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Tigers Take to the Air on A-Day!

By on April 20th, 2014 in Football 6 Comments »
A Day four

Nick usually had all day to throw.
(All photos by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! On a gray windy day in Auburn, the starting Auburn “Blue” team totally dismantled the “White” backups, 58-3. It was as lopsided as any A-Day I’ve ever witnessed. What was truly impressive was that once again Auburn fans turned out in support of this team. Despite the threat of inclement weather, over 70,000 orange and blue-clad fanatics showed up to support the Tigers!

     It was a day for celebration, as awards were handed out, including SEC Championship rings and trophies. Highlights from last season’s miracle run played frequently on the jumbotron. I think everyone’s favorite was the “kick-six” from the end of last year’s Iron Bowl. I’ll bet that got played 20 times or more, and it never failed to generate a roar from the crowd! Beating Bama never gets old!

     Offensively, the Blue team pretty much did as it pleased in this game. Nick Marshall came out slinging the ball on the first four plays, and it was clear that the Tigers have been working on the passing game. The Blues threw the ball 37 times, to just 25 rushing attempts. The Blue team generated 657 total yards, and 8 offensive touchdowns. Still, lest anyone forget last season’s rushing juggernaut, there were enough power plays that looked very reminiscent of late last season.

 A Day Two

 Artis-Payne takes the ball behind some crushing blocks.

     The starting “White” defense featured a lot of players who’ve not been on the field much in the past at Auburn. Some of the guys impressed me individually. Linebacker Kenny Flowers showed a nose for the football, and he won Defensive MVP honors. The white bunch was a patchwork unit that was prone to giving up big plays, like a 59-yard coverage-bust TD pass to Quan Bray, and a 54 yard “lost contain” pitch play to Corey Grant.

 A Day Three

 Contain guy (the defensive end) is on top of the QB. Who’s gonna catch Grant on that pitch?

     The white offense didn’t fare so well. Facing Auburn’s remaining healthy starters, the white team managed just 85 total yards, and one field goal. This spring, the defense played a lot more of a single safety over the top, and the second safety being down near the line of scrimmage. New field safety Derrick Moncrief showed particular adeptness at cutting off running plays to the outside, and forcing the runner back into traffic in the middle. Auburn’s healthy top-level defensive linemen dominated the second team offensive line, and disrupted the offense in the backfield.

     There weren’t any live special teams returns, but there was more kicking than I expected. Auburn will field a new kicker and punter next fall, redshirt freshmen both, and A-Day was our first look at them. Kicker Daniel Carlson showed a strong leg, and hit a 50 yard field goal during the game. He missed a second one from that distance. Punter Jimmy Hutchinson did well also, with a 40.6 yard average. This was by no means an easy day for kickers. There was a brisk 20 MPH north wind blowing the entire game, with occasional sprinkles of rain.

Unit Reviews, after the jump!

Defensive line: Auburn’s starting unit of Gabe Wright, Ben Bradley, Angelo Blackson and Elijah Daniel was stout. If there was a weakness, it was a lack of an outside speed rush. Constant disruption from the tackles inside made up for that. Among the reserves, Gimel President caught my eye. He won a few one on one battles with tackle Shon Coleman, and forced Marshall to step up in the pocket. I’m not sure why he wasn’t credited in the official stats.

Linebacker: This year’s group seemed much more comfortable than last year’s. Starters Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost hardly played, though. This made room for guys like Kenny Flowers and Cameron Toney to play a lot, with Toney playing on both teams. Toney racked up 9 total tackles. The linebackers benefited from having a safety on one side, and the star on the other helping in run support. Too often last season, a linebacker was responsible for handling half the field on his own. Justin Garrett played a lot of star, and he looked back to last spring’s form.

Cornerbacks: This bunch was surprisingly strong. I know that is going to sound odd on a day when the Blues put up 386 passing yards. Starters Jonathan Mincy and Jonathan Jones gave up nothing. The reserve quarterbacks tried to force it in there anyway, and it was nothing doing. Both starters showed excellent ability to shield the receiver away from the ball. New corner Trovon Reed played extensively, and pretty well. He had a couple of nice pass breakups, and showed the ability to stay with Auburn’s deep and speedy receivers. Kamryn Melton also showed pretty good coverage speed, but less ability to keep the receiver from catching the ball. Melton drew the unfortunate task of trying to cover D’haquille Williams, a lot of the time.

Safeties: With only one safety over top a lot of the time, the Tiger defense was more vulnerable to the deep ball, and was lit up several times. With a lot of SEC starting quarterbacks graduating and moving on this spring, this may be by design. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson may want to make the new quarterbacks in the league prove they can make those throws, while choking the life out of offenses closer to the line of scrimmage. I mentioned above that I was impressed by Derrick Moncrief. That guy comes up in run support very quickly, and makes sure tackles. He also showed coverage skills, when asked, swatting an out-route pass to Stanton Truitt away.

Punting: Jimmy Hutchinson had 5 punts for a 40.6 yard average. What’s not shown in the stat book is that all 5 of those punts were in the first half, for the White team, kicking against that 20 MPH wind. I watched a lot of the punting in pre-game warmups, and basically the coaches made ‘em all kick against the wind the whole time. There were impressive punts by Tyler Stovall and Jack Bjork during warmups. In fact, I think Bjork consistently had the best distance.

Returns: These weren’t live or pressured, so I mainly watched for who was out there fielding. Robensen Therezie dropped one punt, but it was a ball that the wind had pushed sideways, Therezie was running full speed to try to get to it, and he was out there with a cast on his broken hand.

Placekicking: Daniel Carlson has a very strong leg, and I expect we’ll see lots of touchbacks once again this fall. Carlson was 2 out of 3 on field goal attempts, with the miss coming from 51 yards. He hit a 50-yarder earlier. Carlson also did miss 1 extra point. Again, these were difficult conditions, with the wind, damp balls, and a new holder back there. Jonathan Wallace looks like he’ll be the holder this year. That gives Auburn some intriguing options on extra points, with Wallace able to both run and throw it!

Offensive line: On the starting unit, Reese Dismukes sat the game out, and JUCO transfer Xavier Dampeer started. Dampeer did an excellent job on a damp, windy day. I don’t remember a bad snap the whole game, and everyone of them was a shotgun snap. Avery Young got the start at right tackle. This unit pass protected pretty well, giving up no sacks, and looked just like last year’s road-grading unit on the ground game. The team has some work to do on depth, though. The second unit had problems with Auburn’s starters on the D-line.

Tight Ends/H-Backs: C. J. Uzomah was head and shoulders above everyone else, consistently taking on his guy and locking him out of the play blocking. Uzomah also made a tough catch over the middle in traffic. Brandon Fulse got the start at H-Back, and kind of had an off-game, for him. It’s a bit different engaging defenders from the backfield, and he’s still adjusting. It’s important to remember that Jay Prosch looked similar early, last season. It’s really a difficult, thankless position to play. I thought that Gage Batten had good day at times, too.

Receivers: These guys got a chance to shine, in a pass-heavy scrimmage. Sammie Coates made a one-handed circus grab in traffic, and he’s really come along as a blocker. D’haquille Williams made quite an impact on a touchdown reception late in the first quarter. He was locked up in the endzone with defender Kamryn Melton, who had good position. Marshall floated it to Williams’ outside shoulder, and Williams executed an in-air spin to secure the ball and get both feet down in bounds. Williams has great hands. But just as importantly, he’s aware of what’s going on with his quarterback. When the quarterback is getting pressure, Williams comes back toward the QB, and finds a visible spot to wait for the ball. Just when we thought he was going to be marginalized, Quan Bray had a sensational game, running good routes and making big plays. Melvin Ray was another guy who caught my eye, with an ability to get separation and catch the ball.

Running backs: For those wondering how Auburn might replace Tre Mason, A-Day gave a pretty emphatic answer. Both Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant were outstanding. They didn’t get many carries, but they did damage when they did get the ball. The two combined for 17 carries, 225 yards and a couple of touchdowns. For those keeping track, that’s a ridiculous 13.2 yards per carry. I felt badly for redshirt freshman Peyton Barber. He toiled in obscurity all last fall on the scout team, then busted his tail throughout spring this year. On his first carry, he ripped off a 13 yard run against the starting defense, then sprained his ankle and missed the rest of the game. I know he had to have been upset!

Quarterback: I think a lot of people were wondering if starter Nick Marshall’s accuracy would show improvement. After he completed several out of bounds early, the answer was starting to look like “not really.” As the first quarter went on, Marshall found his groove, accounted for the wind and dampness, and started hitting his man. He showed willingness to check down and move the chains, and the ability to avoid pressure and keep his eyes downfield. While I’d have liked to have seen a better completion rate than 59 percent, one really can’t argue with 10.72 yards per pass. That’s better than any starting quarterback in the SEC posted over the course of the season last year. Zack Mettenberger was tops in the league at 10.4. Jeremy Johnson did not have as good a day. He faced constant pressure, his receivers were blanketed, and conditions were tough. I think the coaches have worked him a lot on the zone-read, and perhaps not as much in the passing game.

     My major conclusion after watching A-Day is that teams are going to have a tough time stopping the Auburn Tigers. The defense will be improved, and more aggressive up front, I think. Auburn will have to get better, because this coming fall schedule gets a lot tougher than last season, ending with road trips to Athens and Tuscaloosa. Buckle up those chin straps, folks!

     A big thanks goes out to AubTigerman, and his friends and family for attending this game with me, and putting up with my chatter. As usual in Auburn, I enjoyed myself, made new friends, and loved celebrating our SEC Champion Auburn Tigers! War Eagle, and have a happy Easter holiday!

A Day One

Tigers are taking off!

6 Comments

  1. sparkey sparkey says:

    I think our depth issues are not nearly as bad as they seemed yesterday. For one thing, many of the starters were held out of A-Day. In addition, as I’m sure you know Acid, it was not really the 1’s vs. 2’s. It was more the 1’s and 2’s vs. 2’s and 3’s compounded by the fact of so many people sitting down for the game.

    I was highly impressed with Trovon Reed. I think it’s a shame he’s just now playing as a corner. The kid is a natural there and he has very good and possibly great instincts. It hurts to think this could have been his fourth season at Auburn as a corner with that much ability. By game six or seven, he’s going to be a lock down corner.

    It was disappointing that Barber got hurt so early. I was really looking forward to seeing what he would do yesterday. I’ve heard so much hype about him I’m ready to see if he really deserves all of it. Personally, I’m not sold on him from his highlights. I just was not as impressed with him as I was Roc Thomas. To me, Thomas will be a better back and he will be one of those guys that makes Auburn Running Back U.

    D’haquille Williams and Sammie Coates would be tough for any defense to handle. You have two of the best receivers in the country on the same team. I can’t remember seeing a team with such a strong set of receivers along with a tremendous ground game.

    Now I’ll mention Marshall as I’m well known as his toughest critic. While everybody else is incredibly excited about him looking incredibly accurate, I’m not completely convinced. I did notice a drastic improvement on the intermediate passes. That’s a huge step forward. Along with that, after the first few series he did get into a groove and looked good. However, I would say that Auburn’s receivers made him look a little better than he is. I kept hearing the ESPN announcers say he put the ball in there perfectly. I don’t see it the same way. It looked like he threw the ball up and made sure the receiver had a fair shot at the pass. If he does that consistently though, Auburn will win the battles far more often than not as our receiving group is loaded even beyond the Duke and Sammie. Marshall was certainly better and that’s all Auburn needs to win the close ones.

    Finally, we have to stop exclusively practicing on rainy days inside the indoor facility. I realize it’s a great tool and we can still have a high level of practice on wet days. That said, rain seems to be our kryptonite and if we don’t start practicing in the rain some it will continue to be our biggest weakness. I’m hoping Gus has realized Auburn’s best shot to win the game is to have the offense on the field in the last seconds whether we’re ahead or behind if one score can win or lose the game. We have more talent on offense. We need to have the offense on the field when the game is behind. I don’t want to see our defense trying to hold on to the game again this season as it cost us the national championship.

    • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

      …..This was an interesting spring game, strategically. Generally, you don’t see “bombs away” during them. And you certainly don’t see nine in the box, but that’s what Auburn did yesterday. Last year, we were kind of a big play team on offense. Till late in the season, the offense would score, but they’d also drop balls/miss passes, and otherwise derail games. Then Ellis would have the defense try to hang on in the red zone. It worked, but…

      …..I think the plan this season on defense will be to press, try to get turnovers and 3-n-outs, and give it right back to an offense that will score more often than not. Get teams down big early in the game, break their spirit, and then work on your depth some more. We really didn’t blow any SEC teams away, last year. Well, except Tennessee, and they haven’t had a winning SEC season since 2007.

  2. Pine Mt Tiger Pine Mt Tiger says:

    Thanks for the breakdown Acid,
    Always interested in your insight. I was glad to hear Peyton Barber will be okay. I hope outlook for Carl Lawson is also good.
    Question: Was it just me or did it look like the QB’s were stairing down their receivers quite a bit.

  3. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    ……I think these days they are taught not to move their heads. Head angle is a cue for the rush, or that sort of thing. I was ready to accuse Marshall of that stuff in my review, and he’d then dart a ball to the other side, mostly to wide-open Duke Williams.

  4. tigertracker says:

    I think this bombs away spring game was all about giving opposing D coordinators that much more to think about and prepare for. While we did need the throwing practice Gus seems to be all about “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” I expect we keep a heavy dose of read option.

    But just imagine how much more effective it will be to have an intermediate passing game and 3 true deep threats! Marshall threw two passes I think back to back where he hit duke on a drag route and then uzomah on a seam route. Both passes had to go over a linebacker and under a safety. Both were on the money and were passes I think are some of the most difficult to make! He missed Coates on a deep ball that was too far inside then came right back and had more air under it so his receiver could make a play. And Coates comes up with a circus one hander. He just looked more poised in the pocket. Granted this was against second and third teamers and no real pass rush, but I was beyond pleased with what I saw.

    I was most pleased with our receivers catching the ball even when out of bounds. We have got to pass more to allow ourselves to break a teams spirit before half and get our backups some reps. JJ got his redshirt burned last year and will need to see some level of sec competition this year if he is expected to take the reigns next year.

    I’m curious for someone’s take on Brandon fulse. Is it me or does he seem to shy away from contact? Maybe I’m just watching him at the worst possible times, but I recall a few plays against mizzou where he looked lost or not wanting contact and one of grants long runs Saturday he had a cornerback lined up that he could’ve mowed over but didn’t. That is his teammate and we don’t want anyone hurt but it looked like he didn’t even try to block him.

    Prosch’s shoes will probably not be filled by anyone for a few years, but fulse is a big dude that just seems timid. Easy for this couch potato to say, but I wish they’d give him some nails to chew on in his free time ;)

    Fall can’t get here fast enough for this guy. We looked like the defending sec champs on Saturday. After some offseason work and fall camp…..it’s going to be time for Bert and the hogs to suffer the Wrath of Malzahn!

  5. GreenvilleAUfan GreenvilleAUfan says:

    Another good read Acid. Thanks for the breakdown.