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Tigers Ram the Razorbacks! (Grading Auburn’s 52–20 win at Arkansas)

Kamryn Pettway rumbles over defenders!
(Photo by J. T. Wampler)

     War Eagle everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report on Auburn’s 52–20 romp over Arkansas in Fayetteville. A week after a disastrous, 20-point-lead-blowing loss at LSU, the Tigers responded with a great week of practice and a delicious beatdown of the Razorbacks. Auburn moved the ball well in the first half, but the 17–6 halftime score was worrisome. Auburn had squandered several scoring opportunities, and if another second-half stall was going to happen, another week of misery was likely to occur.

     This week, there was no second-half sleep walking. The Tigers game out gunning it, and scored 4 touchdowns in the 3rd quarter to blow the game open. Kamryn Pettway returned to his devastating form of a year ago, and the Tigers exploited the mostly zone coverage of the home team. Pettway had defenders reeling and playing back on their heels. The 5-yard hitch was there for the taking, and Ryan Davis had 5 yards or more every time it was thrown. Auburn threw in a few speed sweeps, and when Arkansas walked the safeties out to help, Auburn responded with the play of the night. Ryan Davis got the ball on an end around, and it looked like he might lose big yardage. On the dead run, Davis launched a perfectly thrown bomb right into the breadbasket of receiver Darius Slayton, who was off to the races for a 62-yard touchdown.

     I did have just a few complaints on offense. The Tigers once again were plagued by dropped passes but far fewer than against LSU. A late lost fumble was concerning as was an interception on a ball thrown all the way across the field into tight coverage. I continue to be alarmed about injuries on the offensive line. It made my heart hurt to see Darius James carted off the field with an air cast on his leg, especially since the game was well in hand at that point. I am very pleased to hear that X-rays were negative on that leg, and that James is OK. I criticized Auburn offensive line coach Herb Hand pretty severely after the Clemson loss. I’m having to admit now that I was wrong. Hand has gotten strong play out of this line since that week despite having to do a lot of shuffling around. I tip my hat to the offensive line this week. We’ve got some really good players there.

     Defensively, I expect some folks will be disappointed in Auburn giving up 20 points in this game. I remind those folks that the starting defense only gave up 2 field goals. The Arkansas touchdowns came on a kick return and a garbage time score against the scout team. I felt like run fits weren’t as good in this game, but that’s a function of how Arkansas plays on the line. Arkansas has probably the most complicated set of run-blocking techniques in the SEC. They really work on it, and it’s really hard to account for every lane they can create. The past few years, Arkansas has gotten better and better at confusing defensive front sevens, and Arkansas tends to run over teams in November. On the flip side for Auburn, the Auburn front had its best pass-rushing game of the year. Using mostly a 4-man rush, Auburn came up with 6 sacks, the most in a game this season.

     I was very worried about the back end of the defense this week. Starters Javaris Davis and Tray Matthews did not play, and I was concerned about what the replacements would do. Arkansas went with a lot of shotgun in the first half and tried to light up the secondary. It did not work as fill-in secondary members Jamel Dean, Nick Ruffin and Daniel Thomas played pretty lock-down in coverage and made a number of touchdown-saving tackles later in the game on some big Arkansas runs and screens.

     On special teams, there wasn’t much to brag on. Daniel Carlson was solid, but even he had a bad moment when the opening kickoff went out of bounds. Auburn did recover a fumble by an Arkansas return man, and that was the Auburn special-teams highlight of the day. On the other hand, Auburn wasn’t able to return even a single one of 6 Arkansas punts and gave up a kick return for a touchdown. That’s the second touchdown return given up in successive weeks.

Unit grades after the jump!

Defensive Line: A. I felt like the line did a great job at getting penetration and disrupting the Arkansas game plan. Jeff Holland, Derrick Brown and Nick Coe were particular nightmares for the Arkansas line and quarterback. Run fits could have been better on a few occasions. The line came up with 4.5 sacks, 3 quarterback hurries (officially as the stat man slept through a lot of the game, it seems. I’d have figured at least a dozen hurries!), and 27 total tackles. Again, typically in an SEC game the defensive line has 10–12 tackles.

Linebackers: B+. The Auburn linebackers continued to do a good job of filling lanes and hunting the football down, although there were a few big runs given up this week. It was nice to see Tré Williams get a few snaps, but he didn’t really play much. Still a bit gimpy, I suppose. The linebackers as a group contributed 11 tackles, which is a pretty low number for a linebacking corps. The defensive line swallowed up too many runners this week.

Secondary: A. I liked seeing the return of contesting catches after Auburn did pretty poorly at this against LSU. There were pass breakups credited to Jordyn Peters, Jamel Dean, and Carlton Davis, and probably several other noncatches could have been scored this way. The secondary tackled pretty surely, too, contributing 25 total tackles.

Punting: C-. Auburn only punted twice in this game. The first was a short but high 39-yarder that Arkansas fielded and fumbled. Bonus points for Darrell Williams coming out of the pile with that ball. The second punt was a cruddy 34-yarder, downed.

Punt Returns: C+. Well, at least there were no turnovers. Arkansas kicked a couple of touchbacks on 6 punts, and Stephen Roberts had 3 fair catches and no returns.

Kick Returns: B+. Only one opportunity here from a couple of yards deep. I did not like seeing returner Noah Igbinoghene hesitate on this return, but he did break out for a 29-yard return and was one trip away from breaking it for a score.

Place Kicking: C-. This may seem an unfair grade after the only actual kicking flaw was the opening kickoff going out of bounds. However, I lump kickoff coverage into this spot, and a kick return for a score is unacceptable. Daniel Carlson hit all of his extra points plus a chip shot field goal. Carlson also had 7 touchbacks on 9 kickoffs.

Offensive Line: A. This unit keeps on keeping on, despite injuries. Auburn wasn’t able to just bash up front in the first half, but a lot of that had to do with Arkansas loading the box with extra men. The line can’t block 8 or 9 guys. In the final analysis, the line allowed no sacks and only 2 tackles for loss in the entire game. When an offense generates 629 yards in an SEC game, the line is playing pretty well.

Running Backs: A-. I probably should have counted off a bit more for the late fumble by Malik Miller, but it was with only a few seconds left in a big blowout. Ball security is job one for a running back. Kerryon Johnson had tough sledding early but kept picking up first downs, and he scored his 14th touchdown on the season. Kamryn Pettway got it going in the second half and terrorized the Arkansas defense. I have to brag a bit on H-back Chandler Cox, too. It usually takes a while in a thankless job in this offense to do well. Cox has it down, now. He’s been pretty flawless in blitz pickup, and he’s able to hunt defenders down in space and neutralize them. Cox was pretty instrumental on a lot of those big runs in this game.

Receivers: B. We are still having too many dropped balls. I saw 4 this game by Darius Slayton, alone. However, Slayton was also the top receiver. He made an amazing adjustment and catch on a badly underthrown back-shoulder fade pass. Slayton finished the day with 146 yards on 4 catches. Imagine the damage if he had caught ’em all! I also have to give a shout-out to Ryan Davis. He leads Auburn with 41 catches this season and is on pace to break the Auburn receptions-in-a-season record at 60, held by Darvin Adams in 2009. Davis also had a magnificent touchdown pass on an end around. The ball was thrown on the run and sailed 40 yards in the air. It hit Darius Slayton in stride and resulted in a 62-yard score. Ryan Davis is now the most efficient passer in the SEC, at least till we try that play again!

Quarterback: B+. This wasn’t Jarrett Stidham’s most accurate game, but it was still plenty good. Stidham did a great job of taking off and getting yards (and crucial 3rd down conversions) with his feet. On the day, Stidham completed 67.8 percent of his passes for 7.79 yards per pass. These numbers aren’t what we are used to with Stidham, and he did have one long sideways pass picked off. However, if one combs through the SEC statistics, this is a better than average day. If a few more balls were caught, that all-important yards-per-pass stat would probably be around 10. Also, Malik Willis was more than capable in the waning moments of this game. Willis took off on a big run early in his appearance then got his first scoring pass on a shovel on the goal line.

     We’ve had our angst and our moments this season, but I have also enjoyed Auburn drubbing SEC opponents in multiple weeks. The Tigers have 4 blowout wins in 5 SEC games. I think the team and coaches learned to keep the hammer down this week. The Arkansas game was particularly encouraging to me, because I felt like there was a real chance that a tired, beat-up team could try to mail it in. It didn’t happen.

     Auburn gets a week off to try and heal some folks up. Also, I think it’s a great opportunity to self-scout and break tendencies. Auburn can find out what has worked and polish it. It can also discover what it doesn’t do well and work to improve. Quite frankly, I’m also looking forward to a college football day next Saturday where I won’t be in angst over Auburn and instead can sample a lot of football around the league and the nation.

     A trip to Texas A&M looms in a couple of weeks. Auburn has never lost in College Station, but a talented team awaits. After a huge collapse in week one against UCLA, Texas A&M has steadily gotten better. It will take a great performance to win in that stadium in early November.


  1. easyedwin easyedwin says:

    Good , fun game. However………..I cannot believe we gave up a touchdown on a kick-off return.

    • ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

      That kickoff return was a bit troubling but i wonder if the coverage team is so accustomed to the long kicks that they are not expecting a run back? If so, then that needs to change, as in, right now.

    • Zach Taylor Zach Taylor says:

      There was a block in the back late in the return so bad that another blocker threw his hands up in the air in anger. Two weeks in a row this has happened.

  2. ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

    Due to family obligations, I wasn’t around to watch enough of this one. Thanks to Acid and TET, however, I was able to keep up until I could get to a spot to watch.
    I thought Auburn did some really good things in this game especially coming back really strong following the loss last week.
    Like you, Acid, this was a “no-win” game for Auburn. Win it big like they did and there are those who say Auburn did exactly as they should; then those that say it was only Arkansas, etc.
    The wife and I are somewhat thankful for the off week as we will be heading west for the aTm game and I’m sure the better half will have a list of chores for me to handle this next weekend. (Don’t tell her but I do plan to be sneaky and watch the FL/UGA game…)
    But, such is life, and this life I would trade not!
    Let’s take the win over Arky and move on.

    As always, It’s Great to be an Auburn Tiger and…


    • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

      …..Many times, I’ve told my kids that if they get married on Saturday in the fall, I will not be there. I’m only half-kidding! I tried to get the Georgia week off, this year, but got bounced to this week. I don’t mind. I have a ton of stuff to get done around the house, and being off on a bye week Saturday isn’t all bad. However, I plan to do all the work on week days, and laze in my recliner with the remote, all day, next Saturday!

      • ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

        Well, this was a death in the family – My sister-in-law and not really sure she had control of the day/date. Even being an AU fan. I don’t think she planned it this way. AND, if this had been a home game she would probably threaten to haunt me had I given up an Auburn game! She had been battling the dreaded “C” for a while and was ready to move on. Still sad, however. But, now she gets to watch all things Auburn from one of the best seats ever!! (I think… She never was all that proper…)

  3. almightytmc says:

    It was a good win for AU. And a good confidence boost. Auburn will still have hell to pay in the upcoming conference slate. Auburn should make a good bowl game this year….which keeps Gus around for another year. Which… Basically means wash, lather, repeat. On one hand I see where Gus is at AU next season. But if AU gets dominated (or worse chokes) in amen corner I think Gus may be moving on. Which is probably best.

  4. Tigerpharm says:

    Good post Acid and I enjoyed following your open thread even though I didn't join in the conversation.

    I noticed once you said that Auburn was in a no win situation – something like if they lost to Arky the naysayers would be out in force and if they won they would just say yeah but it doesn't count cause look who they were playing. I've already seen that floating around on social media today too. But no matter what some say, It was a good win and should be recognized as such. I also think it's something the team can build on going forward. At 6-2 and 4-1 SEC, I for one am not ready to throw in the towel.

    • jlobailey says:

      Same here!! I’ll be rooting for the team (and the coaching staff) until the bitter end!

    • neonbets says:

      A good rule of thumb to keep one’s self from either being a ‘naysayer’ or a ‘waterboy’: Judge the team, not by its last game, but by the previous three games. It smooths out the ups and downs.

      Based on that metric–I’m not impressed. Auburn blew it against LSU. Now, all we can hope for is to be a Good-Mediocre Team. And that’s OK…but for the fact that last year we were a Mediocre-Mediocre Team…and the year before that we were a Bad-Mediocre Team.

      Auburn is not a rich school. It doesn’t have Stanford/Harvard Endowments. It doesn’t have an alumni base like Texas, Michigan or Florida. Yet, Auburn digs deep to shell out the cash required for a top-flight college football program.

      And what do we get in return? A level of performance befitting the yawns associated with the Memphis Tigers or the University of South Florida. I’ve defended Gus and Co for years…but facts are facts.

      [Personally, if we win out—except for Alabama—then I hope he stays. But any more than a loss to ‘bama–it’s time to move on. And that’s far from being a ‘Naysayer’.]

  5. CapnVegetto says:

    Dear TET,

    IT WAS ARKANSAS. THEY ARE TERRIBLE. This means nothing! We were supposed to beat the crap out of them. A & M isn’t really THAT great either.

    Malzhan wins games against bad teams. He loses games against good teams. For years now. Until he’s fired, we will forever languish in mediocrity. Ceiling for us is a New Year’s Day bowl. For what Gus makes, that isn’t good enough!!!

    Fire him NOW.

  6. …..I respectfully disagree. Arkansas certainly isn’t great, but lordy… I remember seasons when it was great to get a win over Southern Miss or other cupcakes. We beat Arkansas in their house, and did it with swagger. My favorite play, of course, was the wide receiver pass for a score. I loved how we called that play up 31-6, and basically kicked their teeth in with it. Weren’t gonna be no comeback, after that!

    • easyedwin easyedwin says:

      Consider this; CGM to Arky
      Cousin Eddie to AU

    • Jonathon Jonathon says:

      I get both angles here, But, this is the frustration with Gus. He’s losing games that would get us to the next level and winning these games over current teams we should be winning with the talent we have. It’s these blowout wins, that are nice, but are what’s keeping Gus’ faithful saying “see, he’s an offensive genius so let’s give him even more time” which is just yielding that same results but in more painful ways. Wins aren’t easy. But neither is suffering the lowest of lows with these highs mixed in prolonging the inevitable (what I’m seeing as the inevitable).

  7. …..There’s a ton of stuff I don’t like about Gus, starting with truthfulness in his press conferences. But, he gets his players to play hard, and when the offense is working, it’s beautiful to behold.

  8. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    ….I also liked in previous seasons a live-blog from the official Auburn site. This year, crickets. On gameday this week, even their Twitter feed had a three-week-old conditioning post. The site is pretty, if you have an Iphone. The content is worthless, on gameday.

    • jlobailey says:

      I wonder if there what motivation coaches (CGM included) have found to be MUCH less transparent these last couple seasons— for instance, not coming forward with details in regard to disciplinary action and also muddled, unclear injury reports (or maybe no injury report at all). I definitely could see some advantages to a more opaque approach, but why has this only become a trend as of late?

  9. Zach Taylor Zach Taylor says:

    Great work Acid, as always.

    We will agree to disagree on some points, and that’s perfectly ok.

    I cannot, in any sort of way, continue to pass a WR corps that cannot catch passes. Period. Year after year after year under Malzahn. There are only two things in common, Malzahn and the under-qualified coach he hires to coach the position, regardless of being Auburn folk heroes or not.

    Also, while I also like that an easy SEC win is always a plus, the loser of the Arkansas/Ole Miss game this weekend is out of a job. That says plenty about where another lopsided Auburn win ranks.

    I know Matt Luke gets some grace for losing his QB, but Arkansas is a terrible, terrible team. His team has to show some kind of life. Conversely, every game from here on out is a must win for Beleima.

  10. Tigerstripe Tigerstripe says:

    Whelp, I think the boys did a great job this week in helping Auburn develop their head coach. Let’s hope he continues to progress into an SEC caliber coach and that the week off won’t allow him to become complacent in his development. The receiver pass must’ve been hard for him to approve after being up three scores but he pushed through and made us proud. Yelling at a referee must’ve also been difficult for him but he did a great job in using his words. Who knows, maybe after 5 years, he’s starting to show some promise…

  11. AUTiger57 says:

    Great post as usual, Acid. Like Zach, we can agree to disagree and still respect each other as Auburn family. I too think our receivers need alot of work. And I personally love our defense. BUT, get disappointed in our backups giving up scores. I mean, aren’t these same guys future 1st string players??? Just saying. I still believe as I did before the first game, that our team and coaches will be judged by the outcome of the Georgia and Bama games. These 2 games define if Gus is going forward or not. Thanks to you, Acid and all you guys at TET for all you do for us. War Eagle!!

  12. Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

    I know there are lots of folks who don’t want to hear this but at this point in time, Arkansas is a terrible football team. That being said, Auburn was well prepared and played a good game Saturday. There was no second half fold. Play calling appeared better. The run game looked better. Now it’s time to do it against quality opponents.

  13. audad says:

    It’s a shame the team isn’t 7-1 and ranked 6th or 7th as they would be, but it is what it is. From top to bottom they say they learned from the LSU mess. The first test has been passed easily. A&M will be tougher, so we’ll see. Hopefully will be back at full strength or at least very close. The bye week should help. Much is still being said about dropped passes, and rightfully so. I continue to be baffled as to why the guy with arguably the best hands on the team (Craig-Myers) doesn’t get more balls thrown to him. 9 catches so far this year. All he does is catch balls in traffic when getting belted and hangs on to them. And sometimes when going up high to get them. Slayton, as much of a threat as he can be, has probably dropped more balls than Nate has had thrown to him so far this season.

  14. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..Dropped passes are an interesting study. I'm one those who groans at them, but most games have at least a few. College stats aren't as widely collected as NFL, but what is interesting about the NFL numbers is the catch rate each receiver has. You'd think that NFL receivers would be better than college receivers, wouldn't you?

    ……I found some NFL charts online, and basically no receiver has even an 80 percent catch rate. The really good ones are around 75 percent, and a few are actually below 50. On my favorite NFL team, Dez Bryant is scored at a dismal 43.1 percent. This chart is a couple of years old, but it does make my point. Drops do happen, and they happen a lot across football.

  15. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..As far as firing Gus Malzahn talk, I don’t think that’s a good idea unless responsible parties have a good idea who they want to replace him. Auburn will likely be competing with a number of SEC schools this year, in head coaching searches. Some will have deeper pockets, like Tennessee, or maybe even Florida, since their coach is getting death threats. One could conceivably see vacancies at Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Texas A&M, Arkansas, and Ole Miss, this year.

    …..And let’s look at Auburn hires since Shug retired. Barfield, Dye, Bowden, Tuberville, Chizik, then Malzahn. All were fired or run off. Is our current leadership capable of making a better hire than Malzahn? To me, that would be a crap-shoot with unfavorable odds.

    …..I’m on the side of evaluating the season after it is done, rather than hastily making an expensive mistake.

    • Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

      I agree on all of your points. I’m sick of Malzahn failing to quickly correct his obvious shortcomings but it would be crazy to fire him unless we already have a homerun hire locked up, and like you I have zero confidence in the powers that be to pull that off.

    • Jonathon Jonathon says:

      I agree about season evaluation at year’s end. I’m not a fan of firings during a season or on-staff, position coaches becoming interim then head coaches. My point, I just don’t see Gus as our guy for years to come. What programs can toss money around with ease? Auburn is no slouch:
      Who do we go out and get? I don’t know that either but to think Auburn is a program that will fall below some other SEC options for available head coaches…? Maybe Saban is not only ruining competition in our league he might just be ruining our options for coaches willing to compete against him (?)

    • ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

      I understand all of the negative Gus comments – I really do and I will expound on those in my Saturday post – BUT, at this point, given all the other Hot Seat coaches mentioned by Acid, who are you going to hire?
      Almost any coach, at this level, really doesn’t need the money. Or they certainly should not need the money; If they have been the absolute least bit frugal they are already multi-millionaires.
      So, in my opinion, there has to be something else that convinces them that Auburn is the right fit. My gosh, Tennessee fans are still harping on getting Gruden. Like that could ever happen! I actually spoke with Jon Gruden at a pre-Outback Gala in Tampa prior to the debacle that Alvarez, yet again, created against AU, and he plainly stated that he has zero interest in coaching ever again at ANY level. And I believed him then and still do.
      But, yet again, to the chagrin of some TET members, I still believe in Gus even though I sometimes don’t know what to think but I haven’t yet given up.
      Let’s see what happens at aTm, and then UGA and that bunch from across the Great State of Alabama.

    • multipurposepaper says:

      I think the over/under on SEC coaching vacancies after this season is 3.5 with OM for sure and Tennessee likely. Followed by Arkansas as the next likely then A&M and Missouri in the next group with Auburn after that. I don’t think there is any chance UK or UF fire their coaches. Of that likely group, we are really only competing against UT and A&M, the others on that list are on lower tiers of competitiveness both on and off the field.

      Our biggest problem is that our athletic department is in no shape to do the job of hiring a football coach. Too many investigations and it’s too likely JJ will be replaced at some point. If Gus goes 0-3 the rest of the way in SEC games, all bets are off. 1-2 his seat really heats up but I think he’s safe for one more year. 2-1 or better will help buy some good will but losing to UGA and/or Bammer – especially if those losses resemble the ineptitude of the other losses – will sit very poorly with a lot of folks.

      • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

        …..My thoughts on Kentucky and Florida are those coaches leaving voluntarily. If Stoops is going to move to a better job, the time is soon. Kentucky’s prospects down the stretch look shaky. I watched a good bit of MSU/KY, and the Bulldogs took ’em to the woodshed.

        …..Jim McElwain doesn’t look happy on the sideline, to me. He more or less inherited a mess he didn’t make, and is being held accountable for it.

  16. Tigers5711 says:

    Auburn was quite impressive in beating Arky. That being said we have a tough Amen Corner coming up in TAMU, GA & Bama. It’s clear that Tex A&M is always tough and we had better have our helmets on tight. GA & Bama out recruit us and Saban usually out coaches us. However we did beat great GA & Bama teams in 2013 and it could happen again if everything lines up. It’s a huge task but remember we are playing at home. We are due as we’ve only beat GA twice in the last 10 years and Bama 3 times. I get frustrated at Malzahn too but remember that he is the only head coach in the SEC other than Saban who knows how to win the conference and has done it already. And he’s the only head coach in the SEC other than Saban who knows how to get us to the NC game. WDE!

  17. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    ….Uh-oh, on McElwain. After commenting that he received death-threats, he is refusing to offer the Florida brass additional details. Sounds like a child stonewalling, after a parent tries to pin down details of some wild story….

  18. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..Interestingly, if you want to go by numbers, the most successful SEC coaches over the last 10 years have been Saban, Les Miles and Mark Richt. Two of three have been fired… Kirby Smart as a replacement looks pretty good right now, but the proof will be in the Fla-Aub-GaTech trifecta, this year. Coach-O has yet to put up Miles-esque numbers.

  19. sparkey sparkey says:

    I am honestly stunned so many of you are completely fine with 6-8 win seasons every year. I thought we would demand better than that. I thought wrong. The Mayor of Mediocrity has shown you what he is. I truly think Auburn could do much better than him. I certainly think we should get much more in return considering what he is paid.