Tennessee Fades Auburn (Grading Auburn’s 30–24 Loss to Tennessee)
A sloppy performance
(John Reed, USA TODAY Sports)
War Eagle everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report on an abysmal Auburn day, hosting the Tennessee Volunteers. Shaky offensive line problems continued, and a propensity to give the ball back to Tennessee doomed the Tigers to a 30–24 loss to Tennessee. Auburn played better than a week ago in the front 7 on defense, but this day it was the Auburn secondary that could not make plays on 3rd and long. The Tigers stuffed Tennessee on the ground only to surrender 10 of 19 times on 3rd down, usually on long fade routes on the sideline. When the Auburn defense stops the run, teams just heave the ball up the sideline, and Auburn can’t stop it.
Auburn did a solid job up front on defense, limiting the Volunteers to just 68 rushing yards on 36 carries for just 1.9 yards per carry. In the end, none of that mattered as Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano got the ball off quickly, hitting on 21 of 32 attempts for 328 yards with no turnovers. That works out to a gaudy 10.2 yards per pass average. Auburn was able to sack Guarantano 3 times, but unlike his counterpart in the blue shirt, Guarantano was able to secure the ball and not kill his team’s chances with turnovers.
It was another shaky day on offense for Auburn. More new problems arose this week. After an improved performance against Mississippi State, the offensive line took a couple of steps back. This week, the issue was not knowing who to block. Tennessee showed some different looks, disguising pressure. Often there would be free rushers in the backfield with linemen standing around with no one to put a hat on. Auburn got killed numerous times in the A-gap, where pressure came right up the gut. If you do nothing else on the offensive line, you can’t allow guys to pour through the middle unhindered. Protection starts in the middle and works outward, no matter how the defense lines up. Auburn forgot that this week. It wasn’t a good day running the ball, either. A tailback trio of JaTarvious Whitlow, Kam Martin and Malik Miller combined for 20 carries for 77 yards, only 3.8 yards per carry.
Ordinarily, when your quarterback hits 28 of 45 passes, for a 7.1 yards per pass average, that’s a decent day. A day with 3 turnovers is a day most teams can’t win. Both interceptions were thrown right to a defender, and several more balls should have been intercepted. The interceptions could have been pick sixes if not for miracle tackles by freshman receivers.
Special teams had a decent day overall, but punt fielding has become shaky. Tennessee punted 4 times, and Auburn had 1 fair catch. After last week, Auburn seemed content to just let punts roll dead down near the Auburn goal line. There was also a botched kick return that pinned Auburn deep. Auburn also attempted and missed a 52-yard field goal attempt after head coach Gus Malzahn said Auburn didn’t need to be taking those shots. I thought the decision was very questionable under the circumstances. Auburn was trailing by double digits early in the 4th quarter. The quarterback was completing 62 percent of his passes, while the kicker was just 1 for 6 (16 percent) from 50 yards or more. The odds of picking up the first down were way better than the chances of making the kick. And, Auburn needed to keep moving and give a tired defense more of a rest.
Unit grades after the jump!
Defensive Line: B+. Auburn’s gap control was much better this game, and the line did pressure the quarterback when he wasn’t throwing it up quickly. The line had 22 total tackles, including 5.5 for loss, and 3 quarterback hurries.
Linebackers: B-. Run fits were better this week, and Tennessee had nowhere to run. My issue this week was a lack of coverage on running backs. Tennessee backs were able to run quick, shallow wheel routes and get downfield for good, uncontested throws. Chandler and Jordan combined for 7 catches for 85 yards and a touchdown. Auburn linebackers contributed 21 total tackles.
Secondary: D-. With the exception of a couple of pass breakups by Jeremiah Dinson and Jamel Dean, this unit was helpless with the ball in the air. Usually making the tackle after the catch, the secondary contributed 25 tackles.
Punting: A. Arryn Siposs has been as good as advertised. On the day, Siposs had 3 punts for a 44.3 yard average and no returns. Auburn would be well served to hold onto the ball better and have Siposs punt it away more.
Punt Returns: D. This unit managed 1 fair catch on 4 punts. At least there were no fumbles, hence the passing grade.
Kick Returns: D. Auburn returned a couple of kickoffs and did not get out to the 25 on either one. Shaun Shivers was tackled after only 7 yards on his return. Fair catches would have netted 17 more yards than this unit produces.
Place Kicking: A. I still don’t count off for misses beyond 50 yards. As mentioned above, trying the kick was a lousy decision. Anders Carlson made all of his other kicks, and was 4 for 4 kicking touchbacks on kickoffs.
Offensive Line: D. The unit takes 1 step forward and 2 steps back.
Running Backs: B. Auburn backs had no chance in this game, often getting hit taking the handoff. And Auburn lost its best rusher, JaTarvious Whitlow, when Whitlow was trying to recover a quarterback fumble. The bright spot was a few short passes to Malik Miller, who gets up a nice head of steam and punishes defensive backs.
Receivers: B-. There were more drops in this one, including a deep ball where Darius Slayton had gotten behind the defense. However, Auburn receivers made most of the offensive plays in this game. Again questioning the decision making, after a 76-yard touchdown catch and run, how does Auburn never target Anthony Schwartz again?
Quarterback: D-. It’s a letter grade per turnover, and taking a sack on 4th down had to count off, too. Maybe Jarrett Stidham was just trying to make too much happen this day. I am not calling for benching Stidham, though. Realistically, I don’t think Auburn has a quarterback ready to hit 28 of 45 passes in a game now, other than Stidham. And with no running game to speak of, Auburn must keep throwing the ball.
Auburn’s postseason chances have plunged the past 2 weeks. We were talking about the Tigers staying in contention for a title 2 weeks ago. A bowl bid looks unlikely. Auburn stands at 4–3 with 5 games left and needs 2 wins. Even a win over Liberty does not look automatic, now. Liberty beat Troy yesterday. Auburn is at Ole Miss ndxt, then has a bye week. Auburn will host Texas A&M, then visits Georgia and closes out hosting Liberty before traveling to Alabama. Can the Tigers somehow pick up 2 wins and get to Shreveport or Birmingham? It doesn’t look good right now.