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Tigers Win a Tough Opener! (Grading Auburn’s 21–16 Win Over Washington)

By on September 2nd, 2018 in Football 39 Comments »

–JaTarvious Whitlow hammers in the game winner!

     War Eagle everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report on Auburn’s season opening 21–16 win over number 6-ranked Washington in the Kickoff Classic in Atlanta. For about a quarter, it looked like Auburn had the potential to run the Huskies out of the building. It was 9–3 Auburn, after one quarter, and it probably should have been much worse. Credit the Huskies. They got up off the mat and fought back. A tough, back and forth defensive slugfest ensued, and Auburn did what it had to do to win the ball game.

     Auburn’s offensive game plan seemed to be to run the ball with just enough short passes to keep the middle of the defense honest. Washington really made the going tough running the ball. Crisp passing and some athletic receiver play enabled Auburn to move the chains despite not being able to move Washington’s tough, veteran defensive front. Auburn ran into trouble in the red zone where the field shortens and a good secondary is less susceptible to screens and short passes. Auburn did manage a red zone touchdown in the first quarter but otherwise had to settle for 5 field goal attempts in the first half.

     Washington did a better job of tackling in the open field in the 2nd half and pressuring Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham. Drive after drive derailed, but the Tigers were able to punt it out and avoided costly turnovers. With the game on the line late, Jarrett Stidham engineered a 76-yard, 10-play drive that won the game. A 3rd and 9 checkdown pass to Chandler Cox kept the drive alive. A back shoulder fade pass to Darius Slayton moved it to the Washington 25. Auburn took it the rest of the way on the ground, with several tough Kam Martin runs giving Auburn yet another first down in the red zone. On 3rd and 7, a conservative draw play was called, and it caught Washington off guard. JaTarvious Whitlow barreled 10 yards to paydirt, running over a Washington safety caught in the crosshairs. It was up to the defense to preserve the win.

     Defensively, Auburn controlled the line of scrimmage much of the game. Schematically, Auburn opted mostly to rush 4 guys and play and contain the run. As we saw at times last season, particularly against LSU, the Washington brain trust had the quarterback just lobbing up fade balls down the sideline. As against LSU, it worked far too often. Washington receivers made some great catches, but Auburn’s secondary drew drive-extending penalties way too often. Washington was able to claw its way back into the game on these throws, getting into field goal range and scoring a touchdown on one of those passes. Early in the 4th quarter, Washington took a 16–15 lead, and things looked dim.

     Auburn’s defense was able to rise up and came up with critical stops to keep the game from getting away. None was bigger than a crushing fumble caused by Nick Coe when the Huskies had the ball at the Auburn 3-yard line. After Auburn took back the lead, the Auburn defense reached down and put even more pressure on Washington quarterback Jake Browning, resulting in back-to-back sacks to end the last Husky drive.

     There was a lot to like about a special teams unit that was less of a liability than last year’s group. Other than a penalty that negated a good punt return, a short punt, and a missed field goal in close, this was a solid effort. Washington did not even get a chance to return anything! Kickoffs went for touchbacks, and punts were so high that any return would have been ill-advised. Auburn looked good returning both kicks and punts.

Unit grades after the jump!

Defensive Line: A-. This unit dominated a good offensive line. I have to count off a little on the backside pass rush, which got caught too far in the backfield a few times, allowing successful runs to the outside. Also, there were 4 offsides flags called on the defensive line. Auburn did not give this group much help in the pass rush, but the unit still tallied 3 sacks and 5 tackles for loss. In total, the line contributed 11 total tackles and 1 pass breakup by Marlon Davidson.

Linebackers: A. The total tackles numbers don’t tell the true story of this performance as Auburn played linebacker with leverage in this game. Time and time again these guys forced Washington runners into traffic and waiting help. The linebackers only had 16 total tackles but were in the right place at the right time all day. The Auburn front 7 held Washington to 3.1 yards per carry.

Secondary: C+. I have to complain about the corners grabbing, drawing flags, and playing with their backs to the ball too often. I think there were adjustments made as the game went on, and the performance improved to the point that Washington wasn’t able to get that knock-out, go-ahead touchdown in the 2nd half. This secondary was tested and made 25 tackles. I feel with 3 or 4 new starters at their positions out there, things will improve as the season progresses.

Punting: B+. Auburn only punted 3 times in this game. Aiden Marshall hit the first one for only 30 yards. Arryn Siposs came in and banged high punts of 40 and 47 yards. Washington was not able return any of those punts.

Punt Returns: A-. I have to count off for an illegal block penalty that wiped out a long return, but Ryan Davis was able to field all 3 Washington punts, despite the Huskies trying to kick away from him. Davis had 42 yards on 3 returns, a healthy 14.0 yards per return average. The return that was wiped out by penalty would have been an additional 30 or more yards.

Kick Returns: B-. Auburn returned 4 kickoffs for a total of 64 yards, which works out to 16 yards per return. One of those was upback Spencer Nigh fielding a pooch kick for only 2 yards, which was the right thing to do, but it hurt the average. Auburn lost a net 7 yards by not taking the fair catch on the 3 balls inside the 20. However, one will never get a great, game changing return if the ball is fair caught every time.

Place Kicking: B-. Auburn had a good debut in this game from freshman kicker Anders Carlson. Carlson hit on 3 of 5 field goal attempts and drilled 6 touchbacks on kickoffs. I did not count off for the missed 54-yard kick. I consider anything outside of 40 yards to be a coin-flip situation, at best. I did count off for missing a chip shot in a tight ballgame.

Offensive Line: C. I felt like Auburn did decently in pass protection but got little push on running plays. Auburn’s interior could not handle Washington’s tackles very well. What they had to end up doing is to just try to get in the way of the tackle away from the play side and try to double team the play-side tackle. This meant that no Auburn lineman was getting downfield, and Washington linebackers and safeties were able to come up free to take on Auburn backs. The line had a couple of holding calls and false starts on the day as well as a chop-block call. Even with all the criticism, at least these guys seemed to know who to block, unlike last year.

Running Backs: A. Some might question this grade, but I thought Auburn backs played admirably given the conditions. Often, Kam Martin and JaTarvious Whitlow were asked to plow into the line with no lead blockers and no help against the Washington back 7. They did not put the ball on the ground even once, caught all of the little dump-off passes thrown their way, and did a good job in pass protection when asked. Chandler Cox had a fine game, and I was glad to see him more involved in the passing game. Strategically, if the other team is dropping in coverage, it makes no sense to have a fullback standing around with no one to block. Auburn leaked Cox out into the flat and made Washington pay for that with some key first downs. For all the talk about how dangerous Husky back Myles Gaskin is, Kam Martin had 112 total yards rushing and receiving to Gaskin’s 75.

Receivers: A-. I think there was one ball this week that could be ruled a drop against an Auburn receiver, but it wasn’t a great throw, and there was contact from defenders as well. The game plan didn’t really allow for much down the field. Going against All Americans in the Washington secondary in game one, a conservative plan was in order. Auburn ran a number of screens, and blocking was good for the most part on those. Ryan Davis picked up where he left off last year with 7 catches. When Auburn did fire some intermediate routes on target, the catch was made every time by various receivers, including freshman Seth Williams. Sal Cannella had the catch of the day on an early touchdown.

Quarterback: A-. This was a game that could easily derail a quarterback. With no effective running game and a ball hawking secondary, this was a situation where lesser quarterbacks lose ballgames. Stidham was patient, took what the defense gave, and was careful with the ball. He was also able to pick up some key yardage on the ground when Auburn desperately needed it. No one’s going to rave over a 7.5 yards per pass average, but that’s pretty good against a Washington defense. What’s more impressive is a 72 percent completion percentage against a good defensive backfield.

     From the audio I had on the game, it sounded like the Auburn crowd was loud and into the game. While I had technical difficulties during the game, it sounded like the Georgia Dome crew handled everything well. I was also pleased that Auburn finally seemed to have figured out the slipping shoe issue in this venue. I saw Kam Martin slip down one time, but he was attempting a really sharp cutback on that fall.

     I’ve seen lots of complaints about the officials, and of course fans are going to moan when frequent flags are thrown. In the end, the Big Ten crew called a more strict game than an SEC squad probably would, but that had to be dealt with by both sides. My observation is that Auburn seemed to get flagged for pass interference pretty easily, while it seemed like our defensive line was being grabbed and tackled with only a couple of holding calls. That’s probably homerism on my part. I was with folks on Washington boards wanting targeting calls when Auburn would hit Jake Browning. I agreed with them on at least one big hit.

     From here, Auburn gets a couple of weeks to work on improvement. Alabama State visits next Saturday. I would like to see a crisp early performance by the starters, and then a lot of guys getting to play as the game goes on. In 2 weeks, LSU comes to town for what should be a big game. I’m quite curious to see what LSU does tonight against Miami. A lot of folks anticipate problems in this one. Given how the SEC looked yesterday, I would not be surprised if LSU ambushes Miami with some intense play. They certainly used to do that regularly in season openers under Les Miles!


  1. ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

    Oh, the stadium was loud and probably came close to record-setting intensity during the last Washington drive. And, of course, it erupted on the 4th down sack!
    I, too, was pleased to see the "shoe issue" apparently resolved – that would have lost the game as it likely did in the first two MBS appearances – it certainly didn't help matters in those games.
    Very much an Auburn advantage with a hugely partisan crowd and full AU Band.
    But, with the outcome, it turned out to be a good day in Atlanta!

  2. AUNation AUNation says:

    The importance of having JB Grimes back cannot be understated. If CHH was still in AU it would have been worse than the Clemson game last year. You said it Acid, even though this OL is green, they communicated and they knew who to block! I would have loved to seen what last years team could have done with adequate OL coaching… As for the shoe issue, when Ryan Davis fielded that first punt, planted his foot and made an incredible cut against all his weight with no slipping I stood up off the couch and cheered. My wife thought I was crazy, but I knew what that meant. No UA issued ice skates for this game. Hallelujah.

  3. Squeakywheel says:

    Good write up as usual. I was disappointed in the running game and don’t think we have the personnel for a power running game; time will tell. I also didn’t see any super stars on the field (along the lines of a K Johnson or N Fairley), and that could be a good thing. The team will know it can’t coast on someone else’s shoulders. All in all a great win against a top 10 team to start the season. War Eagle!

  4. meathead530 says:

    My wife says I’m too negative lately, so I’m just going to say War Eagle. Thankful for the win!

  5. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..I was encouraged about how Kam Martin held up. They ran him inside a good bit, and he took some hits. We will play a lot of teams this fall that we don’t have to double team block up front, and Kam will get loose, with a little more room!

    …..I’m torn on whether to keep watching the replay tonight, or LSU Miama. Auburn/Washington is replaying on USPN-U, right now. It’s nice watching it, and not sweating the outcome!

    • ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

      I recorded the Auburn game ant watched it Sunday morning so I could watch LSU/Miami Sunday night.

      • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

        …..I was recording it, too, but we lost power for about 30 minutes in the 3rd and 4th quarter, including the cable box. I have a UPS on my modem/router, but I didn’t want to plug anything else in. It will keep internet and phone going for 45 minutes to an hour. I had to fumble out my battery radio, switch to my laptop, and get streaming going… I said a number of bad words, as I was missing parts of the game!

        ……It was YouTube to the rescue for me, helping on grades…

        • Tiger4Life says:

          High tech acid!

          • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

            …..If money were no object, I’d install a whole-house natural gas generator. The cool thing the past couple of years, during power outtages, is that I’ve discovered that our phones, cable and internet don’t go out, as long as there is power to the boxes. If nothing else, it gives us time to pick up the phone and report the outtage to Alabama Power.

  6. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..LSU has come out with a ton of energy. They smothered Miami, 3 and out. Look they are running in a different gear, than the Canes.

  7. Jonathon Jonathon says:

    Running backs and defensive backs got grades I thought should have been lower… A lot of defending balls with their backs to the opportunity. RBs has plenty of hitting the line and just dropping to he turf. A bit of Poor OL run block. Coaching had s lot to overcome and poor ‘opening history’ to rewrite. It was rough but the hurdle was cleared. I’m impressed with the win, Finally!! Consistency is the next hurdle so we’ll see………

  8. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..Let me go ahead and say now, I really hate this new “retroactive” targeting rule. In the LSU tilt there was an LSU catch, a gang tackle, and Miami ripped the ball out, but it was ruled that LSU recovered. LSU got up to the line and ran another play, THEN the officials stopped play, and reviewed for targeting on the previous play.

  9. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..This is a jarring game to watch. LSU would have been flagged for about 3 pass interferences by now, if that crew we had was doing this game. LSU can slap a receiver going down the sideline 3 or 4 times with the ball in the air…

  10. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..Miamuh, wide left. Game remains tied, 3-3.

  11. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..Now there’s a Mark Richt defense! LSU’s Brossette breaks off a 70 yard run up the gut on the Canes. LSU leads, 10-3, late in the first quarter.

  12. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    ……LSU has driven it down Miami’s throat, and now leads 17-3. They look pretty stout on both sides of the ball.

  13. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    ……LSU 20, Miami 3, 5 minutes left in the half. Starting to get ugly.

  14. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..And Miami throws a pick six. “Turn out the lights, the party’s over!” LSU 27, Miami 3.

  15. War_Eagle_2010 War_Eagle_2010 says:

    That LSU RB looks really good.

  16. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..30-3, LSU ahead of Miami in the 3rd quarter. The SEC will go 13-1 on opening weekend!

  17. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..Brossette played a bit part last season, but he looks like their bell-cow, right now.

  18. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..End of the 3rd, it’s LSU 33, Miami 3. Bench clearing time!

  19. AUNation AUNation says:

    Eesh, going to be a big game on the Plains in two weeks…

  20. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..They look stronger than expected, that’s for sure. Very few errors, too.

  21. Pine Mt Tiger Pine Mt Tiger says:

    I don’t think your statement about officiating was homerism. I was at the game and there were some good calls BUT I don’t ever remember seeing so many bad calls AND Missed calls too, especially on holding.

    I’m convinced Washington QB, Browning would have been hurried or sacked many times except for Washington doing more than obvious holding on Auburn D-linemen and right in front of the refs. Several times Auburn linemen complained but refs didn’t do anything about it. It was pathetic!!!

  22. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..How is the light in the new dome? I felt like the old Georgia Dome was kind of dim, and always used to blame bad calls on refs not being able to see well…

  23. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..Ed Orgeron just got caught with a BIG swear-word that got through the mikes. Heh.

    • War_Eagle_2010 War_Eagle_2010 says:

      Heard that too. I don’t like when the TV crews use those sound dishes to pick up the coaches and players conversations. I don’t really want to hear what they’re saying.

  24. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..Two garbage time scores for Miami, and they have closed the gap to 33-17, with 8:43 left in the ball game.

  25. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..LSU defensive coordinator apparently watched Kevin Steele’s strategy late. 4th and 10 Miami, and LSU sent the house, with a big sack to end a Miami drive. We are down to 4:40, and LSU still leads, 33-17.

  26. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..And that will do it. LSU beats Miami, 33-17. The SEC goes 13-1 on opening weekend, with only Tennessee losing.

  27. War_Eagle_2010 War_Eagle_2010 says:

    LSU looked pretty one dimensional in that game. The question is, is that due to a problem with their passing game or was Miami just not stopping the run well enough? I tend to believe the former.

  28. War_Eagle_2010 War_Eagle_2010 says:

    Their defense is absolutely legit though.

  29. Tiger4Life says:

    Thanks Acid! Always informative…
    My grades would be
    On Defense- Set the edge– don’t let them get around the end… Cornerbacks- look for the ball!!!! I thought we had that cured… coaches have film… should NOT keep happening… We should spy any QB that is athletic enough to run for a first down on 3rd and long…
    On Offense- Stidham is ACCURATE- so have the receivers run short, quick routes that they can get separation on and always give #8 a safety valve (or dump off option)… we don’t need him looking deep downfield on a slow developing route where NO ONE is open and he now has to run for his life!

    • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

      …..They DID use Chandler Cox as a safety valve, some of the time. Couldn’t do it every down, as he’s the best pass blocking back we have. I don’t think the Washington defense covered Cox even once, when he drifted out of the pocket. We converted at least 3 first downs off the ball getting to Cox on a busted play.

  30. sparkey sparkey says:

    Not worried about LSU. For as bad as we are there, we are that good home. Now, I tried to tell all of you SEC Homers this would give us everything we wanted and more.