Tigers Throttle Georgia Southern! (Grading Auburn’s 41-7 win over Georgia Southern)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Tigers Throttle Georgia Southern! (Grading Auburn’s 41-7 win over Georgia Southern)

GA Southern Grades

The Eagle Offense was smothered!
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

     War Eagle everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report on Auburn’s season opening win over the Eagles. It was a bit of a shaky start for the new-look Auburn offense, but the defense resembled one of the best Pat Dye/Wayne Hall units back in the late 1980s. Once the Eagles fell behind by double digits in the second quarter, the game was essentially over. That offense would have no chance of producing enough points to matter.

     What I saw from early second quarter onward was an offense that did pretty much what it wanted to, even with a pretty vanilla plan. I didn’t get to watch the first quarter till this morning. Wow, was there some rust early on! There was miscommunication with the receivers at times, but the real glaring issue was the left side of the offensive line. Georgia Southern was stunting, blitzing, and stemming, and the two new starters on that side of the ball were taken aback on several occasions.

     Georgia Southern was able to get a lot of pressure on the quarterback early, and Jarrett Stidham took a beating. This culminated in a blind side hit where Stidham had not even taken 3 steps, the ball popped out, and Georgia Southern cashed it for a scoop-and-score. I have to tip my hat to both Stidham and offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey. Stidham shook it off, and played pretty well from that point on. Lindsey was a lot more guarded on what he called, going left for the rest of the half.

     The second half was a completely different story, on the offensive line. The slide-protection concept was used most of the time, and the pocket held up well. Both Prince Tega Wanogho and Mike Horton are big, strong and agile linemen, and both have huge upsides. It’s up to the coaches to get them in the right spots. The whole line did really well on run-blocking, too. When a variety of reserve running backs are having good days, the line is doing the job.

     The issue that most worried me throughout the game was ball security. I saw numerous examples of ball-carriers and receivers not tucking that ball away securely. Officially, Auburn had 4 fumbles, and unofficially, I saw about 5 dropped passes. Five drops on 26 pass attempts will get you beat, in the SEC.

     There were basically 2 plays where Georgia Southern’s offense gained 10 yards or more. The rest of the time, the offense went nowhere. I am going to have a hard time issuing a grade to the Auburn secondary, because the ball never really made it to them! Auburn’s front seven was a terror. There were plays when Georgia Southern was unable to stop all 4 Auburn defensive linemen from getting into the backfield. Auburn’s linebackers completely neutralized options. There was nowhere for the ball to go, that didn’t have sure-tackling blue shirt streaking up to make the play.

     The past few seasons, the key to moving the ball on Auburn was to locate Carl Lawson, and either double team him, or run the play to the opposite side. When Lawson wasn’t in the game, Auburn was in serious trouble. At least from this first game, that is no longer possible. Auburn is loaded with linemen that can penetrate and disrupt, well into the bench. Guys like Byron Cowart and Nick Coe had big days, which was good to see.

     I thought Auburn had a very good special teams day, even with a couple of missed field goals. The misses were from 46 and 53 yards, and I can’t be too upset about those. Even in the NFL, 45+ yards is basically a coin-flip, or worse odds. Auburn kicked mostly touchbacks, and had great coverage on the one kick and one punt that were returnable. Georgia Southern displayed obvious fear of punting the ball to Stephen Roberts. Instead, they sacrificed yardage by kicking it out of bounds multiple times.

Unit Grades, after the jump!

Defensive Line: A+. I could count off for a facemask penalty, and an offsides flag. I didn’t. The facemask looked inadvertent on Marlon Davidson. I will take one offsides penalty per game. That’s an effort penalty, I think. Auburn’s last Lombardi winner (Nick Fairley) was offsides here and there. Jeffrey Holland is in some good company, there! This is a deep and talented line that plays with a mean streak. This unit contributed 4 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss and 30 total tackles. That’s astounding. Typically, the line gets about 10 tackles.

Linebackers: A+. What a big day Tre’ Williams had! He led the team with 10 tackles, and was usually around the ball. Aside from Williams, the other linebackers were in good position, and did their jobs well. There really wasn’t as much of an opportunity for these guys, because the line was swallowing up runners so well. The linebackers contributed 2 sacks, 3 tackles for loss, and 17 total tackles.

Secondary: A+. Georgia Southern was only able to attempt 8 passes, and none covered more than 7 yards on 4 completions. Aside from that, the Auburn secondary was active making tackles near the line of scrimmage. Stephen Roberts led the way with 4 tackles, 2 of them for a loss. The secondary generated 17 total tackles. Daniel Thomas intercepted the Eagles’ last hail Mary attempt.

Punting: B. Ian Shannon only had to punt once in this one, and got off a nice 42-yarder with no return.

Punt Returns: B-. Stephen Roberts had only 1 return for 6 yards, while the Eagles punted 11 times. It’s not Roberts’ fault, though, as the Eagles kicked away from him repeatedly. I did count off for the one 61-yard Eagle punt. Roberts let that one get behind him. Fortunately, the ball didn’t roll much after it hit.

Kick Returns: A. There was only one returnable kick, and Javaris Davis popped it for 29 yards. With a little better blocking, he would have been gone.

Place Kicking: A. I counted off a little bit for the 2 misses, which is probably unfair. Daniel Carlson did nail one from 50 yards, and became the top scorer in Auburn history. Carlson had 7 touchbacks on 8 kickoffs. On the one ball that was returned, the coverage team dumped the return man at the 12.

Offensive Line: B+. A few glaring errors lowered what was otherwise a pretty good effort. This line dominated Georgia Southern, as long as they knew who to block. Late in the game, even the second team line was having success.

Running Backs: A-. I counted off a bit for one fumble, although right tackle Darius James alertly fell on that loose ball. There were a handful of missed protections by some of the younger backs. I felt like all of the running backs ran well, and had good vision. We all knew that Kam Martin was fast, and a home run threat. I was pleasantly surprised by Martin’s ability between the tackles, when he had to step into the number one role. Hated seeing Kerryon Johnson’s injury. He was having a great game, to that point. For the game, Johnson averaged 8.5 yards per carry, and Kam Martin had 9.7. The worst of the various backs that carried the ball was 5.0 yards per carry, by Malik Miller. There wasn’t a bad average in the bunch. I was also impressed by the H-back blocking.

Receivers: B. I counted off mostly for drops, and a lost fumble. For the most part, I do think that the receivers did a decent job of blocking, and they tried to sell their routes, even though a lot of it was just the same 4 verticals stuff from last season. Auburn did run some mesh and crossing routes on 3rd down, and was very effective against a blitzing defense. I will look forward to this unit being back up to full strength, next week!

Quarterback: B+. In his first Auburn start, Jarrett Stidham did not do too badly. There were a couple of crucial turnovers. I didn’t count off much on the fumble, even though it gave the Eagles their only points. What I did count off for was a first-quarter attempt to force the ball past a well-placed defender. What was good was that those sorts of throws weren’t repeated in the game, unlike in the previous couple of seasons. After the fumble, Stidham regrouped and had a good day, scrambling and buying time, and making some nice throws. I also loved seeing Devin Adams get a chance to play, late.

     I enjoyed seeing a comfortable Auburn win, Saturday. We saw a lot of potential in this veteran, deep team. A big road trip to Clemson awaits, this weekend. It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers from this game, but we do have to remember that this was Georgia Southern. This was a 5-7 team from a year ago, and not in a Power-5 conference. I expected before the game that Auburn should handily win both battles in the trenches. Clemson will be a different animal, particularly on the defensive front. We can’t have assignment gaffes, this week.

     I have to hand it to the Eagles, for sticking with their plan and toughing the game out. Some teams would have panicked and started trying to air it out. Georgia Southern stuck to their plan, and had a little late success. They got in a day of good work against probably the best defense they will see all year. There will be a lot more room to run on Sun Belt defenses.

     And now, I hope everyone is enjoying a great Labor Day. Then it will be time to get back to work, and get ready for a colossal battle in Clemson next weekend. I can’t wait! It will be my first full college football day of the season, and I plan to soak it all up!

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