LSU Abuses Auburn – (Grading the LSU loss)
Tigers could not tackle Leonard Fournette.
(Photo: Derick E. Hingle, USA TODAY Sports.)
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign report, on Auburn’s humbling 45-21 loss to the LSU Tigers. Last week, Auburn faced a spirited FCS bunch that gave a good battle. This week, Auburn was physically humiliated by a team that was obviously way stronger. These Tigers are a long, long way from the bunch 21 months ago that imposed their will on the SEC.
For all the hype about LSU running back Leonard Fournette (deserved, too.), this game was won in the trenches. LSU linemen squashed the Auburn running game and sacked Jeremy Johnson 5 times. Often in my preseason opponent previews I referred to Auburn’s line as a “violent, road-grading unit.” I take it back! At times this line wins battles, but it also has plays where defensive linemen are left untouched to wreak havoc in the backfield. Auburn’s defensive line all but disappeared in this game. LSU was able to run at will and had all day to throw on rare passing downs.
We have seen Will Muschamp defenses pushed around like this, but not often. I’m very reminded of Muschamp’s first stints at Auburn, when Knowshon Moreno was running wild against a seemingly helpless front seven. On the day, Auburn recorded no sacks, no quarterback hurries, one pass breakup, and only a single tackle for loss. Folks, that’s domination by a power offense.
Offensively, Auburn has been figured out. The Tigers like to put 3 or 4 receivers out there that they have no intention of throwing to, and instead try to run power plays against a strong, stacked front. The bottom line is that we don’t really have SEC caliber lead blockers. Everyone in the playing rotation at tight end or H-back is a freshman and are not ready to win confrontations with a nasty linebacker corps like LSU’s. Auburn’s only hope against defenses like LSU’s are to learn to pitch and catch a lot better!
I suppose there’s no avoiding the quarterback topic, tonight. I’m sure the calls for Jeremy Johnson to be benched continued loudly. Unfortunately, folks, the choices remain the same. If Johnson is to be replaced, with whom? Sean White is the obvious answer, but do we really want to be throwing a freshman into the meat of the SEC schedule when he hasn’t prepared as the starter? Freshman starting quarterbacks are usually a huge liability. Jonathan Wallace has had some QB reps this fall. He has wins over New Mexico State and Alabama A&M on his resume. Then there is Jason Smith, who was a junior college quarterbacking wonder. And he’s had basically no preparation to run the Malzahn offense. No folks, we are stuck with Johnson for better or worse for the time being.
Gloom and doom aside, I thought Johnson handled himself better. Were there a few maddening “how did you not SEE that guy?” throwing plays? But Johnson faced a ton of pressure, and his body language was a lot better this week. They let him run a few times, and Johnson did. He led all rushers. Yes, the game was out of hand, but he threw a couple of touchdown passes. And folks can complain about the pass where he was supposedly beyond the line of scrimmage, but the rule is clear. The ENTIRE quarterback must be beyond the line to draw a flag. Not just a foot or an arm or even a torso. Whether we had an O-lineman too far downfield was another thing entirely. We did totally get by with one, there.
Special teams don’t matter much, when both your offense and your defense are getting their lunch pail stuffed down their throats. But Auburn’s special teams mostly excelled once again. Daniel Carlson was perfect on extra points and touchbacks. Kevin Phillips channeled his inner Terry Daniel and averaged over 50 yards a punt on 6 punts. He did outkick his coverage one time, and a 23-yard return ensued. Marcus Davis broke off a nice punt return, and Kerryon Johnson was a revelation returning kicks.
Unit Grades after the jump!
Defensive Line: D-. These guys were just badly pushed around. They generated no pressure, and if they made a tackle, it was because they were chasing. A truly awful effort, especially in the first half.
Linebackers: F. These guys rarely played with proper leverage, and could not make the tackle without help when they got there. Tre Williams, Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost were credited with 29 total tackles but had just 3 solo tackles. We are missing Justin Garrett badly, here.
Secondary: C-. I gave a grade this high, because these guys did not give up a completion over 14 yards. Honestly, these guys were put in a bad position in this game. They had to try to clean up messy or nonexistent tackling from the front seven. Sometimes, they did get Leonard Fournette and Brandon Harris on the ground.
Punting: A. It has been a long time since Auburn had a guy boom it for over 50 yards per punt in a game, especially punting 6 times. I’m think this had to be back in the Kody Bliss days, if then. Kevin Phillips probably deserves the game ball in this one.
Punt Returns: B. Auburn only forced 3 punts, and LSU’s Jamie Keehn managed only a pedestrian 40-yard average. Marcus Davis reeled off a 27-yard return late in the game, well after things were decided. No miscues, though.
Kick Returns: B+. After floundering around for more than a season, Auburn seems to have found an answer in the kick return game. Kerryon Johnson had 98 yards on 3 returns and seemed on the verge of breaking each one. Johnson is fast, elusive, and rarely goes down on first contact.
Place Kicking: A+. Daniel Carlson booted 3 extra points and put all three of his kickoffs out of the end zone. The offense was unable to put him in field goal range. If there’s any quibble, it was early in the second half. Auburn scored quickly out of the gate in that period, then tried a curious sky-kickoff from Will Hastings, I suppose to try to get the ball back. It did not work, and LSU was set up in good field position for an answering score. I guess rolling the dice there was the best Auburn could do.
Offensive Line: C. The biggest positive is that these guys weren’t flagged for holding this week. Did have a false start on Braden Smith that put Auburn in long yardage and ultimately resulted in an interception. LSU punted after the pick, so it’s hard to call that costly. The bottom line for this bunch is that 5 sacks were given up, and Auburn running backs only eked out 89 rushing yards.
Running Backs: D. Auburn took a step backwards in the bayou. Roc Thomas led all running backs with 37 yards. I heard folks saying that Kerryon Johnson was an offensive spark. If 15 yards on 4 rushes and 17 yards on 3 catches is an offensive “spark,” we are in trouble! H-back blocking evaporated in this one. The H-backs had a dropped pass, too.
Receivers: D+. It’s hard for a receiver corps to get a grade this low without any dropped balls. But these guys were really held in check, with the longest reception going for a meager 13 yards to Stanton Truitt. Auburn has no vertical threat down the field, right now. Blocking was nonexistent, as well.
Quarterback: C. Jeremy Johnson was under a lot of pressure, both on and off the field in this one. Kudos to him for keeping on fighting. Had a couple more throws this game right to an “invisible” defensive back. Had an awful “sling the ball backwards” moment, as well as a fumble. But Johnson did fit a few passes into tight windows and led all rushers. I’ve got more confidence in Johnson after this game if the rest of the offense will just rebound!
Where do we go from here? Much like 2013, Auburn players continued to fight after falling into a deep hole. Unlike 2013, there weren’t nearly as many good plays, and Auburn was really never in this game. Make no mistake. Mississippi State will throw the kitchen sink into the box to try and stop Auburn. MSU defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is known for that. They did finally slow Leonard Fournette down last week, something Auburn was unable to do. They will be able to slow a one-dimensional Auburn running game, most likely. The Tigers will need to throw successfully to move the ball reliably.
A beleagured and battered Auburn defense now faces the best returning quarterback in the league in Dak Prescott. Although it has not yet been shown this season, Auburn does have some capable cover guys in the secondary. Can they tackle Prescott when he takes off? Early returns against Leonard Fournette suggest not.
This season suddenly has shaped up to be a fight for Auburn to get to the Independence Bowl. MSU is a pivotal game next weekend. Lose it, and Auburn is 2 – 2. A win over San Jose State is likely, but who beyond that? Kentucky in Lexington is scary without Carl Lawson providing a pass rush. We have no one else. Georgia and Nick Chubb look to be a repeat of LSU. Can Auburn beat Arkansas? Only if we pass better. Texas Tech tore ’em apart in the secondary this afternoon. Ole Miss? Unlikely, as things stand right now. We haven’t stopped Texas A&M since they joined the SEC. Haven’t held ’em below 36 points ever. Bama’s a loss right now, too, facing Derrick Henry.
Right now, we have confidence that Auburn can beat San Jose State and Idaho, for 4 wins. Arkansas and Kentucky are vulnerable, and Auburn’s best-case scenario is a holiday date in Shreveport or Birmingham for the holidays. Who’d have thunk it this past August?