Auburn Outlasts the Aggies! (Grading Auburn’s 42–27 win at Texas A&M)
Stove puts it just inside the pylon
(Sam Craft/Associated Press)
War Eagle everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report on Auburn’s 42–27 win in College Station over Texas A&M. Hoping to get off to a fast start, Auburn instead struggled for much of the first half. Thanks to some chunk plays by Texas A&M and a blocked Auburn field goal attempt, the Aggies were able to build a 13–7 lead. Auburn was unable to protect the quarterback, and it was looking like a bad loss might be coming. Auburn made a few substitutions on the offensive line and changed the play-calling strategy away from runs up the middle and long-yardage sacks. This resulted in a 2nd-and-2 big bomb for a score just before the half, then Auburn aggressively used timeouts to force a punt and blocked it for a touchdown. A 14-point swing just before the half was a blow to Texas A&M. In the 3rd quarter, Auburn came out and punched the lead out to 35–13 and cruised to a 42–27 win.
I have to give the offensive brain trust credit for not accepting the first half performance and changing things up. We claim to have depth on the offensive line and moves were made to shore up leaky protection. Inside runs were being attacked, and the play calling shifted to well-blocked sweep plays. The book on quarterback Jarrett Stidham is that if a pass rush can move his feet, he is prone to bad throws or sacks. However, it’s an awful risk. When Auburn gets the protections settled, big gashing pass plays come out of it. Auburn has hit a number of sideline screens that turned into big plays, and Auburn also has receivers that can take the top off of a defense if the safety is up on the line and blitzing.
In the second half, the Auburn offensive line took it to Texas A&M. Coming back from injury, there were a number of issues up front. Auburn settled on a lineup of mostly healthy guys and proceeded to shove the Aggies back. There was also nasty, tough play from Auburn’s H-backs and tight ends, and Kerryon Johnson ran like a man possessed. Johnson possesses a superb knack for making yards when nothing is there. He’s quick with a stiff-arm, a sidestep, a hurdle, or just brute power. He may not be the most explosive runner in the SEC, but he does look like the best all-around back in the league.
Defensively, there were some big plays given up. However, Auburn also forced 7 three-and-outs out of 15 Aggie possessions. It is important to remember that the Aggies have quite a collection of 4- and 5-star skill players, and it doesn’t take but one little misstep to set one of those guys loose for a big gain. Aside from one sort of wheel route completion to Christian Kirk, Auburn limited him to underneath stuff. Trayveon Williams is a back with game-breaking speed, and he had some big runs. However, the Aggies were never able to establish the running game as a consistent chain-mover.
Frankly, I find the defensive pressure stats baffling. Auburn seemed to be in the Aggie quarterbacks’ faces on most passing downs but was only credited with 5 quarterback hurries and a sack. And this wasn’t just home bias. They showed the Aggies only getting 1 hurry, and 2 sacks on Jarrett Stidham. This was a way more harrowing game for quarterbacks, than these numbers show. Overall, Auburn held Texas A&M to 4.2 yards per carry and 6.1 yards per pass. Those are decent, but not great, numbers. On the day, Auburn was held to 4.4 yards per carry but torched the Aggies for 9.9 yards per pass. If Auburn had not dropped about 5 passes, this could have been a monster passing day.
Auburn continues to have special teams issues, and it is particularly alarming for new ones to keep showing up week after week. This week, Auburn had a pair of field goals blocked and gave up a big 72-yard kick return after going up 3 touchdowns. There was also a 25-yard punt out of bounds, but I’m not as worried about that. Auburn kicked toward the sideline every time to keep dangerous return man Christian Kirk bottled up. The strategy worked as Kirk had no returns. One punt going out of bounds short is the price one might pay. This was easily the best punting day of the year.
Unit grades after the jump!
Defensive Line: A-. I counted off for a few run-fit errors and some missed tackles in the backfield. Still, this unit pressured the quarterback and prevented the Aggies from establishing a consistent ground game. You know it’s a big day for the line when the top 2 tacklers on the team played on the line. Derrick Brown led the way with 7 stops, and Jeff Holland had 6. Holland was also credited with 3 quarterback hurries. I think he really had 10 or so. As a unit, the line contributed 25 total tackles.
Linebackers: B+. The Auburn linebackers continue to do a good job of filling lanes and hunting the football down, although there were a few big runs given up this week. Auburn is trying to use a 6-man rotation, and at times there is a lot of youth out there. That can only help down the road. T. D. Moultry had the only sack of the game for Auburn, and Deshaun Davis had a big tackle for a loss. The linebackers were credited with 15 total tackles.
Secondary: B+. There was more sure tackling this week after some lapses in recent weeks. For the most part, the secondary held the Aggies to just throwing short stuff underneath. The exception was receiver Damion Ratley, who got loose repeatedly late in the game. Ratley at times seemed completely invisible to the Auburn secondary. We are fortunate that the Aggies did not discover this till the game was already out of hand. There was only one long pass completed downfield, and that was to Kirk on a wheel. The other two big passes given up were a short slant to Ratley and a well-executed shovel pass to Trayveon Williams. Texas A&M tried the fade route a good bit, and the Auburn defensive backs defended that brilliantly each time. As a unit, the secondary had 21 tackles.
Punting: A. As mentioned above, it was a good day punting the ball. Freshman Aiden Marshall averaged a whopping 47.4 yards per punt, even with one 25-yarder kicked out of bounds. He dropped every punt into a well-covered corner, where Christian Kirk could do nothing but call for a fair catch. Kirk did let one ball hit that bounced for 70 yards.
Punt Returns: A. It was mentioned during the open thread that perhaps Stephen Roberts fair-catches too much, and he had 4 on 6 punts this week. I’ll take not having turnovers. I can remember Auburn years where the team was so muff-prone that I was willing to let the other team kick it and let it roll. Ruffin did do a good job of stringing his one return out for 15 yards. I give the punt return team credit for the blocked punt, too. The Aggie punter helped with some hesitation, but Auburn did a great job of standing there looking disinterested and complacent, then suddenly overloading the middle and breaking through. It was very strange how this play was documented in the stats. Nick Ruffin blocked the punt and is given credit for a return for 26 yards. Malik Miller recovered the ball for a touchdown in the end zone. The scoring box shows Miller with a zero-yard return for a score but not in the return section. Meanwhile, the blocked punt is not counted as a punt in the Aggie punter’s data. However, the two blocked field goals DO count as missed field goals in Daniel Carlson’s stats. That’s a woeful lack of consistency, and it probably cost Carlson whatever was left of his chances of winning the Lou Groza award this season.
Kick Returns: C-. Noah Igbinoghene had a couple of return opportunities and managed just 38 yards. A 19.0 average is subpar. Igbinoghene didn’t have much help in the blocking department,however, on those.
Place Kicking: C-. I gave a grade this high because of 5 touchbacks on 7 kickoffs. The ugly part of this unit grade was both field goal attempts being blocked and a 72-yard return being given up. I don’t think either block was Daniel Carlson’s fault. The angle looked good on both kicks. The Aggies just got penetration through the line and got a piece of the ball both times on desperation reach-outs.
Offensive Line: B. It was a tale of two lines. Texas A&M took it to the line early, had Auburn’s running game stuffed, and the passing game in shambles. Moves were made, communication improved, and Auburn’s offensive production picked right up. Auburn ended up with Casey Dunn at center, Braden Smith and Marquel Harrell at guards, Austin Golson at right tackle, and Prince Tega Wanagho at left tackle. This unit protected well. And, there was a defining drive in the 2nd half. The Aggies went for it on 4th and goal and turned it over at the 4-yard line. Auburn pounded the ball on a long, 96-yard drive and got it done on the ground, despite Texas A&M’s loading the box. The offensive line shined on that drive, consistently driving Aggies back or into the ground.
Running Backs: A. This was not a game for big break-away runs, but it was one for toughness. Auburn ball-carriers Kerryon Johnson and Kam Martin had it, and they ran hard. There were no fumbles and no protection issues. At H-back, Auburn has a good pair in Chandler Cox and Spencer Nigh. On the 96-yard drive mentioned above, Cox and Nigh were a big part of the heavy sets that drove the Aggies back.
Receivers: B. Dropped balls continue to be somewhat of an issue, and Darius Slayton, Will Hastings and Sal Cannella all had their hands on balls that ended up on the grass. However, big plays and good blocking were evident from this bunch. Jalen Harris had a good day blocking from the tight end spot. Ryan Davis continues to be a consistent safety valve for the team and racked up another 7 catches. Davis has now caught 48 balls with 3 regular season games plus post-season left. The single-season Auburn record is 60. Darius Slayton may have a few drops this year, but he’s also been a weapon on the deep ball. He stuck a dagger into Aggie hearts twice in this game with a break-away touchdown and a tough catch down to the two-yard line. Eli Stove continues to be a threat on speed sweeps and screen passes.
Quarterback: B+. Things seemed to get a little panicky here in the 2nd quarter as the rush was coming. Credit Stidham for shaking it off and hitting a big throw before halftime, one that gave Auburn a lead it would never relinquish. With time in the second half, Stidham pretty much did what he wanted to do to the Aggie defense unless the ball was dropped. If the 5 drops had not happened, Stidham would have finished with 25 completions on 27 attempts. Even with the dropped balls, Stidham averaged 9.9 yards per pass on the day. That’s a good day, especially when one considers 3 touchdown passes against no turnovers.
It was another week, and another double-digit win over an SEC West rival. We had our maddening moments, certainly, this week, but this offense has been pretty prolific most of the time. The table is set for a championship run, but monumental difficulty awaits next week and Thanksgiving week. Auburn has the top-two ranked playoff contenders, starting with number one Georgia next Saturday afternoon. A tuneup against Louisiana Monroe follows, then then possibly an Iron Bowl for the ages.
I looked at some numbers this afternoon, and noticed an interesting stat. (I just looked at SEC records during the Gus Malzahn era.) Georgia and LSU have slightly better records, and of course Alabama has dominated the league. However, Auburn’s record is better than the other 10 teams in the league, and the team is in a really good place talent-wise, thanks to the recruiting of this staff. Sometimes, it’s good to be thankful for what we have!
My concerns for the Georgia game are pretty typical. Auburn has to win the turnover battle and on the line of scrimmage. The same is true in most games. Shaky special teams moments in recent weeks are also a concern. I think Auburn has the defense to slow down the Georgia attack, but it needs some help from the offense. Georgia has a good defense, and Auburn will have to find ways to eke out first downs and keep the chains moving. I also feel like Alabama is mortal this year, and is similar in a lot of ways to Georgia. Alabama has had some truly awful injury luck this season and may be more vulnerable than usual on defense.