secondary. There was also a drive killing encroachment penalty on Trovon Reed. Still, Auburn guys got open, made plays, and could have had an even bigger day if not for FSU’s pressure on the QB.
Quarterback: B. Nick Marshall had a difficult time in this game, as FSU had the speed and scheme to contain his scrambles for the most part. Marshall made some big throws, and missed others. To his credit, he had only 1 interception, and faced an awful lot of pressure in his face in this game. Compared to his Heisman-winning counterpart on the other side, Marshall had 8.0 yards per pass vs. Winston’s 6.8, nearly twice the rushing yardage, and each had one turnover.
It always hurts to lose, particularly in a close one. Auburn played to win in this game, and I love watching a team like this that won’t back down! These Tigers have played their hearts out this season, and given us a year to remember! And don’t forget, Auburn is still the SEC Champion! Those titles don’t come around too often. While no one likes to lose, it is possible that this near-miss will influence folks like Tre Mason and Greg Robinson to stick around for another run next year. Center Reese Dismukes has already said that he’s returning. (Update! Greg Robinson is declaring for the draft. This just in…)
I think the exposure and press Auburn has gotten this week will pay enormous dividends going forward. No longer are the experts calling Gus Malzhan a high school coach with a gimmick offense. He’s now one of the biggest names in college coaching, and commands a lot of respect. Recruits will notice this.
It has been a fantastic Auburn season, one few of us expected. Auburn finishes second in the nation, with 12 wins. The Tigers have won 12 games just two other times in school history, in 2004 and 2010. Three 12 win teams in a decade is pretty amazing! And it’s quite possible that we’ll have another in 2014! War Eagle, and a big salute to all the Auburn players and fans! The sentiments out of the Auburn camp last night were inspiring. No moping allowed! It’s onwards, and upwards for this program.
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