Upon Further Review: Tigers Are Who “Vegas” Said They Were
Auburn's Defense dominated Tulane. (photo:Auburn Athletics)
All week, SEC fans heard how this Tulane team wasn’t the same Tulane team of old. Auburn fans may have scoffed at the idea of a middle-of-the-pack AAC team competing with it inside Jordan-Hare. The line started at 17 points. Some places had it as high as 20.
To many, the Vegas line looked like a gimme. So what if Auburn was coming off an emotional game against Oregon. So what if this was one of two nonconference games at home before starting SEC play on the road. So what if Auburn came out of Arlington with a great win but even more questions. Auburn was going to steamroll Tulane, and 17 points didn’t seem like much, especially if the Auburn defense could force some turnovers and give the offense extra possessions.
The house said the gulf between Tulane and Auburn wasn’t nearly as wide as it was perceived to be. Of course, that doesn’t tell us whether Tulane is better than perception or if Auburn isn’t as good. Most of the talk on Game Day and elsewhere leading up the the game Saturday evening focused on Tulane’s revamping, especially along the defensive line.
In addition, Tulane has benefited from some huge transfers such as Justin McMillan and Jalen McCleskey. Auburn took the first possession of the game and immediately went three and out despite Bo Nix’s hitting his first pass of the night, a seven yard pickup by Eli Stove. It was a bit of a shock to see Auburn fail to gain but a few yards, but it give weight to the opinions about Tulane’s defensive line.
Tulane took the opening kickoff and drove right down the field, but Auburn’s defense stood tall in the red zone, forcing Tulane to settle for a field goal. It wasn’t totally unsurprising that the Green Wave’s first possession led to some success. First drives are almost totally scripted, but it was McMillan’s legs that confounded Auburn’s defense. He moved the chains by himself twice with two 11-yard scampers.
Auburn largely shut down the Green Wave for the remainder of the game, aside was limited from another field goal in the second quarter. McMillan led Tulane in rushing with 53 yards, and the team was limited to 120 yards. The Tulane passing game produced only 103 yards with one interception and no touchdowns.
Auburn’s defense was exactly what everyone thought: excellent. The one thing that Auburn’s D needed to do to beat Vegas odds was generate defensive or special team points, which it hasn’t done.
Taking a look at Auburn’s special teams:
Punt coverage continues to be perplexing. In Tulane’s two punt returns, Amare Jones picked up 48 yards with long return of 36 yards. Arynn Siposs continues to be excellent in punting as he punted six times for a 43.8 yard average. Christian Tutt wasn’t bad returning punts for Auburn, averaging almost 17 yards a return for his three returns.
In the end, scoring more points is how you win games, and scoring lots of points is how you beat Vegas odds. It wouldn’t have surprised anyone if Auburn’s defense threw a shutout against Tulane, and the prospect of beating a 17-point line would have seemed trivial. Surely Vegas appreciates Auburn’s defense, so that tells you what it thinks of Auburn’s offense.
Vegas was right.
Auburn misfired on the first drive. The next possessions went fumble, punt, fumble before Will Hastings took it into the end zone for Auburn’s first score, giving the Tigers a lead they would not relinquish. Eli Stove scored for Auburn later in the period. Fortunately, that touchdown came a play after Boobee Whitlow’s fumble was recovered by Auburn. Ball security was an issue, especially in the first half.
Auburn punted twice in the second quarter, and ended the half with the ball and a pretty bad possession that featured three incompletions, a first down catch, a run by Kam Martin and a curious screen pass underneath to Eli Stove as the seconds wound down. Auburn didn’t try to stretch the field at all, electing to throw underneath.
Auburn added an insurance touchdown on the second possession of the second half after picking off a pass. This was followed by a field goal the next possession. That ended the scoring for the night for both teams, but not before Boobee Whitlow fumbled again with 9:40 left in the game.
It’s hard to get a good understanding of the play calling. That’s not to say there weren’t some interesting calls such as sending Anthony Schwartz on a deep post with a cast on his hand. Plenty of fans have wanted to see Joey Gatewood get playing time, and he got a series to himself late in the game. However, he was obviously instructed not to throw the ball, similar Gus Malzahn’s treatment of Malik Willis last season. Whitlow almost eclipsed 100 yards rushing against Tulane, but his three fumbles on 23 carries raise questions.
Auburn’s offensive line looked pedestrian against Tulane. While Malzahn teams, especially offensive lines, take a while to gel, this unit has had all last season to do so. In all, the offense played far-from-inspired football.
Will Hastings, on the other hand, looked like a man possessed in the limited action he saw before a no-call targeting hit forced him out of the game. He led pass catchers with 75 yards on five catches, and Bo Nix looked for him early and often. Seth Williams had a quiet night before suffering an injury, leaving his availability for this weekend in doubt.
24–6 was far from the expected score, which is exactly how Vegas likes it. Once again, the oddsmakers nailed it, which is a scary thing for Auburn fans. If Vegas has Auburn pegged that well, specifically its inability to score big points on nonpower five schools, so do future opponents.