Auburn Stumbles Past Arkansas (Grading Auburn’s 30-28 Win Over Arkansas)
Freshman Back Tank Bigsby Is Difficult to Tackle!
(Photo: Todd van Emst, Auburn Athletics)
War Eagle everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report on Auburn’s rainy 30–28 win over the visiting Arkansas Razorbacks. Neither team moved the ball well early, but Auburn did a better job punting and gained enough field position to block a punt for a 7–0 lead. Auburn did a better job of stopping the run and built a 17–0 lead. Unfortunately, Arkansas then discovered that Auburn has a negligible pass rush and big issues in coverage.
Frankly, Auburn won this game because they had fewer miscues and head-scratching decisions than the Razorbacks did. For the Razorbacks, it all started with a muffed extra point. I think you have to expect a few miscues in the rain, but the Arkansas coaches continued to try and make up the mistake and compounded their problems. Two failed 2-point tries later, Arkansas trailed Auburn 20–18 when it should have taken the lead or at least been tied with extra points. Then Arkansas got burned trying to play conservatively with a 28–27 lead. They had sliced and diced the Auburn secondary to get to that point, but instead delivered 3 straight running plays and had to punt. All they would have needed was to pick up one first down to seal the game. One little screen pass likely would have done it as Auburn showed little ability to cover backs out of the backfield.
We’ve talked about rusty teams in this space this season, but perhaps the most amount of rust lies with the SEC’s officiating crew. What does it take to get a holding call these days? I honestly think that the crew just randomly hands out 1 or 2 per team per game and lets everything else go. I’ll be complaining about the Auburn defensive line a bit later, but itnwas held A LOT. Also, Arkansas got away with several blatant pick plays where the Arkansas blocking receiver just tackled an Auburn defender. If the refs aren’t going to call it, why not change the rule and let everyone run rugby screens? Finally, there was the late Bo Nix fumble/spike play. There are 8 officials on the field, and somehow none of them realized that Nix threw the ball backwards, which is a lateral/fumble. To compound the mistake, they blew the play dead, which negated any possibility of correcting the call on replay. Arkansas players and fans are pretty angry about that mess and rightfully so.
On offense, the key players in this game were newcomers Tank Bigsby and J. J. Pegues. Pegues is a monster. I’d play him every snap he could handle if this were my team. He is a menace as a blocker, and powerful and lithe in his limited carries thus far. Wildcat for an automatic fall-forward first down? We’ve got that now for the first time since Cam Newton if the coaches will use it. I’d like to see Pegues get a pass or two. Tank Bigsby is an amazing runner, expert at fighting off tackles and making defenders miss. I also think D.J. Williams played with amazing effort, obviously limping but still contributing big runs. Auburn will need the running game going forward because clearly offensive coordinator Chad Morris is either not going to allow throws to any wide receivers except Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz and never to a tight end.
Defensively, Auburn has problems at every level. The Tigers were able to limit the Razorback runners to 2.8 yards per carry on the day, but the defense was credited with just 3 sacks and 3 quarterback hurries. Arkansas threw the ball 30 times. Injuries have been a factor on defense as the list of wounded mounts. Big Kat Bryant was expected to be a leader up front, and he’s hardly played. Linebacker leader K.J. Britt had surgery and will be missed for weeks. The secondary lost a starting cornerback the first week. We’ve seen banged up defensive linemen in and out of games thus far, trying to hold up. Finally, Auburn has to do something to shore up coverage. It seems all Auburn can do is try to limit the outside receiver, and anyone inside or behind that outside guy is free to run wild with defenders frantically trying to catch up.
Special teams won the game for Auburn this week. Aiden Marshall had a great game punting, kicking was good, and coverage was good. Bonus for the punt block.
Unit grades after the jump!
Defensive Line: C+. I give a grade this high because Auburn did maintain run fits pretty well for the most part. They got grabbed a lot, too. Pass rush was much more spotty, and way too often all 4 defenders got too deep and left the quarterback free to run. Colby Wooden led the way with 6 tackles. Overall, the defensive line made 16 tackles, only 3 of which were for a loss.
Linebackers: C+. The linebackers made a lot of tackles and limited the running game. However, I don’t think they yet realize that tight ends and running backs are eligible receivers. Zakoby McClain led all tacklers with 13 total tackles and 2 quarterback hurries. Owen Pappoe added 10 tackles and a sack. In total, linebackers accounted for 23 tackles.
Secondary: D. I had some unpleasant words about this group earlier, but they are having to make a lot of tackles that should have been made by the guys in front of them. I am afraid a lot of the issue is speed. Every week this year I’ve seen opposing receivers run faster than the coverage, and I’m not sure we have anyone with the top-end speed to play man coverage. The unfortunate choice if that is the case is to either play zone and get run on or go man to man and give up passing yards. This unit contributed 28 tackles. It worries me when the back end of the defense has more tackles than any other unit.
Punting: B+. I have to count off for a Bo Nix pooch attempt that sailed out of bounds at the 25-yard line, and Nix got a generous spot on that one, as well. Aiden Marshall did a great job with 4 punts for a 41.8 yard average in the wet conditions. Marshall hit some boomers, and his average was brought down by a placement kick that buried Arkansas deep in its own end. Of Marshall’s 4 punts, 3 were downed inside the Arkansas 20, and none were returnable.
Punt Returns: B. Christian Tutt was able to field 3 Arkansas punts and average 10 yards per return, including setting up Auburn’s final possession at midfield.
Kick Returns: A-. Tank Bigsby was able to return 4 Arkansas kickoffs for a 26.5-yard average. His average would have been higher if he had not lost his footing at the 15-yard line on one of them. That’s more of an issue due to the rain than on the returner.
Place Kicking: B. I counted off mostly for 2 kickoffs that went out of bounds, giving Arkansas at least 20 free yards. Otherwise, Anders Carlson hit 5 touchbacks on 7 kickoffs and did not allow a return. Carlson hit 3 of 4 field goals on the day, including a pressure-filled game winner. I’m not going to count off for a single miss in the rain.
Offensive Line: C+. Auburn did a better job run blocking this week after doing some more shuffling of players. Pass blocking was still spotty. Auburn gave up way too much collapse in the middle at times on simple 4-man rushes on pass plays. Also, there were some issues picking up blitzes.
Running Backs: A. Although Auburn didn’t hit a long-range breakaway touchdown, the backs ran hard, ran effectively, and did not have a turnover. I’d like to see more J. J. Pegues in the backfield and getting at least 3 handoffs per game as a fullback. What’s concerning is that what appeared to be a position of depth in fall camp now seems thin as Auburn is only playing 2 running backs, and one of them is limping.
Receivers: A-. There were some drops, but I’m not counting off in the rain for that. Seth Williams played banged up and still made some plays. Anthony Schwartz was the feature guy, was double covered, and still piled up 100 yards on 11 touches. I would like to see Auburn at least attempt to throw it to someone else if it is going to keep putting 3 and 4 wide receivers on the field.
Quarterback: B-. I can’t give less than a B if the quarterback does not turn the ball over and makes plays. On the day, Nix hit 60.7 percent of his passes for 6.7 yards per pass, both pedestrian numbers. Nix also added 30 rushing yards to the mix and a rushing touchdown. Nix nearly made a huge mistake at the end of the game but was bailed out by a horrific job by the officials.
At the end of the year, I’ll count this one as a win under difficult circumstances. The schedule certainly won’t get any easier. I think the running game needs to continue to pick up against the teams ahead on the schedule, Auburn needs to utilize the receivers it puts on the field, and a lot of answers need to be found on defense, particularly against the pass. I am glad Auburn did not play Ole Miss, Alabama, or even Missouri yesterday.
Next week Auburn travels to Columbia South Carolina for an early 11:00 AM Central kickoff against South Carolina. Auburn fans lament these early times, but I think Auburn has actually won most of those since Gus Malzahn returned to the Plains. South Carolina has had offensive issues this year, and Auburn needs to take advantage. I’d rather not see a struggling quarterback put up 300 yards on this defense next weekend.
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