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Tigers Stall in Clemson (grading Auburn’s 14–6 loss to Clemson)

By on September 10th, 2017 in Football 33 Comments »

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.


  1. Tiger Tiger says:

    Amazing that we have such talent on O…and just waste it.
    The Clemson game showed us what we’ve have, and
    It looks like we have a serious problem.
    If it continues, promote Kevin Steele to head coach, if he’ll take the job.
    At least we’ll keep a sound defense and some continuity for the future.
    This my best attempt at poetry. I’m no poet.
    War Eagle!

  2. AUsall says:

    Oh come on, 5-7? We wont be that lucky. This season will be like every other Malzahn season other than 2013. His offense only looks good when Auburn is playing a team they can run on. It always has been that way especially on that big six game winning streak last season we had to hear about over and over. Lucky for Gus the SEC is terrible so we are about to go on a four game winning streak because we can run on all those teams and all you guys will be back positive.

    We will probably finish 9-3 if we can run on Georgia or 8-4 if we cannot and get a decent bowl game and he will keep his job. We then will start this whole cycle again with everyone thinking we are almost there and that the offense is going to change. It will not and we will continue to lose to the 3 or 4 teams on our schedule that can stop the run but look great against the ones we can run on. I mean this is the fourth year of this! Nothing surprising happened last night. This all was also true in 2013 but we had a once-in-a-lifetime team who could run on anybody as the season progressed.

  3. Squeakywheel says:

    Thanks for your candor Acid. I spoke with Bramlett in August, and would love to hear his unvarnished opinion after last night.

  4. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..I’m not sure a broadcaster can be openly critical, but those guys sounded pretty down in the booth, towards the end. That last drive was a disaster, up front.

  5. dyingculture dyingculture says:

    Well, hate to say it, but the play calling yesterday looked pretty much like 2015 and 2016, and therefore I don’t believe it when they say that Malzahn isn’t calling the plays. 16 of the first 20 plays were runs, mostly up the middle.

    I know Stidham looked terrible, he held on to the ball too long, that is what everyone is saying. I still don’t think Stidham is anywhere close to the problem. The reason: given yesterday’s OL problems, it’s hard to say that Sean White would have done much better. Truth is, we don’t really know if Stidham is any good or not. White is a gamer, White is trustworthy and accurate, and White may have also done a little bit better in the pass rush. But I also don’t think White would have won us the game last night.

    One thing I can say is, Stidham isn’t JJ 2.0. I didn’t see any mouth breathing or deer in the headlights at QB, or backwards passes, or throwing the deep ball up for grabs just for the heck of it.

  6. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..I also kind of lost it on the last drive. I went into badly-typed-rant mode, and lost the final few plays while on my tirade. Pretty unprofessional, on my part.

    • Tiger4Life says:

      Acid, your work here is always stellar– but especially so in this edition— to wit:

      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?

      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.

      Auburn did not try any back-shoulder fades to take advantage or even a simple 5-yard hitch.

      In quarters 2, 3 and 4, Auburn managed just 28 yards of total offense.

      Perhaps the coaches will go over the concept of “hot route” this week?

      Our “last hope” for this offense is that “Chip in the box” is able to see what will work, call it, and we execute it… I so want (and have wanted) a passing game–

  7. neonbets says:

    Dear Gus,

    Plan B isn’t just ‘The Morning After Pill’. You can change (dare-I-say ‘abort’) a plan that’s not working.

    Dabo did it. The run wasn’t working for Clemson early on, and neither were the long downfield passes. But did Dabo mindlessly continue to pursue a plan that was obviously not working? No. He had his QB throw fade routes. He employed to QB draws, etc. In other words, Dabo adapted.

    I may need to heed my own advice. I’ve been a loyal supporter, but it’s not working. We need a change. Either I need to stop offering up lame excuses for your myopic inadequacies–OR–you need to actually map your scheme to your talent.

  8. Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

    “Continue this way, and Auburn is looking at no better than 5-7, home for the holidays, and looking for a new coaching staff.”

    As much I want to see this staff succeed, I just don’t see it happening. Malzahn has made two good hires since he’s been at Auburn, ironically both on defense. On the offensive side of the ball, all he has done is hire staff that he is comfortable with and worked with before. All of them appear to think inside the same little box that Malzahn has now cornered himself.

    So yeah, we can look forward to another wasted season of what ifs and JJ will soon be jetting off in the Idiot Mobile to find the next clown in line.

    Auburn deserves a real head coach and after the last three hires I’m not sure that anyone within the Auburn power structure has the wherewithal to pull it off.


  9. cmatt90 says:

    I'm usually the first to be cynical after one game, but I'm actually fairly optimistic still. The O-line sucked, both in pass blocking and run blocking. But we played with a new QB and (at least allegedly) some new offensive schemes against what is probably a top 2-3 defense in the country, and we're on the road, and without our best speed back (Johnson).

    I just don't see how much, if any, of this falls on Stidham. I didn't see receivers open on those plays that he missed. So if the beef is he should have just thrown the ball away quicker and more often, that's great, but that doesn't win us the game. Pettway was at 3.4 yards a carry (with one 15 yarder) and there wasn't enough protection for our receivers to get open. Some of that is on the receivers; it's clear we don't have any that can consistently beat a good corner one on one.

    Defense is awesome. O-line and play calling have to improve dramatically, but I'm not giving up hope on those. Stidham has the arm we need, that much is clear to me. Hopefully this is a learning lesson for the new O coordinator and the O line gets a tongue lashing this week.

    • Pine Mt Tiger Pine Mt Tiger says:

      And ….. Pettway was playing injured. Looks like both running backs are hampered just like they were toward the end of the season last year – not good, not good at all.

  10. easyedwin easyedwin says:

    I was not worried before this game. I KNEW we would win it. I was only concerned about LSU. Now, I am not so sure of anything. LSU, Georgia and Alabama now look very much in doubt. I am seeing 8-4. I am seeing a lower, non New Years bowl….maybe.

  11. uglyjoe says:

    I’m usually the last one to be critical of coaches, but I’m in agreement with AUsall; we’re on our way to 7-4, minor bowl win, and another year of Malzahn. Getting to be time for a change.

  12. Zach Taylor Zach Taylor says:

    It’s easy to point at one or two positions that are struggling.

    A light bulb should have turned on last night for even the most stallwort Malzahn fan.

    If it’s ways one thing or another, maybe it’s the man at the top. This was an offense that was supposed to be one player from being world beaters. And yet every single facet of this offense was bad.

    I can raise question after question from play calling to player substitutions to in-situ calls. It’s bad. It’s all bad. And it’s gotten worse.

    Look, I get a bad reputation for a negative Nancy but I am at least willing to say maybe Clemson is that awesome.

    But that doesn’t cover Georgia southern. Remember all the excuses we made up last week? Have we forgotten?

  13. Randyc37 Randyc37 says:

    Another great analysis Acid.

    I really had a great feeling about this game and then my positive attitude left me last night after witnessing that game last night. As we all know, this was the worst offensive performance from a Gus Malzahn offense. A team who had 117 total yards and the victim of 11 sacks will not win many games in the SEC. I am now wondering if Auburn will be able to get it together to win at least 8 or 9 games. I do feel that Gus Malzahn would need to win at least 9 or 10 games this season to keep his job and this will include a win over UGA or Bama.

    The offensive line was challenged all night and Jarrett Stidham was running for his life most of the night. He is used to playing in the Big 12 where the defenses are not as athletic; therefore, perhaps he just needs a few more games of experience. Despite the poor offensive performance, Auburn could have won this game. Of course, they failed to put the ball in the end zone twice and once again had to settle for field goals. Also, Clemson gave Auburn several opportunities to score in the second half.

    The Auburn defense played well enough for Auburn to defeat the former champs, but the play calling and offensive play continued to fail. I saw no adjustments being made at all on offense and it was obvious to me that Gus Malzahn was still calling the plays.

    Auburn must now regroup and try to win enough games this season for a decent bowl game. I do see a 5-7 season if the offense cannot get it together.
    War Eagle!

  14. meathead530 says:

    I’ve been trying to think why the 2013 team was different. I believe it’s because that team believed in Gus and were ready for something different than 2012. I think the team the past 2-3 years has doubted Gus and I don’t blame them.

  15. wpleagle wpleagle says:

    I’ve always laughed at “,” but for the first time I’m beginning to feel that Malzahn must go. He can’t develop quarterbacks internally, and unless he has a transfer dual-threat QB such as Cam or Nick, he doesn’t seem to be able to produce a consistent offense. And while it didn’t seem to be a bad idea to work a bunch of different O-line combinations, I guess cross training ain’t such a great idea on the O-line. I think the same 5 guys played almost the entire season in 2010. Oh, well.

  16. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..I’m not gonna say “fire Malzahn,” till the season is over. (Wrong-doing would be a different matter.) I’d say, evaluate the whole year. Can things improve? Sure. We did play the defending national champs. Bama gave up 35 to these guys in the Natty last year, Auburn gave up 14 with little help from the offense. This can still be a good team, if they fight through and improve on offense.

    • Pine Mt Tiger Pine Mt Tiger says:

      Wise counsel Acid. If Gus doesn't turn it around there will be plenty of time for firing talk at the end of the year. I'm just as upset with Saturday as anybody but the sure way to set the program back is to fire a coach during the season.

    • AubTigerman AubTigerman says:

      Agree Acid, but there needs to be improvement up front and soon.

    • Tiger4Life says:

      What is so disheartening is that we need an identity on offense… Ideally it would be one of balance (running AND throwing)… Gus’ identity was HUNH… Where did that go? We really seem lost… Hoping for the best, but worried…

  17. eyecu says:

    First Gus needs to step back and let Lindsey run the offense. Two OC, but offense stills looks the same. Gus step back or step out.
    Second Stidham has all the physical attributes, but from appearance of sidelines he lacks leadership skills. He can't pull the line together or they resent his attitude. Only he can fix that, it can't be coached.

  18. B-REAL says:

    Stidham isn’t anticipating the routes of the WR’s very well.He needs to much time.White on the other hand can see things before they happen,has more experience and plays well if not hurt or banged up. When’s the last time a QB gets his team to a sugar bowl and lost his job the following season?No loyalty to a QB who has saved Gus’s job the last two years.Another weird season ahead.

  19. sparkey sparkey says:

    PJ Fleck or DJ Durkin would be great hires. Throw the bank at Justin Fuente. There are better coaches out there. You won’t make me believe that Gus is the best we can have here. I don’t buy it. I was so anti-Gus already now I refuse to call him the coach at Auburn.

  20. Madkiso says:

    Man, I agree with you guys. We’ve seen this movie before in 2014, 2015, and 2016. This is the fourth year in a row when we’ve started the year completely clueless about what kind of a team we have from the start.

    Absolute inability to evaluate and develop talent until we’re 4 games into the season. What does Gus do all year? I’m done with this seemingly noncerebral approach to coaching; there’s just no thought put into it. Don’t mess around with newer coaches, hire Dan Mullen now!!

    • Blackbelt tiger says:

      You can add 2013 to the list too. After the bye that year, the offense was completely different against Ole Miss. Instead of sending Nick Marshall up the middle, they sent him on the little scamper to the sidelines. He did that for 2 years. He was so quick that he was 6 yards down field before the defense even realized it and was 10 yards down field before they could get to him. He would then just step out of bounds. They ran that same play last night a few times but Stidham is no Marshall. Marshall could also fling the ball 50 yards with the flick of his wrist. Accuracy was optional but a receiver occasionally caught the ball. The defense had to respect it. Now all they respect are the running backs and they can be shut down. Until Gus realizes that Nick Marshall is gone and tweaks the offense to utilize the skill set of the players on campus, we will continue to have the outcomes like Clemson. In the past 2 years he has shown zero ability to adjust the offense. I’m really not even sure he’s watching the same games we are.

  21. ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

    I almost posted an article after arriving home after the game. I knew that was ill advised so cooler heads prevailed. Thank you, wife of mine.
    But, geez, what a disappointing experience. Such an electric atmosphere and seems the fans of Clemp and Son knew something we didn’t. Yes, they were very nice and gracious before, during, and after the game. Kudos to them for that.
    Just don’t know what to think except that something isn’t working. Defense will keep us in every game but, bottom line, winning team has to score the most points and Auburn did not do that. Two field goals – that’s it – and had some really promising drives and still a chance to win in the end. But, of course, no doing.
    Acid, as always, I respect your analysis but, sorry, in this case O-line and quarterback deserve an F – a big ole fat F.
    True, this is on the coaches but, the end result won’t change.
    I’ve been on the “Gus Bus” forever but I’m now ready to step off. I pay way too much money to endure this crap.

  22. Orange Talon Orange Talon says:

    Would it hurt to call an old school screen or a draw on typical passing downs, every now and then, to slow and keep defenses honest? Can Stidham throw a football over 20 yards? If so, would it hurt to mix in a couple of deep go routes to their fastest receiver to keep the DB’s honest and out of the tackle box? Will Auburn’s receivers ever compete for the 50/50 ball, or keep their feet for routine catches? And for heavens sake, will Gus, or Rhett, or Chip, or whoever stop calling the bubble screen on 3rd and long when they know the receivers can’t execute it?

  23. auburnalum1974 says:

    As a retired high school football coach & principal in Alabama & S.C. it’s time for serious reflection by Auburn University’s board, president & ad at our institution.

    Here’s a fast assessment:

    1. High school head coaching is totally different from SEC; Coach Malzahn needed more assistant experience regarding SEC seasoning prior to accepting Auburn’s head coaching post. One year at Arkansas State as the leader is NOT enough! It’s enough to handle it as a high school AD/Head coach at larger school with +1500 enrollment! He followed Hugh Freeze at Arkansas State with loaded personnel and staff! Freeze is also is damaged goods due to lack of leadership control and big time college seasoning. It’s quite obvious Malzahn is overwhelmed in coaching selections, recruiting quality-coachable players, player development, game planning, game-time adjustments and finally taking sole responsibility for this melt-down.

    2. Place the offensive coordinator in the coaches box to properly view and assess the game, one can’t from the sideline(common sense). Communicate via assistant to QB. Make better calls as to weaknesses of opposing defenses or adjustments.

    3. Place line coach on sideline for interior line coaching up or adjustments especially since it’s no secret the left tackle & guard are seriously needing player development.

    4. Seek outside resources to coach up receivers until hiring experienced pro style coaches for these skilled players.

    5. Same outside sources for defensive secondary coaching for the interium, then hire pro secondary coach.

    6. Malzahn alter his million $$ salary to share with the assistant coaching salaries(ref. Dabo). One must pay and maintain quality staff. Auburn has witnessed too too much turnover with coaching staff.

    7. Notify Coach Malzahn you are being officially being placed on notice of pending release of contract. Terminate any and all bonuses pending this year until further notice regardless of Auburn’s final season record. This might seem harsh but it’s this or being terminated mid-season.

    8. Release assistant coaches with receivers and defensive secondary and perhaps offensive line. Replace with pro-style experienced coaches(former pro and Auburn players).

    9. Hire strong recruiting coach attentive to player skill sets regarding RPO/NHO scheme. Coaches Steel and Garner can assess the defense’s needs.

    10. Stop making excuses, take responsibility. This includes our Athletic Director.

    • sparkey sparkey says:

      The first four of your ideas are dead on and extremely articulate in saying what needs to be done to give this offense a fighting chance. The rest are way out there and no coach is going to work under those kind of conditions and be successful. One of Auburn’s problems is that too many people meddle with the football program outside of the staff already. This would take it to a step they don’t even do yet.

  24. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..I definitely agree with the OC being in the press box. There’s no better way to see what the defense is doing. Television shows a compacted view near the ball. Being up over the action will give a coordinator MANY more options on where to go with the ball. Defenses leave areas open. They have to. You have 11 guys to defend over 2700 square yards if the ball at midfield. There will be space available to make plays in, but a guy trying to see over the trees from the sideline won’t get that perspective.

    ….Malzahn’s salary won’t be altered, and Auburn is one of the better SEC schools about paying the assistants good money. These are legal contracts. They may well be putting Gus on notice, but the key is to keep any of that private. You don’t chew subordinates out in public. That creates a toxic work environment. Auburn folks learned this when David Housel called out Terry Bowden in the press, after the 7-4 in the 1996 season.

    ….Some bloggers on other sites with WAY better video skills have put together some nice cut-ups and commentary on the 11 sacks. Please, Gus/Chip/Hand, change up the snap signals from time to time? Clemson had a nasty defensive line. Giving them the ability to know when the ball was being snapped was WAY too big of an advantage to give up!