Tigers Trample Tennessee! (with unit grades.)
Nick Marshall streaks for 214 on the ground!
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign report, on Auburn’s thrilling 55-23 victory over Tennessee in Knoxville. The Tigers threw only 7 passes in the game, as the aerial attack was not needed. The Tigers generated 444 rushing yards and 312 special teams yards, to overwhelm the Volunteers. The 55 points were the most Auburn has ever scored against Tennessee, and that was also the largest amount of points given up by the Vols in the history of Neyland Stadium.
With true freshman quarterback Joshua Dobbs in the lineup, Tennessee elected to try to establish the run. The Vols had some success, as Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane combined for 182 yards on 32 carries and 1 touchdown. Things tended to bog down for the Volunteers in the red zone, however. Michael Palardy kicked 3 field goals, and Neal’s touchdown run was the only time the Volunteer offense would reach the end zone. The Tigers give up chunks of yardage between the 20s, but remain quite stingy in the red zone.
Auburn has faced good offensive lines the past two weeks that have opened up running lanes, and that will continue against Georgia and Alabama. Neither the Bulldogs nor the Tide feature running quarterbacks, but there’s plenty of throwing talent, as Aaron Murray and A. J. McCarron are both deadly pure passers. Both teams like to run it, also. Todd Gurley and T. J. Yeldon are big backs with strength and speed, similar to what Auburn faced against LSU in Jeremy Hill.
Auburn opened the Tennessee game with 3 straight passes and a three and out, but seldom went to the air after that. The Volunteers rolled a safety down on most plays, and tried to attack Auburn in the middle. This opened the edge up repeatedly. Nick Marshall and Corey Grant found the corner often, and Auburn stormed to one quick touchdown after another. When Tennessee did get numbers to the edge, Marshall had success running the inverted veer up the gut, or Tre Mason would chew off a hunk of yardage. Mason finished with 117 yards on 20 carries.
A look at the cumulative Auburn season rushing statistics is startling. The Tigers have 4 different players that have rushed for more than 500 yards this season. Mason has 1038 (which puts him over 100 per game on the average), Nick Marshall has 734 (despite missing one game and most of another), Cameron Artis-Payne has 568, and Corey Grant has 504. Even Auburn’s wishbone days back in the early 1980s did not produce numbers like that!
After a couple of shaky special teams games, the Tigers exploded against Tennessee in the return game. Chris Davis returned a punt 85 yards for a score, and Corey Grant returned the second half kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown. In addition, there were other big returns, including a 42 yard punt return by Davis, a 35 yard kick return by Quan Bray, and a 34 yard kick return by Tre Mason. Auburn’s two punts netted 47 yards each, with no return. Cody Parkey collected 5 more touchbacks, and the Auburn kick coverage unit did not allow the Vols to make the 25 yard line. The only sour note was a blocked extra point.
Unit Grades after the jump!
Defensive Line: B-. I’m grading on a curve here a bit, because Tennessee had the best offensive line across the board that Auburn has faced this year. There were some holes here, but by and large Auburn linemen had their assignments down, and filled their gaps. There wasn’t anyone who stood out, but as usual, Auburn played a lot of linemen, and the unit combined for 18 tackles, including 3.5 for a loss. As the game wore on, Tennessee had less and less success on offense, and that was largely because of Auburn’s deep, relentless line play.
Linebackers: C. Cassanova McKinzy had a pretty good day, with a season-high 10 total tackles. No other linebacker had more than 3 tackles, and there were gap control issues in abundance. Robensen Therezie had to play up in the box a good bit in this game, and he was excellent when the Vols tried to run to the sideline, and not as good when they ran right at him.
Secondary: B+. There were some catches allowed, but Auburn by and large tackled pretty well in the secondary, and prevented the big play most of the game. Coverage could have been better, and there was not a single pass breakup credited. I’m not sure about that statistic, as I seem to clearly remember Chris Davis knocking a deep ball away from Marquez North just before the half. Still, when you look at the defensive statistics, and 7 of your top 8 tacklers are in the secondary, they’ve gotten the job done on defense.
Punting: A. I could count off on one low liner for only 37 yards, but UT had to fair catch it. Steven Clark’s other punt was a 57 yard howitzer that was killed at the Vol 13 yard line. Clark out-dueled his Tennessee counterpart on the Ray Guy watch list. Michael Palardy spent much of his day trying to chase down Auburn return men.
Punt Returns: A+. Watching Chris Davis is harrowing. He’s dropped several on the ground this year, but he seems to always get them back, and you know something exciting is about to happen. Davis had two big returns against the Vols, including the third longest punt return touchdown in Auburn history. Davis was relieved at one point by Quan Bray, who made a wise fair catch in traffic.
Kick Returns: A. Some might count off for Tre Mason’s 2 yard return in the first quarter, but he really didn’t have any chance on that one. Palardy hooked a perfect sand-wedge shot to the sideline, where it stopped on a dime. Mason might could have let that roll out of bounds, but it also could have stayed in and been fallen on by orange shirts. Mason did the right thing by collecting that ball. Every other kickoff return went a long way. Corey Grant’s slashing, accelerating touchdown was an amazing thing to watch.
Place-kicking: A. I had to count off a little for the first blocked PAT attempt of the year. I think big 351 pound Daniel McCullars surprised the special teams unit a bit with his agility, but they adjusted after that block. Kick coverage improved this week, as Tennessee was held to 18.5 yards per return. Cody Parkey hit all of his PAT attempts that weren’t blocked, and he had 5 touchbacks on 9 kickoffs, in a swirling breeze.
Offensive Line: A+. It’s hard to argue with 444 rushing yards, no penalties, and no sacks given up against an SEC opponent. There was one sack of Nick Marshall, but it was on a corner blitz, and was not the line’s responsibility to pick up. These guys were brutal up front. I was worried that McCullars would cause trouble, but Reese Dismukes won that battle decisively, and Auburn did not have to double the big tackle.
Running Backs: A-. Points off for the lost Tre Mason fumble, but this was really another great game by this group. Tennessee really tried to key on Mason, and that opened the door for Marshall and Grant. Jay Prosch and Gage Batten were a devastating force run-blocking.
Receivers: A. Had one flat-out dropped pass that would have been a first down by Tony Stevens, but these guys played lights-out other than that. To a man they are wiping out defenders, allowing Auburn to just cruise up the sideline rushing the ball. C. J. Uzomah had a big league touchdown catch, and blocked really well, too.
Quarterback: A. I counted off a letter grade for Marshall’s pick six he carelessly tossed, but had to give it back on bonus points. Marshall showed not only great speed, but tremendous ability to shed tackles in this game. I still hear folks saying that he’s not an SEC quarterback, but I think he’s shown that he’s a winner. After last season, we Tiger fans know what that “deer in the headlights” appearance looks like on defense. Marshall had Tennessee’s secondary in that fix for much of the game.
The Tigers return triumphantly home for the rest of the regular season, after having won in Fayetteville and Knoxville by big margins. Some might fret about a few defensive warts, but how many years in the past have Tiger fans seen Auburn win big in those two venues, much less back-to-back? I hope everyone is enjoying this season as much as I am!
Next up are the Georgia Bulldogs at Jordan Hare Stadium. They have one of the more prolific passers in the SEC, and a rushing game that gets a shot in the arm with the return of Todd Gurley. Gurley is a big back with speed and moves, going over 230 pounds. Auburn has no way to simulate that in practice. Georgia also has some dangerous receivers in Chris Conley, Michael Bennett and big tight end Arthur Lynch. Ellis Johnson will have to work overtime figuring out how to slow this bunch down.
The Bulldogs are still playing for the SEC East title, although they need Missouri to drop its last two games against Ole Miss and Texas A&M. The Bulldogs own the tie-breaker against South Carolina, if they win out against Auburn and Kentucky. Auburn controls its own destiny, as long as the Tigers keep winning. A loss to the Bulldogs realistically hands the title to Bama, regardless of what happens in the Iron Bowl.
It’s a great time to be an Auburn Tiger, sitting at 9-1, just a year removed from the worst Auburn season in the televised era. We’ll be cheering these fine Tigers on, win, lose or draw, these last two games! War Eagle!