Tigers Rumble Past the Razorbacks. (with unit grades.)
Coates hauls in an 88 yard touchdown pass!
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign report, on Auburn’s 35-17 win over Arkansas in Fayetteville. The Tigers ran into a bit of a buzzsaw in Arkansas, who had two weeks to rest their weary legs and prepare for this one. The Auburn defense was battered and bruised, and took a few steps backward in this one, but the Auburn offense took care of business and put up the points once again. Despite complaints that this game wasn’t as dominant as expected, the 35-17 victory is Auburn’s biggest margin of victory ever in the state of Arkansas.
The Razorbacks came out with a game plan to run a lot of heavy, trapping sets, and to attack with the passing game on slant and seam routes over the middle. Auburn seldom had an answer for this, until the Razorbacks reached the red zone, and often this was due to poor strategy by Arkansas. Auburn stopped the promising opening drive with a lucky (questionable call) dropped pass in the end zone, followed by a tipped ball interception. The third Arkansas possession was stopped by the head-shaking decision by the Razorbacks to abandon their two back running game for the wildcat, and a field goal ensued. The wildcat accomplished next to nothing for the Razorbacks, except for wasting downs. The Razorbacks late in the half lost the ball on downs after picking up first and goal at the 4. A wildcat play produced nothing, a dump to the fullback got it to the 1, then inexplicably the Razorbacks tried back to back deep handoffs, which were stuffed by Javier Mitchell. The Razorbacks hit some big 3rd down passes for 1st downs, but they had numerous dropped balls as well.
Even with the Arkansas miscues, they ground out 25 first downs on the day, against an Auburn defense that had its poorest tackling day of the season. Had the Arkansas passing game been more consistent, this game would have been very tight.
Auburn’s offensive plan was to mostly run the ball, and eat up the clock. Unfortunately, Auburn didn’t generate many clock-eating drives. Either the Tigers would gobble up yards in a hurry and score, or they’ll implode and go 3 and out. Auburn actually finished the game with more yards (366 to 346) than Arkansas, but much of it came in huge hunks. A single 88 yard strike from Nick Marshall to Sammie Coates accounted for a quarter of the yardage. Tre Mason had 4 runs of 10 yards or more, and Nick Marshall added 3 more. That’s half of Auburn’s yardage in just 8 plays. The Tigers attempted just 2 passes down the field the entire game. Jeremy Johnson came in cold in the 3rd quarter and hit a 15 yard strike to Coates for a first down in the red zone. And then there was a back-breaking 3rd down bomb to Coates to put Auburn up 28-3. Call me crazy, but that might well have been another overthrow, except for Marshall’s injured shoulder. As it was, it turned out to be a good back-shoulder pass that the defender couldn’t handle.
Special teams were excellent, except for one play. After the Tigers took a 28-3 lead, Korliss Marshall brought Cody Parkey’s kickoff out of the end zone, and there was a gaping hole in the Auburn coverage that an airplane could have taxied through. Cody Parkey had about 25 yards of field to defend by himself, and Marshall went by him. Jonathan Mincy sacrificed his ankle to stop the play at the Auburn 13. Otherwise, everything was touchbacks or punts that couldn’t be returned. Steven Clark was in great form, pinning the Razorbacks deep. Chris Davis had a touch return in traffic, and the fumbles from last week were eliminated.
Unit Grades after the jump!
Defensive Line: C. After several weeks of improvement, Auburn had a battle this week up front. Too many times, the Arkansas line blew the Tigers off the ball, especially early. The Tigers have been crashing the ends inside to stop the sweep on zone read plays, but that strategy was not good against the Arkansas off-tackle play. The Tigers lost contain on the edge repeatedly. The Tiger D-line totaled 13 tackles, a number way down from recent weeks, against a team that ran 74 offensive snaps.
Linebackers: C+. There were some out-of-position missed tackles in this one, but there were also some drive-stopping plays out of this unit, and they should get credit for that. Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy were disruptive at times, and Jake Holland stopped some runs. A special tip of the hat for back to back goal line stops by Javier Mitchell. Auburn had to bring star Robensen Therezie up as sort of a Sam linebacker in this one, and that didn’t always work so well. Therezie is great in coverage and chasing down guys in the open field. Taking on tight end, pulling guard and fullback blocks is not his strong suit. We’ll see a lot of this strategy from our next three opponents, to be sure.
Secondary: C. The Tigers failed to display much ability to stop the slant pass on 3rd and long in this one. Not only was the receiver open for it with soft coverage, the Tigers could not come up and tackle the receiver before the first down marker, either. Tight ends got open down the middle repeatedly, also. In defense of the secondary, Arkansas was running pick plays all day, actually using a slot receiver or 2nd tight end to actually pancake block a coverage guy down the field. They got caught a couple of times, which ended drives. Arkansas only hit on 12 of 27 passes, but there were at least 8 dropped balls, and a similar number of bad passes. Also in defense of this secondary, we had pretty much every cornerback in the playing rotation get nicked up and have to sit a series or three out. Somehow, the Tigers kept the Razorback score to just 17 points.
Punting: A. Steven Clark was a weapon in this game, consistently killing balls deep while maintaining a good 44.5 yard average. His first punt was downed at the Arkansas 2, by Sammie Coates, who was waiting for the ball, and had time to eat a sandwich before that punt finally came down out of the sky. Even when Clark hit one punt pretty short, he got an endless roll, the ball traveled 53 yards, and died at the Arkansas 27.
Punt Returns: B+. Chris Davis was still the return man in this one, but he made good decisions, and had a shifty 10 yard return in traffic that helped the team.
Kick Returns: N. A. Arkansas’ Zach Hocker didn’t kick any returnable balls, with two touchbacks and one kicked out of bounds.
Place-kicking: B. Cody Parkey was again perfect on place kicks, and hit 5 of 6 kickoffs for touchbacks. Letter grade off for allowing that big return due to bad kick coverage.
Offensive Line: A-. Arkansas gave Auburn as much trouble up front as any defensive line has this year outside of LSU. However, the Tigers won this matchup, and created huge running lanes at times. It wasn’t a perfect game by any stretch, though. We saw basically the first sack of the year given up by an offensive lineman, when Chris Smith went around Avery Young. Young also picked up a holding flag that was declined, and Greg Robinson had a drive-killing false start. Auburn really crushed Arkansas in the middle of the line, especially in the second half.
Running Backs: A. These guys continue to carry the load. There hasn’t been a fumble from a running back in about a month, and Tre Mason really took this game on his shoulders for the Tigers. I’ve said in the past that he really isn’t a 25-carry per game back, but I may have been wrong. He still looked pretty strong and fast at the end of 32 carries for 163 yards this week! Jay Prosch continues to be a force at H-back.
Receivers: A-. We had another drop by Sammie Coates, but he made up for it with 3 catches for 102 yards and a clinching score. I felt like there was good downfield blocking in the running game for a lot of guys, including C. J. Uzomah, Trovon Reed, Ricardo Louis and Coates. We’re still not consistently getting the quick screens to the outside blocked, but that is also improving.
Quarterback: A. One could deduct a letter grade for Nick Marshall’s fumble after a long run late, but Marshall dug into that pile and got the ball back. Folks still don’t think he’s an SEC quarterback, but I don’t know how one can argue with no turnovers, 87 percent passing for 14.7 yards per pass, and his 59 rushing yards at 6.6 yards per carry. Marshall looked accurate in this game, with his one incompletion being a dropped ball. I think we officially can say that Auburn is in very good shape at quarterback going forward.
Amen corner rolls on for Auburn, with progressively more difficult games on tap. The road trip next weekend to Knoxville could be trouble for a battered Auburn defense. I saw lots of gimpy secondary folks in Fayetteville. Tennessee’s passing game is in the hands of a young quarterback, but they have a strong offensive line, and some good backs. Auburn will need to play better against the run against the Vols.
The offense needs to keep on doing what it has been doing since the first half of the LSU game. Tennessee is dead last in the SEC in rushing defense, giving up 201.7 yards per game. The Vols are also next to last in total defense, giving up 429.3 yards per game and 29.4 points. Auburn must take care of business, avoid turnovers, and put points on the board. The Tigers have done that in Baton Rouge in the second half, and did it in College Station and Fayetteville. There’s no reason to think that they can’t do it in Neyland Stadium.
War Eagle, folks! It is great to be 8-1! This time a year ago, we were struggling against New Mexico State and had a 2-7 record. When we are complaining that we didn’t dominate an SEC team and win by more than 18 on the road, it’s a pretty good year!