Upon Further Review: Auburn Was Dominant in Deceiving Fashion
Saturday’s win against Texas A&M was just about everything an Auburn fan could have hoped to see. Auburn executed a nearly flawless first quarter and scored 14 points. Considering the lethargic starts in the wins against Oregon and Tulane, the lightening-fast touchdown by Anthony Schwartz and the perfectly drawn-up play for Gatewood-to-Shenker had deep sighs of relief coming from all the Auburn faithful.
Here are the facts: Auburn scored early, dominated TAMU on defense in the first half, and never trailed the Aggies. The Tigers had zero turnovers, forced a fumble, and held the Aggies to just 56 net yards rushing.
Despite the outstanding road win in a league that has the most hostile road crowds, Auburn didn’t receive much national recognition, only moving up a single spot in some of the polls. After Auburn’s win, tickers on virtually every sports station simply showed the final between the Tigers and the Aggies while gushing over stats that other teams put up on lesser competition, especially the team from across the state. Georgia and Wisconsin may have had the biggest statement wins, but Auburn quietly achieved yet another road win, its fourth in four attempts, against Texas A&M, running the series further towards Auburn’s favor with three straight wins against the Aggies.
Perhaps it is because people didn’t watch the game or only looked at the box score that has them overlooking Auburn. It would be an easy thing to do since the stats don’t really show Auburn’s dominance, especially the defense. If the stat lines for the offense were reversed and the total touchdowns deleted, one might think TAMU won the game. Even during the fourth quarter, it would have been easy for Auburn fans to be very nervous as it seemed Kellen Mond and the Aggie offense could do no wrong.
Mond’s bottom line of 31–49 for 335 passing yards and two TD’s was certainly impressive, and it’s one that a lot of Auburn fans hoped to see next to Bo Nix, who was a pedestrian 12–20 for 100 yards and a single score. Mond did most of his damage in the fourth quarter. However, he essentially played right into defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s hands. Steele knew that the Aggies could not score on the ground, and he was content to give up all the real estate between the 20’s that the Aggies wanted. Sure, he would have liked them to run the ball and run the clock a lot more, and he certainly would like to have prevented the two touchdown throws, but Texas A&M needed three scores, and the long drives forced by Steele’s strategy meant it had time for only two. Both the late touchdown drives were eight-play drives, although they only used about six minutes of clock time, total.
Still, if you took emotion out of the game, you could see what Auburn’s defense was doing and while it would have been nice for Auburn to go score for score with the Aggies, the offense did just enough, which is quickly becoming Bo Nix’s MO. After the Aggies finally got a touchdown, Auburn responded with a 12-play, six minute drive with Boobee Whitlow finally finding the endzone. The Aggies scored with a little over two minutes remaining before Auburn recovered an onside kick and ran out time.
There were certainly things that Auburn needs to clean up. Any road win is a good win, but TAMU wasn’t the media darling everyone expected. The Auburn defensive front forced three sacks and seven tackles for loss. While Mond has been propped up as a great dual-threat attack, Auburn’s NFL-caliber front made him look beyond pedestrian. The Aggies had a decent third-down conversion rate, but the Auburn defense did more than enough to keep Mond from getting into any sort of rhythm. The Aggies certainly don’t have the run game they had with Traveon Williams the last few seasons, and Auburn’s front four was downright dominant.
Offensively, Auburn still has a lot of work to do. While Nix did enough to win, he still has much growing to do, and that it is causing a bit of consternation. We could understand if head coach Gus Malzahn limited the true freshman’s passing volume, but Nix’s 60% completion rate against the Aggies was a full ten points above his season average. He did miss some open throws but didn’t make any bad decisions. His rushing totals were not impressive, but his mobility and decision to tuck it was big at times. He needs to evolve as a passer, and the sooner, the better.
Auburn’s run game was far from stellar, outside of the house call Schwartz made in the first possession of the game. Gus Malzahn’s play calling was better, but he still leans so heavily on trickeration that it can be infuriating at times. During one play, the entire offensive line froze in an attempt to freeze the Aggie front. It didn’t, and Nix was forced to run for his life. Gus continues to try and throw the ball behind the line of scrimmage, and that doesn’t often work against SEC-caliber defenses.
Auburn’s 12–74 penalties is cause for concern, especially considering that the officials let the teams play and Auburn didn’t have several defensive pass interference calls levied that could have been called.
Malzahn showed a new side of himself Saturday that was quite encouraging. He showed a lot of emotion as he rode players for missed opportunities, coached up players, and genuinely coached beyond his normal “awe shucks” attitude.
The scoreboard didn’t look impressive and the public certainly missed the memo, but Auburn was deceivingly dominating in its win in College Station as the Tigers’ record went to 4–0.