Auburn Squashes Arkansas! (Grading Auburn vs. Arkansas)
Having the angle on Igbinoghene did not matter!
War Eagle everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report on Auburn’s bruising 34–3 win over the Arkansas Razorbacks. Offensively, it was not a thing of beauty, but Auburn used opportunistic special teams plays and bone-jarring defense to carry the day and cover the ridiculous 30-point spread in this one. We are now officially into fall, and Auburn is sitting at 3–1 on the season, about where most pundits had prognosticated.
It was a curious week from the officials. Against Washington and LSU, Auburn played tight coverage on the outside and picked up 6 pass interference penalties, several of them costly. I’m guessing Auburn privately complained to the SEC office, particularly regarding phantom calls. It’s one thing for an official to call what he sees. It’s quite another to call a penalty, just guessing. As a result, in this game, no pass interference penalties were called on either defense, despite more hand fighting, pushing and, in one case, Auburn’s Anthony Schwartz being pulled down by the shoulder pad with the ball in the air. Arkansas tried to float it up to the sideline, and with the handcuffs off the Auburn secondary, it did not go so well for the Razorbacks.
During the game, it was frustrating to see Arkansas pick up a few first downs on 3rd and 4th down early in the game. These opportunities faded as the game went on. I and others bemoaned a lack of a pass rush during the game, but a rewatch reveals otherwise. Arkansas quarterback Ty Storey took a beating. Credit to the guy,when pressured he managed to dump the ball off into the dirt most of the time. Still, 13 completions out of 32 passing plays resulted in Arkansas not getting into the end zone. About the only defensive quibble I can come up with is that there were about 3 long runs given up that set up Arkansas for scoring opportunities. In particular, there was a 45-yard sweep early in the 3rd by Rakeem Boyd where Auburn was caught seriously out of position on the edge. Still, Auburn slammed the door in the red zone, and Arkansas was never a serious threat to score a touchdown.
Folks, the offensive line regressed this week. I hated to see that. What Auburn likes to do in the running game is pull guards and get a blocking advantage on the edge. When you pull guards, you leave a defensive lineman unblocked. Hopefully the play design leaves that lineman chasing air. For that to happen, the center and the tackles MUST neutralize their linemen. That did not happen very often in this game. Auburn running backs were often caught from behind by the unblocked guy because there was nowhere to go with defensive linemen in the backfield.
Auburn seriously missed the usual contributions by departed receivers Nate Craig-Myers and Jalen Harris. As a result, overall team blocking ability went down, and plays that used to work well were blown up. I really can’t blame either guy for leaving as they were rarely targeted in the passing game.
Auburn had a fantastic day on special teams with 2 long punt returns, a kick return for a touchdown, and a couple of blocked punts. I can’t be too upset with a couple of field goal misses from 50+ yards away. If you’re having to try kicks like that, it means that the offense is falling down on the job.
Unit grades after the jump!
Defensive Line: A. It was a pretty dominant performance up front. If there is anything to complain about, it’s guys finishing the tackle in the backfield. I would not mind seeing that “Nick Fairly mentality” come into play. Auburn needs to generate some of that “deer in the headlights” fear in quarterbacks. Auburn got to Arkansas quarterback Ty Storey as the game went on. This day, the Auburn line generated 25 tackles, which is a pretty high number.
Linebackers: A-. I’ve mentioned a couple of loss-of-contain errors above. Otherwise, this unit did very well. One thing I’ve not mentioned much this year is the job these guys do in underneath coverage. Arkansas wanted to dump the ball off to running backs, and it really did not work against the Auburn linebackers. Either the coverage was tight, or a tackle was made to limit the gain. Auburn’s run fills continue to be very good. Auburn linebackers contributed 15 total tackles, which is a good number considering that Auburn ran a nickel defense most of the day.
Secondary: A-. Auburn had just a few coverage errors, mostly on the 8-12 yard square-in patterns run by the outside receiver. That’s a typical zone-defense weakness, and it has hurt Auburn some this year. Otherwise, Auburn’s guys do a good job of staying with their guy, playing man coverage. The safeties did a much better job this week of preventing the deep ball. The secondary is also pretty sure tacklers across the lineup. Auburn did a good job calling the safety blitz during this game. That nearly always disrupted whatever play Arkansas was running. The secondary contributed 27 total tackles in this game.
Punting: A. Arryn Siposs averaged 47.2 yards on 5 punts, and only 1 was returned for 13 yards. The lone return was aided by a couple of blocks in the back.
Punt Returns: A. Ryan Davis was a weapon this week. He was able to pick up 84 yards on 2 returns and had a couple more fair catches. Arkansas started kicking away from Davis after that. I was really intrigued with Auburn’s pressure on the punter. Apparently, a few things were found on the tape. First off, the punter had a long approach and wind-up. Then, Auburn was able to overload the A gap, and get defensive backs through the line without being touched. Arkansas seemed to plan on the protection backs picking these guys up, but it’s hard to block a shifty defensive back racing in on the punter at a dead run. Arkansas found that out the hard way. Officially, Jordyn Peters got credit for just one block, but I believe he tipped a kick, earlier. Peters also altered punter Reid Bower’s approach on another punt, causing a short kick. Finally, kudos to K. J. Britt, for a heads-up play, picking up a blocked punt and getting 10 yards on it.
Kick Returns: A+. Auburn only had one opportunity, and Noah Igbinoghene took it to the house. He made a nice cut in the middle of the field. As pictured above, Arkansas had at least 3 defenders with the angle, but it did not matter. Noah torched them all, just running away from it! He was just playing at a different speed on that one.
Place Kicking: A. I can’t count off for misses beyond 50 yards. Anders Carlson did hit field goals of 18 and 43 yards, and all of his kickoffs went for touchbacks. Arkansas got a single return opportunity late in the game when Ian Shannon kicked off. The coverage team smothered that one at the 20.
Offensive Line: D-. I’m not going to belabor this much further. There was confusion and there were errors, across the board. Good runs do happen, and Auburn occasionally got everyone on the same page but not often this game.
Running Backs: B+. It’s hard to give a grade here, because there wasn’t much there up front. Auburn backs just had to make what they could on their own. Kam Martin got his yards by hitting the line quickly. JaTarvious Whitlow is a more patient runner, which sometimes helps. I did not feel like the game plan helped H-back Chandler Cox, at all. It was like Cox was asked to do both his job and that of departed Jalen Harris at the same time. Auburn tried a couple of times to get Kam Martin going in the screen game and telegraphed it both times. I have to give the backs credit on ball security. They took some hard licks and held onto the ball.
Receivers: B. There was just 1 drop this week. Where Auburn had issues was blocking the quick screens. Auburn did have some success there, but it was because guys like Ryan Davis and Anthony Schwartz made defenders miss. This was a tough game to be a receiver. Auburn wasn’t getting much protection for the quarterback, and long-developing routes were a waste of time.
Quarterback: B-. I cannot fault Jarrett Stidham for the lack of passing production after a pedestrian 6.1 yards per pass. There was no time to set up and go through progressions most of the time. When there was, it seemed that Stidham tended to hold the ball too long, which is an ongoing issue for him. However, he did distribute the ball accurately with pressure in his face, hitting 15 of 22 passes for a 68 percent completion percentage. There were a couple of misses on deep balls, but one of those was blatant pass interference that wasn’t called.
Auburn has one more week to work against a lesser opponent to try and firm things up, particularly on the offensive line, and to tinker with the receiver rotation. Southern Mississippi comes to town next Saturday and could be trouble with a prolific offense. Well, prolific against Jax State and Rice. Against Louisiana Monroe, USM lost, 21–20. After the Golden Eagles, Auburn visits Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs, expected to be a dark horse contender for the SEC West this year, were exposed in Lexington yesterday as they lost to Kentucky, 28–7. The blueprint for stopping big MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is to stop the run and make Fitzgerald beat the defense throwing. He wasn’t able to do that against the Wildcats and wasn’t able to do it against Auburn last year, either. Auburn has the defense to force the same thing this year. Unfortunately, MSU might have the toughest defensive line Auburn will have faced this year. That does not bode well.