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Auburn Drops One in Columbia. (Grading Auburn’s 30-22 Loss at South Carolina)

By on October 18th, 2020 in Football 10 Comments »

No Answers in the Defensive Backfield
(Photo: Todd van Emst, Auburn Athletics)

     War Eagle everybody. It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report on Auburn’s dismal 30–22 loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks. Auburn ripped out to a 16–7 lead in the second quarter before the offense became a dysfunctional mess, and the defense proved unable to stop the Gamecocks. South Carolina outscored Auburn 23–6 in the last 31 minutes of the ball game.

     Quite honestly, I was very sad to see Auburn’s Gus Malzahn get out-coached by Will Muschamp. Auburn did a pretty fair job of spreading the ball around in the first quarter, only to revert to myopic form as the game went on. Not a single pass was thrown to running back Tank Bigsby, who is probably Auburn’s greatest weapon right now. We keep hearing about targeting the tight ends more, but they only got one target in 47 pass attempts. I can only figure that the coaching staff was still sleep-fogged as Auburn wasted 2 timeouts in the final seconds of the first half and did not stop the clock when it had a chance to get into field goal range. I just don’t know. Perhaps Coach Malzahn figured he’d save those timeouts and take them to Waffle House to sprinkle on his hash browns?

     Typically, we have had 1 cornerback in the Gus Malzahn era that could stay with the other team’s best receiver and keep him controlled. Guys like Carlton Davis or Noah Igbinoghene. Auburn simply does not have a cornerback like that this year. Top-end speed seems to be a problem, and even if the defensive back gets there, the first reaction is to grab the receiver instead of looking for the ball. We are back where we were in 2018, when Auburn grabbed receivers so much, and the officials are going to give the receiver the benefit of the doubt if the receiver falls down.

     Offensively, the biggest complaint from this game would be the passing game. Auburn started out passing well, but then the drops started happening. I counted at least 10 times that Auburn receivers got their hands on the ball but could not bring it in. At least half of those hit the receiver right in the numbers, including the second interception. After the drops started, it seemed that quarterback Bo Nix lost his confidence and started trying to baby the ball to the receivers. Nix also had his own issues, starting with inaccurate throws. The biggest issue I saw there was Nix not setting his feet. As the game wore on, Nix was no longer looking to spread the ball around, and would not trust his pocket. The protection this week was actually the best Auburn has seen this year, to no avail. Also, Nix seemed not to know what routes his receivers were going to run. On the third interception, it was a 3rd down. Seth Williams ran his defender off, then came back for the ball. Nix whizzed it over Williams’ head where it was picked off. To make matters worse, he then went on a tirade against Williams on the sideline to the point where the coaches had to intervene. As the game wound down, Nix had lost confidence in his arm and receivers both and spent the last drive running to pick up yardage, reluctant even to throw the ball.

     My only special teams gripe was that we can’t seem to field a punt anymore. Teams are getting lots of ball-rolling field position out of that. On the other hand, we have not yet turned the ball over on ill-advised fielding. The rest of this unit’s performance has been really good this season.

Unit grades after the jump!

Defensive Line: C. Auburn did a pretty fair job early on. Run fits were good, and the unit got some push up front. Colby Wooden and Big Kat Bryant even got a couple of quarterback hurries. That evaporated in the second half as South Carolina was able to pound the ball and push Auburn back. The defensive line contributed 18 tackles, but a lot of them in the second half were falling backwards. Frankly, the defense was put back on the field too many times in the second half due to offensive woes.

Linebackers: C+. Zakoby McClain and Owen Pappoe did pretty well against the run, but neither is a coverage linebacker, and they are having to play way too many snaps. McClain led the team with 13 tackles, and Pappoe had 10. McClain had the only sack Auburn recorded on the day, and Pappoe the only interception off a deflected ball. No other linebacker recorded a stat.

Secondary: D. I’ll give a passing grade to this unit because of Jamien Sherwood. He is in the right place and is solid in both run support and coverage. The unit generally tackles well but coverage is an afterthought. South Carolina threw 24 passes, and the secondary had just 1 pass breakup by Smoke Monday. Of Auburn’s 9 penalties, the secondary had 5 of them.

Punting: A. Auburn only punted twice, and Aiden Marshall averaged 45.5 yards. South Carolina managed only 1 return for 3 yards.

Punt Returns: C. South Carolina punted 5 times, and Auburn was only able to manage 1 fair catch. Letting the ball hit and roll cost Auburn at least 50 yards of field position.

Kick Returns: B-. South Carolina kicked off 6 times with 4 touchbacks and 1 out of bounds. Tank Bigsby had one return for 23 yards with suspect blocking. That’s not bad.

Place Kicking: A. There is not much to complain about here. Anders Carlson kicked off 6 times with 4 touchbacks. South Carolina attempted 1 return and got stuffed for only 16 yards. Very good.

Offensive Line: B-. Auburn still has trouble picking up stunts on the D-line but did a lot better with it than last week. On the day 3 sacks were given up and 5 quarterback hurries. Honestly, more than half of those negative plays were because the quarterback did not stay in the pocket. No Auburn running back was tackled for a loss, and the team averaged 5.8 yards per carry. It might be time to stop blaming the line for Auburn’s offensive woes.

Running Backs: A-. Again Auburn’s backs were not charged with any turnovers. They averaged 6.4 yards per carry but were inexplicably only given the ball 20 times. D. J. Williams had 2 receptions for 26 yards, but then Auburn stopped trying to throw to the backs. This group has consistently graded highly all year. It is a real mystery to me why it isn’t being used more.

Receivers: D+. There were way too many drops,and poor blocking by the wideouts on screens. In defense of some of the drops, there were a lot of low throws on the day. Seth Williams, usually a great choice on jump balls, was held to 4 catches on 12 balls. Tight end Luke Deal caught one ball for 4 yards that he had to dive to get. It might have been a big gainer with a decently thrown ball as the defense certainly was not paying attention to Deal. That brings up another gripe. Luke Deal has done a killer job blocking the last couple of games. Seems like every time Auburn breaks a big running play behind Deal’s blocking, they take him out of the game. This is the same sort of thing that made my blood boil back in 2012 with offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler. Player makes a big play? Take him out of the game. The same thing happened with Eli Stove again this week, who returned to action after injuries. Stove was Auburn’s most consistent receiver playmaker but was only on the field sparingly.

Quarterback: D-. Three interceptions doomed Auburn more than anything else. South Carolina converted thm for 20 points, and Auburn lost by 8 points. I feel like Bo Nix needs to work on staying in the pocket, and he and his receivers need to get back in sync. I gave a passing grade in this one ultimately because Nix did generate 341 yards of offense, mostly on short passes. This could have been a whole lot more if more balls were delivered where the receiver didn’t have to dive for the ball.

     The schedule does not get any easier for the Tigers. Auburn faces an angry Ole Miss team with a prolific offense in Oxford next weekend. The Ole Miss defense showed a bit of improvement yesterday but not a huge amount. Auburn should be able to work on offensive issues and control the ball against the Rebels. How a leaky secondary is going to handle Ole Miss’ speed is worrisome. I think the Rebels feel like they should have beaten both Alabama and Arkansas but didn’t.

10 Comments

  1. friedca friedca says:

    I think if you look back at my comments to last year you will see me defend Gus alot. This game changed that and not because we lost. We lose games, we aren’t going to win them all (even ones like this we shouldn’t have lost). What I saw was the same thing that made me realize Chizik needed to go and Tuberville before that. Gus has lost the team. The lack of discipline on the field is not something I want to see out of any Auburn player. Celebrating a catch in the 4th quarter while you’re down to SC is ridiculous. How many times have I seen our defense celebrate a minor victory and then look out of place on the following play because they weren’t ready. The whole team looks rudderless, defeated, and dejected. I don’t think any coach can recover from that.

    I don’t put a billion dollar program on the head of any student athlete, I put it on the head coach. We can’t fire Gus this year. I even think we can fire him next year. But Greene needs to figure out a way forward. I would think, outside going undefeated the next two seasons, Gus is gone at the end of 22. War Eagle always but what a disappointing year.

  2. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    ……Well, the year isn’t over yet. Make no mistake, this was a disappointing loss, and I did not like some of the player behavior on camera, as well. However, we certainly do have the potential to finish this season with a 2-8 record, if we don’t get better coaching.

  3. Orangeblood says:

    Frustration and disappointment will make you say and type things you normally would not.

    Gus has not lost the team, he has done a good job of building this program up. it’s got some good quality players, and quality men.

    Auburn is normally a 9/3, or 8/4 team.
    Sometimes we slip to 7/5. We overachieve when we get more than 10 wins, and Beat BAMA.

    You can’t hold the coach responsible for interceptions… that’s mostly on the QB, but sometimes on the receiver, if he don’t run his route correctly.

    Now, in the middle of the season, is not the time to question the coaches employment.

    The tigers are often over ranked, but normally we wind up spoiling somebody’s year. And win games that we are not picked to win.

    if we can just win the games, we are supposed to win, and a few that we’re not supposed to. We’ll be okay.

  4. zotus zotus says:

    I wonder what they have been putting in the water at those High Schools over in Arkansas?

    I heard about this so-called High School Football Coach at Pulaski Academy that goes for two on his team’s first two touchdowns each game, and after every TD in close games.

    Say what?

    Now it appears, at least in a couple Auburn games so far this year, that the Auburn Offensive Brain Trust (of Ol’ Gus & his hand-picked High School QB Whisperer who holds Gus’ High School Playbook on the sidelines) see some merit in this “High School” football idiocy. Duh, who knew?

    But, I’ve noticed when Gus goes for two after Auburn’s first touchdown, he cracks out one of those iconic Gus Trick Plays that would probably even make that guy from Pulaski Academy cringe. And, I mean really embarrassingly cringe.

    Furthermore, I noticed that apparently everybody was probably too embarrassed for ol’ Gus to ask ol’ Gus — after Saturday’s game — to explain his “Game Plan Strategy” behind doing such a thing against Carolina, even given the fact that Auburn found themselves 8 points behind on their final drive … and, potentially looking forward to another low-odds high school trick play 2-point conversion just to tie the score. Talk about ignoring the humongous giant elephant in the room!

    P.S. I must admit that I have no idea how that kind of High School idiocy is working out for that high school football coach at Pulaski Academy … but, I know this: That kind of Arkansas High School Football Idiocy will get you beat in the SEC.

    … and, what have you been doing, Allen Greene, while Rome continues to burn all around you? “Working the Land, keeping a low profile, hoping for a fertile Spring” replies Mr. Greene.

  5. easyedwin easyedwin says:

    I missed watching and or listening to this game. It does not look like I missed anything good.
    Before the season began I feared Bo might have the sophomore slump and it seems like the slump has come to fruition. Leadership is what this team needs desperately. Is Bo too young to lead? Is Tank too young to lead? SOMEONE STEP UP TO THE PLATE!!!

    Mouthing off and taunting is not to be tolerated at Auburn. The mouths all need to be disciplined.

    Three INT’s is not good. Bench Bo to begin the Mississippi game. Put Cord in and hand the ball to Tank.

    P. S. I was at Barber Motorsports Park all day Saturday.

  6. audad says:

    Not many folks posting comments this year, but figured this game would bring some out especially after the big blown lead the week before against Arky. I like to follow the ESPN percentage tracker during games sometimes. When AU was up 17-0 in the 2nd qtr last week against the Hogs they rose to a 95% win probability, more than likely because they were also 14 pt favorites to win that game at home. If not for the much debated call near the end that went our way, that easily could have been a loss. Against SC on Sat. our win probability only got as high as 82% in the 2nd qtr when ahead 16-7 (should have been 17-7 as eloquently pointed out by zotus) and that was as a 2 pt favorite on the road. Obviously when you get to points in games when your win % is that high, you shouldn’t lose or almost lose. Especially when the oddsmakers believe you have the more talented team. So why does this happen to Gus Malzahn teams frequently? Coaching and lack of execution in key situations are the two most obvious answers. Nix had a horrible game on Sat., but why was he putting the ball in the air 47 times when the Tigers were averaging 5.8 yds per rushing play?! I guess you’d have to ask Gus and Chad that. To be a little more fair to Bo, the 10 drops or failed catches that Acid mentioned didn’t help him any. But the fact he can look like a Heisman candidate one series and JUCO backup on the next series is extremely frustrating.

    I was happy to see friedca point out in her post some of the mouthiness of our defense, and how there is no place for that, especially with this team. It was so noticeable on Sat. that there was even an article on AL.com about it. Watching our DB’s trash talk SC receivers early in the game was sickening, and in some cases it was simply because an open receiver had dropped a pass and had nothing to do with said DB having made a play to break it up. And of course that same receiver came back to have a pretty big game before it was all over. If Steele continues to allow his defensive guys to pull that crap, then he’s a fool and will look like a fool more than once as this season goes on.

    So you look at the rest of the schedule, it appears that there will be no easy victories. I would see each game having a Vegas betting line of a few points either way as a favorite or underdog (we are an early 3 pt favorite against Ole Miss) with the exception of course for the Iron Bowl in which Bama will be a big double digit favorite. So the bottom line is this year’s Auburn Tigers could win 6 to 8 games in this 10 game season just as easily as it could lose 6 to 8 games. It will be a gut check for them to see which way it goes.

  7. easyedwin easyedwin says:

    Auburn averaged 21.75 points in 4 games. Will that be enough to beat Mississippi? NO.

  8. easyedwin easyedwin says:

    Point production must have execution. To execute well, the team must practice.
    Practice!

  9. Orangeblood says:

    Everybody’s right, Gus loses some games, that he should not. And sometimes the play calling have me shaking my head.

    We got a very Green line, both O and D. And half our skilled ball-handlers are sophomores and freshmen. What do you expect?

    So everybody get taped up.
    We got to have a go at it again this Saturday.

    And I’m pulling for the boys from East Alabama.

    Gus signed into a very long and lucrative contract. So just hang on, it may be a bumpy ride.

  10. uglyjoe says:

    There is no way Gus gets fired this year. On top of the buyout, the optics of removing him during a completely pandemic-screwed-up season would be terrible. Only way it happens is if Gus agrees to resign with a reduced payout…..don’t see that happening.

    If we tank (no pun) the rest of the season, it will be interesting to see what Gus’s solutions are for next year. Call plays, don’t call plays, new offensive coordinator, etc……

    I see this year and next year composed of more mediocrity, and then getting rid of him after 2021.

    I’m just going to take it for what it is and try to enjoy every game……it could be worse.

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