Offense: Todd +4, McCalebb +3, “Line” +2, Tate +2, Fannin 0, Smith -1, Zachery -1, Trott -1, Burns -1.
Defense: Coleman +3, Carter +2, Fairley +1, Stevens +1, “cover” +1, Bynes 0, Goggans 0, Washington -1, Blanc -1, Freeman -2, Evans -2, Thorpe -2, Ricks -3, Bates -4, Clayton -5.
Special Teams: +6 (+7 if you count Todd’s punt as “special teams”)
Hands report: 16/16 “routine”, 4/5 “catchable”, 0/2 difficult.
Uh, yeah, depth is an issue. It’s Georgia’s final drive; they’ve just taken over after Todd’s sudden brainlock pick and you know a sudden-change situation at the end of a grueling game at the end of 11 weeks of consecutive play is bad news. The Auburn starters take the field; Washaun Ealey creases the line with ease on first down and is dragged down by true freshman Jonathan Evans after a 7-yard gain. On second down, an Ealey cut puts him in a bit of space before and Josh Bynes makes an excellent play to tackle Ealey after two yards. 3rd-and-1, and again the Dawg line shoves Auburn backwards and leaves Evans to pull the churning Ealey down after a gain of 7. Sensing how little resistance Georgia is meeting up front, Tracy Rocker sends out his second-string line; tackles Zach Clayton and Nick Fairley are immediately parted like the Red Sea, the linebackers offer little-to-no resistance as they’re blocked out of the play, lone safety Daren Bates is far, far too slow to react, and Caleb King has just about the easiest 24-yard touchdown of his life. Auburn just has no answers at this stage of the game: the starters are exhausted, the backups aren’t ready.
For my money, this was Auburn’s worst defensive performance of the season–given how rarely Georgia actually threw and how much success they had when they did, the coverage was as bad as it’s been all year (the LSU game possibly excepted), I don’t think I have to tell you how much the run defense suffered (especially in the second half), and even a lot of their success in the first half came on Georgia mistakes.
And I still can’t get angry about it. Guys like Bynes and Stevens and Bates and Ricks … they just had nothing left in the tank.
Losing Freeman hurt, but the big problem was up front. I never did wind up handing Evans a +1 in my charting–even his tackle-for-loss was set up by Carter stringing out a wide Dawg running play–but I also only dinged him a couple of times. The biggest reason Auburn was getting gashed so often, even after Freeman left (and even when he was in, Freeman missed a couple of tackles) was because the defensive tackles were getting shoved backwards time and time again. I know the box score gives Blanc and Ricks a bunch of tackles, but almost without fail, those came on plays where the Dawg back was grabbed as he ran by and gang-tackled. Auburn by-and-large did a decent job of slowing and stopping plays to either side (Carter and Coleman were as good as you’d hope, I’d say, if not exactly dominant), but never got the kind of push necessary fro mthe tackles to stop the straight-ahead stuff. I don’t think I ever gave Blanc a +1 on a running play; Ricks had a couple of moments but also got blasted back with regularity.
And as much as I hate to pick on a kid who just got back from injury, this was particularly true when Clayton came in. He just couldn’t get anything going and added a big offsides penalty out of frustration to boot.
Auburn needed more from its running backs. Tate and Fannin weren’t bad, certainly. But both also never really made the kind of tackle-breaking, 10-yards-more-than-the-play-should-have-gotten kind of play they’ve both got the talent to pull off, either. When Tate said afterwards he hadn’t played a good game? I wish that was false modesty, but the Dawg secondary got him by the ankles on several occasions where he’s broken loose for big gains in other games this year.
Same old story on 3rd-and-short. This is the most obvious place for the Spread Eagle to improve going into next season. Third downs 6 yards or longer? Auburn converted 5-of-9. That’s not bad. 4 yards or shorter? 0-for-4. Yep: 0-for-4. And while one of those was a straight-ahead run that would have gained 10 yards if not for a blown block by Ziemba, I can’t say I like Dr. Gustav’s choices in the other situations: none of them were draws, one was another pulling-guard play on 3rd-and-1 (because it worked so well vs. Ole Miss), one was the ineligible Ziemba play, and another was a straight drop-back coverage sack.
Again, drops weren’t a problem. The only really catchable ball of the night that Auburn’s receivers didn’t reel in was (unfortunately) Fannin’s on the goal line. That’s the third or fourth time we’ve been able to say something like that this year. Think back over how often drops were a major problem the last couple of years, and I think it’s obvious how much Taylor and the rest of Auburn’s offensive staff have helped in this area.
The last couple of times we’ve done this we’ve looked at plays that didn’t work, but this time I think it’s worth looking at one that shows why even if Malzahn’s offense isn’t as consistent yet as we’d like, there’s not much doubting his ingenuity.
This is from Auburn third-quarter field goal drive, 2nd-and-5. Pre-snap:
So … what play does this look like Auburn’s preparing to run? With Trott and a wideout split wide left and Fannin in that weird offset position to that same side? Especially after it’s already picked up big yardage already this game? Oh yeah: this is the swing. Or at least, it’s supposed to look like it. (Bob Davie calls this play–or at least, what it looks like–a bubble screen, but on a screen the linemen ignore pass rushers and go downfield. That’s not what Auburn does on their typical outside pass to Fannin or Blake or whoever–the linemen pass block like normal and Fannin and the wideouts are pretty much on their own as far as picking up yardage.) Georgia is playing what appears to be man cover-2, with their safeties deep (really deep–they’re not even in the picture) and linebackers over Fannin and Trott.
And here we go–Fannin slides into the flat and prepares to receiver the ball while Todd stares him down. Check the Dawgs out: the linebacker threatening blitz is following Fannin into the flat and the corner is already breaking forward to stop the swing. (By the by, note how Tate’s action across the back of the line has the third linebacker edging away from the play even as Fannin heads out for the pass. If this was an actual swing, that kind of misdirection might buy Fannin just a little more space to break big one.)
SURPRISE! Todd’s only pump-faked–you can see his head already turning downfield–and all three Dawgs on that side have bitten and bitten hard. The linebacker over Trott might be standing beside him in this frame, but he’s beaten–his head is on Fannin and he’s pushing forward even as Trott blows past him. Unless both Dawg safeties are heavily shaded to that side, either Trott or the wideout (whose identity I’m honestly not sure about, probably Zachery) will be open.
Still can’t see what’s happening downfield, but it’s worth noting 1. the desperate reversal of field from the Dawg corner 2. the excellent pass protection on this play–this is a slow developing play that needs a lot of time to work 3. that Tate is open for a likely first down even if Todd can’t go deep 4. Fannin pointing out that someone is wide open.
Sorry for the blurriness, but now we can see where the safeties were–one all the way out to help against Adams at the bottom of the screen, the other at the top to help against Zachery. Trott has a ton of space.
And he makes the easy catch for a big gain.
Malzahn is certainly too clever for his own good sometimes. But he’s also often too clever for his opponent’s good, too, and his shrewdness in establishing tendencies and then playing off of them–swing, swing, LOOK A SWING psych hahahahaha–are a big reason Auburn has gone from 105th in offensive yards-per-play to 21st in the space of a single offseason.
Enjoy your bye weekend, folks. I’ll be back Sunday afternoon.