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Midterm Exam this Week!

By on October 17th, 2013 in Football 18 Comments »
Aggie Week

                                                      Can the Tigers beat Texas A&M?

     War Eagle, everybody! We’re midway through the season, and the Tigers are due for a big test on national television this week in College Station, Texas. Auburn plays on the road at Texas A&M, and the game is on CBS at 2:30 PM, Central Time. It’s a tribute to the Tigers that this game isn’t confined away to ESPN-U or FSN. Auburn is the most improved team in the nation, and I think folks are curious to see the transformation in progress.

     To win this game, Auburn must play strong for the full 60 minutes. There’s little doubt that the Aggies will move the ball and score points. Auburn must do likewise. The Tigers must have some early success, unlike last month’s trip to Baton Rouge. Spotting the Aggies 21 points will certainly result in a loss.

     Offensively, I think Auburn must have consistent success in the running game against an Aggie defense that is giving up over 200 yards per game on the ground. I think that with Nick Marshall starting, that’s exactly what coach Malzhan is planning to do, with multiple threats on the field at the same time to prevent the Aggies from keying on one man.

     Defensively, Auburn must have a “reset, next play” mentality. They are not going to be able to strangle this offense. What Auburn must do is disrupt, and force a few turnovers and mistakes. They need to show multiple looks, and do whatever they can to confuse the reads of Johnny Manziel and his offensive line. Last year, we learned that if a defense sits back in cover-two, Manziel will have the Aggies in the end zone in about four plays or less.

     I expect to see Auburn mostly in the dime package this week, unless the Aggies go with the heavy-set grouping. That’s going to leave the D-line and one linebacker to play the run in the middle. They must slow down any carries up the gut, and it’s critical that whomever is nearest in the secondary come up and help out.

     Auburn needs to confuse the issue up front, perhaps with some linemen moving, or utilizing a four defensive end package at times. I think Auburn will show bump and run coverage a good bit, with a disguised zone being the actual call. Every team this year that has played press coverage on Mike Evans and Malcomb Kennedy this season has been torched via the fade pass. The Aggies love it when four defensive backs are out there chasing receivers with their backs turned towards the line of scrimmage. That really frees Johnny Manziel and Ben Malena to run wild.

     We are really looking forward to the Auburn “mid term exam” in Texas. It’s a far cry from this time last season, when a doomed season was certain, and we were almost dreading game time against any team with a pulse. At this point last season, Auburn was 1-5, with a lone overtime win against Louisiana-Monroe. The Tigers had just limped away from Oxford with a 21 point blowout loss to Ole Miss. What a difference a year makes! We’ll take a look after the jump at how this team is doing, going into this game. (Yes, this game marks the halfway point of the year, because Auburn WILL go to a bowl game this year, and play 13 games!)

     A problem for the past two years and early this year, the defensive line has made huge strides in 6 games. Prior to the season, if we were told that the team would be missing Jeffery Whitaker for the whole season, and Dee Ford and Craig Stevens for multiple games, and that Nosa Eguae would have to be moved to defensive tackle, we’d have envisioned a nightmare season on defense. There was shakiness early, but this group has really solidified, and causes problems up front. In fall camp, we were told that Dee Ford was the only real pass rusher Auburn had. With the emergence of newcomers Elijah Daniel, Carl Lawson and Montravious Adams; and the effect their push has had on the veterans, Auburn has 49 tackles for loss in 6 games. The Tigers have 16 sacks, good for 3rd place in the SEC.

     We knew prior to the season that the linebacker corps might be shaky, and it was, especially early in the season. I’ve certainly done my share of criticizing. However, I do have to point out that in Ellis Johnson’s defensive scheme, 2 guys have to do the work that 3 guys normally do in a 4-3 defense. Or even 4 linebackers in a 3-4. Unless you have Ray Lewis or someone similar back there, 2 linebackers can’t be everywhere. That means the secondary must come up and make tackles. The good news is that here at mid-season, Auburn actually does have a 2-deep rotation at both linebacker spots, and it’s not a cause for concern if the backup goes into the game. Kudos to Anthony Swain for the job he’s done the past two weeks off the bench at the will-spot. I suspect that he’s made himself a hard man to put back on the bench.

     During spring ball, it looked like Auburn might have a deep and talented secondary. Then attrition kicked in, starting with the dismissal of Demetruce McNeal. By the middle of game two, Auburn had lost Jonathan Jones and Chris Davis at corner. We’ve seen why depth is so important, on this unit. Jonathan Mincy and Ryan White have carried the load at cornerback, and with Davis now back on the field, this gives Auburn three veteran SEC-level corners. Auburn patched together a starting lineup at safety with converted corners Jermaine Whitehead and Joshua Holsey, and now is exhibiting quality depth with Ryan Smith and Trent Fisher. The star position was supposed to be the launching pad for Justin Garrett this season, but he’s mostly been sidelined this season. Robenson Therezie took over the position and has really run with it, leading the team in tackles, and interceptions. This group has done pretty well this season, and 4 of Auburn’s top 5 tacklers are in the secondary, and 6 of the top 10. Auburn has 30 passes defended this season, compared to just 42 for the entire season last year.

     I was worried that with the coaching transition, special teams might take a step backward this year. That has not been the case. Steven Clark has added more than 3 yards to his punting average, and opponents still aren’t able to return the ball. Cody Parkey has been a tremendous asset kicking, hitting 8 of 10 field goals (none missed inside 49 yards) and nailing 28 of 38 kickoffs for touchbacks. Auburn is second in the league in kickoff returns with a 26.4 yard average, and is allowing only 19.4 yards on the rare return when Parkey doesn’t put the ball in the stands.

     As good as the special teams have been, nowhere has Auburn been more dominant than the offensive line. The Tigers have the top rushing attack in the SEC, and the team has allowed only 4 sacks on the season. Auburn allowed 37 sacks last year. This past week, Avery Young was plugged into Patrick Miller’s spot, and the team didn’t miss a beat. In the second half last weekend, the entire second team line came in, and the dominance continued. What’s really exciting is that none of these starting guys are seniors. Young, Alex Kozan and Greg Robinson are sophomores or less. What is also encouraging is that Auburn has received just a very few holding flags, and maybe one false start all year. The past five years, one could count on a false start or two a game.

     If there’s a question mark on the offense, it’s the tight-end/h-back spots. There has been pretty good blocking there when Brandon Fulse and Jay Prosch have been in there, and very spotty blocking otherwise. Neither of the two guys above has been used much in the passing game, and Fulse likely won’t play against Texas A&M, as coach Malzhan says that his status is “unchanged.” C. J. Uzomah caught the winning touchdown a month ago against Mississippi State, and hasn’t been seen since. He’s supposed to be back for the Aggie trip. In the last game, with Uzomah and Fulse missing, Auburn often ran with two H-backs, Prosch and walk-on Gage Batten. The Tigers have gone with three or four wide receivers at times, which makes it more difficult to be run-heavy. Against Western Carolina, Khiel Frazier was used as the flex-tight end, and Shon Coleman was used in tight. What will come up against the Aggies is anyone’s guess.

     Wide receiver has been another area of inconsistency, and the unit took a big blow when Jaylon Denson was lost for the season against LSU. Unlike the tight end/h-back spot, these guys have come up with a number of big plays. Sammie Coates is a legit deep threat, and I think Ricardo Louis added his name for consideration as well. The Tigers finally had a drop-free game against Western Carolina, and that was encouraging. It’s important to remember that every team has dropped passes. There are going to be a few with any offense that throws the ball. I’d like to see a little more success on quick screens to the wide receivers. Texas A&M’s best pass defender, Deshazor Everett, is nicked up, and I think Auburn needs to try to exploit that area.

     Other than 3 costly fumbles this season, there’s nothing bad to be said about the Auburn running backs. There are few schools, even in the SEC where a back like Jonathan Ford would be moved to defense. That speaks to Auburn’s quality depth. Auburn’s trio of Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant has run roughshod over opponents thus far, and they are likely to do well against Texas A&M.

     There’s been much hand-wringing over the Auburn passing game this season, but a look at the stat page reveals that the Tigers are better than folks think here. I think that the passing game is just a shade away from exploding for big yards. If one looks at the bottom line, Auburn has 8 touchdown passes vs. just 5 interceptions (less than one per game). The team is completing 61 percent of its passes, has only 4 sacks, and the quarterbacks have contributed 330 rushing yards on top of 1123 passing yards. Added together with the best running game in the league, Auburn ranks 5th in the SEC in total offense, in a year where most teams have forgotten how to play defense.

     We’ll have our usual open thread this Saturday for Texas A&M, and everyone is encouraged to join in and enjoy the game! I won’t be able to do play by play for this game, as I won’t be in front of a computer. But I’ll be watching and yelling! I’m also planning on attending the FAU game, but should be back in the saddle for the November stretch run. War Eagle, and let’s beat those Aggies!

18 Comments

  1. BigDaddyAU says:

    Always a good read Acid…I think we have an excellent chance to come out of College Station with the win. Now if the Dish Network and Media General folks would get their heads out of their butts and give me back my local CBS station I would be happy. As it stands now I get to listen to Rod and Stan or find a viewing party with someone with DirectTV or an antenna.

  2. KoolBell KoolBell says:

    Back in July I wrote this:
    This year, the question that will be asked is: Have the Tigers come far enough back to compete with the likes of Texas A & M?

    Head football coach Kevin Sumlin has had success with first year QB’s, so whether or not Manziel plays is of no consequence. The lack of Senior experience, and leadership will be the deciding factor. I give Auburn the edge in that department.

    If I am right, and Auburn is 5-1 coming into this game, they should be ranked in the Top 25, and the game should be a night game. Kyle Field is an electric place to watch a football game, and those Auburn fans that travel will enjoy themselves. At least, for the most part.

    I see this game as a really close, high scoring affair, and with the Aggies at home they have the victory 38 -35

    Now today:
    Seeing that I was wrong about this being a night game, I’ll change the score prediction as well. Make it AU 38 AtM 35. Of course the story lines will about what is wrong with Johnny football, not what a great turnaround the Tigers have managed. Who cares? I’ll take the win, and the chance to get out of October at 7-1.

    Enjoyed the read Acid,
    War Eagle!

    • War_Eagle_2010 War_Eagle_2010 says:

      I like your logic. AU 38-35 sounds good to me!

      Just for for fun, what if AU knocks off TAMU? Then AU would probably be 9-1 heading into the UGA game, and considering that game will be at home against an injury plagued UGA team we would probably be 10-1 heading into the iron bowl with a chance to get into the SEC CG. What a year if that happens!

      • AuburnMisfit AuburnMisfit says:

        I think KoolBell is either being too conservative or giving too much credit to A&M’s defense. CGM knows he has to turn up the heat to outscore JFF, so why not go all out since AU has the upper hand on offense?

        • KoolBell KoolBell says:

          I probably am being conservative, but winning on the road in this conference is a tall order, even in Mississippi. Especially for Auburn. Plus you have to believe than Johnny football is a heckuva lot more comfortable at home, therefore the close game.

          I hope it’s a blowout and we win by 24 points, even better do what they did to us last year, but I wouldn’t guess that to happen.

  3. MyAuburn MyAuburn says:

    IMHO, the only thing we need to do to come away with a win is to keep Johnny Football in the pocket and put him on his butt a few times.
    That being said, I think we should go with the 4 defensive end front for the speed and mobility and blitz him at least once each series.
    The TAMU defense is horrible and without Johnny Manzbrat the offense is just mediocre.

  4. Ricky Bobby says:

    I’ve been out of the loop for a few days and so this may be redundant or old news, but has anything additional been said about what’s going on with Brandon Fulse and Patrick Miller?

    • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

      ……There’s been a frustrating lack of information on Fulse and Miller. Malzhan says “off the field,” and “to be determined.” I don’t think either has practiced this week, so they are unlikely to make the A&M trip. If either had been arrested, I think the press would have sussed that out.

      ……Academic difficulties? Failed drug test? These are the only wild guesses I can come up with.

  5. sullivan013 sullivan013 says:

    Great writeup as usual, Acid.

    I think the blitz packages that Ellis Johnson picks for this game and the discipline of our ends and pass rushers will be the difference in this game. Manziel is a tad harder to catch than a greased piglet or a mischievous four-year-old on the run with your only set of car keys. If we can disrupt his line’s blocking and constrict his mobility, we can take his two most useful assets away from him, and limit his receivers ability to break free to bail him out.

    I noticed Ole Miss had a spy on him most of the game, but as often as not, he avoided the open field tackle and had big gains when he scrambled forward of the line of scrimmage. It may have slowed him slightly as he dodged the lunge, but it didn’t stop him entirely. The challenge he poses is the defender must have textbook tackling technique or he’ll avoid you with his speed and agility. He also breaks arm tackles quite well, better than anyone I’ve seen since Cam Newton.

    • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

      …..It’s been suggested to me that perhaps Auburn should use two spies on Manziel, to come at him from different angles and cover the reverse-field cutback he does. I’d go one further and have the whole back seven spy him. We need to minimize coverages where the DBs have their backs turned, and make him hit repeated back-shoulder stuff and out routes. Keep it in front, make the tackle, hope they screw up before they drive 75 yards.

  6. Tiger on the mountain Tiger on the mountain says:

    I’m so excited about this game that it’s ridiculous. Based on the commentary above, I’m not the only one. I am a little leery of getting expectations out of whack….that said, this game is winnable (not the same as it will be winnable, amirite?).

    Goals for the game: limit big plays from the aggie O. try to stifle JFF. most importantly: score more points than the Aggies

    I don’t want to make predictions on the rest of the season based on this game. There is not an athlete like JFF in the rest of the SEC. And I’m not touching that Georgia game until mid-November.

    My pads are on, chin strap buckled….LET’S DO THIS! War Eagle!

  7. Tigerstripe Tigerstripe says:

    I’m nervously anxious about this game because both programs are in transition. Auburn is on the upswing and TAM and Johnny-mania has cooled off a bit. I want to beat this team so bad because of what they did to us last year at home and I also loathe JF. I think the D will bring the noise. I’m worried about an abysmal LSU-like first half in front of the 12th man… I hope NM has his head in the game.

    Let it begin! Let it begin!

  8. wpleagle says:

    I have a question for Acid or any of you technical guys (or gals): references to a nickel package on defense are pretty self-explanatory as 5 men in the secondary. However, I can’t figure out what dime package means. Who lines up where and what are their responsibilities?

    • sparkey sparkey says:

      Usually, the Dime consists of six DB’s and depending on the team dictates how many corners and safeties are in the formation though most “Dimes” I’ve seen have four corners and two safeties. Now, this formation is usually an effort to shut down the run. You only have four guys on the line granted you can do a lot with different stunts with linemen but here you mainly want to stick with the basics for the DL. Generally, you only have one linebacker therefore this formation almost always is susceptible to the run but if you have a DL and linebacker that can defend the run fairly well even in this formation, you’re going to have a good game defensively for the most part. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of the Dime but others on here might see its merit.

      • sparkey sparkey says:

        Damnit, shut down the pass not run sorry. I just realized I made that typo. My bad folks. My bad. Ugh, rough day for me all around no meds for the Sparkey.

    • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

      ……I *think* the dime reference started back in the early 1980s, when teams were trying to figure out how to stop the San Diego Charger pass-happy offense under Don “Air” Coryell. Since the “nickel” name for a 5th defensive back stuck, they tried to stick to coin names. Thus, the dime defense featured a 6th defensive back, and I think Leeman Bennett of the Falcons even experimented with a “penny” defense with 7 DBs.

      …..Dime package basically refers to a 6 defensive back grouping. Naturally, the more defensive backs you’ve got in the game, the more combinations you can have in coverage. You might have 3 cornerbacks, with 3 safeties behind them. Against 4 receiver sets, you might have 4 corners, each playing man-to-man, with 2 safeties over top. You can play a true 3-deep zone with 6 DBs. You can play man outside and zone in the middle. You can do cover-4. You can play quarters with help on each side in the intermediate areas. The possibilities are endless.

      …..Blitzing one of these DBs from an unexpected angle can have great results, because they are typically the fastest players on the team, and can get to the quarterback quickly. With so many combinations possible with 6 defensive backs, particularly if the defense is mixing and blending their coverage, it’s really tough for a quarterback to make good reads down the field. One thing Ellis Johnson had success with against Ole Miss was showing man to man coverage before the snap, then dropping into several different zone coverages.

      …..In a dime look and four man front, there’s just one linebacker in the game, which is trouble against a team that can run the ball. That linebacker has to be able to stop the run sideline to sideline, and if he gets blocked, you can have big runners like Texas A&M’s Ben Malena trucking downfield at the DBs with a head of steam going.

      • sparkey sparkey says:

        I agree vehemently with your last paragraph and I hope we see very little of the “Dime” in tomorrow’s game. Manziel can run quite well himself. If Davis can shutdown their top receiver, we have a whole lot more freedom to stop Manziel. His receivers are incredibly under rated.

  9. wpleagle says:

    Thanks, guys. Great help.