Tigers Thrash Missouri! (Grading Auburn’s 51–14 win over Missouri)
Kerryon Johnson soars back into action
(L.G. Patterson, The Associated Press)
War Eagle everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report on Auburn’s first road win of the year, a 51–14 shelling of the Missouri Tigers. For the most part, Auburn was clicking in all 3 phases of the game, and Missouri was pretty much dead and buried well before halftime. This game was a far cry from a week ago when Auburn struggled to get any push against Mercer and committed 5 turnovers. The offense came alive and attacked one-on-one matchups. With better players, a lot of those plays went Auburn’s way.
On the day, the offense generated 482 yards of total offense, but the last quarter was played with mostly backups on the field. Auburn converted 7 of 15 third-down conversions and had no turnovers, while Missouri had 4. That allowed Auburn to build a big time-of-possession advantage, keeping the ball for over 34 minutes.
We knew going in that Missouri was suspect on defense, but I was wary of the front four. Auburn’s offensive line made a pretty big jump this week and had some nasty blocking. Even better was the pass protection. Jarrett Stidham was hardly pressured at all, and if a defense can’t move Stidham’s feet, it will get picked apart.
If there is any area of concern on offense after this one, it would be on the running game. Both of Auburn’s top runners are hobbled with injuries. This week, Kerryon Johnson played at maybe 80 percent, and Kamryn Pettway took the week off. Auburn finished with 263 rushing yards, but Johnson only had 48 yards on the day. The blazing speed of Kam Martin and Eli Stove accounted for half the yardage on only 12 carries. If I had my way, we’d see more of Martin out there. He’s a threat to take it to the house on every carry.
Statistically, this game will appear that Auburn took a few steps backward defensively, but these things can be explained by the blowout. Auburn held two banged up starters out, and was subbing liberally even in the 2nd quarter. A lot of Missouri’s yards came in garbage time with the game way out of hand. The starting defense regularly put the Mizzou offense in a bind and clamped down on 3rd down.
Missouri was its own worst enemy at times. There were 3 false starts in the 1st quarter alone. Auburn had an interception that went through a Missouri receiver’s hands. And then, there was the crazy fumble play that wasn’t blown dead. Me, I thought the quarterback’s arm was going forward, and replay seemed to confirm it. It should have been ruled an incomplete pass. I’d have been howling about the refs if it had happened to Auburn! Missouri defenders had trouble getting off blocks and trouble getting a handle on Auburn ball carriers.
Auburn had a better special teams day this week. Punting is still a bit concerning. We are seeing short punts that, so far, have hit and rolled. The average ends up around 40 yards, but those things are ugly to watch. If that keeps happening, we will see a knuckler NOT roll when we need it most in a big game. Daniel Carlson looked like he was finally back to last year’s form with very strong and accurate kicks.
Unit grades after the jump!
Defensive Line: A-. I felt like the line, particularly the starters did a great job of swallowing up blockers and disrupting up front. It seemed like Drew Lock was being harrassed every pass play, and runs up the middle didn’t get far. Strangely, Auburn only got credit for 1 quarterback hurry by Jeffery Holland. I guess the home-team statistician was taking a nap instead of watching the game. The Auburn line was credited with 1 sack, 3 tackles for loss, and 10 total tackles.
Linebackers: A-. The Auburn linebackers continue to do a good job of filling lanes and hunting the football down, even with starting middle linebacker Tré Williams sitting this one out. Montavious Atkinson and Richard McBryde filled in admirably, and the unit soldiered on. Linebackers were credited with 16 tackles.
Secondary: A-. Most of what I counted off on was second- and third-team defenders getting beat deep. Fortunately, Missouri was unable to make good throws in those situations. The starting defenders played really well and took home run threat J’Mon Moore away. Moore had just 2 catches on the day with a late touchdown against the reserves. Moore was matched up mostly on Carlton Davis, and Davis decisively won that battle. I also enjoyed the play of Jeremiah Dinson, Tray Matthews and Stephen Roberts. Those are all guys that cover a lot of ground and lay the wood when they get there. Auburn’s secondary contributed 28 total tackles. Missouri put the ball in the air a lot in this game, and Auburn limited the Tigers to just 5.5 yards per pass with most of the yardage coming against the reserves.
Punting: C. Ian Shannon punted 3 times for just 39.3 yards per attempt, and frankly was the beneficiary of some lucky rolls. On the plus side, there were no returns, and one was killed inside the 20-yard line.
Punt Returns: B+. Missouri punted 6 times, and there was one fair catch and one return for one yard by Stephen Roberts. That doesn’t sound like much. However, most of these punts were backspinners landing inside the 10 yard line. Getting away from them is the smart thing for the return man to do. The Roberts fair catch at the 10 was good, too. That ball likely would have rolled down near the goal line. We won’t see another punter that good till we face Bama’s J. K. Scott.
Kick Returns: B-. Missouri was another team that did not want to kick to Auburn return men. Noah Igbinoghene brought one out late for 21 yards, which is pretty average.
Place Kicking: A+. Daniel Carlson was 3 for 3 on field goal attempts, and 2 of them were beyond 50 yards. That gives Carlson 12 career field goals of that distance or more. Carlson was also a busy man kicking off, notching 9 touchbacks on 10 kickoffs. We’ve seen Carlson consistently reach the end zone this year, but a lot of kickoffs this day were actually boomed beyond the back of the end zone. It was quite impressive!
Offensive Line: A-. I still would like to see a bit more push in the run game, but I think Missouri has a decent defensive line, and Auburn held its own. Pass protection issues seem to have been greatly reduced if not eliminated. Jarrett Stidham wasn’t sacked or even close to being sacked. This was the second appearance of Auburn’s shuffled offensive line, and I’m scratching my head. Due to an injury to Darius James last week, center Austin Golson moved out to right tackle, and senior Jax State transfer Casey Dunn took over at center. Early last season, we saw Golson struggle at left tackle before being moved back to center. This year, on the right side, Golson looked surprisingly good. Missouri continually tried to beat him around the corner and could not do it. Prince Tega Wanagho has steadily improved, also, and looked good on the other side. I got a kick out of the Auburn participation report. It lists Chase Ritter (a walk-on linebacker) as the starting center! I’m sure he enjoyed his moment in the spotlight…
Running Backs: A. Some might question this grade with Kerryon Johnson only getting 48 yards, but it’s kind of hard to pile up big yardage numbers when most of the carries are inside the 10-yard line! Blocking was good, especially by the H-backs. The reason all those wildcat plays worked so well was that Auburn went with 2 H-backs, Chandler Cox and Spencer Nigh, and they walled their men off consistently. Despite Missouri being stacked to stop the run, Auburn averaged 5 yards per carry, put no balls on the ground, dropped no passes, and did not turn any pass rushers loose till well into garbage time.
Receivers: B. We saw a vast improvement this week. I feel like there were a few route-running errors this week, and another glaring dropped ball by Sal Cannella. However, Auburn’s men blocked OK, got open and caught the ball. Where the blocking was not great was on outside screens, with the Missouri corner consistently getting into the passing lane. That forced the QB to pull the ball back in and run too many times. For those RPOs to work, blocking HAS to get better. Auburn got called for holding on the outside twice, which negated big pass plays.
Quarterback: A. Some might question this grade as Stidham really did have all day to throw. I only saw maybe 2 out of 17 passes that were off target, and nothing was even close to a turnover. Stidham is on fire, efficiency-wise, hitting 13 of 17 passes for 218 yards. That’s a gaudy 12.8 yards per pass average! Malik Willis got in the game late, hitting 3 of 4 passes for no yards. The coaches had Willis throwing receiver screens to reserve receivers against Missouri starters.
It was a fun road trip for Auburn football. Auburn went to a hostile place and beat the snot out of the home team, which is what was needed. Maybe there is little value in smoking a team that is clearly in disarray, but I was encouraged by Auburn’s improved execution. Like it or not, Coach Malzhan’s teams tend to take a few games to start firing on all cylinders.
I also have to hand it to the Auburn offensive coaches regarding the Wildcat plays. I’ve been one of the biggest critics, saying that the plays were a waste of a down and way too predictable. This game, there were some pretty creative new wrinkles. I particularly liked the use of Spencer Nigh on “wham” blocks. Auburn would let a defender through, pull the guard, and Nigh would come back to the middle and blindside obliterate any defender that came through. This did fail on one play, but Johnson shook off the tackler and scored anyway. I also loved the fake pitch to Stidham in motion. Later down the road, that play might result in a turned-loose tight end wide open in the end zone with the ball in Stidham’s hands.
Auburn returns home for the next couple of weeks, hosting first Mississippi State then Ole Miss. In front of a partisan crowd, this is a great opportunity for more improvement and live competition against SEC-level talent. Mississippi State should come into this game angry. They looked like world-beaters against LSU only to lay an egg yesterday against Georgia. If Mississippi State is to have any hope at winning the division this year, they have to beat Auburn. I would expect nothing less than its best effort.