Offensive Lines Dominate on A-Day!
The defense had a lot of trouble with these guys.
War Eagle, everybody! It was a record-setting A-Day yesterday, with a stunning crowd of over 83,000 fans in the stadium to cheer on their Tigers! We suspected that the game might be well-attended, but I don’t think anyone was prepared for fall game-day type numbers. That this happened following a disastrous 3-9 season speaks volumes about the resilience of the Auburn faithful!
I was determined to get in the stadium early, and AubTigerman and I were rewarded with good seats near the 40 yard line. We entered the stadium at 11:15 AM, and many of the best seats were already taken, nearly two hours before kickoff! In addition to getting good seats, we were able to watch a pretty long, extended warmup. There were a number of interesting new wrinkles, including footballs with long tethers to them, where one guy would hold onto the ball, while a second player yanked on the tether, trying to pull the ball out. If it helps cut down on fumbles, I’m all for it!
The single most exciting aspect of warmups was watching Dameyune once again throwing the ball in Jordan Hare Stadium. It has been far too long since we’ve enjoyed that!
After the extended warmup, the fans were treated to a pretty exciting first half where 49 points were scored in 24 minutes. The Orange took a 35-14 lead to the locker room, largely because the first team offense pretty much overpowered the second team defense. What was very interesting, and worrisome was that the second team offense moved the ball on the first team defense, thus the 14 points for the Blue. The first team defensive line had good plays in spurts, but was not consistent. The starting offensive line against the backup defensive line might have been described as “child abuse.” I think we all would have liked to have seen at least one series of “ones vs. ones.” Is our starting O-line really that good? Should we be really worried about the defensive line guys? In the defenses’ defense, their schemes were pretty vanilla, with almost no blitzing and no stems. Meanwhile, the offense was free to run misdirection, pull guards, and use lots of motion. Wasn’t really a very fair matchup for the defense.
The most unexpected thing for me in this game was the success the second team offensive line had against the starting defensive line. At times, these guys drove the starters back, and they pass protected pretty well for the most part. Those backups from left to right were Shon Coleman, Devonte Danzy, Tunde Fariyike, Jordan Diamond and Shane Callahan. The stat that jumped out to me was that when Cameron Artis-Payne played with the Blues, he averaged 8 yards per carry! The second line’s most glaring error was their first play, where the snap went right by quarterback Jonathan Wallace and was scooped by the defense for a touchdown. I’m not sure who’s to blame for that one. Clearly Wallace wasn’t ready for the snap, but he did raise his right foot, which is pretty much the universal “snap it now” signal. It wasn’t really a high snap, going right past Wallace’s head. Fariyike did have a high snap later, but the quarterback brought it down anyway.
Second team line is getting after it!
Those expecting an answer to the Auburn quarterback race likely left the game disappointed. There were good things and bad things about both candidates, but in my mind neither really shined. Neither guy had much pressure on them, and yet we saw plenty of missed throws by both guys. There were only two sacks in the game, no quarterback hurries, and lots of quick screens to the sideline. You’d like to see a lot better completion percentage than 60.8 against the second team defense, when there’s absolutely no pressure on the quarterback.
With Corey Grant out for the game with a fever, and Tre Mason limited all spring with a bad ankle, this was JUCO transfer running back Cameron Artis-Payne’s time to shine. He earned offensive MVP honors with a 164 yard day, including 117 on the ground. He was not stopped for a loss all day. His most impressive receiving play was when he reached back to snag an errant dump-off pass from Khiel Frazier, maintained his balance while eluding a tackler at the line of scrimage, and burst upfield for 42 yards. He was run down from behind by Jonathan Jones, but held onto the ball despite a blind side hit.
One of the more talked about plays of the day happened early in the 3rd quarter. Khiel Frazier lobbed a (not so) quick screen out to Dimitri Reese, and Jonathan Mincy raced in and broke the play up with authority. And in the eyes of the officials, a little TOO much authority! Mincy was flagged for “targeting a defenseless receiver,” and ejected from the game. I think being ejected from an A-Day game is a first. It was a hard hit, and Reese was very slow to get up. I couldn’t really tell the nature of the hit at the game, as it was across the field from us. Upon several reviews afterwards, I think this was just a football play. I’m seeing a storm of controversy this coming fall, if the officials are going to eject secondary guys every time there’s a hard hit. We’ll have officials changing game outcomes, and lots of iffy calls, I think.
While I’m on the subject of quick screens, Auburn’s decidedly were not quick yesterday, from either quarterback. It seem to take forever for either guy to get a handle on the ball, and get it out there. This forced the blocking receiver to try and hold a block for five full seconds or more, against pretty athletic corners. It didn’t work terribly well. Many of these passes were also too high, or behind the receiver. This HAS to get better this summer. It needs to be drilled, and drilled, and drilled.
The only special team we saw during the game was the field goal unit. Cody Parkey was 7 for 7 on extra points, but missed both field goal attempts. For those who wanted to see punts and punt fielding, there was quite a bit of work on that during the warmups. Steven Clark is still hanging those punts way up in the air, but he’s not getting a lot of distance. Most of his punts seemed to travel 35-40 yards from the line of scrimmage. Quan Bray and Trovon Reed fielded most of the punts. The way the coaches had it set up, they were fielding every punt around the five yard line. That makes me nervous. Guys should be trained to avoid punts inside the ten yard line, automatically.
Unit by unit look, after the jump!
Defensive Line: I hate to say it, but I was not very impressed with these guys. There was a series or two late in the 2nd quarter where Dee Ford and Jeffery Whitaker got after it and really disrupted the second team offense, but I saw a lot more of the starters getting pushed around, especially early in the game. I do think the decision to move Kenneth Carter to defensive end will pay dividends. Auburn has been missing a big-body, run-stuffing strong side end since Senderrick Marks went out early to the NFL. Carter was going to be sitting on the bench as the 4th or 5th tackle, at best. Carter didn’t look bad at all on A-Day on running plays, but I didn’t notice him much on the pass rush.
Linebacker: Considering that they weren’t allowed to blitz, these guys did a much better job of tracking down ball carriers and squaring them up than at any time, last year. The diving and missing of last year was not observed much, although I did see a few arm tackle attempts, especially from the backups. Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost took a lot of the first team snaps, and Jake Holland played sparingly. LaDarius Owens looked pretty good from the backups, and he had to deal with pulling linemen trying to mow him down. Some of the other backups got juked out of their shoes at times.
Star: Both Justin Garrett and Robensen Therezie seemed to be all over the field, making tackles on the line, or dropping in coverage. Both had a pass breakup, but both also turned guys loose in coverage. That little out and up play with the slot receiver or tight end worked repeatedly on these guys. Dimitri Reese and Brandon Fulse had TD catches on that play with no defender even in the same zip code.
Cornerback: I still think we’ve got four or five pretty good corners, and I really like Mincy and Chris Davis’ physical style. They did a lot more jamming of receivers on the line, and came up aggressively after the catch on those quick screens. Joshua Holsey and Jonathan Jones are talented second year guys, and Ryan White looked pretty capable back there, too. Some long passes were allowed, but the quarterbacks did have all day to throw. And on a couple of the long ones the corners were supposed to have safety help over the top, that did not get there.
Safety: Tackling was OK at safety, but coverage was decidedly not very good. On the cover two looks, safeties were usually late getting over on the downfield passes. Auburn could have thrown down the middle to C. J. Uzomah every play, and he would have had 500 yards. No one could cover him. One guy that looked good to me of the reserves was Mack vanGorder. He was smacking some folks late in the game.
Place Kicking: Cody Parkey missed both of his field goal attempts, which was disappointing after he’s reportedly had a great spring. The first one was a 46-yard attempt, and it looked like he hit the bottom of the ball. It fluttered short and to the right. The second attempt missed from 36 yards. An SEC kicker needs to be automatic from inside 40 yards.
Offensive Line: As I stated above, I was pretty impressed with both units here. Alex Kozan looks like a great replacement for the departed John Sullen. Both tackles were rock solid. Patrick Miller looks like a completely different player than last season. He’s gotten a lot stronger, and looked leaner and quicker. The line did pick up one holding penalty on third and a mile. Another guy that really impressed me was Shon Coleman. He did a great job at left tackle for the second unit, and appears to be completely back from the cancer that sidelined him a few years ago. This line should be able to weather the storm this fall, as there appears to be good depth.
Backs: I’ve already singled Artis-Payne out above. Tre Mason did a good job finding seams, and averaged 5.5 yards per carry. He did not look full speed to me, though. Of the reserves, I though Patrick Lymon looked elusive. There were a couple of fumbles lost by the walk-on brigade. Jay Prosch looks as powerful as ever as a lead blocker.
Receivers: I liked the work of both Ricardo Lewis and Quan Bray on the sweep handoffs. The timing looked off on a lot of those, which seemed to give the defense a better chance to react. Blocking by the wide receivers needs to improve. They did ok for the most part on quick screens, but they didn’t help runners downfield much, outside of the tight ends. I did like the blocking of both Brandon Fulse and C. J. Uzomah. There were a number of dropped balls, several by Sammie Coates. On the other hand, Coates made a couple of brilliant leaping catches. Also, guys did a pretty good job on quick screens of handling off-target throws.
Quarterbacks: There was good and bad here. There were some good throws down the field, but an equal amount of bad ones. Khiel Frazier’s still a threat running the ball. He completely froze linebacker Chris Landrum on a touchdown keeper. What’s worrisome about Frazier is high throws, particularly on the quick screens. Maybe he just had a bad day on those. Both quarterbacks had some awkward handoffs, where it looked like the timing was off. Wallace gets a demerit for chunking one up for grabs off his back foot. He threw it high and inside, too, and Ryan Smith had the easy interception on it.
The Tigers ran a couple of wildcat plays, both of which were pretty obvious to the defense when there was no orange shirt on the field for the offense. I still believe that the wildcat is played out, unless you can get into it with without substituting. Quan Bray made a good run on his keeper. Trovon Reed appeared to have open field to the left on his keeper, but turned right into Craig Sanders for a three yard loss.
All and all, it was a fun day for the fans, and the team got in some much-needed work. Certainly some problem areas were exposed, and I’m confident those will be worked on. Here’s one giant salute to all of the Auburn family who came out to support this team, and say goodbye to the oaks at Toomer’s Corner. War Eagle!