Tigers Ram the Razorbacks! (Grading Auburn’s 52-20 win at Arkansas.)

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Tigers Ram the Razorbacks! (Grading Auburn’s 52-20 win at Arkansas.)

Arky Grades

Kamryn Pettway rumbles over defenders!
(Photo by J. T. Wampler.)

     War Eagle everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report on Auburn’s 52-20 romp over Arkansas in Fayetteville. A week after a disastrous, 20-point-lead-blowing loss at LSU, the Tigers responded with a great week of practice, and a delicious beatdown of the Razorbacks. Auburn moved the ball well in the first half, but the 17-6 halftime score was worrisome. Auburn had squandered several scoring opportunities, and if another second-half stall was going to happen, another week of misery was likely to occur.

     This week, there was no second-half sleep walking. The Tigers game out gunning it, and scored 4 touchdowns in the 3rd quarter, to blow the game open. Kamryn Pettway returned to his devastating form of a year ago, and the Tigers exploited the mostly zone coverage of the home team. Pettway had defenders reeling, and playing back on their heels. The 5 yard hitch was there for the taking, and Ryan Davis had 5 yards or more every time it was thrown. Auburn threw in a few speed sweeps, and when Arkansas walked the safeties out there to help, Auburn responded with the play of the night. Ryan Davis got the ball on an end around, and it looked like he might lose big yardage. On the dead run, Davis launched a perfectly thrown bomb, right into the breadbasket of receiver Darius Slayton, who was off to the races for a 62 yard touchdown.

     I did have just a few complaints on offense, this week. The Tigers once again were plagued by dropped passes, but far fewer than against LSU. A lost fumble late was concerning, as was an interception on a ball thrown all the way across the field into tight coverage. I continue to be alarmed about injuries on the offensive line. It made my heart hurt, to see Darius James carted off the field with an air cast on his leg, especially since the game was well in hand at that point. I am very pleased to hear that X-rays were negative on that leg, and that James is ok. I criticized Auburn offensive line coach Herb Hand pretty severely after the Clemson loss. I’m having to admit now that I was wrong. Hand has gotten strong play out of this line since that week, despite having to do a lot of shuffling around. I tip my hat to the offensive line, this week. We’ve got some really good players, there.

     Defensively, I expect some folks will be disappointed in Auburn giving up 20 points in this game. I will remind those folks that the starting defense only gave up 2 field goals. The Arkansas touchdowns came on a kick return, and a garbage time score against the scout team. I felt like run fits weren’t as good in this game, but that’s a function of how Arkansas plays on the line. Arkansas has probably the most complicated set of run-blocking techniques in the SEC. They really work on it, and it’s really hard to account for every lane they can create. The past few years, Arkansas gets better and better at confusing defensive front sevens, and Arkansas tends to be running over teams in November. On the flip side for Auburn, the Auburn front had their best pass-rushing game of the year. Using mostly just a 4-man rush, Auburn came up with 6 sacks, the most in a game this season.

     I was very worried about the back end of the defense, this week. Starters Javaris Davis and Tray Matthews did not play, and I was concerned about what the replacements would do. Arkansas went with a lot of shotgun in the first half, and tried to light the secondary up. It did not work, as fill-in secondary members Jamel Dean, Nick Ruffin and Daniel Thomas played pretty lock-down in coverage, and made a number of touchdown saving tackles later in the game, on a few big Arkansas runs and screens.

     On special teams, there wasn’t much to brag on, this week. Daniel Carlson was solid, but even he had a bad moment, as the opening kickoff went out of bounds. Auburn did recover a fumble by an Arkansas return man, and that was the Auburn special teams highlight of the day. On the other hand, Auburn wasn’t able to return even a single one of 6 Arkansas punts, and gave up a kick return for a touchdown. That’s the second touchdown return given up, in successive weeks.

Unit grades after the jump!

Defensive Line: A. I felt like the line did a great job at getting penetration and disrupting the Arkansas game plan. Jeff Holland, Derrick Brown and Nick Coe were particular nightmares for the Arkansas line, and quarterback. Run fits could have been better on a few occasions. The line came up with 4.5 sacks, 3 quarterback hurries (officially. Stat man slept through a lot of the game, it seems. I’d have figured at least a dozen hurries!), and contributed 27 total tackles. Again, typically in an SEC game the defensive line has 10-12 tackles.

Linebackers: B+. The Auburn linebackers continue to do a good job of filling lanes and hunting the football down, although there were a few big runs given up this week. It was nice to see Tre’ Williams get a few snaps, but he didn’t really play much. Still a bit gimpy, I suppose. The linebackers as a group contributed 11 tackles, which is a pretty low number for a linebacking corps. The defensive line swallowed up too many runners, this week.

Secondary: A. I liked seeing the return of contesting catches, after Auburn did pretty poorly at this against LSU. There were pass breakups credited to Jordyn Peters, Jamel Dean, and Carlton Davis, and probably several other non-catches could have been scored this way. The secondary tackled pretty surely this week, too, contributing 25 total tackles.

Punting: C-. Auburn only punted twice in this game. The first was a short but high 39-yarder, that Arkansas fielded and fumbled. Bonus points for Darrell Williams coming out of the pile with that ball. The second punt was a cruddy 34-yarder, downed.

Punt Returns: C+. Well, at least there were no turnovers, here. Arkansas kicked a couple of touchbacks on 6 punts, and Stephen Roberts had 3 fair catches and no returns.

Kick Returns: B+. Only one opportunity here, from a couple of yards deep. I did not like seeing returner Noah Igbinoghene hesitate on this return, but he did break out for a 29 yard return, and was one trip away from breaking it for a score.

Place Kicking: C-. This may seem an unfair grade, after the only actual kicking flaw was the opening kickoff going out of bounds. However, I lump kickoff coverage into this spot, and a kick return for a score is unacceptable. Daniel Carlson did hit all of his extra points, plus a chip shot field goal. Carlson also had 7 touchbacks on 9 kickoffs.

Offensive Line: A. This unit keeps on keeping on, despite injuries. Auburn wasn’t able to just bash up front in the first half, but a lot of that had to do with Arkansas loading up the box with extra men. The line can’t block 8 or 9 guys. In the final analysis, the line allowed no sacks, and only 2 tackles for loss in the entire game. When an offense generates 629 yards in an SEC game, the line is playing pretty well.

Running Backs: A-. I probably should have counted off a bit more for the late fumble by Malik Miller, but it was with only a few seconds left, in a big blowout. Ball security is job one, for a running back. Kerryon Johnson had tough sledding early, but kept picking up first down, and he scored his 14th touchdown on the season. Kamryn Pettway got it going in the second half, and terrorized the Arkansas defense. I have to brag a bit on H-back Chandler Cox, too. It usually takes a while in a thankless job in this offense, to do well. Cox has it down, now. He’s been pretty flawless in blitz pickup, and he’s able to hunt defenders down in space and neutralize them. Cox was pretty instrumental on a lot of those big runs in this game.

Receivers: B. We are still having too many dropped balls. I saw 4 this game on Darius Slayton, alone. However, Slayton was also the top receiver. He made an amazing adjustment and catch on a badly underthrown back-shoulder fade pass. Slayton finished the day with 146 yards on 4 catches. Imagine the damage if he had caught ’em all! I also have to give a shout-out to Ryan Davis. He leads Auburn with 41 catches this season, and is on pace to break the Auburn receptions-in-a-season record at 60, held by Darvin Adams in 2009. Davis also had a magnificent touchdown pass on an end around. The ball was thrown on the run, and sailed 40 yards in the air. It hit Darius Slayton in stride, and resulted in a 62 yard score. Ryan Davis is now the most efficient passer in the SEC, at least till we try that play again!

Quarterback: B+. This wasn’t Jarrett Stidham’s most accurate game, but it was still plenty good. Stidham did a great job of taking off and getting yards (and crucial 3rd down conversions) with his feet. On the day, Stidham completed 67.8 percent of his passes, for 7.79 yards per pass. These numbers aren’t what we are used to with Stidham, and he did have one long sideways pass picked off. However, if one combs through the SEC statistics, this is a better than average day. If a few more balls were caught, that all-important yards-per-pass stat would probably be around 10. Malik Willis was more than capable in the waning moments of this game, too. Willis took off on a big run early in his appearance, then got his first scoring pass on a shovel on the goal line.

     We’ve had our angst and our moments this season, but I have also enjoyed Auburn drubbing SEC opponents in multiple weeks. The Tigers have 4 blowout wins in 5 SEC games. I think the team and coaches learned to keep the hammer down this week, too. The Arkansas game was particularly encouraging to me, because I felt like there was a real chance that a tired, beat-up team could try to mail it in, this week. It didn’t happen.

     Auburn gets a week off to try and heal some folks up. Also, I think it’s a great opportunity to self-scout, and break tendencies. Auburn can find out what has worked, and polish on it. They can also discover what they don’t do well, and work to improve. Quite frankly, I’m also looking forward to a college football day next Saturday, where I won’t be angsting over Auburn, and instead can sample a lot of football around the league, and the nation.

     A trip to Texas A&M looms in a couple of weeks. Auburn has never lost in College Station, but a talented team awaits. After a huge collapse in week one against UCLA, Texas A&M has steadily gotten better. It will take a great performance to win in that stadium, in early November.

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