A Promising A-Day!

Monday, April 29, 2019

A Promising A-Day!

A much belated review

     War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report on Auburn’s 2019 A-Day game. For the first time in a decade, I was not able to attend. Real life intervenes, sometimes. Watching the game televised wasn’t as fun, frankly. I’m kinda spoiled, in that I usually line up early, get a good seat, and can watch any facet of the game I want. On the televised version, we sometimes got a look at the whole field and the secondary, but often not. The TV crew also obscured a fair number of plays with unrelated Auburn interviews with celebrities. In the second half, the clock never stopped, and TV did commercial breaks anyway, with plays ongoing.

     At least in the first half it was a night-and-day difference for the offense compared to last season’s spring game. Most surprising was how effective junior quarterback Malik Willis looked, running the second team offense against the ones on the first drive of the game. Willis made smart throws to move the chains and then hit a big bomb to Matthew Hill to get the only TD of the day for the reserves. Frankly, I saw 4 quarterbacks on this day that I think Auburn can win with. I left A-Day last year convinced that we had to keep Jarrett Stidham healthy or we would finish last in the division.

     It was a decent day for the Auburn defense, which mostly squashed the running game. There was literally nowhere to run for either group of running backs in the first half. Quarterbacks were a different story. The base defense that was run did not account for quarterback runs, and whistles on the quarterback seemed much slower than last year. Both Joey Gatewood and Bo Nix ran 10+ yards for first downs on occasion before they were blown dead. Honestly, the Auburn defense looked like it had never seen a quarterback pull the ball and keep it on the zone-read. It’s a little worrisome since virtually every Auburn opponent next fall is going to have a quarterback that is not afraid to pull it, put his head down, and run around or through defenders.

     Auburn had big issues that cost games on the sidelines with the secondary last season. I think one starter, Noah Igbinoghene, did a better job this spring getting his head around on deep balls. And Noah didn’t get very many snaps in this game nor did co-starter Javaris Davis, who might have the best eyes on the field, in the Auburn secondary. Reserves struggled at times in the first half, as a lot of deep balls clicked for big gains. That said, Auburn quarterbacks had time to throw it, thanks partly to improved offensive line play and the fact that the defense rarely blitzed. Even if there was a blitz, it was only a 5-man rush.

     Punting wasn’t live, but I thought incumbent Aaron Siposs had a great day. He is good for a 50-yard punt in the open field and consistently parked the ball inside the ten-yard line when he was pooch-punting. Auburn return men did not muff any balls, either, and got away from the bouncers inside the 10.

     There was a night and day difference on the offensive line, this spring. The starters were pretty stout in getting their man neutralized, and even the reserves did well at times. Auburn isn’t is deep here, as has been the case in the past few years, but there are some options if a starter gets dinged up. The reserves had some real trouble with the starting D-line, in the first half. After the starters gave up a touchdown pass on the first drive, Derrick Brown basically took over the line of scrimmage and made life miserable for blockers, runners and quarterbacks. The Auburn staff took him out of the game in the second half.

     I really like the 7-on-7 warmup stuff that has been implemented the past few A-Days. TV only showed a few plays, and it seemed mostly that the quarterbacks were dropping the ball off in the flat to running backs. We missed the front end of this drill. They typically do a deep ball, then a medium ball, then a short ball in those drills. The deep ball battles are the most fun to watch and judge whether a quarterback can stretch an SEC defense. I think Auburn has options there with multiple quarterbacks and receivers.

Unit observations after the jump!

     Auburn was not as dominant on the defensive line as in recent A-Days. Aside from the first drive for the reserves, the starters dominated. Auburn has its work cut out to produce reliable substitutes against a tough schedule this fall.

     I was worried that Auburn would suffer this spring with inexperienced linebackers but was pleasantly surprised. Kenny Britt led the way in this scrimmage, but Auburn had guys well into the depth chart making plays, too. Occasionally, a runner would get loose for 5 yards or so. We saw hardly any double-digit runs. Linebackers made the tackle.

     Auburn’s secondary was really put in a bad spot, early in the game. They played nearly all cover-two zone, and everyone on the offense knew it. A lot of the second and third team corners got turned around, could not see the pass coming, and were asking for flags to be thrown.

     Punting was really good. I think Aaron Siposs has a chance to be the best punter in the SEC this season, and Auburn has dangerous options in the return game as well as good coverage. Auburn had guys blocking punts last season at a good clip, and every one of the guys blocking those punts returns.

     Anders Carlson hit his only field goal attempt this spring from a decent distance. Where you learn about kickers in the spring is by watching warmups. They try one from 20. Then 30, etc. Of course, I didn’t get to watch this year. I’m told that Carlson had a near-perfect warmup. Hopefully, he’ll have a great fall.

     One of the things I liked about the offensive line this spring is that the starters really did not let anyone get loose up the middle on defense. Stunts on the D-line were rare this spring, but when they happened, the O-line was able to sort things out and play solidly from the inside out. If a pass rusher is let loose from the corner, Auburn’s mobile quarterbacks have options. Let a guy come clean up the middle, and that’s a real problem. Half of the field is suddenly cut off, and a good pass rusher is going to force the quarterback to scramble either to the side of the field where he has to sling the ball across his body or to the short side with less room for the receivers.

     Auburn has big shoes to fill in the H-back/tight end spots this year, and aside from a handful of short-yardage wildcat snaps, we didn’t see many of these guys on the field. I think we will be solid this season with Spencer Nigh and John Samuel Schenker. I didn’t see any missed blocks from that pair, and Schenker has potential in the passing game. I say “potential.” I have observed over the past decade with coach Gus Malzhan that only a couple of tight ends have caught a significant number of balls, those being Phillip Lutzenkirchen, and C. J. Uzomah.

     I was worried about the receiving corps this year with Ryan Davis and Derrick Slayton leaving. However, there is a lot of talent returning, and it was on display on A-Day. Usually we get the dropped-ball show in the spring, but the guys were pretty much on point. Seth Williams particularly impressed me. He was Auburn’s most reliable set of hands in 2018 as a true freshman. Matthew Hill made a couple of spectacular catches. Eli Stove was solid. One guy you don’t hear much about is Marquis McClain. He was out there a good bit on A-Day, and I was impressed with his blocking. He displayed that “Julio Jones” ability to just intimidate a much smaller corner and drive that defender into the bench. That can really help a running game. Auburn gets track star Anthony Schwartz back this fall, too.

     At running back, Auburn played Kam Martin and JaTarvious Whitlow pretty sparingly. There was a lot more work for Malik Miller, D. J. Williams and Harold Joiner. Williams was the most shifty of the reserves and showed good power as well.

     I don’t really know what to say about the unexpected display of quality depth at quarterback displayed on A-Day. There were a few forced throws when guys were playing under pressure behind reserve linemen, but otherwise I think Auburn displayed 4 quarterbacks capable of being good SEC players next fall. I can’t imagine we will be able to keep all 4 on the roster come September or October. I think Joey Gatewood will ultimately win the starting job, but I don’t think any of the others will go down without a fight.

     I’m sincerely hoping that this will be the last A-Day I have to sit out. I appreciate the SEC Network for having the live broadcast, but I really missed being able to watch warmups, and a lot of the second half was lost to viewers when the talking heads and commercials took over .

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