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The Tennessee recap: charting and analysis

For what we’re doing here, click here. The final Tennessee drive was academic and not charted.

This is Darvin Adams. He's even better than you think he is.
This is Darvin Adams. He's even better than you think he is.

THE NUMBERS

Offense: Tate +8, Adams +6, “Line” +5, McCalebb +3, Burns +2, Todd +2, Trott +2, Zachery +2, Smith +1, Fannin +1.

Defense: Bynes +4, Blanc +2, Stevens +2, Coleman +2, Fairley +2, Thorpe +2, Ricks +2, “Cover” +1, Goggans +1, Bates +1, McFadden 0, Freeman 0, Carter 0, Etheridge 0, Herring -1.

Special Teams: +4

Hands Report: “Routine” 10/11, “Catchable” 3/7, “Difficult” 1/1.

ANALYSIS

I’m going to come right out and say it: This was the best game of Ben Tate’s Auburn career. His yardage numbers are nice, but what they don’t tell you is how often Tate made not just “something out of nothing,” but something spectacular out of nothing. The huge KABOOM play vs. Berry? That started with the offensive line getting collapsed inside the designed hole and Tate bouncing it outside for 20-odd-yards, all on his lonesome. And not only were there several plays in which Tate saved the line’s bacon, he didn’t drop a pass, took advantage of every hole he was given, and even picked up blitzes on the rare occasion he was asked to do so. Aside from the fumble (big demerits for that, but still) he had a perfect game, and I feel ashamed for having suggested in the preseason that Tate was more good than great, more functional than a star. He was great in Knoxville. He was a star.

Eddins and the line were about as good as you could expect them to be … but getting Isom back will still be nice. I kept a close eye on our first-time line starter and his performance was pretty much what you’d think you’d see from a guy who’s always had talent but just hasn’t been able to get on the field: a few nice plays (his blocks on the back-to-back Tate runs for the first-half TD were key), a few indifferent plays, a few outright bad plays. Still: that Auburn had much more success on 2nd- and 3rd-and-short against Tennessee than they did against Ball St. should tell you how much of an improvement he was over John Sullen.

As for the line as a whole, given the competition (ans aside from a certain penalty I’m not going to mention), the first half was probably their best pair of quarters this season. Todd had time to throw, the running backs had room to operate, and at half time Auburn had racked up 256 freaking yards on Monte Kiffin’s D in their own house. The second half wasn’t quite as sharp, but by then of course Auburn had the upper hand.

The secondary had their worst game of the season. Tennessee didn’t complete many downfield passes, but they also very rarely even tried: as expected, the overwhelming majority of their passes were kept underneath and placed the coverage responsibilities on the linebackers. When they did venture 8,9, 10 yards downfield and further, though, they had some success: the pass to Stocker to set up the first-half touchdown, the 4th-down conversion to Hancock on the field goal drive, the game’s final play. There were also a handful of critical missed tackles: Etheridge on the Stocker play, McFadden on Hardesty’s touchdown.

They still weren’t bad, of course–while Crompton and his receivers’ butterfingers had a lot to do with their failures for three quarters, Auburn’s coverage had something to do with it, too–but they weren’t up to the standards they set in the first four games of the season.

Mike Blanc loooooooves himself some passing plays. That +2 Blanc ended up with? -4 vs. running plays, +6 vs. passing plays. Blanc routinely got blasted out of the way on Tennessee’s power runs, but just as routinely was the first Tiger to collapse the pocket. He batted down two passes, tackled Crompton from behind on a scramble to save a third-down conversion, and forced another throwaway by timing a leap that forced Crompton to pull the ball down. But Fairley was more impressive on his limited number of rushing downs, as I would argue he’s been all year. Obviously Rocker knows what’s going on much better than I do, but if we started seeing Blanc come on for second- and third-down while Fairley took first down and any short-yardage situations, it wouldn’t surprise me.

If the kickoff coverage issues get fixed, the special teams is going to be legitimate. Everything else was solid or better: 4-of-5 from Byrum, the huge kickoff returns, a blocked extra point, and if you yoink Todd’s failed pooch kick (and its 17-yard net) out of the equation, Durst averaged 37.7 yards net. That’s fine.

Auburn fans should maybe talk a little less smack about Eric Berry. Berry didn’t have his best game, and nothing erases the twin facts of KABOOM or those Heisman videos, but watching the game closely it becomes astounding how much ground he covers. Again and Again Auburn would block a play correctly up front, but because the play design can’t account for a safety that can line up 10-15 yards off the line of scrimmage and meet you 2-3 yards downfield, end up with a minimal gain. He’s a player.

Likewise, I might have been too harsh on the defensive line earlier this week–Tennessee’s o-line is solid. Easily the best Auburn has faced this season. Would still like more from the ends and from the DTs in rush support, but the Vols showed a drive off the ball and soundness in technique I hadn’t seen from any of Auburn’s other opponents.

Darvin Adams is tremendous. I complained earlier this season about his run-blocking–that problem has been solved and then some. He was shoving Tennessee’s edge defenders around all night–there’s a reason Tate and McCalebb both had so much success breaking out around the corner. The Vols couldn’t do a thing with him. Add in those reflexes on the fumble recovery and the huge third-down catch to bail Todd out, and Adams had the best two-catch night you can imagine for a receiver.

Todd was up and down. What stood out about Todd’s night in the immediate aftermath was his repeated ability to move around in the pocket and schoolyard Auburn into yards and conversions, but with Tennessee committed to shutting down the Auburn deep ball (Todd’s longest completion was the screen to McCalebb) Auburn also suffered a bit from a few substantial Todd mistakes: the back-to-back missed reads to miss out on a first down with Auburn deep in their own territory in the second quarter; the botched option to negate the final first-half drive; the throw behind Fannin to ruin what would have otherwise been a crucial third-down conversion in the fourth. His stats also got big boosts from guys like McCalebb, Smith, and Zachery taking short passes and turning them into big gains.

Overall, Todd still had a good game, of course–no picks, no sacks, some terrific third-down plays. But he wasn’t at his best, and I think that’s actually good news–we know after the WVU game how capable he is, so hopefully he saved that for Arkansas’s eminently shreddable secondary tomorrow.

Hands should also be better this week. One of the downsides to all the Vols’ attention on Adams and Zachery was that most of Auburn’s passes went to non-wide receivers … and so we got whiffs on catchable balls from Burns, Smith, and Fannin. Auburn was better on the routine balls … but, of course, the one drop there happened to take place in the end zone.

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