Tigers Slam the Aggies!
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign report on Auburn’s 21st homecoming victory in a row. The New Mexico State Aggies gave Auburn a fight for a while, but once linebacker Darren Bates slammed Aggie Germi Morrison to the turf on a fumble return for a score, the dam broke and Auburn roared to a 42-7 win. Jonathan Wallace in his first start came away with a big win. He joins Ken Hobby, Bobby Walden, Gabe Gross and Kodi Burns as the only true freshmen in Auburn history to start a game at quarterback.
Last week the Tiger defense melted and gave up 63 points. This week, the Tiger defense only allowed one meaningless touchdown after the game was well in hand. Most of the starters were on the bench at that point. While the defense held New Mexico State to just 2.6 yards per carry, quarterback Andrew Manley hit 17 of 30 passes for 222 yards and no interceptions. Manley did have a costly fumble that Auburn’s Darren Bates returned for a touchdown that made it 21-0 in the third quarter. Auburn generated more of a pass rush than in recent weeks, but they were taking advantage of a very weak offensive line. The defense had great difficulty covering wide receiver Austin Franklin and tight end Trevor Walls. There was pretty good tackling after the catch, and Tiger defensive backs broke up five passes.
The offense started pretty inauspiciously, with a fumbled handoff deep in Tiger territory. Blame on that one pretty much has to go to the quarterback, as running backs don’t look handoffs in. Rather, they are looking for the hole, and have to trust the QB to put the ball in the right spot. It evidently was part of the Tiger gameplan in the first half to take some shots down the field, but none were successful. There were two or three heaves into double coverage, that I think made everyone cringe.
What was encouraging was that for the first time all season, we saw some offensive adjustments during the game. After an interception, the deep bombs stopped. Most importantly, Auburn introduced a heavy dose of counter plays in the second half, designed to take advantage of overloaded Aggie blitzes to one side or the other. Auburn has ran so many plays to the short side of the field this season that the Aggies were slanting that way all day long. On the cut back, runners Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason found a ton of room. On the other hand, Auburn had difficulty with a couple of the Aggie 300 pound defensive linemen, and picked up three holding penalties. I’m not sure I had seen three holding penalties all year, much less in one game!
Auburn special teams turned in their usual high-quality performance, with smothering coverage, and booming kicks. There were some questionable punt return decisions, but Auburn had a couple of long returns and a big play recovering a muffed punt by Demetruce McNeal, who was spot on in coverage.
Unit Grades, after the jump!
Defensive Line: C+. This line showed big improvement, putting up 19 total tackles, including 6 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. However, one must consider the level of the competition. Auburn pretty much owned the line of scrimmage after the first quarter, but there were quite a few missed tackles on the quarterback and running backs in the backfield. Deangelo Blackson was probably the most consistent presence, with 2 tackles for a loss and a sack.
Linebackers: B. I gave the linebackers a bonus letter grade for Darren Bates’ awesome fumble return for a touchdown. In addition to the thunderous stiff-arm, there was a pretty nifty spin move at the start of the return. Holland and Bates were much more effective against the Aggies, because of better line play. Points off on a couple of missed tackles on the blitz.
Secondary: C+. Auburn tackled pretty well in the secondary, but coverage was spotty. Auburn tried a lot more tight bump and run coverage, with mixed results. Starters T’Sharvan Bell and Jonathan Mincy had some pass breakups, and Demetruce McNeal led the team with ten tackles. Auburn moved safeties up to the line a good bit in this game, which slowed down the short passing game. It cost the Tigers a score late in the game, when corner Robensen Therezie fell down trying to cover a slant pass with no safety help, and gave up a big 51 yard catch and run by Austin Franklin, that set up the lone Aggie score.
Punting: A. Steven Clark had a very consistent day, hitting the ball around 40-45 yards each time. He’ll likely never set a distance record at Auburn, but his kicks are very high and difficult for return men to handle. New Mexico State fair-caught four of Clark’s five punts, and fumbled the other one away.
Punt Returns: C+. Quan Bray fielded only five of nine Aggie punts, and this allowed punter Cayle Chapman-Brown to pin the Tigers deep four times. Once, Bray called for a fair catch at the Auburn ten yard line with no coverage men in the same zip code. Bray atoned late, when a bouncing ball bounded right to him, and he split the defenders for a 38 yard return. That was the longest punt return of the Gene Chizik era.
Kick Returns: C. Auburn had one great kick return, and one horrible one. To start the second half, Onterio McCalebb took the ball at the goal line, and coughed it up at the 15. Luckily, Jay Prosch fell on the loose ball at the 20. After the Aggie touchdown, McCalebb ran through a tackler at the 20, and raced 45 yards up the sideline to set up a quick touchdown drive.
Place-kicking: B+. Parkey missed another long range, 47 yard field goal, slicing it just wide. He’s now 11 of 14 on the season. I count no points off on anything over 45 yards. Five touchbacks in seven kickoffs is pretty darned good, but I did count off for one weird knuckle-baller that was returned, and Parkey kicked one out of bounds, his first of the year. That set the Aggies up at midfield.
Offensive Line: B-. Auburn had difficulty with strong interior guys, drawing several holding flags. Early on, defensive end Alex LaVoy turned the corner on Patrick Miller, and laid a withering hit on the quarterback. However, Miller got control of the situation, and he and Greg Robinson really wore out the small Aggie defensive ends as the game went on. After the first quarter, Jonathan Wallace had all day long to throw, in the pocket.
Running Backs: A. Just give ’em a chance, Loeffler! We’ve been screaming it all year. This game, Auburn used a lot of I-formation, power and counter. And these backs delivered a 311 yard rushing day. What was particularly surprising was how effective Onterio McCalebb was with good fullback and tight end blocking. We usually run him into the line from some sort of spread look. I love the Jay Prosch hunt play, right up the gut. We should run that at least 5 times per game, and keep the middle linebacker honest.
Receivers: B-. There were several dropped balls that hurt Jonathan Wallace’s bottom line. Yes, everyone of them was defended by an Aggie cover guy, but big-time SEC receivers must catch those balls. Run blocking was excellent in this one, particularly the jobs done by Brandon Fulse and Blake Burgess, who was filling in at tight end. It was nice to see the former walk-on center get his first career catch, a ten yarder. Also, we finally got to see the Trovon Reed that Trooper Taylor has been bragging on for the past three years. Reed ran a short stop and go route over the middle, and Wallace got him the ball. Reed did the rest, running several Aggies out of their shoes en route to a 40 yard touchdown.
Quarterback: B. For a first start by a true freshman, Jonathan Wallace did pretty well. I know he’d like to have some of those first half deep balls into coverage back. And he overthrew a sure 70 yard touchdown to Sammie Coates on the go route early in the 2nd period. Wallace really shored his game up in the second half, hitting five of his last six passes. On the day, Wallace had one interception, and one touchdown pass. It’s sure hard to argue with a 10.25 yards per pass average, either. Wallace managed the game, got the team to the line, and had no delay penalties or fumbles.
For Tiger fans and players who’ve suffered through this disappointing season, a 42-7 homecoming win is soothing tonic. While the effort put forth won’t beat a tough Georgia Bulldog team that visits next weekend, it is a step in the right direction. To win next weekend, Auburn will need the defensive effort of the season, or Aaron Murray will pick the Tiger defense apart. Georgia’s defense can be suspect against a balanced attack, witnessed by the Dawgs giving up over 20 points to Buffalo, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Kentucky. Auburn must throw some safe passes on first down, and continue to run the ball well to have a chance.
Regardless of the circumstances, it’s always great to report on an Auburn win. The Tigers took care of business on Homecoming, and are 35 point winners. War Eagle, and a big salute to our players! We’ll strap it up, and fight on. Three more games remain, and I hope to enjoy every minute. It’s great to be an Auburn Tiger!