A Team on the Rise.
Tigers are once again back to work on the basics.
War Eagle, everybody, and happy bye week! Auburn has no opponent this Saturday, and is spending this week on fundamentals. That, and trying to heal up numerous nicks and bruises. This has been a banged up football team this fall. Preseason depth chart starters Jeffery Whitaker, Craig Sanders, Dee Ford, and Justin Garrett have all missed at least one game due to injuries. That’s over a third of the defense that’s not playing. And folks wonder why Auburn is giving up 439 yards per game…
It’s hard to believe, but Auburn is now a third of the way through the season. It seems like just yesterday fall camp was starting! How time flies. A third of the way through the season, Auburn is squarely in the middle of the league in most relevant statistics. That’s actually kind of deceiving. Many SEC members have played a cupcake or two thus far. Some teams such as Kentucky, Arkansas and Missouri have yet to play an SEC game. Auburn hasn’t had an easy game yet. They’ve played and beaten what appears to be a solid Washington State team, reigning Sun Belt champ Arkansas State, and a surprisingly solid Mississippi State team. Auburn has lost to a top ten SEC team on the road. That’s a pretty daunting slate for a new coach and a young team.
So, how are these Tigers doing? I’m going to take a look today at each unit, and comment on the accomplishments of each.
The defensive line is an area that has improved over last season, but still has a ways to go. One thing that has really helped the Auburn defense is that coach Garner is really doing a good job of rotating players, and keeping them fresh. Auburn has only allowed 7 points in the 4th quarter this season. Overall, the defensive line has generated 77 tackles, including 14 for a loss, and 32 quarterback hurries. The leader is LaDarius Owens, who has 15 total tackles, 2.5 for loss and 3 quarterback hurries. Second place goes to true freshman Montravious Adams, who has only 8 total tackles, but has 5 quarterback hurries. He’s made some noise while he’s been in the game.
The linebacker corps has been everyone’s favorite whipping boy thus far this year. They’ve had a difficult time, but certain aspects are due to basically playing a nickel or dime defense most of the time. That puts only 2, or sometimes 1 linebacker on the field. Thus the numbers of tackles are less. The linebacking corps (I have NOT included the Star position in this.) have contributed 64 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss, and 5 quarterback hurries. The leader is Cassanova McKinzy, who has 21 tackles, 2.5 for a loss, and 2 quarterback hurries. Typically McKinzy plays most of the snaps in a two linebacker defense, and comes out in Auburn’s dime package. Jake Holland and Kris Frost have rotated at the Mike spot. No other linebacker has played more than a handful of snaps.
Auburn’s secondary has been the strength of the defense, although they’ve been tested. The secondary has made a whopping 132 tackles, 4.5 for a loss. They’ve had 4 interceptions, 19 pass breakups, and 4 quarterback hurries. Auburn’s leading tackler is Robensen Therezie, with 25. Jonathan Mincy leads the team with 6 pass breakups, but Chris Davis and Ryan White are right behind him with 5 each. Mincy is tied for the SEC lead in passes defended, with Cody Prewitt of Ole Miss.
On special teams, Steven Clark has punted 19 times for a 43.5 yard average. That’s about 4 yards ahead of last year, but it only ranks him 8th in the SEC. There are a lot of strong legs in the conference! Of Clark’s punts, only one has been returned, for 10 yards. Clark has had 9 punts fair caught, 6 killed inside the 20, and 3 touchbacks.
The Tigers have returned 10 punts for 70 yards. Quan Bray has 8 of those, for 49 yards. Bray has one muff, but recovered the fumble. And no Tiger has fielded one inside the ten yard line.
On paper, Auburn is second in the league in kickoff returns, averaging 31.9 yards per return. It’s kind of a skewed number, I think. Auburn has 7 returns, 6 of them by Tre Mason for 190 yards. He broke one in the opener for 100 yards. Take that long one out, and Mason is only averaging 18 yards per return. He’s getting very little blocking help, and has brought several of them out of the end zone with no success.
Cody Parkey has been a weapon for Auburn with his leg. He’s hit 7 of 8 field goal attempts, and all of his extra points, which has put him 4th in the league in scoring points. He has been good on kickoffs, kicking 15 of 22 kickoffs for touchbacks. Auburn is giving up 20.0 yards per kick return, which isn’t too bad.
There are few numbers published regarding offensive line performance, but there are a few things that can be looked at. Auburn’s offensive line has really played well this season, and is a major reason Auburn has won 3 games. With last year’s line, Auburn would be 1-3 right now, with losses to Washington State and Mississippi State as well. Auburn has only given up 4 sacks all season, and Auburn opponents have just 18 total tackles for loss. Meanwhile, Auburn ranks 4th in the SEC in rushing offense with 232 yards per game, and they’ve done it without a consistent passing attack. The three teams ahead of Auburn are Missouri, Ole Miss and Arkansas, none of which has played a defense with a pulse this season. Well, maybe Rutgers. They shut Arkansas down pretty well last weekend.
Of Auburn’s receiving corps, only Sammie Coates is among the SEC leaders. His ridiculous 27.8 yards per catch average leads the league. I think he’s earned the “deep threat” label. The rest of Auburn’s corps has been spotty. More than half of Auburn’s passes have been of the “quick screen” variety, and these typically only pick up 4-5 yards. Coates has 11 receptions, and the only other Tigers in double figures are Ricardo Louis with 11 catches, and Marcus Davis with 10. Where Auburn has been good-to-excellent in the receiving corps has been blocking. The Tigers will miss Jaylon Denson here, after the junior injured his knee against LSU. Many times Auburn would run with Denson, Brandon Fulse and C. J. Uzomah in the game. The formation would say “spread,” but it was really like having 3 tight ends in the game.
Running back has been an Auburn strength, with the only negative being two lost fumbles. The three Auburn backs who’ve carried the ball are averaging 5.9 yards per carry. Lead blocking from H-back Jay Prosch has been pretty good, and blitz pickup has been good from the tailbacks. Tre Mason ranks 8th in the SEC in rushing yards, with 84.5 yards per game. It’s good to see a week of rest for Auburn back Corey Grant. He’s been hampered by an ankle injury the past week or so, and has been limited. He ranks 3rd in the SEC in yards per carry, gaining an amazing 9.2 yards per pop. This year’s Auburn team is averaging 232 yards rushing per game. At this point last year, Auburn was averaging just 153.
Auburn’s Nick Marshall has had his ups and downs as Auburn’s new starting quarterback. He currently ranks 9th in the SEC with 202 passing yards per game, and he’s 13th in pass efficiency. The numbers are somewhat deceiving, though. Auburn has not played against a bad defense yet, and just about everyone else in the SEC has had at least one opponent like that. For the season, Marshall has hit 60 of 103 passes for 809 yards, with 4 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. That works out to a 58 percent completion percentage, at 7.8 yards per pass. Marshall has also run for 148 yards, and completed a 37 yard pass to himself. At this point last season, Auburn had completed just 48 of 90 passes for 579 yards, with 3 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.