Tigers Take Down the Tide! (with unit grades)
Chris Davis puts a dagger through Bama’s SEC Title hopes!
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report, on Auburn’s stunning 34-28 win over Alabama. With the Iron Bowl victory, Auburn wins the SEC Western Division, and will head to Atlanta next weekend to face the Missouri Tigers. This was an extremely tense game, with back and forth drama throughout. For much of the game, it appeared that the 2-time defending national champion Alabama squad had Auburn on the ropes, but the Tide could never deliver the knockout punch.
I expected that Alabama would use a diversified offense to get the ball into the hands of multiple talented Tide skill players, and coordinator Doug Nussmeyer did not disappoint. What was surprising was that Auburn managed pressure on A. J. McCarron, and a number of drives during the game were killed by errant throws. Alabama also had a tendency to stick to the script, and did not often come back to plays that were working.
It was obvious early that Auburn’s defensive plan was to drape as many hard hitting bodies as they could on T. J. Yeldon, and make McCarron beat the defense with his arm. In the 2nd quarter, during Alabama’s 21-0 run, the Tide subbed in the speedier Kenyon Drake in the backfield, and Auburn had real trouble catching up to him. But after 4 very successful carries, Drake was yanked, and was not seen again. Bama’s lone second half score was off a 99 yard bomb with an Auburn coverage breakdown.
It was said that Auburn would not be able to run on Alabama’s vaunted rushing defense, but Tigers disproved that with 296 rushing yards. If anything, Auburn didn’t run the ball enough in this one. A number of Tiger drives were stalled when sacks or misfires early put the offense in long yardage situations. Alabama did a great job of pursuing Auburn’s wide receiver screen game, and most of those plays killed drives for Auburn. What propelled Auburn to their 4 offensive touchdowns was primarily inside power runs, and driving Alabama’s front seven off the ball. If Missouri’s front seven can do better than Alabama’s against this offense, they’ve got to show me. I’m skeptical.
A major factor in Auburn’s outstanding success this season has been great special teams play. Other than allowing the longest punt return of the year (19 yards), another outstanding effort was made. While Bama could not convert field goals, Auburn was quietly landing punt after punt deep in Bama territory, to be expertly downed by guys like Sammie Coates and Jonathan Jones. When Alabama lined up late for a possible game-winning field goal, Auburn was ready. The Tigers saved their best return-blocking play of the season for Alabama’s big kick protectors. Only one Bama guy got even a passing hand on Chris Davis, and Tiger blockers were wiping Tide guys out right and left as Davis sped his way into great Iron Bowl lore!
Unit Grades after the jump!
Defensive Line: B. As always, there were some gap issues, but this line got pressure on the quarterback, and moved the pile backwards on short yardage consistently. Gabe Wright had the lone sack of A. J. McCarron, and led the line with 4 stops. No one stood out on the stat page here, and totaling up total production by the defensive line reveals 10 tackles and 9 quarterback hurries. That’s a low number for this season, but it was good enough to slow Bama down when it counted.
Linebackers: B. There was a tremendous amount of improvement here, compared to the Georgia game. It was evident that these guys had their assignments down, and knew what to do. There were big stops made by Kris Frost, Casanova McKinzy, and Jake Holland. Wasn’t a perfect game by any stretch, but these guys never let Alabama get comfortable pounding the ball.
Secondary: C+. Auburn’s secondary again had to make the lion’s share of the tackles in this game, as they contributed 40 total stops. Chris Davis and Ryan White had 10 apiece, and Whitehead added 9 more and a couple of key pass breakups. While Whitehead might be remembered as the guy that missed a tackle on the 99 yard Bama TD pass, he made a lot of good stops. The buck stops here, with this group. They’ll have another big challenge on hand in Atlanta, taking on big Tiger receivers led by Dorial Green-Beckham.
Punting: A-. Steven Clark hit 6 mostly towering punts for 43.7 yards per kick, only one was returned, and two were expertly killed inside the five yard line. Clark’s one low 39 yard effort resulted in a 19 yard Christion Jones return that set Bama up for a trip to the red zone, but the special teams bailed ’em out with a field goal block.
Punt Returns: B+. Bama only punted 3 times, and Chris Davis didn’t let them roll, which was big. As it was, Cody Mandell averaged 47.0 yards per punt. He would have had ridiculous numbers if any had rolled. Good job by Ryan Smith on a partial punt block.
Kick Returns: C+. Bama kicked off 5 times, and Auburn returned 4 of them for a 22.5 yard average. That’s a decent average, but this was typically from the end zone or goal line, and Auburn averaged getting the ball to the 24.4 yard line.
Place-kicking: A-. There were no worries on Cody Parkey’s extra points, and Auburn scored touchdown when they got in the red zone. Uncharacteristically, Parkey hit only 2 of his 5 kickoffs for touchbacks. Christion Jones and Kenny Bell combined for only 18.0 yards per return, putting the average starting spot for Alabama at the 25.8 yard line.
Offensive Line: A+. While some might quibble about 3 sacks allowed, 296 rushing yards against Alabama’s defense says it all. Stupendous, superb job! None of the sacks came on a 4 man rush, and none of Bama’s linemen recorded a tackle for loss. Bama had to blitz to make Marshall uncomfortable. This unit had no penalties, either.
Running Backs: A-. Tre Mason’s lost fumble started a slide which saw Alabama go up 21-7, but it was Mason’s running afterwards that got Auburn back in the game. The fumble aside, this was another excellent game for the Auburn backs, particularly Mason and Jay Prosch. Bama’s C. J. Mosley got his tackles in this game, racking up 14, but none of ’em were for a loss. The reason is largely that Prosch successfully blocked Mosley most of the time. Bama came up with 7 tackles for loss in this one, but they had to blitz corners and safeties to do it.
Receivers: B+. Had a couple of dropped passes in this one, and a few missed blocks on Auburn’s screen game. However, downfield blocking was again key. C. J. Uzomah got called for holding, which was Auburn’s only offensive penalty. I didn’t count off on that hold, because it was a questionable call on a day where tons of grabbing and even yanking down by the jersey went uncalled on both sides. Uzomah made a sensational touchdown reception bracketed by 2 defenders to allow Auburn to pull even in the 3rd quarter. Uzomah looked like a center going up for a rebound, on that one. And I think we all knew Sammie Coates was due for another big catch and score, which he pulled off with 32 seconds left in the game.
Quarterback: A. It’s not always pretty with Nick Marshall, and I did count off for taking 2 of his 3 sacks on 1st and 2nd down. However, Marshall wins football games. He contributed 99 rushing yards, and hit 68 percent of his passes, for 6.0 yards per pass. That’s not bad, against Alabama’s defense. Marshall had no turnovers, but even more importantly, he again came through at crunch time with a last-instant pull up touchdown pass that was perfectly thrown. That doesn’t necessarily reflect in the statistics, but when the game’s been on the line late this year, Marshall has yet to fail to deliver. That’s been amazing!
How ’bout these Tigers? An Iron Bowl win is always great, any way it happens! Chris Davis’ 109 yard effort with no time on the clock will go down for the ages. With the win, Auburn is once again in the SEC Championship Game. If anyone reading this predicted a title before this season started, I hope you’ll link to it in the comments! I’ll note that back in August, I did pick Auburn to win this game, 23-19. I also picked losses to LSU, Texas A&M, and Georgia, so obviously I’m not omniscient!
I’ve just received an email from CBS Sports, indicating that they plan to re-run the entire Iron Bowl again tonight at 8:30 PM Central time. CBS is calling the Chris Davis return “one of the most stunning plays in college football history.” I think my TV tuner might drift over to CBS, again tonight! Before the Iron Bowl encore, CBS Sports Network will features “Fantastic fourth quarters” from 6:30-8:30 PM, central, a two-hour special highlighting the four most memorable fourth quarters from the 2013 SEC on CBS season: Alabama at Texas A&M – Sept. 14, LSU at Georgia – Sept. 28, Georgia at Auburn – Nov. 16 and Alabama at Auburn – Nov. 30
This week, all eyes turn to the Missouri Tigers. Like Auburn, Missouri was no one’s pick to be in this game this season. In fact, I think coach Gary Pinkel’s name was on several of those “hot seat” lists. Missouri is a very good football team, with dangerous defensive ends, and an offense that will resemble Texas A&M’s. Auburn will have to play well to have a chance, but I don’t think there’s much doubt that Coach Malzhan will have Auburn ready! It was noted Saturday night that Malzhan was only briefly available for interviews after the Iron Bowl, because he was already looking at Missouri film. That’s a pretty good sign, I think!
War Eagle, folks! It is GREAT to be an Auburn Tiger! The Tide has been defeated, and all is right with the world again. My hat is off to this great team, and all of the players who worked so hard for this season. We fans are so grateful! I believe everyone can count on a sea of orange and blue clad screaming fans stuffing the Georgia Dome to the rafters next Saturday evening!