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Tigers Top the Cougars! (with unit grades)

By on September 1st, 2013 in Football 18 Comments »

Robensen Therezie saves the day!

     War Eagle, everybody. It’s time now for the Acid Reign report, on Auburn’s season-opening 31-24 win over Washington State. It was anything but a polished performance, but this team did enough to win. Speed at the offensive skill and returner positions kept Auburn in the game, then the defense stopped the Cougars when it mattered. The Tigers secured their first win over a BCS-conference opponent since New Year’s Eve of 2011.

     I think everyone expected improvement in Washington State head coach Mike Leach’s team in year two, and that’s certainly what we saw. His skill position workouts in practices are legendary for being incredibly grueling, and non-stop. Last season this resulted in guys with their heads spinning in the first year of it. This year, we saw a lot of precision routes and impeccable timing on a lot of those plays. WSU is going to carve a lot of defenses up this year. That said, you live by the pass, and die by it. The Cougars ran the ball only 23 times, despite averaging 5.2 yards per carry. The passing game was only generating 5.3 yards per attempt, and 3 interceptions to only 1 passing touchdown is the story of this game.

     During the game, I did my share of howling about missed assignments, but in the end I was really proud of this bunch of Auburn defenders. We’ve had deficiencies in the front seven the past couple of years, and we knew that none of this was going to magically be fixed in game one. Then, we essentially had only one starter available on the defensive line. What these guys accomplished in the face of that was huge. Lots of folks played up front, and newcomers like freshman tackle Montravius Adams made an impact. On a muggy night, Auburn was still getting some pressure on the Washington State quarterback late in the game.

     Kudos to defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson for the game he called. We were torn apart in zone coverage in the first half, but he decided to trust his team to play man coverage a lot in the second, and it paid off. Sure, there were guys wide open, but with more pressure on the quarterback, Halliday had to just take safe checkdown passes, or throw the ball away. We haven’t seen that much man-coverage in Auburn since Will Muschamp was coaching here. And we haven’t seen so many line/pass rush stunts since Gene Chizik’s tenure as Auburn’s defensive coordinator ten years ago.

     Against Auburn’s offense, Washington State used a 3-man line, and a lot of gambling, overloaded blitzes. It worked well enough to stop drives before reaching paydirt, but they were caught out of position enough times for Auburn to make a lot of big plays. With better passing, the Cougar secondary could have taken some real damage in this game.

     The offense started with a bad snap and a sack, and then dropped balls galore early. Auburn repeatedly got guys open deep behind the Cougar secondary, but could not hook up. In the second half, Nick Marshall did complete one deep pass to Sammie Coates, and we got by with some luck, there. Coates was juggling the ball still when he went out of bounds, and Hubert Owens and his SEC crew missed it.

     As an aside, this was a poorly refereed game, and both teams were victims of blatant no-calls, including muggings in the secondary with the ball in the air, helmet to helmet hits, and one particularly bad hit five yards out of bounds. There are arguments to be made for “letting them play,” and “not calling it when you don’t see it.” Owens’ crew apparently didn’t see much that they didn’t HAVE to see! They also seemed pretty reluctant to review several questionable plays.

     Special teams were a big factor, too, as Auburn pretty much won every battle, there. Even when Steven Clark sliced one punt, it hit right next to the sideline, bounced back in to roll ten more yards Auburn’s way, and was killed deep in WSU territory. Stan White on the Auburn radio network had the quote of the night on that play, “It’s like hitting a golf ball into the woods, and it hits a tree and bounces back onto the fairway!”

Unit Grades after the jump!


Defensive Line: C-. Auburn played a lot of bodies here, and did get better as the game went on. There were times much like the past two seasons, where the team was pushed around badly. Washington State’s first TD run featured total collapse up front. This line also allowed WSU to pick up a running first down on a run up the gut on 4th and 5. The one thing that seemed to work pretty well was a tackle-end twist freshman tackle Montravius Adams and defensive end Craig Sanders executed multiple times. Both guys got turned loose on that technique. Adams and Sanders combined for 3 tackles for loss. No one else on the line had more than one tackle or quarterback hurry. A lot of times, the ends were pushed 8-10 yards back behind the quarterback, and completely out of position.

Linebackers: F.  Kris Frost led the way off the bench with 4 tackles, Cassanova McKinzy had 1, and Jake Holland had not a single stat of any sort. Washington State ran 88 offensive plays, and the entire linebacking corps had no assists, no qb hurries, no tackles for loss and only 5 total tackles. Folks, this HAS to get better, and quickly.

Secondary: B+. At times Jonathan Mincy was victimized down the field, and Joshua Holsey made some of those “first start” mistakes, but these guys overall held a Mike Leach offense to 5.3 yards per pass and allowed only 1 passing touchdown vs three interceptions. Six of Auburn’s top seven tacklers were in the secondary, and they got guys on the ground. Otherwise, this game would have been a blowout. Mincy showed that he’s a much better jamming, press-man corner in the second half, and Holsey came up with a leaping interception. The “star” of the defense was Robensen Therezie, pressed into a starting role due to a foot injury to starter Justin Garrett. Therezie had seven tackles, two interceptions and another pass breakup. Kudos to Ryan Smith as the third corner, he covered pretty well on those underneath throws to the sideline.

Punting: A. Steven Clark appears to have increased his distance this year, while retaining the ridiculous height that denies returns. Washington State had no opportunities for returns at all, while Clark managed a 41.3 yard average on 5 punts, with 3 downed inside the 20. When Clark had some room, he hit one towering 53 yard shot that the cameras had difficulty following. On a night with a sputtery offense, this performance was big.

Punt Returns: B. Auburn didn’t block very well on 5 punt return opportunities, and let a gunner kill a punt on the 1 yard line. However, Chris Davis had all the right moves as a return man. He got away when it was inside the ten, he fair caught securely when he was blanketed, and took one long punt back up the field for 19 yards. I’m still worried about risking our best cornerback on the punt team, but he did look good back there.

Kick Returns: A-. The WSU strategy early on was to kick to the goal line, and try to bottle the play up one one corner of the field. A couple of times, that worked and Mason had to fight for 20 yards or so. Then Mason got outside, and scored a very important touchdown. The Cougars then had to shift gears and kick it deeper for touchbacks, which puts the ball at the 25 these days.

Place-kicking: B+. Cody Parkey did miss a 50 yard field goal attempt, but he later hit one from 47. Overall, he was 3 of 4 on the night, and perfect on his extra points. Parkey hit 5 of 7 kickoffs for touchbacks. When he didn’t get it to the end zone, though, there was trouble. One was a kick out of bounds, and the other resulted in a 30 yard WSU return.

Offensive Line: B. This unit did have some missed blocks at times, but it looked pretty strong. The Cougars were in the Tiger backfield a lot, but they were using 7 or 8 guys in the box and a lot of blitzes. Five O-linemen can’t block 7 or 8. These guys pretty much handled their man, and paved the way for Auburn to run for 297 yards in the game. There were no false starts, which is pretty good for the season opener, and only two holding calls on the line (both declined). Patrick Miller looked drastically improved over last season at right tackle. Did have a bad snap to open the game by center Reese Dismukes, but he did a stellar job dealing with big monster nose tackle Ioane Gauta, who was limited to 4 total tackles, none for a loss, and two QB hurries.

Running Backs: B. Letter grade off for Tre Mason’s late fumble. There was also the blocking miscue by fullback Jay Prosch that ended in a Cameron Artis-Payne holding penalty, killing a drive. One has to give WSU defensive coordinator Mike Breske credit, though. He really attacked Auburn’s middle, and it’s tough for an H-Back lined up wide of the tackle to get back to the middle and make a good clean block. Of course, an offense should be able to burn a team in the flats, that does that, and Auburn did at times. All of the backs ran hard, Grant, Artis-Payne and Mason. Other than the fumble, this looked like a pretty dangerous unit.

Receivers: C-. I give a grade this high because the guys out there blocked the daylights out of the Cougars on the edge. However, I saw guys getting jammed on their routes, and lots of butterfingers. Things did settle down in the second half, with Sammie Coates getting a couple of nice catches down field. Jaylon Denson made a critical catch for a first down. Quan Bray looks like the quick screen guy of choice, and he had 3 catches. If he gets the ball in stride, he can make plays with it. Good downfield blocking by Brandon Fulse at tight end, also.

Quarterback: C+. There will be those who are worried about Nick Marshall’s performance in Auburn’s first game, particularly the overthrown balls. What I see is a quarterback who had the virtually the same completion percentage as Washington State’s quarterback, and the same yardage per pass. And Marshall did not have three back-breaking interceptions, either. While his rushing stats were nothing to home about, he did escape pressure time and time again, and probably negated at least 5 sacks last year’s guys would have taken. Marshall’s big mission in this game plan was to run the offense, and take care of the ball. He did that, and he got his first game out of the way with a win. This guy has had one month of fall camp with these receivers, and yes there were chemistry issues. I think he’ll get better and better as the season progresses.

      Wow, is it ever great to get a win! I enjoyed watching this team, that would not give in, and kept fighting all the way. There is a lot of talent on this team, and I think you’ll see a much improved squad as the season progresses. Again, I have to salute the Auburn secondary, who came up with 3 turnovers and held a team that passed the ball 65 times to just 344 passing yards. We were told that they were tackling well, and that mostly proved to be true. Secondary coaches Melvin Smith and Charlie Harbinson have been a huge upgrade over Willie “Toast” Martinez.

     This team does have some areas to work on, most notably in the front seven on defense, and in the passing game. And the schedule doesn’t get much easier. Auburn faces the Sun Belt Conference champion next week, the Arkansas State Red Wolves. The wolves absolutely demolished Arkansas Pine-Bluff, 62-11. They led 48-0 at the half! Then the Tigers host Mississippi State, who lost ugly to Oklahoma State in Houston. The Bullies will try to rally against Alcorn State this Saturday. They’ll likely have to do it without quarterback Tyler Russell, who was knocked out of the game yesterday with a concussion. Here’s hoping he returns for the Auburn tilt in two weeks.

    After Arkansas State and Mississippi State, Auburn travels to Baton Rouge to conclude a tough September. War Eagle, folks! It’s great to get a win, and these grade things are always so much more fun to do when we’ve won. We’re looking forward to the rest of the season, and let’s go, Tigers!


  1. wde21 says:

    Great up! Great to be back at Jordan Hare to cheer on the tigers! Even though we were shaky at times I thought they played hard with lots of enthusiasm. I think we will get better as the season goes on. A bright spot was Corey Grant. He really looked fast on a couple of his runs. Looking forward to watching this team this season! WDE!

  2. restless6 says:

    Great up!

  3. AUJTJarhead AUJTJarhead says:

    Nothing personal, but, get Jake Holland out of there. He’s a senior with little to give. Get Frost in there and get him seasoned. We can take our lumps this year defensively and be much improved next year!

  4. AuburnMisfit AuburnMisfit says:

    I was harsh on Marshall yesterday, but the kid did settle down as the game went on. Adding to this that he only had 1 month to prepare, his performance was quite good. I’m sure this weeks practice will be working on timing with the receivers.

    Defensively, I don’t know what to say about the LB’s. Was the scheme Johnson plan to prevent the big plays Leach was going to put out there? It seems like that was the case, so it’s hard to say what Johnson had in mind for where the LB’s should be placed. To put it another way, I thought Leach was conditioning a reaction from Auburn’s LB’s and took advantage of where Johnson had them (Holland and Frost) assigned. Hence the effectiveness of the swing/wheel plays. If that is the premise, I can’t fault Holland and Frost for following the EJ wanted them to do. We watch, no?

  5. restless6 says:

    Jake Holland may be a practice monster, but I have never been impressed with him. Frost is young, but he had be to an improvement.

    High school linebackers, we need you.

    Adams and Therezie were great, and its good to see man on man corners.

    I really like Gus and Rodney’s fiery demeanor. This team has needed that for years. No more coddling. It’s a new day.

  6. Todd92 Todd92 says:

    Great up and I agree with pretty much everything you said. Our OL played well but I would like to see them play with a nasty disposition and a little less technician like. Our WR’s need to step up but at the same time too many times they were over thrown and I think that made the drops more glaring and crucial. For everyone complaining about Holland… I get it but kris frost played as many snaps and was equally bad. Montavious Adams was a bright spot and consistently got the most push into the backfield… What he lacked in the playbook he made up with intensity and tenacity. Last but not least… Marshall had better find his timing and touch quickly! I’m not sold at all… He may be able to stretch a play out with his feet but that’s not enough. He has to be able to hit a reciever when he’s open and that’s not just the deep ball… He overthrew short and intermediate routes as well. Much has been made of his ability to throw the deep ball but no defense is going to respect his arm when he throws the ball 10 yards beyond the outstretched arms of a reciever.

    This game shouldn’t have been this close and while here is plenty of blame to go around it appears Gus is making a project out of Marshall… I hope he is able to settle into the position before MSU and LSU.

    • sparkey sparkey says:

      That’s not really correct. I wish Jake was even with Frost as Kris Frost really wasn’t that great either. Unfortunately, he really is head and shoulders better than Jake Holland and that’s really really not good. Frost played a lot more in the second half and he was much better than Holland. I’m sorry but Jake has got to go because he’s just not an SEC caliber linebacker. Hell, he’s not a Division I caliber linebacker. Frost is better and he’s better by leaps and bounds. Yeah, Kris Frost gets out of position sometimes. I’m fine with that. Holland is always in position but he can’t tackle anything. He always leaves his feet and he bites on every single fake. Jake Holland will only make this defense worse. He’ll never make it better.

      • wde1988 wde1988 says:

        Jake would be a great 2nd or 3d string linbacker in any AU defense of old. I have seen no improvement. In fact, I wasn’t impressed with any of the LBs.

        After watching us get gouged up the middle like this non-running team did… at will, I was considering texting someone to put in the other two defensive line man and taking the LBs out of the game all together. Have a 6 man front instead of 4…


      • Todd92 Todd92 says:

        Sparkey, Frost missed alignments for the defense and failed to call shifts where Holland made his calls… It was more than Frost just being out of position himself. And if you didn’t see Frost standing straight up to tackle their RB and get driven into the end zone on his back then watch the replay. Frost is a better athelete, no one would argue that, but he’s way behind in calling the defense and getting in position. The LB position, particularly the MLB, is severely lacking and saying you prefer one player over the other is like saying you like gonorrhea over syphilis.

        • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

          ….Ouch! Vintage Todd92! But you are correct. I really don’t give an “F” very often, but I had no choice on this one.

        • sparkey sparkey says:

          I didn’t say Frost was great. I said he’s better by a lot than Jake Holland. It’s the truth. Jake Holland has to be taken off the field period. I’m tired of hearing about the whole coaching the rest of the team. That’s what the coach does. With Holland, we have ten guys on defense. Frost has potential and Holland has nothing but failed play after failed play. Frost could improve and become decent. Holland will never get any better than he is now.

  7. domaucan1 domaucan1 says:

    Thanks for a great up. Because of retirement, I was able to be there in Jordan-Hare for the first time in years. After the game, we met up with a group of nice young men from Washington State and they told us that they had never experienced anything like a game at Auburn. Between the eagle flight, the roaring crowd, and the rolling of Toomer’s Corner, they were thoroughly impressed. I was impressed myself and I could even feel the presense of Dean Foy right there on Toomer’s Corner. It was a great night for everyone. Things are looking up!


    WAR EAGLE !!!

    GO BIG BLUE !!!

    • AubTigerman AubTigerman says:

      Thanks for sharing that Dom. I was wondering what WSU fans may have thought about a game experience at Jordan-Hare. I sat opposite the WSU section and I know I saw a lot of camera flash during the Eagle’s flight.

      Another great post game review Acid!

  8. wde1988 wde1988 says:

    Acid, I liked the up.

    I am a bit more pessimistic than this outlook though.

    The positive that I think is what we can hang our hats on…. Gus Malzahn AND his staff being absolute raving lunatics on the side line.

    For example – say what you want about the defensive effort (wasn’t a lot of positives)… but if I were a defensive lineman…. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to come back to the side lines after getting gouged like we did in this game against a subpar PAC 12 team. Rodney Gardner is a holy terror…. I love it. If it’s done right… and I believe these kids respect him… AU will get better.

    And my God, Gus was a few steps short of putting in the 3d string last night… I say that by reading lips and some liberal interpretations…

    That speaks to our future. I think the outlook is good. And I can live with that.

    But folks, what I saw Saturday night won’t make us a dark horse. Hell, I don’t even know if it qualifies us as having “fight”. AU is a subpar SEC team in a conference of 3-4 potential National Champions. I will be satisfied with a 6-6 team. Who knows… maybe we go to a bowl.

    AU should roll into Baton Rouge on Sept 21st at 3-0 (if we are lucky and the wheels don’t fall off against MSU like they did last year). I am pretty sure without a lot of dramatic improvement this team will drop LSU, Ole Miss I think wins in a squeaker, we take Western Carolina, and lose in dramatic fashion against A&M (AGAIN). We should win against Florida Atlantic, maybe pull out a win against Arkansas, and if we are lucky win against the Vols. But neither of these two SEC games are a give me. I still say we lose big against UGA and bama. If all goes well… we roll into the post season 7-5. But Arkansas and UT both won their games pretty handily. It will just depend on how this team responds but either of those two games is iffy.

    That’s just an opinion.

    The bad news:

    Nick Marshall is over-rated. I saw nothing on Saturday that says this kid could start at any school in the SEC… much less Auburn. He was scared the entire time. And at times I thought he was lost.

    Once again, Auburn has no receiver that can catch a ball in a game situation. If this doesn’t change it will affect my outlook on Malzahn. I think this is a failure to evaluate talent properly. And it doesn’t bode well. I heard so much about this group… that all I can say is this is the worse piece of our team and it affected our offenses ability to sustain drives last night.

    The good news:

    Running backs are in good shape.

    M. Adams… on defense. Can’t speak for Rodney Gardner… but he would be a starter next week. Any of those others would ride the pine from now on until they showed me something. He was marvelous.

    Our defensive backs can catch better than our receiver corps. Maybe we should flip these guys and make them play both ways?

    The word is that teams get better between game 2 and game 3. For AU’s sake I hope so. If we can connect with the passing game, I think AU is a different team. But don’t let that go to your head… that means we might get within 10-14 points of LSU, 28 of bama, and maybe 21-35 of A&M.

    AU has major work to do in order to be competitive in the SEC. I just don’t see that happening this year. I think if we are lucky – we are two or three years away from challenging anyone for a title.


  9. War_Eagle_2010 War_Eagle_2010 says:

    Super impressed with Adams on the dline. He might be the next great one, I mean come on he’s a true freshman! Imagine what his ceiling is.

  10. restless6 says:

    I’m also pessimistic about Marshall. No touch on the ball and I saw the scared looks too. Reminds me of KF.

    They better get going, as I think LSU is the best team in the SEC now. I was very impressed with them. I can’t recall them scoring 30 plus on a good team in a LOOONNNGG time. They are the dark horse.

    I think 7 wins is optimistic for Auburn. I am shocked at the talent level, or lack thereof. What the hell is going on?

    Oh, and what happens if NM goes down? Wallace or JJ?

    • sparkey sparkey says:

      If Nick Marshall gets hurt, you’ll see JJ. You guys are just going to have to be patient. You can’t turn around what happened the last two seasons so quickly. Like it or not, Gene Chizik and Jay Jacobs ruined this program and it will take time to fix it. You need to be happy with the games we do win. I know you get tired of saying next year, but Chizik left holes here that will take an entire regime change to be filled. You are just going to either accept that or you’re going to be miserable another season.

  11. SandMountainTiger SandMountainTiger says:

    Let’s not give up on Nick yet, fellas. I mean, 4 weeks in the orange and blue? He takes a little off 3 passes, and we blow them out and you guys are yelling “BRING ON LSU!”