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Tigers Take Care of the Warhawks (Grading Auburn’s 42–14 win over Louisiana Monroe)

By on November 19th, 2017 in Football 16 Comments »
ULM Grades

Kam Martin is running wild!
(Albert Cesare USA TODAY Sports)

     War Eagle everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report on Auburn’s leisurely 42–14 win over visiting Louisiana Monroe. I suppose some of us had unreasonable expectations for this one and were expecting a huge blowout. Over the past 25 years, the Warhawks have often entered Jordan-Hare Stadium and sleep-walked through a payday game. Not this week. Monroe head coach Matt Viator’s team came in ready to punch Auburn in the mouth and play toe to toe with the Tigers. I have to hand it to this coaching staff. This team is no longer a Sun Belt cellar dweller.

     I don’t think there’s any question that Auburn’s players did not play as hard as they did against top-ranked Georgia a week ago. However, a large share of the blame has to go to the offensive coaches, as well. The offensive plan that doomed Auburn at LSU was back in large stretches. ULM really sold out to stuff the inside running game, but Auburn kept stubbornly going back to it on first down. The Tigers regularly faced 2nd and 3rd and long. Auburn also threw a lot of safe screen passes but had some serious missed-block issues that we had not seen before. Normally turnover free, Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham had 2 this week, one on an ill-advised deep throw across his body into coverage and then a fumbled snap on the goal line. Otherwise, Stidham had a pretty crisp game. The best thing to come out of this game is that Auburn has steadily improved at catching the football.

     Defensively, Auburn had some issues getting off the field on 3rd down. ULM had an extra week to work on this game and had the Auburn defense scouted well . It showed on the Warhawks first drive that resulted in a touchdown. Of course, Auburn did help them out with a grab in the end zone on an uncatchable pass. The Auburn defense held firm, though, after the opening score. ULM picked up first downs here and there, but were not able to do it consistently enough to score till late in the game against the Auburn backups. The Auburn defense also came up with 3 turnovers, which is something that has been a little lacking this season. Auburn converted a couple of them directly into touchdowns, highlighted by an amazing pick-six run by safety Nick Ruffin.

     Auburn special teams continue to have issues. I had hoped that Auburn would deliberately work on covering kickoffs this week, but that’s kind of tough to risk in a much tighter than expected ball game. Auburn made a big effort just to kick it away from dangerous return men. Where problems popped up this week were in the punting game. In the first half, Auburn had punts that only covered 26, 28, and 31 yards. Meanwhile, in a tight 7–7 ballgame, Louisiana Monroe kept killing balls very deep in Auburn territory and putting the Auburn offense behind the 8 ball. Auburn basically won the ball game after driving 96, then 95, yards for touchdowns at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second.

Unit grades after the jump!

Defensive Line: A. I thought this unit had a good, disciplined game. Facing a mobile quarterback and a good plan for moving that quarterback to safety and limiting his exposure to Auburn’s pass rush, Auburn kept it contained. Although only a couple of sacks were made, Auburn linemen minimized big scramble yards and forced a lot of throwaways. Louisiana never could get the running game going consistently and finished the day averaging only 2.8 yards per carry. Auburn’s line made 30 tackles in this one.

Linebackers: A-. There were occasional gap control issues. The Warhawks made hay on a few occasions early by running quick pitch plays to the wide side that had 3 receivers out there to block. Auburn would catch onto this quickly, then get burned off the opposite side guard-tackle gap on the quarterback counter. To the defense’s credit, this got fixed completely by the time the second half started. I hated seeing starting middle linebacker Tré Williams sustaining a shoulder injury that looked very painful. I hope he recovers and is able to play in the Iron Bowl. Given Auburn’s injury reporting, we won’t really know till the players actually take the field in the game. Auburn’s linebackers contributed 23 tackles.

Secondary: B. Auburn did not cover as tightly this week as in previous weeks, particularly on 3rd down. Auburn also got flagged 3 times in the secondary for pass interference, and 2 of the penalties gave ULM a first down when it had missed the throw. On the plus side, the secondary ripped the ball out of ULM hands, causing fumbles and pass breakups with regularity. The secondary came up with a pair of interceptions, including a wild return for a touchdown by Nick Ruffin.

Punting: C-. As mentioned above, Auburn had 3 short punts in the first half. I’m not sure if this was just bad punts, strategy by the coaching staff to keep the ball out of dangerous return man Marcus Green’s hands, or both. Punter Aiden Marshall did wind up on a punt in the 2nd half and launched it 49 yards. Green got to return that one but was nicely contained to only 6 yards.

Punt Returns: C. ULM punted 7 times, Auburn was only able to fair catch 2 of them, and did not have a return opportunity. Some of this was due to balls being punted inside the 10-yard line, where return men are taught to get away from the ball. Auburn had one near disaster when Ryan Davis and Stephen Roberts collided as the ball arrived The ball was muffed but rolled out of bounds for a 4-yard loss. Several times this season, we’ve had blockers shoved into Roberts, and there have been some near misses on those.

Kick Returns: C. ULM did not kick to the end zone on these, and Auburn had 3 return opportunities for Noah Igbinoghene. Auburn’s blocking hasn’t been very good all season, and this day was no exception, even against a middle-of-the pack Sun Belt team. It is not good when the first coverage man down the field gets a free run at clobbering the return man. On the day, Igbinoghene had 3 returns for just an 18.0 yard average. On the season, he is averaging 23.1 yards per return, which is very good considering the blocking. Just a little help here, and we could be seeing touchdowns on kick returns.

Place Kicking: A. Auburn eliminated kick coverage issues this week by not kicking it to return men. I did not like the pooch kicks on the last couple of kickoffs, but it was better than allowing a long return. Daniel Carlson did a great job handling a stiff breeze in this game, hammering 5 touchbacks and making all 6 of his extra points. Auburn did not attempt a field goal.

Offensive Line: A. You would think with this grade, Auburn would have scored a lot more points. However, the offensive line isn’t but 5 guys. Louisiana Monroe was routinely rushing 7, 8, or even 9 guys to stuff the run, AND Auburn would have 3 receivers split out wide. That works out to 6 guys (including H-back Chandler Cox) trying to block more defenders. On the day, Louisiana Monroe only had 1 (ONE!) tackle for a loss and 1 quarterback hurry. That’s a fantastic job by the Auburn line, which this week featured Prince Tega Wanagho, Marquel Harrell, Casey Dunn, Braden Smith and Austin Golson. I counted off just a little for a few missed blocks on screens. Auburn runs tunnel screens and asks a lineman to get to the edge in a hurry and kick out a defensive back. That’s a really tough task, and big linemen can have real difficulty reaching a much faster defender in space.

Running Backs: A. As mentioned above, the blockers in this game were usually outnumbered. However, the Auburn runners were only tackled for a loss once, had no fumbles, and no dropped balls. Against a stacked defense, Auburn running backs piled up 255 yards on 40 carries, or 6.4 yards per carry. Kerryon Johnson has 1,172 rushing yards on the season, even after missing a couple of games.

Receivers: A-. Where I counted off this week was on wide-receiver screen blocking. There were several outright whiffs where the receiver had no chance with a tackler on him as the ball arrived. This has to be eliminated before playing Alabama. The Alabama corners are aggressive and can take an interception to the house if we don’t slow them down. The good news is that there weren’t any dropped passes, this game. There was one incomplete pass where Ryan Davis got a hand on it, but it was overthrown, and it was a great effort for Davis to climb the ladder and make the catch attempt. Darius Slayton has become a serious weapon, of late, having caught long bombs for touchdowns 4 weeks in a row. Earlier in the season, Slayton had serious issues with dropped passes, but he has worked hard and virtually eliminated those. You’ve got to love how these guys run after the catch, too. Ryan Davis now has 58 catches on the season, and is only 2 receptions away from the record set by Darvin Adams in 2010. Davis will have at least the Iron Bowl and a bowl game to try and break that record.

Quarterback: B. I counted off on the uncharacteristic pair of turnovers. I also felt like Jarrett Stidham was a little less accurate than usual, but he did make some good throws. In the end, Stidham finished 18 of 24 (75%) for 235 yards and a couple of touchdowns. With the first-half blocking issues mentioned above, Auburn’s yards per pass seemed way down, but second-half big plays made up for it. Stidham finished averaging 9.79 yards per pass. I also have to smile at the big-play ability of backup quarterback Malik Willis. You’d think opposing coaches would look for him to take off on the zone-read keeper, but Willis keeps on breaking those things for big gains week after week. On the season, Willis has 225 yards on just 15 carries, or 15 yards per carry!

     In the end, I really can’t complain much about a 4-touchdown victory over an inspired, courageous team like this year’s edition of the Warhawks. Auburn continues to crank out big plays on offense week after week and throttles opposing offenses like a boa constrictor on a piglet. We’ve had our angst at times this year, but way more often, this is a fun team to watch.

     And now, all eyes are on an Iron Bowl for the ages. The winner will go to the SEC title game in Atlanta to face the Georgia Bulldogs. If Auburn can beat Alabama, both SEC and national titles are still quite possible. Lose, and Auburn is most likely looking at a of New Year’s Day bowl.

     Alabama won’t go easily. I don’t expect them to make the mistakes Georgia made last week. The Tide has a deep stable of great running backs, and they are much more explosive than Georgia’s duo. Likewise, Alabama’s receiving corps has multiple big-play guys. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts is probably the best dual threat quarterback in the SEC. He doesn’t pile up numbers like some at other schools, but that’s because he rarely plays past the middle of the 3rd quarter, and Alabama is usually just handing the ball off with a big lead. Where Auburn might have a big advantage is up front. Alabama has had some troubles here and there with injured linemen, but it has been able to adjust the play-calling to minimize the damage.

     Auburn will have some opportunities on offense against a banged up Alabama back seven. To do it, though, Auburn’s offensive line needs a great game. Alabama is still very stout up front and thrives on disrupting offenses at the point of attack and funneling plays sideways. Alabama is not a team that can be beaten to the corner very often and running sideways against them is a good way to go three and out. Here’s looking forward to a great week and a tremendous Iron Bowl.

16 Comments

  1. ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

    The crowd was very lackluster in the first half also. We (the fans) did wake up after halftime and the team seemed to feed off that – or, maybe we fed off the team looking more like Auburn teams should.
    I am certainly hopeful that the fans start off loud, the team is fired up, and coaches have a solid game plan.

  2. Zach Taylor Zach Taylor says:

    I don’t put the 2 turnovers on Stidham. The receiver slipped and let the DB undercut on the pick. And going under center….seriously. what a dumb piece of coaching.

    I thought the defense, in the first quarter, was lackluster and woefully unprepared. That being said, the change at qb was a surprise .

    Auburn had to blitz too often. That’s a staple of Steele, but ULM adjusted with the quick slant from the blitz side. Sometimes it got stuffed but when auburn missed a tackle, well, half of all ULMs yards came on that play including a TD

  3. Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

    Maybe a post UGA hangover was impossible to avoid. The team and staff cowboyed up soon enough.

    Gonna have to be hitting on all cylinders right from the opening kickoff vs. uat.

  4. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..I have to disagree about "under center." I think you need that, for short yardage. QB and center should drill on their own on snaps, too. Best short yardage team in Auburn history was 1995, out of the I-set jumbo package.

    …..They had one of the more powerful lines in Auburn history, and Dameyune Craig as the short yardage quarterback. They had the sneak. The fullback belly play off the weakside guard. They had the power to Stephen Davis. The toss to Davis. The bootleg by Craig. They even had Craig pulling up on the bootleg and passing to a tight end, at that time, Andy Fuller, Jessie McCovery or Tyrone Dillard.

    • Zach Taylor Zach Taylor says:

      You need it, no doubt. But I’ve seen this play out before. It isn’t practiced and it won’t work without it. And, it’s totally something they’d try next week. I guess I’m glad they tried it this week.

  5. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..We have been a whole lot better this year on short yardage, both with the sugar huddle/under center plays, and Kerryon Johnson in the wildcat.

    • sparkey sparkey says:

      That is because of Casey Dunn. Golson isn’t built to do a mad sprint to the ball then hike it. Dunn is much more nimble and able to do that kind of thing. Casey Dunn has been the best player to get here this season besides Stidham and Dunn has not had a bad game.

  6. Tigers5711 says:

    I wish the press didn’t bring up to CGM the issue of leaving Auburn. I don’t think they’d ask Saban if he is ready to retire. The talk of firing Malzahn or letting him go to Arkansas if he doesn’t beat Bama (which he may well do) is foolish to the inth degree. You have to wonder if these rumors are fueled by Bama fans on the eve of the Iron Bowl. His record of winning is 2nd only to Nick Saban who has been a head coach about 20 years while GM is only in his 5th year as head coach at AU. GM may equal NS in the future. Or not. No other coach other than NS has won the SEC or taken his team to the NC game. To spread rumors like this can destroy a season. It happened to the Bear when the rumors got out he was leaving TAMU for AL when they were undefeated and the same thing happened to Bama’s coach in ’02 when the word got out he was going to TAMU and we beat them in T Town. Also no other team but Bama & Auburn have won the SEC in the last 8 years except that LSU won it once. WDE.

  7. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..I hate speculating on what coaches, boosters, trustees and athletic directors may or may not do. I much prefer just commenting on action I see live, or on the TV. My understanding of what goes on in the halls of power is limited.

  8. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..That said, it has been proven by Pat Dye, Tommy Tuberville and Gene Chizik, as well as Gus Malzahn, that SEC championships can be won at Auburn. The last conference championship at Arkansas was won by Ken Hatfield in 1990, in the old Southwest Conference. And Arkansas Athletic Director Frank Broyles refused to extend Hatfield’s contract, and lost him to Clemson.

    …..Arkansas has a much more difficult recruiting situation than Auburn does. The only school in the west with a worse situation might be Ole Miss. For all I know, Malzahn might be itching to get away from Auburn, and back home. It would cost him, and Arkansas dearly. I’m not sure the Razorback boosters would be willing to pay Bret Bielema’s reported $5 million dollar buyout, AND Gus’ $6-7 million one, then pay him anywhere close to the $4 million+ deal Gus has at Auburn.

    • uglyjoe says:

      I had speculated about this about a month ago, shortly after the LSU game and before Auburn went on their winning streak. At the time, Gus was not held in high esteem. My thought was Auburn and Arkansas might help each other with buyouts, allowing us to get rid of Gus without the big buyout, Arkansas to get Gus without the additional expenditures, and Gus getting a better atmosphere to call home. I still think there is some merit……you know that Gus hears the discontentment with his coaching – if he gets blown out this weekend, it will start up again. I would not be surprised to see him take a reduction in pay to get home….look at the salary reduction he took to move to Arkansas State.

    • dyingculture dyingculture says:

      Arkansas fans seem to be so sure that the program has unlimited money, so contracts and buyouts don’t matter. “We have the Waltons, we have Jerry Jones”, they are fond of saying.

      • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

        …..They really want Jerry to pick the next coach, after his track record with the Cowboys? And the Waltons may have big money, but they are about making the money, not paying it out.

        ……As I said, I really don’t know, just speculating!

  9. Tigers5711 says:

    This discussion will die if we beat Bama or have new life if we lose….I prefer to believe we’ll win and win big. Even Vegas has Bama only a 3 point favorite just like they had GA.

  10. sparkey sparkey says:

    Acid, it doesn’t seem as though you like our chances all that much.

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