A Cold, Wet A-Day.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

A Cold, Wet A-Day.

Anders Carlson was the A-Day MVP.
(All photos by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report on Auburn’s 2018 A-Day game. It was with some trepidation that I suited up and drove down this year, to cover this scrimmage. The weather forecast did not look promising, and the day actually turned out more rainy than predicted. There was a fine drizzle at all times, with periods of light rain in between. I have to take my hat off to all of the 28000+ fans that showed up anyway, and braved the conditions.

     I’ll try to avoid being overly negative about the offense. There were a lot of new pieces in place, and this just was not a good day for new quarterbacks to be throwing the football, or receivers to be catching it. I’m actually surprised that there weren’t more dropped balls and fumbles. I’m not sure how windy it was on the field, but above the tunnel where I sat in the East stands at the 50 yard line, the there was a constant wind of 10-20 MPH, blowing little stinging rain droplets in everyone’s face. It appeared to affect punts, kicks and passes too. Balls sailed, or were held up in the air. Without an effective passing attack, the first and second team defenses both were able to squash any semblance of a running game.

     I do have one minor complaint about how the day was conducted. As has been the case for years, it cost 5 dollars for a general admission ticket. First come, first served. As I have in the past, I got in line 45 minutes before the gates opened, ready to proceed at all haste to the same planned spot I sat in, last year. This year, after we were let in, we found that the 3 best sections on the pressbox side were roped off for scholarship donors only. I was irritated by this, particularly since these sections were mostly empty throughout the afternoon. Fortunately, I was able to move around the stadium to the opposite side, and get a similar seat.

A sparse crowd. Note the almost empty, roped off seats across the way.

     It was interesting to see construction proceeding apace on the new addition to the stadium. However, I really don’t think it is a good idea to stick the pressbox in the corner of the end zone. The press won’t be able to cover the game as well from that spot, and all Auburn can hope to gain from this tactic is more bad publicity. Maybe the extra sky-box revenue will be worth it. To me, it seems short-sighted.

The new pressbox.

     What a day for the Auburn defense! There was literally nowhere to run for either offense in the first half. The starting offense managed to keep the rush off the quarterback decently, but the first defense lived in the backfield, giving the second offense no chance. The second unit could not make a first down, till mostly 3rd teamers were in the game in the second half. That said, there were some coverage busts, particularly by the second team secondary. It did not matter, as the quarterbacks were unable to complete balls down the field.

No one is around Sal Cannella. Pass sailed high.

     Punting wasn’t live, and things were inconsistent with the wind in play. Had a few muffs on the receiving end, but none by anyone likely to win the return man job this fall. Place kicking was marvelous. We clearly won’t have to suffer many missed field goals this year, even if it rains.

     From what I saw, Auburn really needs to keep Jarrett Stidham safe, this fall. Fortunately, I think there is a good chance this will happen. While Auburn’s talented defensive line won some individual battles, Auburn’s offensive line at least knew who to block, unlike last season at times. The starting offense had a clean pocket, on most passing attempts. Had a couple of communication issues on the starting offense. One was a botched handoff that resulted in a lost fumble. There was a wide receiver screen attempt where the receiver turned away and ran up the field while the ball sailed out to no one in the flat.

     I really like the 7 on 7 warmup stuff that has been implemented the past couple of A-Days. Jarrett Stidham looked sharp. I’m glad he’s at least getting to throw with the receivers. I was worried about things not being in sync, this fall. The other two quarterbacks in the drill made some good throws, but also made mistakes. Each had a potential interception dropped by a defensive back or middle linebacker.

Unit observations after the jump!

     I enjoyed watching the defensive line in the first half. They really plugged their lanes well, even the second unit. Marlon Davidson impressed me. He played hurt and basically only 50 percent last season, and still held his own. Healthier this spring, Davidson is a force out there. Nick Coe would sub in, and just manhandle whomever was assigned to block him. The interior guys were able to disrupt. The line might get one of them blocked, but rarely both. I really think the coaches backed the intensity way down in the second half. They had linemen just holding their ground, and trying to swat passes down at times.

     Auburn’s top 4-6 guys at linebacker are also superb. They know how to play with leverage, to string a sweep out and gang tackle at the line of scrimmage or behind it. We know that Deshaun Davis, Darrell Williams and Montravius Atkinson have a ton of experience from last season. I was impressed with K. J. Britt, Richard McBride and the younger guys. They are really coming along. Linebackers coach Travis Williams has worked miracles with this group.

     I was favorably impressed by the secondary, but there were some coverage issues. A lot more damage could have been done at medium range in the middle of the field. In the defense of the secondary, they were pretty limited in what coverages they used. I was very impressed with reserve cornerback John Broussard Jr. The starting offense tried to pick on him a bit, and he was having none of it. Did a really nice job in one-on-one coverage, staying with Auburn’s starters and shielding them off from the ball. Both during the game, and in the 7 on 7 drills, defensive backs did a good job of ripping balls out when there was opportunity.

     This wasn’t a good day to be a punter. I watched Ian Shannon and Aiden Marshall warm up for a long period, and neither could hit a 40 yard punt into the wind. Both guys had some longer kicks with the wind at their back during the game.

     I was very impressed by Anders Carlson. A lot of times a redshirt freshman kicker isn’t as strong as he will be later in his career. Carlson was just nailing field goals. Short range, long range, against the win, didn’t matter. He missed 1 kick that I saw in warmups. That was a 53 yard attempt that still hit the uprights. Carlson also was able to adapt and alter his angles successfully when the wind was blowing from the side.

     I came away impressed with the starting offensive line. They were a work in progress, to be sure, but this was just so much more of a unit than they ever were, last season. Tucker Brown, who was basically an H-back last season, did a great job at center. He held his own, and made good line calls. I was worried about our tackles. Last season, Auburn sometimes would let defensive ends get around the corner, or swim-move inside. I never saw Prince Tega Wanagho beaten either inside or out, during this scrimmage. He was a force run-blocking, too. On the other side, I saw things to be impressed about by Austin Troxell and Calvin Ashley. They were not as physical in the run game, but the rush didn’t get by them, either. I think with the experience Mike Horton and Marquel Harrell bring at guard, Auburn will be good there as well. We just have to get our centers healthy!

     Auburn sat H-back Chandler Cox out of this one, but I thought Spencer Nigh looked pretty good in that spot. Jalen Harris was solid as the starting tight end. Auburn used Sal Cannella more as a tight end this spring. He’s a work in progress on blocking, but he has clearly worked on his hands, a lot. Over the past decade, it has been rare for me to feel like Auburn has a legit SEC caliber two-deep at these spots. I feel better about the depth here than I have in a long time.

     The receiving corps had some dropped balls, but not too many on a wet day. Marquis McClain had the catch of the day on a ball that was ripped out, then juggled. Nate Craig Myers caught a tough ball over the middle in traffic. We didn’t see much of Ryan Davis after the 7 on 7 drills, but he was beating whomever was put on him consistently. Devan Barrett had a much tougher day as a receiver. He had several screens thrown his way, and never was allowed time to get going with it. In Barrett’s defense, it sure seemed like those things were slow to develop. I guess I got used to Stidham’s rapid release on those balls, last season. Barrett looks like a solid option as the jet sweep/buck sweep guy, with Eli Stove out. As a whole, I don’t think run blocking from this group was up to the standards set last season.

     The only running back from last season out there was Kam Martin, and he barely played after the 7 on 7 drills. I was favorably impressed by both JaTarvious Whitlow and Asa Martin. Both were elusive, and made tough runs up the middle, too. A few times, they got a little too fancy and lost yardage. Whitlow had one run where he reversed field several times, and was in danger of losing 15 or more yards in the shadow of his own goal. He ran on that play for about 20 seconds, and ended up making 1 yard. As head coach Gus Malzahn said, he won’t be able to make a living running like that against SEC defenses. C. J. Tolbert played a good bit, and ended up leading all rushers, with 137 yards, albeit a lot of those yards were against reserve defenders. I’m relieved about the running back performance, especially with the ball security on a wet day.

     I saw potential in the quarterbacks, but neither was ready to run a passing attack on a rainy day. I do have to tip my hat to early enrollee Joey Gatewood. He faced a ferocious pass rush that really limited what he could do, but he kept his composure well. The same could be said of Malik Willis, who started for the first offense. I really didn’t come away with any real sense of what either of these guys might be able to do in a real game. I know both are dangerous scrambling and running, and they weren’t allowed to do it on A-Day. By the way, I really hate the quick whistles on the quarterback. I think one-hand tag is enough protection. I despise seeing plays being blown dead with no defender near the quarterback.

     I was glad to survive the worst weather I have ever seen on an A-Day at Jordan-Hare. I really wasn’t sure what to wear for this game. I opted for a warm wool P-coat instead of my heavy rain poncho, and my fur-lined “Russian mobster hat.” Shockingly, the P-coat kept me dry. The hat proved not to be waterproof, which was disappointing, but not a big deal. I wore enough wool socks and layers under the P-coat that I actually got overheated walking around campus in the rain. I was grateful for the warmth by the time the second half rolled around. I was able to keep my camera and radio dry, too. I took several hundred photos, and 95 percent of them are junk. It was just too dim of a day. I apologize for the cruddy quality of the above shots. My little point and shoot was not up to the task, this day.

     I suppose my biggest takeaway from this A-Day is the quality depth Auburn has assembled. There was a whole knot of players limping or on crutches during warmups, and 3 more players were injured during the game. Still, the level of play did not drop off much. I think that bodes really well for next fall.

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