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Auburn Fumbles One Away in Starkville (Grading Auburn’s 23-9 Loss to Mississippi State)

By on October 7th, 2018 in Football 15 Comments »

Auburn could not execute when it counted.

     War Eagle everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report on an Auburn collapse in Starkville. Shaky offensive line problems continued, and a propensity to drop the ball on the ground doomed the Tigers to a 23–9 loss to the Mississippi State Bulldogs. A normally stout front seven on defense was unusually mushy as well, allowing MSU to keep the ball, and grind down the field time and time again. The Bulldogs converted on 7 of 17 times on 3rd down while Auburn was just 3 of 14.

     The defensive strategy for this game was to stop the run and make Bulldog quarterback Nick Fitzgerald try to beat Auburn with his arm. Unfortunately, the defense was unable to stop the run consistently. Mississippi State gashed the Auburn defense for 349 yards on the ground, with Fitzgerald picking up 195 of those yards, to break Tim Tebow’s SEC career quarterback rushing record. Kylin Hill also picked up 126 yards as Auburn had great difficulty tackling him. In defense of the Auburn defense, they were on the field for over 41 minutes due to offensive ineptitude on the other side of the ball. When a defense holds Mississippi State to 23 points, it ought to be enough, especially considering that 1 of the 2 State touchdowns was set up by a dropped punt.

     It was another bad day on offense for this Auburn team. This unit is like a seriously old and leaky boat. As soon as one hole gets patched, another area springs a leak. We have been grousing about the offensive line all season. In this game, I thought that the line showed huge improvement, which was mostly wasted. The line did give up pressure at times off the right side with Calvin Ashley getting his first start. However, protection was good more often than it wasn’t. The line didn’t have any penalties on the day, and missed assignments were rare.

     Overthrown downfield passes continue to be the order of the day. Auburn can complete screens and sideline passes at short to medium range. The route schemes consistently get guys open over the top down the middle, but Auburn didn’t hit any of these opportunities at Mississippi State. The biggest reason Auburn did not score but 9 points was ball security. Auburn had dropped passes, dropped snaps, dropped punts, and fumbles in this game. JaTarvious Whitlow entered the game despite an injured shoulder and provided an immediate spark to the offense. However, there were 2 touchdowns taken off the board on a dropped pass with a wall of blockers set up and a fumble going into the end zone. Note to ball carriers: it is rarely worth it, to stick the ball out from your body unless it is 4th down with the game on the line. On Whitlow’s long run, it was very unnecessary. Likely, Whitlow would have scored anyway. At worst, Auburn would have had first and goal at the one. As an individual player, it is tempting to stick that ball out and add more touchdowns to your count. As a teammate, even one fumble in that situation can cost your team the game.

     Special teams had a decent day with the exception of fielding punts. MSU punted 5 times, 3 for touchbacks. On the fielding opportunities, Ryan Davis dropped both, the second of which gave the Bulldogs a short field. Mississippi State cashed that opportunity. Instead of a 6–3 game at the half, Auburn trailed 13–3.

Unit grades after the jump!

Defensive Line: C+. I never thought I’d see this line get worn down, but it happened to an extent in this game. Mississippi State threw 17 passes. Auburn was credited with no sacks and no quarterback hurries. I was going to give a much worse grade here, but review of the game showed otherwise. The defensive line contributed an astounding 30 tackles. They were just on the field too much.

Linebackers: C. Like the line, the linebackers were also out there too long. There were a number of uncharacteristic missed tackles that allowed Mississippi State to keep moving the chains. Adding it up, the linebackers did have 29 stops on the evening.

Secondary: A-. The Auburn secondary limited Mississippi State to mostly little screen passes. When the Bulldogs did try to throw downfield, an Auburn defensive back was there to contest the throw. The Bulldogs only attempted 17 passes, and the Auburn secondary had 4 pass breakups and an interception. The secondary also contributed an astounding 42 total tackles. That is too many. When free safety Jeremiah Dinson is having to make 15 tackles by himself, the rest of the defense isn’t holding up too well, overall.

Punting: A. Arryn Siposs has been as good as advertised. On the day, Siposs had 3 punts for a 47-yard average and no returns. Auburn would be well-served to hold onto the ball better, and have Siposs punt it away more.

Punt Returns: F. We might as well have rushed 11 on punts. Having a return man back there was a liability in this game.

Kick Returns: C+. There was only 1 opportunity, and Asa Martin got the ball out to the 26, which was slightly better than a fair catch.

Place Kicking: A-. I can’t count off for misses beyond 50 yards. Anders Carlson did hit 3 shorter field goals, and most of his kickoffs went for touchbacks. Carlson did not get a chance to add to Auburn’s streak of made extra points.

Offensive Line: C. A lot of things were cleaned up in this game, and more often than not there was a clean pocket. Auburn didn’t get really any push in the middle in this one. The rare successful runs were on “overloads,” where the team got pulling guards out front on the edge. Calvin Ashley had some issues getting beaten outside on the speed rush, but he will get better with time. Prince Tega Wanagho came back from a knee injury last week, and I think he graded out pretty well on a difficult matchup.

Running Backs: C+. Auburn did not give it to the backs very much. Two balls dropped on the ground really hurt. The first was Kam Martin dropping a wildcat snap and killing a promising drive. The second was Whitlow’s ball extension towards the goal line, which cost Auburn the ball and took a touchdown off the board. Dropped balls on screen passes hurt, as well.

Receivers: C+. There were some drops in this one, but most were contested balls. Ryan Davis is probably Auburn’s most elusive option in the receiving corps right now, and it was good to see the offense get the ball into his hands. That has been missing the past few weeks. From a scheme standpoint, defenses know they have to cover Davis and Darius Slayton. Other guys are running around wide open. Auburn needs to target these guys more. Every pass to an H-back/tight end this season has picked up good yardage. Same thing with Sal Cannella. Auburn must distribute the ball better and force defenses to cover everyone. That will open up the run game, as well.

Quarterback: C. I have to give Jarrett Stidham credit for not turning the ball over in this game. He also did a better job of taking sacks, as weird as that might sound. Sometimes a defender comes free in the backfield, and the best thing to do is go down and protect the football and one’s health. Aside from one fade pass down the boundary to Ryan Davis, Stidham was not on target in this game beyond 10 yards. Screens and quick hitters were accurately thrown. Defenses know that Auburn has no downfield game right now and are exploiting that.

     Championship talk for the Auburn Tigers is realistically off the table for this season. It is unlikely that Alabama loses at all the way it is playing, and the Tide certainly won’t lose twice. Auburn is definitely not playing like a championship team, anyway. Right now, Auburn is fighting for a finish in the top half of the SEC West. With games against Ole Miss and Texas A&M ahead, Auburn will have a chance to finish there.

     Tennessee visits Auburn next weekend in the dreaded 11:00 AM TV slot. Auburn has a lot more talent than the Vols do, but if Auburn continues to drop the ball on the ground and miss throws down the field, the Tigers will have their hands full in this game. I expect this team to keep working and improve. If there was a silver lining from the MSU game, it was more consistent offensive line play. The line will be tested, against the Vols. Head coach Jeremy Pruitt loves those disguised blitzes, and it will be a challenge to account for unusual looks up front. Until Auburn shows an ability to make defenses pay, expect to see a lot of Tennessee defenders in the box.


  1. Jonathon Jonathon says:

    Brutal all around. We’ve regressed in each game!! The D deserves credit. They were the only players on the field All Game Long. Auburn’s time of possession on offense was a joke! UT won’t be a cake walk either. Mistakes and regression will certainly hand us another L. What’s Happening On The Plains!?!??!?

  2. If we get more than 6 wins this season, I will be amazed. We go into this game knowing we have to stop the run and get gashed for 349 yards, that just blows my mind.

    I know the ineptness of the offense contributed to that, as they couldn’t keep the ball long enough to keep the defense off the field.

    Unless the defense can start creating turnovers and giving this under performing offense some seriously short fields to work with, I don’t think they can generate enough offense to beat any (except maybe UT) of the SEC teams left on the schedule.

    Our biggest bowl game win in the last 6 years is the Birmingham Bowl, looks like this is going to be our best shot at the rate the Tiger’s are scoring now.

  3. easyedwin easyedwin says:

    The sum of all fears has occurred . Auburn, as a team was exposed from start to finish. Personally, I would have benched JS at the half and gone with Willis and Cord. State KNEW JS was not going to run the ball. JS has overthrown most long balls this fall. Clear and sure TDs have been OVERTHROWN!!!!!! I laughed it off when it was announced JS was engaged to marry because friends said it would effect his game. Well, something is effecting his game! Offensively, Auburn is predictable. Seven million dollars is what we pay CGM. Let that sink in………$7,000,000.00. That is more than I make in 3 years. We do not have an offensive genius as HC. This is NOT fun!

  4. meathead530 says:

    Once again, I’m #disGusted. Lindsey should be held accountable too. And Stidham has lost his groove. Steele, keep up the good work.

    I had hope yesterday, but not anymore. Saturday could be just as pathetic.

  5. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..Heh! I haven’t made $7 million, total, in my lifetime! And I started cutting yards for cash back around 1973, and got my first job in 1976.

    …..I’m disappointed, too. However, my support is unwavering for Auburn. I made it through 3-9/0-8, and I’ll make it through this year, too. You won’t see me calling for the head coach’s job. That’s above my pay grade, thankfully.

    …..The team just has to keep working, never give up, and execute better. These kids want it. That much is evident. Whitlow was trying SO hard on that touchdown run that wasn’t. Deshaun Davis came back in with a twisted knee and immediately made a tackle for loss. This team will see better days, with a little more polish.

  6. zotus zotus says:

    Acid, among other things, I know you to be a connoisseur of the musical and culinary arts, so I want to bounce something off you.

    I woke up this morning with remnants of a tune on a perpetual loop rolling around in my head. The tune started off with a good guitar riff opening, and I started humming along with what I thought to be the notes, the best I could. The opening riff reminded me of a Billy Gibbons’ (of ZZ Top) type lick. Anyway some words started coming as well, so later I wrote them down too. I figure that (in context) my subconscious may be trying to help me deal with something ominous lurking around right now, and I don’t want to miss a heads-up, if it is one. If you don’t mind take a look at the lyrics and see if they ring a bell. Thanks.

    NOTE: Best I can interpret, the lyrics went something like this: (sang with tempo)

    Now look at that yo-yo that’s the way you do it
    You play the genius of the SEC
    That ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it
    Money for nothin’ and checks for free

    Now that ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it
    Lemme tell ya that guy ain’t dumb
    Maybe get a ring for your middle finger
    Maybe get a ring for your thumb

    Now that ain’t workin’ that’s the way to do it
    Play the football genius of the SEC
    That ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it
    Money for nothin’ and checks for free

    NOTE: Then, after a long guitar solo, the lyrics shifted to slower tempo and the volume faded lower & lower to almost inaudible. As I recall it now, this part was sung by a guy with a high pitch voice (kinda like a cross between that singer named Sting … and, that guy with that little Tennessee twang named Jimmy Sexton – I’m having weird nightmares nowadays for some reason) Closing refrain lyrics went something like this:

    Money for nothin’ checks for free
    Money for nothin’ checks for free
    Money for nothin’ checks for free

    Easy, easy money for nothin’ checks for free

    I want my, I want my SEC
    I want my, I want my SEC
    I want my, I want my SEC
    I want my, I want my SEC
    I want my, I want my SEC
    I want my, I want my SEC

    P.S. Tough job you had today, Acid, passing out grades to players. Don’t envy you. Maybe you would be better off giving grades to the coaching staff for a while … and, give 1 of 2 grades: “present.” or “absent.” Just a thought. 🙂

    Keep Hope Alive & WDE!

  7. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..I saw that song back on MTV, in that era! Really enjoyed Dire Straights, although I’m a little more from the Sultans of Swing era.

    …..After being a parent and raising two kids, I have a hard time grading coaches. You can tell ’em and tell ’em and tell ’em, and what they do when the chips are down is anyone’s guess. I distrusted what my parents told me, back in the day, too. I thought I had all the answers…

    …..If I could see what goes on in practice, and say “I like this,” “I don’t like that,” regarding what the coaching staff does, I’d have a better opinion. I don’t get to see much, except those Youtube clips in preseason.

    • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

      …..As to coaching, what I can do is grouse about play calls, or time management, to go for it or not, and that sort of thing. I really did not see any bad play calls in this game. I thought they called what Auburn might be able to do, and it just wasn’t executed well enough.

  8. KungFuPanda9 KungFuPanda9 says:

    I think this season’s failure has to be on the coaches, moreso than the players. I say this because there are plenty of teams that do not have the athletes we have at Auburn. But their coaches create plays designed to maximize the strengths of their players, and minimize their weaknesses.

    Gus used to be very good at exactly this. But lately he remains focused on trying to force the players he has on roster to execute a particular set of plays, whether they are suited to that style or not.

    Case in point. When you don’t have five offensive lineman who are capable of handling blocking duties, you must add extra guys to help double team and/or pick up defenders who get into the backfield.

    Yet Gus continues to eschew tight ends and blocking backs, and remains stubbornly committed to 3 and 4 wide receiver sets. He continues to force his quarterback to make long throws down the field when it is painfully clear his accuracy is less then desired at long range.

    So, while it is easy to point fingers at individual players for their deficiencies, it is incumbent on the coach to work around weaknesses.

    A struggling QB should benefit from coaching. Stidham has all the tools necessary. We’ve seen him operate at a high level. But now he is not. Any decent coach should be able to address this.

  9. Madkiso says:

    Nice points Kungfu. I think what frustrates us all, is that Gus just isn’t that intelligent of a coach and he’s able to trick us with teaser runs every 4 or 5 years; runs that he’s unable to complete.

    He seems to be able to recruit, but there is a gross inability to evaluate and especially to DEVELOP players. He has one system and it requires the perfect players for that system or it simply doesn’t work. There is no adaptability or flexibility for adjustments that other good coaches possess. I disagree with your comments about Stidham though as he was able to throw an accurate deep ball at one point, but they coached it out of him.

    Oh well, I guess my life isn’t too bad if Auburn football is the most frustrating thing in it.

  10. easyedwin easyedwin says:

    Prepare for 2019!

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