Tigers Sack the Rebels! (with unit grades.)
Tigers dug in when it counted.
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign report, on Auburn’s 30-22 win over the 24th ranked Ole Miss Rebels. This was a game few pundits figured Auburn could win, but the Tigers jumped on the Rebels early, and rode big leads through much of the game before salting the game away in the 4th quarter with some dominant defensive line play.
Saturday, the looming bad weather situation fizzled like the Ole Miss top 25 ranking. Dire predictions gave way to mostly sunny skies and another warm day in Auburn. The temperature stayed in the upper 70s throughout the game, with virtually no wind. While the weather was calm, the same can’t be said for the crowd. Traffic was fairly light driving down US 280 Saturday afternoon to the game, and I was worried that this one might be sparsely attended. I needn’t have fretted! There were 86,000 plus in the stands, and they were ready to make some noise! Ole Miss definitely had some communication problems on offense because of it. Today, it’s probably the fans having communication problems. I yelled and screamed so much that my throat is raw!
I left the game marveling at what a Jekyll and Hyde unit the Auburn defense is. There are downs where there is no push, and easy completions. Or there’s a big pitch play on 4th and 2 that Auburn let go for 52 yards. Even on that drive, Auburn still slammed the door. Jonathan Mincy came all the way across the field to push Jeff Scott out of bounds at the Tiger 6 yard line, and the defense held and forced a field goal.
This Tiger defense is rapidly becoming pretty brutal up front. Unlike earlier in the season, these guys are stacking the middle up and pressuring the quarterback. Bo Wallace was decidedly uncomfortable dropping to throw. He made some plays with his arm, but not so much with his feet, as contain was greatly improved in this game. The defense provided several Nick-Fairly-worthy hits on Wallace. Wallace would struggle to break free from the grasp of a lineman, and most of the time he would be unceremoniously ripped down to the ground.
Wallace knows the heat is coming!
I think a special tip of the hat is in order towards sophomore linebacker Anthony Swain. With Justin Garrett unavailable for duty due to injury, the Auburn defense was in a real bind when Cassanova McKinzy went down at the end of the first quarter with a neck injury. “Keep an eye on #43,” I said to everyone around me, expecting real trouble. Ole Miss ran plays at Swain, and paid the price more often than not. On his first full series, Swain stopped Barry Brunetti trying to take the ball up the middle. He was around the ball and making plays. At the end of the game, Auburn’s leading tackler was Anthony Swain, with 8 tackles, 7 of them solo jobs.
There’s plenty of praise for the front four on the defense after the game, but I think overall the back seven players took a bit of a step backwards. Auburn did a good job recognizing and covering receivers for the most part. It was rare to see an Ole Miss guy flying around wide open. However, most of the 26 Ole Miss completions happened with an Auburn guy right there, but unable to stop the catch from happening. The Tigers did coral 2 crucial interceptions, and broke 3 more passes up, but the ball was thrown 50 times. What’s particularly irritating is that when Auburn’s receivers are covered, the least little effort from the defensive player results in an incompletion. How come we can’t coach our guys up like the Ole Miss receivers?
I had noted earlier this summer that Ole Miss had the advantage in the secondary over Auburn’s receivers and passing game, and that proved to be true in the contest. As a result, the Auburn offensive brain trust’s plan was to zone-read the Rebel front seven to death. That worked well enough to put some points on the board. Nick Marshall became the 4th different Auburn player to rush for over 100 yards in the game, but he suffered a knee injury and was limited down the stretch. It’s a risky move to ask your quarterback to handle the rushing load, and I seriously doubt that Auburn will be able to utilize this game plan every week without having multiple quarterbacks ready to go.
Auburn in past games has been able to move the chains using quick screens, but this failed against the Rebels, mainly because of pretty poor or non-existent blocking on the edge. Most of this was due to the scheme. Instead of having Brandon Fulse or other big bodies out there on these calls, the Tigers tried dumping these things off a few times with NO blocker even lined up out there. That did not work at all against veteran Ole Miss corners.
More of this, on screen passes, please?
With the injury two weeks ago to Jaylon Denson, there’s been some shakeups in the receiving corps. We saw a good bit of Khiel Frazer playing the split-out tight end/Y receiver spot, and he did a pretty decent job blocking. He’s wearing number 25 now, for the folks keeping score at home. Auburn had a rotating cast of characters out there, but did very little throwing.
We were treated to another great special teams effort in this game. I even had a great time watching Steven Clark during pre-game and halftime warmups. Each team gets half the field during these things, and Auburn’s half of the field wasn’t big enough for Clark. He was regularly landing mortar shells in the middle of Ole Miss preparations. Pretty funny stuff! He hit a few of those practice punts nearly 70 yards.
I took issue with the coaching decision to have Cody Parkey attempt a 54-yarder in the 4th quarter. It was 4th and 7, and even if Parkey had made the field goal, it was still a one-score game, 30-22. Instead, Parkey missed, and Ole Miss was set up with good field position to drive and pull within 5 points, which they promptly did. If Auburn was going to possibly give the ball up there, why not go for it, and try to salt the game way with a TD drive? Better yet, take a delay of game, and let Steven Clark kill it deep right in front of the student section. Auburn did kill it at the one yard line later in the game, and the Ole Miss offense could do nothing with it, bottled up like that.
Unit Grades after the jump!
Defensive Line: A. This was a great effort up front, the best in years. The move to put Nosa Eguae inside paid dividends. With Ben Bradley in there too, Auburn had the ability to slide off blocks and not give up big runs up the gut. This really helped the linebackers out, too, occupying multiple offensive linemen and not having pulling guards or full-speed runners to deal with in the middle. The move also seemed to sting the guys who had under-performed earlier in the year, and they stepped their game up too, when they were in there. Young Carl Lawson had a monster game at defensive end, terrorizing the Ole Miss passing game late. The defensive line in this game contributed 25 total tackles, 12.5 for loss, 6 sacks, and 14 quarterback hurries.
Linebackers: B-. With the line disrupting the running game, these guys were able to chase the ball better in this game. We saw quarterback hurries out of Cassanova McKinzy, and Jake Holland. Kris Frost batted a slant pass up in the air that was nearly intercepted. And where on earth has Anthony Swain been earlier this year? He got his opportunity when McKinzy went down, and made the most of it, finishing as the team’s leading tackler with just 3 quarters of work. I like how he attacks the ball carrier.
Secondary: B. Schematically, I liked what these guys did in this game. Watching the game live is SO much better for secondary watching, than the TV! These guys really communicate well, and help each other get lined up. They did a great job showing one look, then jumping out of it to another at the snap, and the transitions were pretty seamless. Both of Auburn’s interceptions were a result of the quarterback not understanding the coverage. For instance, a corner soft-covered a slant, preventing the big play, and safety Ryan White undercut the route and got the pick. That said, at times Auburn had trouble with the big Ole Miss receivers. Coverage would be in perfect position, and the Ole Miss receiver would make the catch anyway. Some of this can be attributed to good throws and good receivers, but we need to make even more plays on the ball.
Punting: A. Steven Clark didn’t have a bad punt, hitting 5 punts for a 41.4 yard average, and one killed by Jonathan Jones at the 1 yard line. Only one punt was returned by the dangerous Jeff Scott, and Ricardo Louis made a great open field tackle to hold that to just 5 yards.
Punt Returns: A. Auburn’s Quan Bray didn’t have a chance to return any of Tyler Campbell’s 5 punts, but he had plenty of opportunities to mess up inside his own ten yard line. Bray wisely let those bouncing balls go into the end zone. Campbell finished with a 44 yard punting average, but he lost 60 yards of field position on touchbacks. It’s nice to have a capable, intelligent veteran back there on the return unit.
Kick Returns: B. Tre Mason had two opportunities in this game. On the first, he was bottled in the corner, and ran laterally for just 16 yards all the way across the field. Credit Ole Miss for being disciplined and staying in their lanes on that one. On the second return, Ole Miss had just scored to cut Auburn’s lead to 5 points, and they were looking to pin the Tigers deep. Mason pulled off a brilliant, hard nosed return for 37 yards, and was one tackle away from going the distance. That really helped Auburn’s field position, although the Tigers did fumble it right back to Ole Miss on the next play. Still Ole Miss took over at their own 40. Imagine if that had happened at the Auburn 25… It didn’t, thanks to Mason’s return.
Place-kicking: A. Cody Parkey did miss a 54-yard attempt, that would have been a career-long. However, I can’t count off for that, as it was a coaching miscue to even attempt it. Parkey did hit a chip shot for the final margin, and is still perfect this season on extra points. Parkey hit 4 of 6 kickoffs for touchbacks, and did two placement kicks. Those resulted in Ole Miss returning the ball to the 27, and 20 yard lines, respectively.
Offensive Line: A-. I counted off a bit on a holding penalty on Greg Robinson. It was one of those quick outside passes, and the tackle is expected to race out there and block. Robinson was a little late, and hooked his man. There was little else to complain about, other than that. Ole Miss fired linebackers at gaps all night, and for the most part, there were picked up pretty adeptly. At times, Auburn completely dominated up front. The tale from the stats: 282 rushing yards with no real passing game, and no sacks.
Running Backs: B. There were two fumbles in this game, one on an exchange, that I’m not sure Tre Mason ever got his hands on. That doesn’t count off, but Cameron Artis-Payne’s fumble later was a potential back-breaker. Luckily, Ole Miss quickly threw an interception. CAP’s fumble was what I call an “effort play,” though. He had broken off a big run, and lost the ball fighting for more yardage. Jay Prosch had a decent day blocking, as well.
Receivers: C+. There just isn’t much consistency here. Blocking was adequate, even good at times. Guys really didn’t get open much in this game, and we again had dropped balls. There was one deep ball attempted to Sammie Coates, and it looked like he misjudged it, slowing up, then the ball sailed over his head.
Quarterback: B-. I counted off for the botched exchange that resulted in a fumble. The quarterback has to see the blitzer coming, and just eat the loss on that sort of play. Auburn was at the Ole Miss 16, and missed out on getting points on that. It was a 64 percent passing day for Nick Marshall, but only for 5.4 yards per pass, with basically nothing getting done down the field. Best passing play was a wheel route to Tre Mason for 34 yards. Marshall was excellent running the read-option plays. Ole Miss was determined to stop Mason up the middle, and Marshall made ‘em pay on the edge repeatedly. He showed a knack for making the first man miss. I am not a big fan of quarterbacks running the ball ten or more times a game. That is a recipe for injury. Even if the quarterback is not knocked out of the game, repeated hits to the arms and shoulders are going to affect the passing game.
The Auburn Tigers are undefeated against the state of Mississippi, and things are again right with the football world! It’s kind of curious how perception is. Both teams entered this game at 3-1. Auburn had a competitive loss to top-ten LSU, and Ole Miss was dominated by number 1 Alabama. The game was played at Auburn. However, Auburn got little respect nationally, while Ole Miss was still ranked 24th. Very few “experts” picked Auburn in this one. In the contest, Auburn looked dominant physically, and won the game. And Auburn still doesn’t rate a top 25 ranking? Curious.
A big salute goes to the Auburn fans and players at the game! The effort and noise was on the level of a big LSU or Florida game. I like the intensity of the Auburn sideline, too. The players definitely feel a sense of urgency, and I think the whole stadium feeds off of the energy from the coaching staff. Defensive line coach Rodney Garner absolutely had his guys whipped into a frenzy!
Carl Lawson’s sack ended this one!
With the win over Ole Miss, Auburn is set up for a successful October. Homecoming is next week, against a truly awful Western Carolina team. Then, the Tigers travel to College Station to take on Texas A&M. The month of October finishes with the Florida Atlantic Owls, who beat UAB yesterday 37-23. The Tigers should be no worse than 6-2 going into November, with road trips to Arkansas and Tennessee, and home finales against Georgia and Alabama.
War Eagle, folks! We are enjoying this win! I think we can safely say that the turnaround at Auburn is in progress, and greater days are ahead.