Tigers Can’t Finish in Nashville.
Moseley will be sacked again.
War Eagle, everybody. It’s time now for the Acid Reign report, on Auburn disappointing 17-13 loss to the Vanderbilt Commodores. There were a few signs of life in this game, particularly on defense, but in the end, Auburn was unable to take this game away from a mistake-prone Commodore team. We’ll pick out plenty of errors in this game, but the most dreadful facet of this game was the continued regression of the offense.
One would think that the way to help a struggling offense would be to simplify the game plan, but this week it seemed to take the Tigers even longer to get lined up to snap the ball. At least half of Auburn’s timeouts were used up to avoid getting delay of game penalties. This causes a snowball effect of not being able to check off, either on the play call, or even change the protection on pass plays. I’m not confident we’ll see that problem fixed, either. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler watched the game for three hours, and here’s what he said about the timing problems. “We’ve normally been very good with that. We’ve been breaking the huddle with 21, 22 seconds left on the clock. That wasn’t the case today, and I don’t know why.” Did he not have a chance to ASK, during a three plus hour game?
All the usual suspects were once again present in this game on offense. The absolute refusal to repeat successful plays was the most maddening. A close second was a total inability to adjust. Vanderbilt ran the corner blitz off the short side of the field repeatedly, but Loeffler continued to call those short side runs with no lead blocker in the game. Maddening! And with the corner blitzing, Emory Blake was left one on one with a safety. Auburn threw him a catchable ball down the field just once. The right side of the offensive line was playing pretty poorly, but Loeffler continued to call running plays to that side 60 percent of the time. The Wildcat offense continues to produce drive-ending plays.
Defensively, Auburn played pretty well about 80 percent of the game. However, both halves started with the defense looking helpless. Vanderbilt manhandled Auburn up front on those two drives, cashing in for their only two touchdowns in the ball game. Aside from those plays, Auburn tackled pretty well, ended drives, got off the field on 3rd down, stopped several 4th down tries, and produced three recovered fumbles. If you hold Vanderbilt to 17 points, you should win the game.
Special Teams continue to be solid, if unspectacular this week. Cody Parkey played well once again. Auburn’s coverage units generally smothered return men, and Quan Bray fielded two of three punts. The one negative aspect of this unit is that return blocking was pretty poor this game. Neither Bray on punts, nor Onterio McCalebb on kickoffs had much room. McCalebb brought all three kickoffs out of the end zone, and never made it to the 25 yard line. However, the way the offense is playing, we have to try to score on the kick returns. Had McCalebb gotten loose once, it might have won the game.
Unit Grades, after the jump!
Defensive line: D-. Of the eight defensive linemen who played, only Nosa Eguae had more than one tackle, and he only had two. Vanderbilt ran 70 offensive plays, and the entire defensive line had only six tackles. Auburn’s lone sack was by a linebacker. When linemen did have a bead on Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rogers, he easily escaped. It’s a sad day when a line gets blown off the ball by Vanderbilt. I’ll give a passing grade due to a couple of timely 4th down stops.
Linebackers: C+. With Cassanova McKinzy getting his first start, Auburn now has about 2/3rds of a potentially capable linebacker corps on the field. There were times that McKinzy lost his gap, or went the wrong way, but way more often he chased the ball carrier down with authority. McKinzy finished with 12 total tackles, a forced fumble, and a recovery. Darren Bates seemed to revert to his diving at ankles methods of old, and his tackle total plummeted to only 4. He had been averaging around a dozen. Jonathan Evans was in on four tackles.
A picture’s worth a thousand words.
Secondary: B. There were blown assignments here and there, but this group had to cover for a long time with little pressure on the Vanderbilt quarterback. This group did a good job of tackling in the open field, and limiting the yards on frequent dump-off passes. Four of Auburn’s top five tacklers in this game were members of the secondary. Had a couple of really nice pass breakups by Jonathan Mincy and Joshua Holsey.
Punting: D+. There were a couple of pretty short punts out of Steven Clark’s seven that brought his average down to 40.1, but there were no opportunities for Vanderbilt return men, who managed only two punt return yards. Clark pinned the Commodores twice inside the 20. Why is this grade a D? I counted off a letter grade for each time Auburn ran into the punt returner and received a 15 yard penalty. How is this happening multiple times?
Kick Returns: D. Auburn brought three balls out of the end zone, and basically ran right at the first defender down the field, who often appeared to have been unblocked. Auburn averaged only 16 yards per return.
Place-kicking: A. Steven Clark continues to hammer the ball well, and converted all of his scoring opportunities. Three touchbacks on four kickoffs is a fine number. Points off on the one ball that was returnable, because Brian Kimbrow broke several tackles and gained 22 yards.
Offensive Line: F. As mentioned above, some of the reason for Auburn’s poor pass protection is not having time to alter protections. But far more often, Auburn was whipped up front. By Vanderbilt. This line gave up five sacks, and only one was a held-the-ball-too-long deal. Several times Vanderbilt brought only a three man rush, and Clint Moseley couldn’t even finish a five step drop before he was hit in the pocket. Run blocking was poor, also. Most of Auburn’s rushing yards came on outside runs behind Jay Prosch and Brandon Fulse.
Running Backs: B. For the first time all season, we saw Jay Prosch miss some blocks. Of course, his primary responsibility on pass plays was to block the defensive end on the right, because our line wasn’t going to do it. Auburn’s backs ran hard when they had a chance, but out of Auburn’s 24 running back carries, only about five were called with both a fullback and a tight end leading it. I’d like to see at least half of our runs power-blocked. Auburn ran just 54 plays, and Tre Mason had only 16 carries, and only a third of those were with any lead blocker. He’s being criminally misused.
Receivers: B+. Auburn’s Jaylon Denson got his first start, and he did a pretty good job of blocking. Of course, there was zero chance he was going to be thrown to, and Vanderbilt knew it, leaving him completely uncovered a lot of the time. Vanderbilt’s much ballyhooed secondary had a lot of coverage mistakes, and white shirts flew around behind them frequently. Auburn only tried three deep passes the whole game, connecting on a deep cross to a wide open Emory Blake to set up Auburn’s only touchdown. Brandon Fulse had a good game blocking, and C.J. Uzomah didn’t look bad as the new receiving tight end. We’ll sure miss Phillip Lutzenkirchen, but we’ll be o. k. at that position.
Quarterback: C. In most cases, you’d think that a 70 percent completion percentage and no turnovers would mean a great day at quarterback. Instead, Auburn only attempted three of 20 passes more than 8 yards down the field. Of Auburn’s 15 completions, 14 of them were for short gains, and tackled immediately most of the time. On the day, Clint Moseley only generated 4.9 yards per pass. On two downfield balls, Moseley hit Blake on the 24 yard cross, but missed him wide open in the end zone on a post pattern. On the last play of the game, Auburn bent the Vanderbilt zone till it broke, leaving Sammie Coates wide open with no defender in his quarter of the field! And Moseley threw the ball out of bounds on 4th down. We also saw several third and long passes dumped underneath with no chance of making the first down. Jonathan Wallace showed some zip on his first career pass, a quick screen to Ricardo Lewis for a first down. Naturally, we never tried that play again.
I have a suggestion if we’re going to run the wildcat and seldom pass the ball. Let’s run it with Mason taking the snap. If the coaches are to be believed, Moseley is playing because Frazier is injured. That leaves us with only two scholarship quarterbacks available, and Moseley has a sore shoulder, which may have affected his ability to throw down the field. Why on earth would you run your only other guy up the middle repeatedly, till he fumbles or gets hurt? Especially when Tre Mason is only getting 16 carries, let’s distribute the wealth more wisely!
More wisdom from offensive uncoordinator Scot Loeffler: “The second half we started a great drive and ended up with second-and-20. That’s not the team that we are. We can’t be off schedule. When we are off schedule, it’s hard for us to play. We played third down-and-7-plus the whole game. That’s not who we are.” No Mr. Loeffler, that IS who you are! We have successful plays, and you lift the players who made it happen. How do we wait till the last play of the game to throw it towards Sammie Coates, who’s shown the ability to make spectacular catches? It’s absolutely mind-blowing how this offense operates.
Auburn’s dim bowl hopes have flatlined in Nashville. To make the postseason now, Auburn will have to win every game left on the schedule. With Texas A&M, New Mexico State, Georgia, Alabama A&M and Alabama still on the docket, that’s very unlikely to happen. Realistically, what Auburn must do now is concentrate on getting better. Four of Auburn’s last five are at home, and with the support of the Auburn faithful, it’s time to get better and work out the kinks. I plan to do my part next weekend, in the stands once again and cheering for our Tigers. Even at 1-6, they are our team, and we support them. It’s great to be an Auburn Tiger!