The Good, The Bad, and The Jury Is Still Out
Boobee Whitlow runs the ball against Oregon in the AdvoCare Classic Aug. 31, 2019. (photo: Matthew Emmons / USA TODAY Sports)
It was the biggest game of the new season, and it didn’t disappoint. In a weekend of football that was both loved for the return of football and also loathed due to a lack of marquee games, Auburn and Oregon delivered in a big way. The Week 1 schedule was known to be a bit of a clunker all offseason, so the only matchup of ranked teams created a ton of buzz, and the media did a great job at building up the rematch of the 2011 BCS National Championship game along with promoting the battle of Oregon’s NFL-ready QB with Auburn’s true freshman phenom.
The first half gave Tiger fans a lot of time to ponder the good and the bad and for the wrong reasons. I had to put my phone down to stay off twitter from frustration. Having a room full of Alabama fans made it tough but having a handful of Tennessee fans put things in perspective. The first drive of the second half for both sides of the ball continued to add to that frustration, but things turned around in a big way as the Tigers completed a huge comeback win.
Second Half Defense: Auburn’s defense took a long time to settle in. There hasn’t been a real reason given for why and how the Ducks dominated what is supposed to be the best defensive line in the country nor the confusion in Auburn’s secondary early on. However, once the defense did settle in, it looked the part of the dominating defense that everyone expected.
Perhaps most surprising was the emergence of K. J. Britt and Auburn’s linebackers. Not only did they call a great second half, they were as physical as fans can remember. They played downhill, they smothered running backs out of the backfield, and they allowed the defensive line to get to Oregon’s QB, Justin Herbert.
Meanwhile, Auburn’s secondary absolutely locked down the Ducks’ receiving corps. Obviously, the biggest win of the night was when the defense got the ball back to the offense with two minutes after the offense couldn’t pick up a first down the previous drive. All told, the defense had three sacks and six tackles for loss, including a near scoop and score after a fumble recovery.
Punter Arryn Siposs: Auburn had far too many three and outs and, while kick coverage was absolutely an issue, Siposs had six punts that averaged 45 yards with a long of just 49 yards. In other words, he was consistent and didn’t put his kick coverage team in a bad spot.
Jeremiah Dinson: It might have been a surprise to a lot of people to wake up this morning and find this guy as the Defensive Player of the Week in the SEC, but there’s a reason for that. Dinson didn’t allow a big pass, which is obviously his main job. What set him apart was his run support. He led Auburn with 13 tackles, eight of them solo. He also added a sack and two tackles for loss. That was huge.
First half defense: The defense simply looked lost and out-manned early in the game. In particular, Christian Tutt was out of position on several big throws in the first few drives, including a 47-yarder in the first series. Auburn’s defense fought back and extended a lot of those early Duck drives, but both the touchdown drives by the Ducks were impressive and finished in dominating fashion. The fourth-down run for a touchdown found Auburn’s defensive line manhandled while the Duck center made his way into the second level of the Auburn defense and demolished K. J. Britt before CJ Verdell scored. The Duck’s next score saw Javaris Davis dominated in the end zone by the Duck receiver, who finished the catch by stiff-arming Davis to the turf. Those two touchdown drives were as ugly as Auburn defense has looked since 2014.
Kicking game: Something Auburn fans aren’t quite used to seeing was a night of special team failures. Auburn missed a chip shot field goal in the first half that would have led to this game being iced a lot sooner. Siposs may have averaged 45 yards per kick, but Oregon’s Jevon Holland averaged 43.7 yards per return. Auburn would have been better off going for it on fourth down. Kickoffs weren’t much better with the Ducks averaging 28.5 yards per return, including what could have been disaster on the squib kick with nine seconds left. I still find myself questioning the decision to squib it. Sure, Auburn tacked on 15 yards to the kick due to a personal foul, but Auburn could still have kicked deep.
Offensive play calling: Perhaps the most impressive thing about Bo Nix was how he managed to succeed despite play calling that put him in really bad spots. Gus Malzahn may be calling the plays now, but the play calling sure looked like the last few years, especially early in the game. Auburn started the game throwing the ball behind the line of scrimmage, as it has done in essentially every game the last few years, and it continues not to work. Oregon blitzed Nix over and over, and despite the continued pressure, the play calling was set up for time-consuming routes, forcing Nix to run for his life. However, with 4:20 left in the third on 1st and goal, the Ducks dialed up the pressure again, and Nix threw a quick strike to Eli Stove on the edge. It was a classic blitz-beater play that left fans wondering what took so long. Malzahn, himself, pointed to a shovel pass on first-and-goal from the three yard line that was just mystifying. One that gets overlooked was early in the game, when Auburn was on the door step of their first score and Malzahn put Nix under center, which led to a fumble. A last thought was why Nix was continually asked to roll left out of the pocket and throw to receivers moving against the grain.
The Jury Is Still Out
Auburn’s offensive line: Boy, did they look shaky most of the night. Bo Nix hadn’t been sacked since his junior year in high school, and while he only gave up one sack, he was under pressure enough times that the Ducks could have added five more, if not for Nix’s mobility. Prince Tega Wanogho jumped offsides twice in critical situations, and the line, overall, struggled in run blocking until the fourth quarter. It remains to be seen if the running game issues were just the line or the running back situation or both. Regardless, Auburn has to run the ball more effectively, especially early in the game.
Auburn’s receivers: They made the plays when it mattered, but there were several situations where they didn’t look good. While the Sal Cannella drop in the second-to-last drive hurt, it wasn’t a great throw. What made Auburn’s receivers look bad was how many times they seemed to give up on routes. On Nix’s scrambles, you almost never saw a receiver working back to the ball.