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Auburn Survives Tennessee! (Grading Auburn’s 30-17 Victory over Tennessee)

By on November 22nd, 2020 in Football Comment »

Auburn Uncorked a Couple of Back Breakers on the Vols
(USA Today Sports, John Reed)

     War Eagle everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report on Auburn’s home win over the Tennessee Volunteers by the score of 30–17. Auburn appeared quite rusty after a 3-week layoff for virus reasons. The Tigers had some early success on offense but could not put together scoring drives due to mistakes. Meanwhile, Tennessee pretty much did what it wanted to on the ground. I had worried about Tennessee’s 5-star line, and they mowed down Auburn’s front 4 pretty consistently all game long. We Auburn Tigers are quite fortunate that stubborn Tennessee offensive coaches love to move away from what is working.

     One peeve I have about teams offensively is when they drive the ball inside the opponent’s 25-yard line, the quarterback takes a sack. Bo Nix did this in the first half once, but Anders Carlson made the field goal anyway. Jarrett Guarantano did this repeatedly. Twice he took the Vols backwards in scoring position, and a longer field goal became necessary. I felt bad for Vol kicker Brent Cimaglia, as the guy seemed to be limping every time he came onto the field. Cimaglia was not helped by the sacks, and Tennessee missed two field goals. When you couple that with a ridiculous stare-down job from quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, and subsequent Smoke Monday pick six, that’s the 13-point margin of victory right there.

     Auburn squandered a potential scoring drive early with an interception in the end zone but settled down offensively after that. Tennessee used an interesting pass rush on obvious passing downs. It was a 3-man rush with a 4th lineman spying quarterback Bo Nix. This eliminated the big scrambles up the middle that killed the LSU defense a few weeks ago. And meanwhile, the 7-man coverage patterns made it tough to find open men downfield. I think you really have to give Bo Nix credit for spreading the ball around and taking what the defense was giving. Nix averaged 8.4 yards per pass, which is pretty decent. However, if you take out the one bad coverage bust the Vols had that was exploited for a 54-yard Nix-to-Schwartz touchdown, that figure drops to 6.6 yards per pass. That’s a more pedestrian number, to be sure. However, Nix completed 65 percent of his passes. An offense can move the chains with a short passing game like that coupled with a decent running game. I was very proud of the offense for shaking off the loss of starting running back Tank Bigsby and, later, both offensive tackles. I sure hope all those guys are back full speed for the Iron Bowl.

     Defensively, Auburn seriously got whipped up front. I remember watching the first Tennessee drive of the second half, and it looked like the Auburn defense was on skates going backward. Fortunately for Auburn, Tennessee just would not stick with what was working. They ultimately put the drive back in the hands of the quarterback and ended up throwing a game-changing interception. I noted reading the press from the other team calling the quarterback “Toonces the driving cat.” Brutal. Speaking of brutal, the Auburn front won’t get a break next Saturday. Alabama’s line is just as talented and does a more cohesive job. I’m not looking forward to Najee Harris and his running game at all.

     I thought Auburn had a solid special teams day, highlighted by the kicking of AndersCarlson. The punting g ame was not as good as Auburn was not able to return either of the 2 Vol punts and did not punt well, either.

Unit grades after the jump!

Defensive Line: D. Auburn was gashed for 5.4 yards per carry by the Vol rushers, and the line generated just 3 tackles for loss and 2 quarterback hurries on the day. Auburn was led up front by Daquan Newkirk, who had 6 total tackles. The unit as a whole tallied 29 tackles, but a lot of those were going backward or downfield.

Linebackers: C-. With the line struggling, these guys often were facing a 300-pound lead blocker coming right at them. Despite the difficulty, tackling was good for the most part. I suppose what concerned me most was Auburn giving up huge gains on draw plays. It would be one thing if the linebackers were caught covering backs and tight ends out in the flats, but they don’t really do any of that. Tennessee completed tons of passes in the flat and moved the chains with them. Auburn was led by Owen Pappoe with 12 total tackles. Linebackers tallied a total of just 19 tackles, which is surprising when the opposing offense runs the ball 41 times.

Secondary: B+. Auburn’s secondary held the game together for the defense as Tennessee was unable to take the top off the Auburn defense. Auburn’s pass rush wasn’t great without blitzing, but big plays down the field were held to a minimum. Jamien Sherwood’s return after missing time with injuries was welcome, as he led the unit with 8 total tackles. Smoke Monday made the play of the game with the 100-yard interception return. That turned a tight ballgame in which Auburn was about to fall back behind into a 2-score lead. Tennessee was unable to recover from that knockout blow.

Punting: C. The unit did hold Tennessee without a return. Auburn only punted twice for a paltry 36.5 yard average. Oscar Chapman handled both punts. I’m not sure what happened to Aidan Marshall, who was absent after a good showing against LSU.

Punt Returns: D. Auburn had 1 fair catch on 2 Tennessee punts.

Kick Returns: A. Tennessee booted a couple of kickoffs for touchbacks, which meant no return opportunities. Once Tennessee closed Auburn’s big lead to 13, they attempted an onside kick. John Samuel Schenker recovered it cleanly for Auburn and gave the Tigers great field position.

Place Kicking: A-. Anders Carlson hit on all of his kicks, including a 50 yarder in the 4th quarter to extend Auburn’s lead. Carlson also hit 4 touchbacks on 6 kickoffs. Tennessee averaged 20 yards on 2 returns.

Offensive Line: B. It seemed to me that the line took a bit of a step backwards. Run blocking was still strong, but Auburn allowed some pressure even when Tennessee was rushing just 3 or 4 men. Tennessee tallied 2 sacks, both of which came off a twist up the middle that the line didn’t handle.

Running Backs: B. The injury to Tank Bigsby was disheartening, but Shaun Shivers and D. J. Williams came on strong. It wasn’t a game-breaking day by the backs, but they got the hard yards when Auburn needed it. The two combined for 131 rushing yards on 25 carries. Each back also had a short screen pass reception. Auburn runners have yet to lose a fumble this year.

Receivers: B. Aside from a couple of early dropped passes, the receivers had a solid day with 6 different receivers catching balls. I felt that blocking by this group was spotty and hampered both the screen game and running game.

Quarterback: B. I took off a letter for a bad interception early when Auburn was in scoring position. Bo Nix took care of the ball after that and led an Auburn attack that produced points on 5 of the last 6 drives.

     The Iron Bowl is next for the Tigers in Tuscaloosa. This one is as big as it gets as Alabama is ranked tops in the nation and seems to be firing on all cylinders. A much maligned defense early, Alabama has allowed a total of just 20 points in its last 3 games. The Tide offense leads the SEC, averaging nearly 50 points per game. I watched a good bit of the game against Kentucky. The Wildcats played keep-away and had a good plan, but after a quarter or so, Alabama took them apart for a 63–3 beating.

     The Auburn Tigers just have to keep working this week to get ready for the toughest game of the year. It would be great to get a few injured players back. Everyone’s eyes in the country will be on this CBS televised game. Should Auburn win, the Tigers will technically still be in the division race, although they would need to win out against Texas A&M and Mississippi State AND have Alabama lose at Arkansas or in a potential December 12 game against LSU. The December 12 game is not certain for Alabama, as LSU needs to make up contests with both Florida and Alabama. I would say a Bama loss in either game is highly unlikely!

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