Auburn Drops Another One at LSU (Grading Auburn’s 27–23 loss to LSU)
Auburn receivers had a spectacularly bad day
(Photo by Albert Cesare, AP)
War Eagle, everybody. It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report on Auburn’s 27–23 loss to LSU. On a hot afternoon in Baton Rouge, dreams of playing for any championships all but went up in smoke as LSU recovered from a 20–0 second quarter deficit to take the game away from an Auburn team that was rolling.
In the last 3 quarters of play, there were letdowns in nearly every facet of the game, but the difference in this game really centered on catching the football. For Auburn, there were at least a dozen times that the ball hit the receiver in the hands, only to flutter harmlessly to the turf. Meanwhile, when LSU needed to convert a 3rd and long, LSU receivers would go up and get the ball. It really was the difference in the game. Without any threat to actually catch the ball, LSU was able to clog running lanes and take away what Auburn does best.
Seven games into the season, Auburn appears to be a wounded football team. A significant number of starters missed part or all of this game. With defensive leaders Tré Williams and Tray Matthews out, as well as Auburn’s fastest cover corner Javaris Davis hobbled, LSU was able to pick Auburn apart with simple lob passes and speed sweeps. Auburn’s vaunted ability to tackle in the secondary disappeared.
On offense, everything starts up front. Thanks to injuries, first to Darius James a few weeks ago, to Mike Horton last week and in this game to Casey Dunn, Auburn struggled a bit up front. Auburn had a nice scheme early on, showing a 4-receiver look, only to bring a guy in motion, often tight end Jalen Harris, to give Auburn a blocking numbers advantage. Unfortunately, by the mid second quarter, LSU had figured it out and realized that Auburn wasn’t going to do any damage through the air. LSU basically went man-free and slowed down the Auburn rushing game. Auburn certainly helped LSU out with predictable play calling. At one point, Auburn ran the ball on 17 consecutive first-down plays.
Even Auburn’s normally good special teams had a bad moment in this one. There is a reason for all those 35–40 yard dribbly punts Auburn has become known for the past few years. Those are hard to chase down and corral. This game, Aiden Marshall was booming them away, and it cost the Tigers late. A 50-yard boot gave LSU return man DJ Chark room, and he took advantage of an Auburn coverage unit that forgot everything it knew about angles and solid tackling. Prior to that return, Auburn had a 9-point lead and was going to make LSU have to score twice. Instead, Auburn gave up all but a 2-point lead on a punt return.
I’m not going to spend too much time bashing individual units. There was enought bad play to go around to most units, but I fault the coaches for really poor play calling from the 2nd quarter on and for not teaching our receivers to catch the ball. Grades after the jump!
Defensive Line: B. For the most part, these guys filled gaps and took running lanes away but failed to set the edge on speed sweeps a number of times. Auburn did finish the game credited with 3 sacks, but it also had trouble getting LSU quarterback Danny Etling to the ground. The home statistician only credits Auburn with a couple of quarterback hurries, but I remember several times Etling being in the grasp of a defender, only to remain standing and sling the ball out for another first down. This defense needs a Nick Fairley type who can reliably get the quarterback to the ground. As a unit, the line totaled 24 tackles, and held vaunted runner Darius Guice to 71 rushing yards and only 3.5 yards per carry.
Linebackers: C. The linebackers in this game totalled only 21 tackles, being outplayed by the line in front of them. Most notable was the lack of pursuit on speed sweeps. Frankly, I didn’t think LSU called enough of those plays. Auburn never stopped them.
Secondary: B. This unit had 29 tackles, but a lot of them were way downfield, either after a successful sweep or yet another LSU reception. Prior to this game, Auburn was doing a great job of limiting teams to mostly short passes. This game, Auburn was often unable to keep covered receivers from catching the ball anyway.
Punting: D+. Auburn punted 6 times for 40.0 yards, but consistency was a big problem. There were some long rain makers, but one of them Auburn didn’t cover well. Then there were a couple off the side of the foot, including one that happened right after Auburn declined to go for it on 4th and 1. On 6 punts, Auburn was unable to pin LSU inside its 20.
Punt Returns: C+. On 6 punts, Stephen Roberts had 1 return for 4 yards and a couple of fair catches. Near the end of the game, Auburn was badly whipped by LSU’s gunners, and an LSU coverage man was actually able to field the punt in the air, killing the ball dead at Auburn’s 2-yard line.
Kick Returns: C. Auburn had a couple of kick returns by Noah Igbinoghene, who averaged 19.5 yards per return, which is pretty pedestrian. LSU covered well.
Place Kicking: A+. I have nothing to complain about here. Daniel Carlson hit all of his placekicks and had 5 touchbacks on 6 kickoffs. On the one ball LSU could return, it only got 20 yards.
Offensive Line: C+. Technically, Jarrett Stidham was sacked 3 times and hurried 3 more times, which isn’t too bad against a defense like LSU’s. On the ground, LSU held Auburn to 4.3 yards per carry, but honestly this mediocre average isn’t on the line. They blocked decently for the most part. Auburn’s lack of production was thanks to painfully-predictable play calling the last 3 quarters.
Running Backs: A. Auburn had no turnovers, Kerryon Johnson ran hard, and blitz pickup was good with maybe one exception.
Receivers: F. Auburn finished this game with only 4 worthwhile catches. There was the Hastings touchdown on the post over the top, there was a big screen to Ryan Davis, and a 25-yard fade catch by Darius Slayton. I also give a nod to a one-handed 7-yard grab by Sal Cannella. Auburn threw the ball 26 times, hitting the receiver in the hands most of the time, and only had 4 plays of note. This might be the most dropped balls I’ve ever seen in an Auburn game.
Quarterback: B. It’s hard to fault quarterback Jarrett Stidham too much in this one. Perhaps he could have thrown to open guys a little better, but the run-run-pass on 3rd and long strategy in this game certainly did not help Stidham out. For the most part, Stidham put the ball on the receivers’ hands. He also again played turnover free.
In coming weeks, Auburn HAS to catch the ball better, or more losses are coming. Auburn gets a bleeding Razorback team in Arkansas next weekend, then a much-needed bye week. I vote for the receivers to have to face the jugs machine for several hours each day! In November, Auburn will face Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama. All of those teams have covered receivers decently or better in recent weeks. Auburn is going to HAVE to make some contested catches to have any chance in those ball games.
As bad as the LSU loss was, Auburn is still in the SEC West title race, hanging on by a thread. Auburn needs LSU to drop a game, but Alabama is likely to do us that favor. To win the division, Auburn needs to sweep Arkansas and Texas A&M on the road, and Georgia and Alabama at home. It doesn’t seem terribly likely, but the game is not played on paper. If this team will pull together and execute, and the coaches stop handicapping the team with poor play-calling, it’s still possible.