Tigers Run Over Arkansas State! (includes unit grades)
Sammie Coates scores on the deep ball!
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign report, on Auburn’s 38-9 win over Arkansas State. On a weekend when most expected a close game, the Tigers produced a blow-out win over the Red Wolves. The Tigers made strides on both sides of the ball, but still have a way to go before they are ready to beat any top tier SEC schools.
Brian Harsin’s Arkansas State squad came in sky-high for this game, and really tried to get after the Auburn Tigers. With a veteran offensive line and dangerous skill players, the Wolves tested Auburn’s suspect front seven right away. The Auburn defense gave up 422 yards to the Red Wolves’ offense, but acquitted itself pretty decently against ASU’s veteran, dangerous runners. Most of the Arkansas State yardage came either via the short passing game, or quarterback scrambles.
Time and time again, Arkansas State quarterback Adam Kennedy escaped pressure, and made plays with his legs. He led Arkansas State runners with 74 net yards on the ground. Containing the quarterback in the pocket was easily the worst aspect of the defense in this game. I also felt like the tackling in the secondary wasn’t quite as good as the week before against Washington State. Several short passes turned into long gains and set the Red Wolves up deep in Auburn territory.
I do have to tip my cap to Auburn’s red zone defense. Every time Arkansas State pushed inside scoring territory, the Auburn defense either forced a field goal or a turnover on downs. The Tigers have now gone 6 quarters without allowing a touchdown. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson played a fairly conservative, bend but don’t break strategy between the 20 yard lines, and turned up the heat dramatically in the red zone.
The linebacking corps did better than the week before, and there was a great increase in the amount of pressure on the quarterback from the defensive line. While the Tigers only produced 2 sacks, there were an astounding 22 quarterback hurries recorded on the stat sheet by the Auburn front seven. On the opposite side of the ball, ASU had only 3 hurries and no sacks.
The Auburn rushing attack was even more effective this week than last. There weren’t any 75 yard runs this week, but lots of 15-25 yard ones. Auburn faced a tough defensive front and a lot of defenders in the box, and still produced 301 rushing yards. The passing game improved also, with fewer dropped balls, bad routes, and missed passes. Quarterback Nick Marshall threw 2 fewer balls than last week, and produced 48 more yards. The offense is still far from being a finished product, but this thing works, folks! It eats up chunks of yardage, and I can’t wait to see what it does to Mississippi State’s defense next week.
Special teams may have taken a step backwards this week. The Tigers allowed 4 kickoffs to be returned, and there were several short punts. The averages on these things look pretty good, but what was somewhat disturbing was the erratic nature of them. We’d get a great, long punt, followed by a shank. There were two kick returns of 25 yards, but those were offset by two really short ones. Still, Cody Parkey hit all of his place kicks, and Steven Clark still has not punted a returnable ball this season.
Unit Grades after the jump!
Defensive Line: B+. This was a veteran, strong, SEC-sized offensive line our guys played this week, and they largely did well. Auburn played 13 defensive linemen in this game, an unheard-of number in this day and age. My only real quibble is that they allowed the quarterback to escape contain too many times. The line contributed 27 tackles in this one, 8.5 tackles for loss, and 19 quarterback hurries. We’re seeing a lot of guys really step up, here. LaDarius Owens was the leader here. A starter last weekend, he came off the bench in this one and contributed 8 tackles.
Linebackers: C. Auburn played more guys here, and they made some plays this week. There were still bad angles, misfits, but I saw some aggressive tackling out of this unit, and tough tackles being made. The linebackers combined for 22 tackles. A big negative was the ejection for targeting of Kris Frost in the 2nd half. He did take an extra step and make that hit after the quarterback had already thrown the ball. Not only did Auburn give up 45 yards on that play, but Frost will have to miss the first half of the Mississippi State game, against some dangerous Bulldog runners.
Secondary: B. The Tigers did not tackle quite as well here as last week, but it was still a pretty good performance. The Tigers were not beaten deep, but the missed tackles produced some long gainers on short passes. Auburn played a lot of zone in this game, and the Red Wolves found ways to turn guys loose underneath, and they did not throw it at Robensen Therezie. Jonathan Mincy had problems catching guys on his side of the field, and finished with only 1 tackle and no other stats. Chris Davis and Ryan White made up for it, though, combining for 15 tackles and 3 pass breakups. Davis was also good at times on run support. He was in on a key 4th down stop of David Oku in the first quarter that kept Auburn’s 14-3 lead safe.
Punting: B+. Steven Clark had a bit of an off night, with a couple of short punts. One of those did hit and roll, and still went 50 yards. Arkansas State could not return any of those punts, and Clark did finish with a 41.5 yard average. In the end, I’m pretty happy with a 41 yard average with no returns. We’ll take that every game!
Punt Returns: B-. Auburn only had 2 opportunities, as the Arkansas State punters put 2 of their 4 punts into the end zone. Davis did wisely field one at the 10 yard line, and got only 2 yards. If he had let it go, it likely would have been killed deep.
Kick Returns: B. Auburn had 2 opportunities here, with Quan Bray taking the opening kickoff from the goal line to the 33, and later Tre Mason took a first quarter kickoff to the 25 from the 1. A holding penalty on C. J. Uzomah knocked 10 yards off that. Arkansas State decided to kick it into the end zone for touchbacks, after those returns.
Place-kicking: A. Cody Parkey hit all 5 extra points and his lone field goal attempt. On kickoffs, he hit 3 of 7 for touchbacks, which is a low percentage for Parkey. However, I think the strategy was to kick it near the goal line, and bottle up the returner deep, not any failure on Parkey’s part. This worked well a couple of times, and Auburn finished allowing only 17.8 yards per return. Anything here under 20 yards is good, and it’s of increased importance if the return man can be stopped short of the 25, where touchbacks are now placed.
Offensive Line: A-. I counted off mainly for holding penalties on Greg Robinson and Chade Slade, and a Slade false start. However, this line was again pretty dominant and sound. The Tigers were only tackled for a loss 5 times in the game, only 2 of those were by starting defensive linemen. Auburn allowed no sacks, and Nick Marshall had time to throw with good-looking pockets. A 300 yard rushing day tells the tale. That will win a lot of ball games, and a lot of credit goes to a great job by the line.
Running Backs: A. There was no single stand-out back in this game, but all three runners contributed well, ran hard, made their blocks, and had no turnovers. They combined for 241 yards on 40 caries and each scored a touchdown. I really enjoyed seeing H-Back Jay Prosch get his hands on the ball on a Jonathan Wallace 4th down dump off, and rumble for 20 yards and a big first down!
Receivers: B+. There was significant improvement this week, particularly route running and in the hands department. Officially, there were no drops credited to anyone on the stat sheet, but I thought an early deep ball to Sammie Coates should have probably been caught, although he was being hit just as the ball got there. I’m hoping that this game is the standard, and that guys basically had a bit of nerves last weekend. Again, there was good blocking downfield, helping Auburn peel off a number of 10-yard plus runs. That 68 yard touchdown bomb to Coates was a thing of beauty. It’s also good to get that on film, and into the heads of SEC safeties and defensive coordinators, who’ll have to think twice before they send the safety on Coates’ side up into the box.
Quarterback: B. Nick Marshall did lose a fumble, thus a letter grade off. However, he again threw no interceptions, and was pretty safe with the ball. I’m a bit concerned with a couple of misses on quick screens, but he made a lot more of those throws. Marshall hit 58 percent of his 17 passes, for 8.6 yards per pass. His counterpart on ASU’s side only managed 6.6. Marshall was also a weapon in the running game, finishing with 53 rushing yards at a 6.6 yard per carry clip. I liked Jonathan Wallace’s extended wildcat package, too. I think it’s important to let him throw it a time or two per game, which will help keep the defense honest.
Before the season, I had figured Auburn would win this game by a comfortable margin, but the game wasn’t quite like I expected. I figured that with a new quarterback, ASU would struggle to move the ball. Instead, they ended up with a pretty well trained veteran transfer in Adam Kennedy. Auburn kept the Red Wolves out of the end zone, but the 422 yards allowed is concerning. It will be interesting to see what the defensive look will be against Mississippi State, who has a similar running game to Arkansas State’s.
This Auburn team is showing progress. This time last season, Auburn was struggling in overtime to beat another Sun Belt team, Louisiana Monroe. This year, Auburn beat the Arkansas State Red Wolves pretty convincingly. I think this year’s team is on a completely different trajectory. A win is a win, and this team took care of business against the Red Wolves.
I think everyone who wears Orange and Blue can’t wait to see this team get its hands on Dan Mullen’s Mississippi State Bulldogs. After the beating Auburn took in Starkville last year, I think some payback is in order. There are a number of matchup situations in this game that favor Auburn, and that will tilt even more in the Tigers’ favor if MSU quarterback Tyler Russell misses the game. Even if he is cleared to play this week, I doubt he’ll be allowed to take off running as much as the Arkansas State quarterback did.
War Eagle, folks! It’s great to be an Auburn Tiger, and 2-0 in September!