Tigers Stand Tall in Texas! (with unit grades)
Tigers corral Johnny Football!
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign report, on Auburn’s incredible 45-41 win over Texas A&M in College Station, Texas. This one wasn’t for the faint of heart, because the two teams combined for 86 points and 1200 yards of offense in regulation play. Both teams were fast-paced, and ran over 80 offensive snaps. It’s hard to believe, but there were actually 9 punts in this game. It sure seemed like nobody was stopping anybody at times.
I have to give credit to Texas A&M. Head coach Kevin Sumlin is a class act, and he had nothing but good things to say about the Tigers after this game. I also have to tip the cap to Johnny Manziel. He was clearly in agony after landing on his shoulder in the 4th quarter, and somehow managed to get back in the game and lead a scoring drive. I’m still shaking my head over some of those Manziel to Evans passes. Auburn for the most part didn’t let Evans run around wide open, but those two still managed to hook up 11 times for 287 yards, the third most in SEC history.
Much has been the case all year, the Auburn offense had some missed throws and a dropped ball or two that hurt the offense. However, it could be said that this offense was never really stopped at all in this game, except when it stopped itself. Auburn piled up a ridiculous 379 rushing yards against a defense that regularly put 9 men in the box to try and force the pass. Quarterback Nick Marshall did have some errant throws, but he also made some big-league tosses as well, and he has a knack for really getting the job done at crunch time. Auburn trailed by 10 points early in the fourth quarter, but Marshall was undaunted, leading the offense on three long drives for touchdowns. This was the comeback that almost happened at LSU, but this rapidly improving team got it done, this time.
On offense, three Auburn players topped 100 yards of offense. Tre Mason had 27 carries for 178 yards, both career-high numbers. Nick Marshall had 20 carries for 100 yards, as well as 236 passing yards. Receiver Sammie Coates had 5 catches for 104 yards. However, there were big plays made on offense by a half-dozen others. Corey Grant had a big 32 yard run on Auburn’s opening drive. Cameron Artis Payne broke a couple of bone-jarring runs. Ricardo Louis took a reverse through traffic for 30 yards, and made a great sideline catch on a 21 yard pass. Jay Prosch rumbled 56 yards with a 3rd down reception. And freshman Marcus Davis had the most incredible catch of the day for the Tigers, keeping Auburn’s last drive alive for 27 yards.
A battered Auburn defense squared off against one of the most dangerous offenses in college football, and refused to quit. Yards were given up in the air repeatedly, but the defense disrupted things more and more as the game progressed. The Tiger D hauled in a couple of interceptions, and forced 4 Aggie punts, as well as the critical 4th down sack to end the game. After last season’s mugging at the hands of Texas A&M, who’d have figured Auburn could stop this offense 7 times in a game?
I can’t say enough about how much Auburn’s front 7 guys have improved since playing Washington State back on Labor Day weekend. Auburn’s deep defensive line really controlled things in the 4th quarter of this one. A linebacker corps that could hardly tie its own shoes in the first few games flew around and made stops, never letting the Aggie running game get going. And how about a secondary that keeps on losing players, but never stops battling? A couple of Auburn seniors who’ve spent nearly their entire Auburn career on the bench prior to this year have really stepped in and saved the day. Ryan White and Ryan Smith have filled in and done admirably.
This was the lone game this season that I felt like Auburn was out-played on special teams. Drew Kaser out-punted Steven Clark by an average of 15 yards per punt. Auburn’s kick coverage allowed big gulps of yardage, while the Auburn return unit struggled. Neither team could do much returning on punts, and both place kickers were perfect when called on.
Unit Grades after the jump!
Defensive Line: A. This unit had the unenviable task of containing and pressuring Johnny Manziel, as well as stopping the run, and they played remarkably well against the best offensive line we’ve seen this season. These guys had 23 tackles, spread out among 10 different linemen. Manziel had only 48 rushing yards in this one, and the dangerous Ben Malena was held to 23 yards and just 3.3 yards per carry. When the game was on the line at the Auburn 18 yard line, this line allowed Manziel to get off just 1 pass on the last 4 downs. Bravo, and well done!
Linebackers: B. The linebackers did allow some critical shallow completions that went for big yards, but they were strong against the run. With Jake Holland ailing and not playing much, Kris Frost stepped up with a 6 tackle day, including 4 critical solo jobs. Cassanova McKinzy and Anthony Swain played pretty well, too. Folks, we’ve actually got a pretty decent linebacking corps, now! I’ve really enjoyed watching the improvement.
Secondary: C. I really didn’t want to give any bad grades after this game, but when you give up 454 passing yards and 4 touchdowns, that’s not good pass defense. Coverage was generally soft in this one, allowing lots of underneath completions, and guys getting yards after the catch. Auburn did keep deep balls to a minimum. The most frustrating thing about this secondary is that they generally break on the receiver well when the ball is in the air, but somehow allow the receiver to catch the ball anyway. I’d like to see more pass breakups. Criticism aside, this may be the best tackling Auburn secondary I’ve seen. Guys rarely pull away from this bunch.
Punting: B-. Steven Clark’s punt average sunk below 40 yards this game, to 39.8. The Aggies couldn’t manage but 1 return yard, which is very good. However, the Aggie punting game was 15 yards better than Auburn’s in this one, and the Tigers lost that much on each punt exchange in the game.
Punt Returns: B+. I cringed to see Chris Davis being risked back there again this game, but he did keep the ball from rolling, and turned in a good 10 yard return. He’s clearly the best we’ve got back there, but our secondary does NOT need to lose any more players this season!
Kick Returns: C+. If there’s been an area that has regressed since last year on this team, it’s in the kick return game. Quan Bray made a huge, if ill-advised play on Auburn’s last return, bringing the ball out from deep in the end zone, and picking up 40 yards to set Auburn up with good field position for the game winning drive. Aside from Bray’s return, Auburn managed just 13.3 yards per return. Even with Bray’s big one factored in, that’s just 18.6 yards per return. Texas A&M averaged 27.0.
Place-kicking: A-. Parkey was again perfect on place kicks, scoring every time he was called on. He hit for 5 touchbacks on 8 kickoffs. I think on the 3 returned balls, Auburn’s strategy was to pin the Aggies deep, and that didn’t work so well. Yes, I do include kick coverage on this grade, thus the points off.
Offensive Line: A+. I probably should count off on Chad Slade’s lone false start, but I’m not, since this line just abused the Aggies up front throughout the game. Auburn did allow 4 tackles for a loss in this game, but the Aggies were bringing nearly the whole defense into the box. This is a mean bunch up front, and they are just crushing opposing defensive lines.
Running Backs: A+. What a game, by all of these guys! They had no fumbles, and a bushel of good hard-nosed runs. Tre Mason was particularly brilliant in this one, squeezing every possible yard out of every carry. Mason had an unbelievable run down the far sideline in the 4th quarter where he broke through the pile, stiff-armed one tackler, and put an amazing stop and go move on the another way down the field. A finger-tip trip held that run to 53 yards, but it was a thing of beauty. Jay Prosch was a force in this one, battering linebackers into hamburger.
Receivers: A-. I have to count off for a Sammie Coates drop, and a holding flag on Tony Stevens, but that flag did look like a patented Penn Wagers hallucination. And wow, was it good to see C. J. Uzomah and Brandon Fulse back. We’d have never been able to run the ball against those 9-man fronts without their blocking. Aside from the drop, Coates was awesome. He turned one quick pass into a track meet, and on another quick hitch pass managed to body-slam a would-be tackler and pick up the first down in the red zone. Tony Stevens made an incredible catch on Auburn’s go-ahead drive late. Ricardo Louis is one of those big, physical receivers that we’ve had SO much trouble defending the past few years.
Quarterback: B+. I can’t give an A here with a less than 50 percent completion percentage. There was also a costly fumble in the first half. That said, Nick Marshall was clutch in this game, dealing the Aggie defense fits in the running game. Marshall doesn’t always set his feet and make the best throws, but he’s pretty good reading coverages, and getting it to the right man. He has spread the ball around pretty well this season.
Again, this was just an incredible win over Texas A&M. The team that wilted against the Aggies at home just a year ago has grown up, and took it to them in their own house. One thing is clear about these Tigers. You’d better have the game out of hand before the 4th quarter starts, because this team dominates the final period. The Aggies learned that very painfully.
It’s amazing how quickly things can change in college football. Due to the events of Meltdown Saturday, the SEC West is now in the hands of Alabama and Auburn. Texas A&M is pretty much out of contention, needing Alabama to lose 3 games to win the division, and that ain’t gonna happen. LSU must win out, beat Alabama, and hope the Tide loses to a team like Mississippi State. An Alabama loss to Auburn likely doesn’t help LSU, because it would probably be a 7-1 Auburn team at that point. I don’t see Auburn losing to UGA AND beating the Tide. If Auburn beats Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama,it wins the West outright. Auburn may well be favored in all of those contests except the last one.
War Eagle, folks! I’m planning to be back in Auburn next Saturday, cheering this fine team on against Florida Atlantic. I expect the Auburn faithful in attendance to give this team a standing ovation when they come out of the tunnel! A fun time should be had by all, except for the Owls, of course. Have a great day, and enjoy this week basking in a momentous Auburn win. It’s great to be an Auburn Tiger!