Please give this man the ball.
War Eagle, everybody. It’s time now for the Acid Reign report, on Auburn’s 12-10 loss to LSU. The Auburn Tigers fought hard, but could not generate enough offense to defeat the defending SEC Champion LSU Tigers. Unlike Auburn’s previous losses this year, it was special teams that gave LSU the room they needed to kick a game winning field goal, and run out the clock. LSU drove for the field goal after a muffed punt return, and when Auburn needed to pin LSU deep and get the ball back, the team produced a 23 yard punt.
The highlight of the day was the continued improvement of the Auburn defense. LSU had some success running the ball, but the Tiger defense showed a knack for slamming the door and forcing stops when it had to. Defensive tackles made plays this week, and defensive backs knocked down the deep balls. The Tigers broke up five passes, and probably knocked LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger down fifteen times. LSU was unable to hit those trademark Les Miles bombs. Thanks to rotating coverage, LSU’s star receiver Odell Beckham was limited to two catches for 15 yards. The last time the Auburn defense held a top ten team to 12 points or less was way back in 2006, in a 7-3 win over LSU.
I think realistically, few folks gave the Auburn offense a chance against LSU’s crazy-good defense. In the end, I think a 183 yard day is about what folks expected. Auburn generated a few explosive plays here and there, but were far more often stopped in their tracks. Auburn used the shotgun formation more than half the time against LSU, and that allowed Khiel Frazier to hit a few passes. The Tigers burned the redshirt on true freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace, who successfully ran a few wildcat plays. I think this was a good move, as Wallace showed an ability to actually read the defense, and take the better option. This also reduces the number of hits on starting QB Khiel Frazier. These were the good facets of the offense.
I could go on for hours on specifics, but our play selection continues to be baffling. Once again, Auburn’s best running threat appears to be Tre Mason, who averaged six yards per carry against LSU. The staff’s answer to that was to limit Mason to just nine carries. When Mason did lose yardage, it was typically from being run into the line on first down with a three wide receiver formation out there. Mason wasn’t blameless on this, as he stutter-stepped on a handoff deep in his own end zone, and was brought down for a safety. Auburn continues to utilize the wide side of the field only for jet sweeps, or obvious slow-developing throws to Bray, Lutzenkirchen or McCalebb. LSU for the most part swallowed those things up quickly. We’ve GOT to start throwing to the wide side more. If they press, throw it over them on fades or double moves. If they give cushion, take that five yard hitch. Oh, and I’m seriously going to throw something at the TV the next time Loeffler sends three wides out there on first down and tries to run an off tackle play! It’s a completely futile formation when there’s no chance those receivers are going to get the ball. All you’re accomplishing is removing blockers from the field.
Special teams were up and down this game. Punter Steven Clark hit some monster shots, but also hit a couple of tail-draggers, that hit and bounced back toward him. Quan Bray had the first muff of his career, and the fumble set LSU up for the game-winning field goal. Auburn did have to cover one punt and two kickoffs, and did well. Cody Parkey was his usual monster-legged self, except for a fairly short 60 yard kickoff after the safety. Onterio McCalebb nearly broke another kick return for a score. I’m not sure why any team kicks it to him. He’s averaging a ridiculous 36.8 yards per return, this season.
Unit grades after the jump.
Defensive Line: B+. It wasn’t a flawless game, by any means. But this unit showed up for a war against the best offensive line they’ve faced this season, and won a lot of battles. They stopped runners on third down and short repeatedly, sacked the quarterback, knocked passes down at the line and contained on the edge. LSU did break a couple of long runs up the middle, but those were the exception rather than the rule this week. It was great to see this bunch contribute 17 tackles.
Linebackers: C+. This unit had some glaring errors, but their tackling continues to improve. This week, they played faster, and made more tackles close to the line of scrimmage, rather than hanging on downfield. The worst gaffes this week were a couple of coverage issues on passes to the flat. The linebackers had a blown coverage on one screen, then a missed tackle late allowed a short gain to turn into a 33 yard first down that let LSU run most of the clock out. This unit contributed 24 tackles this week.
Secondary: A. For the first time all year, we saw the opposing quarterback having to throw the ball away. That’s a sign of good coverage on LSU’s fleet receivers. When balls were completed underneath, guys flew up and made sure tackles. The corners looked for the deep balls, and batted them away. The addition to the corner rotation of Robensen Therezie and Joshua Holsey paid dividends, as both of those guys were really able to run. Two weeks ago I was writing the Jermaine Whitehead move to safety off as a disaster. Whitehead has improved by leaps and bounds, defending passes and knocking balls down. And Demetruce McNeil continues to be an asset as well.
Punting: B. Much like last week, Clark’s punts were a mixed bag. Two of them bounced backwards for very short yardage, while the remaining ones were pretty high and deep. Clark ended up with a 41 yard average on seven punts, and only was was returned by Odell Beckham, backwards for a loss of 5 yards.
Punt Returns: D. Quan Bray only was able to field two of Brad Wing’s eight towering punts, and fumbled a third away in traffic. One ball was fair caught at the Auburn nine yard line, that should have been allowed to hit and roll.
Kick Returns: B+. LSU kicked two returnable balls, and Onterio McCalebb burned ‘em for 59 yards, nearly escaping on one.
Place-kicking: A. Cody Parkey again hit all of his place kicks, and boomed some monster kickoffs that caromed off the wall behind the end zone. The 40 yard field goal spun kind of crazily through the air, but it went through. The only quibble I can come up with is that the free kick after the safety could have been longer. With Jarvis Landry’s 22 yard return, LSU was set up after that kickoff at the 42 yard line.
Offensive Line: B+. Auburn was able to plug true freshman Patrick Miller in at right tackle with no apparent drop off in production. This line handled the monster LSU front pretty well, and Khiel Frazier had time to throw. There was one disaster of a play where it looked like every lineman released their guy early, and Frazier was sacked. I think a jailbreak screen had been called, but the line failed to slow down the rush long enough to even allow Frazier to set up on that play. Points of on false starts by John Sullen and Greg Robinson, also.
Running Backs: A-. Auburn backs continue to run and block very well. What bothers me is that fullback Jay Prosch may be our highest-grading offensive guy, but against LSU he was on the bench around half the snaps, pulled out to put an extra receiver in that we’ll never throw to. Both McCalebb and Mason ran hard, and were valiant in fighting ahead against badly schemed plays. Points off on Tre Mason for getting stopped for a safety. Again, you have to really question a deep handoff play call from your own one yard line. We’ve got a big tall quarterback and an All-SEC caliber center. Do we have a quarterback sneak in the play book?
Receivers: C. There were a few bright spots, including a great snag of an overthrown ball down the middle by Emory Blake on 3rd down near the end of the first half. Blake also saved the Tiger offense by getting on a Khiel Frazier fumble. Blocking was for the most part pretty poor, with the exception of Brandon Fulse, who’s not getting enough snaps. Points off on dropped balls this week. Sammie Coates dropped a possible touchdown bomb.
Quarterback: D+. Frazier did hit slightly over half his passes, but his overthrow problem down the field seems to have returned. He’s also trying to bloop too many screen attempts way up in the air, which allows the defense to react and close. That’s a good way to get a receiver laid out, too. The bottom line is that three turnovers and no touchdown passes will get you beat in the SEC nearly every time. I will concede that the last interception was a desperation heave into prevent defense.
I’ve really enjoyed seeing the improvement on defense the past two weeks. After sitting in the stands in Starkville feeling that our tackling was a hopeless cause, this defense has now held the number two team in the nation to 10 points, and only one long scoring drive. It’s certainly not dominant yet, but we now have a fast, scrappy bunch that will hit, and put guys on the ground. It will be interesting to see if the defensive backs can continue to make plays on the ball against Arkansas. Tyler Wilson will throw that ball in there even if the receiver is covered.
I do have the bad feeling that no matter how much the offensive players improve individually, we’re still going to derail drives by running plays and formations in there that have no hope of working. We bring McCalebb in motion, and the whole defense gets ready for the speed sweep. And we run it anyway and have 2nd and 15. Or we run the “really obvious” wide receiver screen, where the receivers telegraph the play by lining up differently than normal. I enjoy seeing a new trick play or two work each game, but you can pretty much guarantee that if it works, you won’t see it again. If it doesn’t, expect it to become a first down fixture. I think the offense needs to be pared to to plays that can actually be executed successfully. And you can’t have defenses guessing the play just by how the team lines up.
After a brutal, hard fought game against LSU, this team gets a week off to prepare for Arkansas. Thus far, Auburn and Arkansas have the same 1-3 record, and will meet up in Auburn in two weeks, badly needing a win. The Razorback D has given up 121 points the past three weeks, but can a woefully inconsistent Auburn offense take advantage? Despite losing three games in a row, Arkansas is averaging 26.5 points per game on offense. Can Auburn pressure Tyler Wilson and disrupt the Arkansas passing game? With two weeks to prepare, Auburn folks are expecting a better start to October.
Looking at the coming Auburn schedule, there’s no one till at least Georgia that Auburn can’t beat with a similar effort to what they put forth in the LSU game. With a slate of Arkansas, Ole Miss in Oxford, Vanderbilt in Nashville, Texas A&M, New Mexico State and Alabama A&M; Auburn needs to win five of those six games to ensure bowl-eligiblity. What Auburn can’t do is go backward consistently on first down. And they must cut down on the turnovers! If the Tigers continue to commit three turnovers per game, they could easily lose six of the last eight games, and finish 3-9. A result that poor would likely result in staff changes, and Auburn would be starting over with new stuff once again next year.
Here’s wishing for a good, productive off week, and let’s hope the Tigers focus on error reduction and fundamentals. We’ll get a nice look at Arkansas when they travel to College Station early next Saturday to play Texas A&M. That may well be the headliner game of the weekend. The only other in-conference games that day are Tennessee-Georgia, South Carolina-Kentucky, and Alabama-Ole Miss. All of the latter games could be big blow-outs.
War Eagle, everybody. Losing three games in September is no fun at all, but it’s great to be an Auburn Tiger. I stand by my conviction that this team will keep getting better. The ability to stand in and trade punches straight up with LSU shows great progress is being made. It’s time to start translating that into SEC wins on the field.