Auburn Goes Down Swinging Against LSU (includes unit grades)
This edition of the Tigers keeps fighting!
War Eagle, everybody. It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report on Auburn’s 35-21 loss to LSU in Baton Rouge. On a national television stage, a young Auburn team had some early jitters, and did not handle a monsoon rain well at all. LSU took advantage of early Auburn turnovers and mistakes, and built a 21-0 lead early in the 2nd period, and never looked back. At the time, it looked like Auburn might give up triple digit points.
Defensive adjustments were made, and LSU’s powerful running game was slowed down, but the damage was done. LSU hit some big plays in the passing game later on, and finished with a balanced offensive box score of 228 rushing yards and 229 passing yards. It was good to see Auburn get some late pressure on the quarterback, and the team officially tallied 2 sacks. However, Auburn’s early defensive downs were marred by misalignment on unbalanced offensive lines, and a total lack of any ability in the back seven players to track down Jeremy Hill running loose in the secondary.
The Auburn passing game never got in sync other than the quick screen, which LSU limited to modest gains for the most part. Downfield passes were nearly all sailed high or behind the receiver. It looked like quarterback Nick Marshall was having real trouble with wet footballs, and he admitted as much in post-game comments. As his passes continued to be off target, he regressed some, throwing off his back foot, or with his shoulders not squared, or even on a couple of occasions side-arming the ball. And as has happened every week, a few balls did arrive on target that were promptly dropped.
Lost in this debacle of a game is that the running half of the offense did astonishingly well. Auburn banged and bashed for 213 yards in this one, three touchdowns on the ground, and no fumbles lost. Much of this yardage was between the tackles, and the figure includes a 10 yard sack and a 16 yard loss when Steven Clark fumbled a punt snap. That’s a lot of yards for an LSU defense to give up on the ground.
Special teams took a big step backwards in this contest, but the weather and a big early deficit dictated some risky calls. A dropped punt snap was the worst mistake, but not the only one. The Tigers failed on two onside kick attempts, although the second one may have been a blown call by the replay official. Tre Mason again brought a kickoff out of the end zone with no chance of even making the 20. Quan Bray fumbled a punt, but did recover it himself.
There were some bright spots on special teams, as Steven Clark again hammered the ball high and deep, and the Auburn coverage units continue to do well. Although Quan Bray didn’t have but 5 punt return yards, he fielded 5 of 6 LSU punts, which negated any rolling ball yardage, and LSU was held to 38.2 yards per punt.
The Tigers have a bye week coming up, which should allow plenty of time for the offense to put the passing game back together, and scheme for Ole Miss, which is currently ranked 76th in the country in pass efficiency defense. The defense should be working on tackling angles, because Ole Miss has good backs and scrambling quarterbacks to deal with.
Unit Grades after the jump!
Defensive Line: C-. It was a very tough start for this unit, as no one got any push early. The only lineman who consistently beat his man off the ball was true freshman Montravius Adams, and he didn’t play many early snaps. Ultimately, the line did generate 18 assists, but only 2 solo tackles, 2 total tackles for loss, and no quarterback hurries. LSU’s veteran offensive line won decisively for much of the game.
Linebackers: D. This was looking like an F-minus early on, but there was some improvement as the game went on. Rather than harping on guys who look too slow, or indecisive, I’ll relate a little comparison I made during the game. When LSU was running the ball, we’d see Auburn linebackers standing flat-footed, with big 270 pound fullback J. C. Copeland or tight end Travis Dickson barreling downhill towards them. That collision never went well for Auburn’s linebackers, who give up at least 30 pounds in that equation. On the other side of the ball, LSU’s linebackers were supposed to be a question mark. On Auburn’s running plays, often the LSU linebacker would go around pulling guards and marauding H-backs, and make a play on the ball-carrier. We’ve got to teach our linebackers to move their feet, and not get pointlessly locked up with more powerful blockers. The linebackers did tackle better in this game, when they got there. McKinzy and Therezie led the team with 8 tackles each, and McKinzy and Jake Holland had the only sacks for the Tigers.
Secondary: D+. I thought the corners played ok against a pair of really dangerous receivers. Landry and Beckham Jr. combined for 12 catches, but they were generally tackled pretty quickly. Both White and Mincy broke up passes, or made the quarterback throw it away. Safety play was not good. Aside from a Jermaine Whitehead interception, little got done by the Auburn safeties. On a night when LSU runners and receivers were tearing through the Auburn secondary, the safeties only totaled 1 solo tackle 4 assists, and no pass breakups. Plenty of times these guys were way out of position. Early in the game, we might as well have played defense with only 9 guys on the field.
Punting: B. Obviously, the dropped punt snap that gave LSU the ball at the ten yard line was a huge blow in this game. Steven Clark did well otherwise, though. He hammered a wet ball 6 times for a 43.5 yard average, and LSU only managed 10 return yards. Clark only had 1 punt pinned inside the 20, but that’s because he was usually punting from deep in Auburn territory. When Auburn made it past midfield, they usually went for it on 4th down, because of the score.
Punt Returns: B-. Points off on the fumbled punt, but at least Quan Bray recovered it. Bray didn’t have the stats to show for it, but it was big to field 5 of 6 LSU punts. We’ve given up a lot of hidden yards of field position in years past, because of guys letting the ball hit the ground and roll.
Kick Returns: D. Had only one kick return, which was brought out of the end zone by Tre Mason and only brought to the 14 yard line. It wasn’t well blocked, either. I give a passing grade because Auburn was trailing by double digits, and needed points any way possible. Mason had to give it a shot, I suppose.
Place-kicking: A. Parkey hit his three extra points, kicked a touchback, and had one kick returned for only 19 yards thanks to excellent coverage. There were two failed onside kick attempts, but I don’t think either was on the kicker. The first was a poor call, for a sky kick. That’s a low-percentage call, basically hoping for an up back to fumble it. LSU was well-coached on that one, and immediately called for a fair catch. The second was a trademark Parkey roller, with a blocking shield. It was ruled successful on the field, then overturned in the booth. ESPN never showed us an angle that showed contact with the ball before it touched the 45 yard line. I’m not sure what the SEC official saw, there.
Offensive Line: B+. This unit did a good job getting a push against LSU, and providing a pocket for Nick Marshall. There were a few problems on pulling guard plays, where they failed to hit anyone on the edge, and there was one false start on Patrick Miller late in the game. Auburn did fail on 4th down once, where the right side was stood up. Still, these guys pretty decisively beat up on the LSU defensive line and linebackers, for the most part.
Running Backs: A. These guys ran hard, and with a purpose. On a soaking wet night, these guys held onto the ball and powered for positive yards. Tre Mason ran like a back 30 pounds heavier, with punishing purpose. I regret that Auburn didn’t run the ball more in this game, but it’s tough to be run-heavy trailing by double digit points.
Receivers: B. Wet nights make it tough on receivers, and Auburn had a few drops, as usual. What really hurt this unit was spotty or non-existent blocking on quick screens. Jaylon Denson had been doing a pretty good job with this, and his knee injury is a big loss for Auburn. He’ll be sorely missed. Sammie Coates made some great catches in traffic on deep balls. He’s pretty much taken over the role as Auburn’s home run receiver. LSU had him doubled all night, which helped open up the running game.
Quarterback: D. Nick Marshall completed his quick screens, but little else till late. While he did contribute 46 rushing yards, a lot of those yard were when he took off out of the pocket on 3rd and long, and didn’t make the first down. We’ve got to stop trying to run for the stake against decent defenses, when it’s 3rd and 10 or more. Taking off only risks injury in that instance. There were some less than stellar reads, too. If a young quarterback is going to take a step backwards in his development, a rainy night in Baton Rouge is a likely place for it to happen. I think Marshall will regroup from this.
Southeastern Conference officials continue to baffle me. Obviously, they are not going to see every infraction on the field. However, in this game, they had a disturbing tendency to call things that didn’t happen. And this didn’t appear to be any sort of partisan effort. LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. was called for offensive pass interference once, before the ball was even in the air. And it was one of those little hand-checks that happen between receivers and defensive backs nearly every play. LSU also got at least one false start penalty that the replay showed no one moving. I think Auburn was robbed on their second onside kick attempt, when there was “insufficient evidence” to overturn the ruling on the field.
Kudos to LSU for handling the conditions and taking care of business early. And kudos to Auburn for not giving up, and making the game interesting. If nothing else, those hard-played snaps against LSU were good practice, and that can’t be simulated against the scout team at home. I fully expect Auburn to jump on Ole Miss in two weeks, and take a major step forward. War Eagle, folks! It’s great to be an Auburn Tiger!