Tigers Rain on the Razorbacks! (grading the Tigers victory over the Hogs)
Trovon Reed yanks down a Razorback!
(A. P. photo by Butch Dill.)
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign report, on Auburn’s 45-21 win over the Arkansas Razorbacks in rain-soaked Jordan-Hare Stadium. Arkansas hung around for a half, with a dominating offensive performance and a 21-all halftime tie. Auburn slammed the door in the second half, allowing just 2 rushing yards in the final 2 quarters, and 3 first downs. Quarterback Nick Marshall returned from a half-game suspension, and the Auburn offense immediately resembled last season’s ground-chewing monster attack.
The story of this game in the first half was the huge Arkansas offensive line and athletic plays by speedy tight ends. Arkansas was letting Auburn defensive linemen through gaps, then hammering them from behind with tight ends, as shifty running backs blazed through the vacated hole. And since the offensive linemen weren’t blocking Auburn linemen, they were able to get to the second level and take on linebackers and safeties. Arkansas broke off a number of big runs. Quarterback Brandon Allen was also able to run effective play-action passes off this look. In the first half, Auburn was unable to handle tight end option routes.
Much like last season’s defenses, Ellis Johnson turned up the heat in the second half with man coverage, and linebacker and secondary blitzes. While Arkansas continued to trap linemen, there were just too many defenders swarming to the ball in the final quarters. And with Robensen Therezie frequently in the game, those tight ends stopped getting open. Therezie was only credited with 2 tackles, but his presence totally altered what Brandon Allen could do through the air. In the second half, Allen had just 54 passing yards.
Jeremy Johnson got his first SEC start in this one, and he was razor-sharp early on, hitting his first 8 passes. However, Auburn’s rushing attack wasn’t what it was late last season, and Auburn was stoned on 3rd and short a couple of times, which allowed Arkansas to recover from a 21-7 deficit. Arkansas was able to ignore the quarterback run threat, clog the middle and take away the jet sweep. The Razorbacks did this by committing all 3 linebackers to the run, and bring secondary help up on the play side. This allowed Auburn to throw slant passes all day with lots of green empty space in the middle of the field. The Tigers threw only 22 times, but had 16 completions that ate up 293 yards. In the second half, Auburn threw just 6 balls, as the running game took off. Even committing 8 defenders against the run, it wasn’t enough with Nick Marshall in the game. The Tigers finished with 302 rushing yards, and 595 total.
Before the season, I was concerned about Auburn’s special teams, with new faces kicking and punting. I needn’t have worried. Daniel Carlson showed a powerful leg in this one, hammering every kick for a touchback, and uncorking monster punts as good as any Jordan-Hare Stadium has seen over the past few decades. Quan Bray looked dangerous returning punts, and the punt coverage was solid, even having to handle long punts.
Unit Grades after the jump!
Defensive Line: C. This unit had a horrendous first half, and finished with only 11 total tackles, 2 for loss in the entire game. Brandon Allen threw the ball 31 times, and the line had just 2 quarterback hurries. To get pressure, Auburn had to blitz. Facing a very powerful offensive line, this bunch did regroup and hold their gaps in the 2nd half. Even if they weren’t the ones making most of the tackles, the rush lanes disappeared after halftime.
Linebackers: B-. This grade might be a tad high, but I included the Star position here since they were used primarily in the box in this game. Justin Garrett turned out to be a pretty good run stopper, and I thought Cassanova McKinzy played well when he wasn’t being run over by a pulling lineman. Kris Frost did not record a single tackle. Robensen Therezie was superb on his few snaps. He’s going to be hard to keep out of the starting lineup, I think.
Secondary: B. I counted off a letter grade for all the completions to the tight ends in the first half. These guys helped out a lot against the Arkansas run game, and were sure tacklers. Receivers and ball carriers did not get past them, particularly in the second half. Allen completed the short dump-off passes, and the receiver promptly went down for little or no gain. Whitehead, Mincy and Rudy Ford were three of Auburn’s top four tacklers in this game. I enjoyed seeing Jermaine Whitehead get the pick-six. It’s been a long time since he stepped in front of a slant against Florida Atlantic back in 2011, and took it to the house!
Punting: A+. Daniel Carlson only punted 3 times, but killed 2 of them inside the 20, and had a whopping 53.3 yard average. Arkansas did manage a couple of returns, but only for 11 total yards. Carlson ended up with a ridiculous 49.7 yard net, which is more than 10 yards better than what Auburn has been averaging the past few years.
Punt Returns: B+. I counted off a little on one ball that hit and rolled, but Quan Bray made solid decisions, and handled the ball well. When he had room, he made things happen, going north and south. Bray had 2 returns, and netted 31 yards.
Kick Returns: A. Arkansas kicked off 4 times, and 2 were returnable. Ricardo Louis took a short one at the 8, and got it out over the 25. Corey Grant handled the other one, picked up 32 yards, and nearly broke it.
Place Kicking: A. I won’t count off much for a miss from 42 yards. Daniel Carlson later hit a 45 yarder, and all 6 extra point attempts. He was flawless kicking off,
notching a touchback on all 8 opportunities. Correction, Arkansas did return the first kickoff, which went 3 yards deep. However, Cassanova McKinzy dumped Korliss Marshall at the 15.
Offensive line: A-. This wasn’t quite the polished unit that finished last season, particularly in the first half. However, on a 595 yard, 302 on the ground day against an SEC opponent, the line had to have played well. The only penalties were a false start on Avery Young, and a bogus facemask call on Patrick Miller. There was one late, hold the ball sack given up.
Running backs: A. I counted off a bit for getting stopped on 3rd and short twice, but that may be unfair, since both times CAP was hit in the backfield. Artis-Payne proved that he can be a bell-cow back, with 26 carries for 177 yards. Corey Grant didn’t play as much, and Arkansas schemed to take away Grant’s patented turn-the-corner sweeps. Grant cut back inside, and finished with 10 carries for 87 yards. Both Auburn backs were very good picking up blitzes, and helped keep Auburn quarterbacks upright.
Receivers: A-. Had a couple of dropped balls, but these guys made big plays, and blocked pretty well downfield. Really, I shouldn’t count the drop on Sammie Coates. Replay showed that the ball was tipped just before it got to him. Daquille Williams was a sensation, showing tremendous athleticism and hands. A couple of his 9 catches were of the spin around variety, snagging balls thrown behind him. Honestly, he reminds me of Jerry Rice, the way he runs routes and finds space. Melvin Ray also showed his baseball player hands, going up and getting a high ball, then evading a defender and going the distance for a score.
Quarterbacks: A+. There’s not much to complain about, here. Both Jeremy Johnson and Nick Marshall executed well in this one. There were no turnovers, and these two guys led a nearly 600 yard attack. Nick Marshall is a special player running the zone-read, and Arkansas had no answer for it.
Auburn’s 24 point win over Arkansas goes down as the biggest margin of victory in the series. All time, Auburn has 13 wins, 10 losses and a tie against the Razorbacks. The 595 offensive yards are the 6th most, all time, by Auburn against an SEC opponent. The Tigers had five new starters for this one, Montravius Adams at defensive end, Jonathan Ford at safety, Duke Williams at slot receiver, Cameron Artis-Payne at running back, and Shon Coleman at left tackle. Coleman’s recovery against cancer is now complete, as he’s back starting football games, anchoring one of the best offenses in the nation.
Folks, it’s great to start out with an SEC win! When Auburn has been highly ranked to start the season, history hasn’t always been kind. This time, the Tigers took care of business. There were a few warts, but I’ll take a 24 point beating over Arkansas any time!
Auburn now gets a chance to refine and tune things, with the San Jose State Spartans coming to town next Saturday. An off week follows, then a Thursday night tilt in Manhattan, Kansas. After that, it’s homecoming against Louisiana Tech to close out September. After what we saw yesterday, I’m really liking Auburn’s chances of playing for championships this season!