Tigers Dump the Ducks! (Grading Auburn’s 27–21 Win Over Oregon)
Tigers clamped down on the Oregon offense
(Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)
War Eagle everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report on Auburn’s season opening 27–21 win over number 11-ranked Oregon in Arlington, Texas. This game almost got away early as Oregon was rolling over the Tiger defense while the Auburn offense sputtered. Only a few Duck miscues kept the game close. There was a dropped TD pass and a subsequent missed chip shot field goal. Then the Ducks were set up after a big punt return. Instead of scoring and going up 21–3, the Ducks fumbled it back and, Auburn got a big fumble return and, ultimately, field goal to close within 14–6. It is important to remember that this game could have been a 28–3 deficit before Auburn really started asserting itself.
Much was said from the Auburn coaches about not being conservative on offense, but we sure didn’t see that on the field early. Auburn’s first drive started with 2 short runs, sandwiched around a false start penalty, then a 3rd and long throw-away after a failed blitz pickup. It was hardly a wide-open, polished product. Auburn started throwing on first down after that, and produced a field goal drive, then an interception. Conservative play returned, including a drive after the big fumble return when Auburn could not punch it in from the 3-yard line. After that, it was the 2-minute drill with another interception and a missed 42-yard field goal late in the half.
Halftime adjustments were slow in coming. Auburn took a delay of game on the first snap of the second half and went 3 and out on the ground. Oregon drove for another touchdown to go up 21–6, and it certainly looked like a Duck blowout was brewing. The Auburn defense would not hear of it, though. Auburn kept trying to pound the ball, and towards the end of the 3rd quarter, the Oregon front seven began to wilt a bit. A big speed sweep by Eli Stove got Auburn in position, and Bo Nix noticed that Oregon had forgotten to put a corner on Stove on the next play. The pair cashed that mistake for an easy touchdown. After an early 4th quarter punt, Auburn got the ball back and leaned on JaTarvious Whitlow, who carried the Tigers on his back down to the red zone. Quarterback Joey Gatewood capped the drive, going over the top for the touchdown. Confusion and a false start killed a possible 2-point attempt, and the extra point cut Oregon’s lead to 1, 21–20.
The running game stalled again as Oregon dug in and went man to man, loading the box. Oregon was unable to run the clock out, and Auburn had one last chance after a short punt out of bounds. The last drive wasn’t a thing of beauty, but Auburn did just enough to keep knocking out first downs. It looked for all the world that Auburn was going to have to try to win the ballgame with a long, 50+ yard field goal, but Bo Nix was able to exploit the man coverage by hitting Seth Williams in the flat for a first down out of bounds on 3rd and 10, then the jump ball touchdown was a thing for the ages. The offensive stats are pretty ugly for this game, but when the game was on the line, the offense made the plays.
Auburn’s defense was gashed pretty horribly in the first quarter, both on the ground and through the air. There was trouble again briefly in the 3rd quarter, but Auburn really ratcheted down the offense after that. The biggest thing I noticed early was that Oregon was letting Auburn’s defensive ends get way into the backfield and run themselves out of the running lane. Oregon’s backs would be thus running full steam into the guard-tackle gap with lead blockers in front. On passing downs, Oregon was running zone-beater mesh routes and getting the ball out quickly.
Auburn simply had to stop the run in this game. The strategy became to use the ends to contain and to roll a safety down in the box to help. Auburn went almost exclusively to man-to-man coverage, with an emphasis on not getting beat deep. Oregon was forced to throw short passes, and the secondary did a great job of making tackles on those. Oregon picked up a few yards here and there, but Auburn really made them work for it. And any dropped ball or missed pass meant another punt was in the offing.
Another thing that helped Auburn was substitution in the front 7 on defense. While the game was played in the air conditioning, fatigue can still be a factor in a hard-hitting game like this one. Those days of hard work in the hot August sun paid off for the Tigers as they were able to stay fresh and put the pressure on Oregon up front.
There was quite a departure for Auburn on special teams coverage. Auburn gave up a whopping 43.7 yards per punt return and 28.5 yards per kick return. Fortunately, Anders Carlson and Arryn Siposs adjusted and started focusing on kicking touchbacks and high-hangers on the punts. Auburn did not block returns well, but return man Christian Tutt made something out of nothing several times and had no fielding miscues.
Unit grades after the jump!
Defensive Line: B. This unit held its own against a good offensive line. I have to count off a little on the back-side pass rush, which got caught too far in the backfield a few times, allowing successful runs through vacated gaps. Auburn’s line totaled 17 tackles but only 1.5 tackles for loss. It was tough sledding against a veteran offensive line.
Linebackers: B. I expected a lot more errors from this unit, to tell the truth. There were some moments in the first quarter where the team was not able to get lined up before Oregon snapped the ball. That falls on the linebackers, to get everyone set. That problem went away as the game progressed. The linebackers picked up 16 total tackles, including 2.5 for a loss.
Secondary: A-. I have to count off for a big 47-yard pass and run given up early that set up a Duck touchdown. No one was anywhere near the receiver on that one. After that, Oregon had no pass plays over 20 yards and was held to 6.5 yards per pass. Considering that these guys were facing a future 1st round draft pick quarterback with a great offensive line, that’s pretty good. The sure tackling was a real plus in this game. The Auburn secondary contributed 34 tackles.
Punting: D. Arryn Siposs had a good day, hitting 6 punts for a 45-yard average. Unfortunately, 3 of those were returned for 131 yards, which brings the team’s net yards per punt down to 23.1. That’s not winning football. Coverage did improve in the second half. In the first half, Auburn would have 2 or 3 coverage guys run past the return man. A coverage guy must keep the return man in front!
Punt Returns: A-. Christian Tutt averaged 12.8 yards per return, but it could have been significantly higher if a questionable block-in-the back penalty had not wiped out a 40-yard return. Tutt is fast, as one would expect a cornerback to be. What sets him apart is he can turn on a dime and has good vision for where to run.
Kick Returns: C-. Oregon booted 3 touchbacks on 4 kickoffs. It should have been 4. Noah Igbinoghene brought one kickoff out of the end zone and was dumped at the 20-yard line, costing Auburn 5 yards of field position. Blocking was not great on that return.
Place Kicking: B-. I did not count off for the missed 42-yard field goal. Outside of 40 yards is a coin flip in college, and I’ve long had that policy. Anders Carlson made all of his other kicks and hit 4 touchbacks on 6 kickoffs. I think on the first kickoff, Auburn was trying to kick it high and pin the return man deep. After the coverage wasn’t there, Carlson was allowed to kick to the end zone. The last kickoff was from the 20-yard line, thanks to a penalty. Auburn utilized a squib kick that nearly backfired. The coverage team gave up a 33-yard return that set Oregon up for a Hail Mary pass attempt.
Offensive Line: B-. I felt that there were some missed assignments, especially in the first half. Oregon repeatedly used tackle-end twists on obvious passing downs, and the result was often a free defensive end coming up the middle and flushing Nix out of the pocket. I did like that this unit was able to wear down Oregon’s front in the second half. That speaks well to conditioning and technique. Oregon had defenders in the backfield all night, but that’s not really the fault of the line. An offensive line can block 5 guys. If the other team is sending 7 or 8 rushers, the secondary blockers are going to have to deal with it, or ball carriers must make them miss.
Running Backs: B. I counted off for a few pass protection gaffes, but one has to look at the total picture. Oregon sent the house to stop Auburn’s running game, and the running backs still managed 123 yards on 32 carries. Not a single ball was fumbled. Harold Joiner had a great catch for a big gain on a wheel route. Spencer Nigh caught a crucial late pass to set up a successful short yardage situation.
Receivers: B-. I counted off for a few route-running errors, one of which helped cause an interception. I was going to count as a drop a ball to Sal Cannella, but looking at it again, it wasn’t the best throw, and Cannella was being mugged as the ball got there. The defender should have gotten a flag. The receivers really didn’t get a great chance to shine as the quarterback was running for his life more often than not. I liked the blocking. Several long runs were made possible by receiver blocking. I also must single out Seth Williams, who made 2 clutch catches late with the game on the line. My favorite route of the day was the old Air-Raid smash-corner route run by Will Hastings. He was wide open in the end zone, and Nix missed the throw. I wonder why Auburn never ran that look again.
Quarterback: B-. Some folks might look at the stats and see a horrible day by Bo Nix. Certainly, he had some plays he would like to have back and some throws he should have made. Still, with the game on the line, Nix delivered, thus a grade this high. Nix was sacked only once and kept plays alive with his mobility. The 219 total yards Nix accounted for was not bad at all against a nationally-ranked defense. By comparison, all-star Duck quarterback Justin Herbert accounted for just 226 yards.
From a technical aspect, I felt like the Auburn support folks did a good job. I always worry on artificial turf games, but it looked like footing was not a problem. I am glad Auburn appears to have that issue solved. I must say I really enjoyed listening to the radio broadcast by new announcer Andy Burcham. I thought he did a good job and was able to inject a lot of excitement during the dramatic finish. I kind of knew what to expect in that regard. Burcham is no stranger to the Auburn Network mike and has always been great to listen to on pregame, halftime and scoreboard update segments. I knew he’d do well in his new role.
I was thrilled at the Auburn crowd. They showed up, and they made noise even when things were not looking good early. Finally, I just cannot say enough about the Auburn football players. They had every chance early to let this game go in the tank, take it easy, and get ready for the rest of September. Instead, the team fought tooth and nail to get back into the game and eventually outlasted Oregon.
Home from Texas, Auburn will get ready for a couple of Saturday night nonconference games at Jordan Hare Stadium. Tulane visits next Saturday and Kent State on September 14th, before Auburn packs its bags for Texas, again, to face some Aggies. The next couple of games will be a great chance to work on issues and get ready for a tough SEC schedule. For all the teams that embarrassed the SEC yesterday, Auburn only gets to play one of those, Ole Miss. Instead, Auburn gets Georgia and Florida, the 2 best from the East, and has to face Texas A&M and LSU on the road. Those last 2 really walloped their opponents on Saturday.