Tigers Stall in Clemson (grading Auburn’s 14–6 loss to Clemson)
Jarrett Stidham took a beating in this one.
War Eagle everybody. It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report on Auburn’s 14–6 loss to the Clemson Tigers on the road. It was a tough task to go and play the defending national in their back yard. We had every confidence that Auburn would be up to the task, and Auburn did hang in there the whole game, especially the defense. Unfortunately, the offense was terrible. It was a new low for a Gus Malzhan-coached offense, which gained only 117 yards and allowed 11 sacks. Auburn scored only 6 points, and half of those were off a Clemson fumble deep in its own end.
Save for back-to-back drives at the end of the first half and the start of the second, Auburn’s defense was lock-down. If there was a weakness, it might have been an inability to look back in coverage at times, but this team also had 5 pass breakups, 4 by the secondary. Clemson was limited to just 5.8 yards per pass and 2.7 yards per rush. The home Tigers were held to just 284 total yards on the evening. That number might have been much lower if Auburn’s offense had been able to sustain anything beyond the first quarter.
I could go on all day about problems with the offense at every position. However, the biggest issue was with the offensive line. Individually, these guys can all block. However, they lost some individual battles with Clemson’s talented bunch. Then, the inability to communicate reared its head again. I had expected Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables to send the kitchen sink after Auburn’s backfield, but it didn’t really happen. It wasn’t necessary. What Clemson would do is just show a 4-man defensive front. Once Auburn quarterback Jarrett clapped his hands, calling for the ball, one of Clemson’s linebackers would move up on the line. And Auburn never blocked all 5 guys successfully. Usually, one guy would come clean, untouched into the Auburn backfield. Towards the end of the game, it was complete chaos on the offensive line. Auburn’s inability to pass protect left Clemson free to drop 6 or 7 guys back into coverage.
From a play selection standpoint, Auburn continues to use 3- and 4-wide receiver sets, even down on the goal line. There seems to be no intent at all to get the ball to anyone but one primary receiver, even if other guys are left uncovered. It was all the rage this summer for fans and coaches alike to say that Auburn was going to get the ball to tight ends and running backs in the passing game. Thus far, in the first two games starting tight end Jalen Harris has yet to be targeted. Heck, Harris hardly saw the field, even when Auburn could not block Clemson’s front four. Backup tight end Sal Cannella has been targeted twice this season, and he dropped one of them. No H-back has been targeted. Kamryn Pettway hasn’t been targeted. Backup runner Kam Martin has 2 catches for 15 yards and was targeted 1 additional time on a wheel route against Georgia Southern that was overthrown. In two games, that’s a grand total of 5 passes (out of 50) thrown towards backs and tight ends. What defense is going to bother to cover those guys?
Auburn had some success throwing mesh and crossing routes against Georgia Southern last week. Those routes disappeared against Clemson. It seemed like the old half-hearted 4 verticals trees were back against Clemson. Clemson was pressing at the line then bailing backwards in coverage. Auburn did not try any back-shoulder fades to take advantage or even a simple 5-yard hitch. Once the Clemson defenders learned to quit running into Auburn receivers with the ball in the air, the Auburn air attack fizzled. In quarters 2, 3 and 4, Auburn managed just 28 yards of total offense.
A decent special teams night was also wasted in this loss. Both field goal attempts were hit. Ian Shannon punted decently, and the coverage teams were stellar, facing the super-dangerous Ray Ray McCloud. Daniel Carlson hit a couple more touchbacks on kickoffs.
Unit Grades after the jump!
Defensive Line: A. These guys did a good job against a veteran offensive line. While I’d have liked to have seen more pressure on the quarterback in the second half, a lot of that had to do with the Clemson game plan. After some withering hits on Kelly Bryant, the Clemson staff got the ball out of his hands quickly, something Auburn seems unable to do. On the day, the line had a couple of sacks, 4 tackles for a loss, and 15 total tackles. Clemson was held to just 2.7 yards per carry on the ground.
Linebackers: A. I can’t find much to gripe about here. Clemson was unable to get a ground game going, and its backs didn’t catch a pass, either. Tré Williams led this bunch with 9 total tackles. The linebackers as a whole were credited with 20 total tackles.
Secondary: B. It looked like to me that Clemson picked on corner Carlton Davis a bit but didn’t beat him deep. Davis led all tacklers with 11 and had a couple of pass breakups. There were also a couple of times that Kelly Bryant scrambled, and the secondary could not find him down the field. Clemson scored both of their touchdowns on such plays. The secondary had 29 total tackles.
Punting: B+. I would have liked a little more distance at times from punter Ian Shannon, who averaged 40.5 yards on 8 punts. However, Shannon did have 3 of those punts killed inside the Clemson 20-yard line, which brought his average down. The Auburn philosophy on punts is to limit returns and not out kick the coverage. Clemson had 4 returns for just 17 yards on a good coverage night for Auburn.
Punt Returns: A. Clemson killed 4 of 6 punts inside the Auburn 20, and Stephen Roberts did a good job of not risking a deep turnover. When the game was on the line late, Roberts stepped up with a big 25-yard return to give Auburn one more chance to score.
Kick Returns: C. Auburn returned 2 of 3 kickoffs and did not get the ball back out to the 25 yard line, thanks to poor blocking. Kam Martin had 1 return for 19 yards, and Noah Igbinoghene had 1 for 16 yards.
Place Kicking: A. Daniel Carlson hit both of his field goal attempts and sent 2 of 3 kickoffs for touchbacks. The coverage team allowed 1 return for 21 yards.
Offensive Line: D-. I’m not going to belabor this grade much. Again, boo on the coaches for this situation. We were still shuffling starters around the week of the first game. It showed, against a good defensive front.
Running Backs: B. It’s hard to fault the backs for the lack of production. They were not allowed to run outside, and last week’s leading rusher Kam Martin did not even get a carry. Kudos to Kamryn Pettway, who managed to squeeze 74 rushing yards out of substandard blocking.
Receivers: C. I really didn’t see much from this group in terms of either separation or blocking. There weren’t any glaring drops this week, but we did not see much after the catch, nor were there any spectacular catches in traffic. Routes did not look sharp, either.
Quarterback: D. Yes, there was bad offensive line play, but Jarrett Stidham didn’t do much to compensate. He compounded the problem by holding the ball too long on multiple occasions. The only plus might be that he didn’t commit any turnovers. On the day, Stidham produced 35 total yards. Perhaps the coaches will go over the concept of “hot route” this week?
I continue to be astounded that the Auburn offense disappears during big games. We can blame it on Jarrett Stidham or the offensive line or the receivers or offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey. However, these issues have existed for several years now, and have been at Auburn longer than any of the above. With Mercer and a very suspect Missouri defense ahead, there is time to work on these things. If Auburn instead lines up and runs the ball 90 percent of the time against the next few opponents, the offense will again be unmasked in Baton Rouge and beyond when the schedule toughens up again. We will have to see what this coaching staff does.
If the offensive line play continues at the same level, Auburn could well lose to both Mississippi teams. A loss at LSU would be a certainty, and fatigue might well spell a loss at Arkansas. Texas A&M is tough up front, and Bama and Georgia are better. Continue this way, and Auburn is looking at no better than 5-7, home for the holidays, and looking for a new coaching staff.