Auburn Grabs a Win in Oxford! (Grading Auburn’s 35-28 victory at Ole Miss.)

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Auburn Grabs a Win in Oxford! (Grading Auburn’s 35-28 victory at Ole Miss.)

A fabulous catch and run by Seth Williams!
(Photo: Rogelio V. Solis, AP.)

     War Eagle everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report on Auburn’s wild 35-28 win over the Ole Miss Rebels. A grinding ground game shootout nearly got away when a tiring Auburn defense gave up a go-ahead touchdown and extra point in the late going, then Auburn nearly muffed away a controversial kickoff. The Tigers put together a last ditch offensive drive for a score and a two-pointer, then the defense held off the Rebels for the win.

     While Auburn did win the game, there was a lot to worry about in the coaching department. After a slow start by both teams, it had begun to look like the last team with the ball would win the game by the time Auburn got the ball back with 3:35 left in the half. Even better, Auburn was set to receive the second half kickoff. It was a great opportunity to possibly go up by 2 scores. Instead, for the second week in a row, Auburn piddled away the 2nd quarter clock without producing anything, and 2 timeouts still in their pocket.

     Ole Miss can complain about the officiating all they want, but Auburn was robbed of a second half kick return touchdown by a phantom holding call. Backed up to the 20, Auburn could only make it to midfield before trying to punt back to Ole Miss, and having a muffed punt snap and giving Ole Miss the ball at the Auburn 24 yard line. This was just a collosal waste of potential on 2 consecutive drives.

     Much has been made of the kickoff in the 4th quarter that may or may not have been touched by Auburn’s Shaun Shivers. This is one of my pet peeves on kickoffs for a long time. We routinely see balls kicked into the endzone and lie on the turf, and everyone walks away. By rule, that is still supposed to be a live ball till someone downs it or the kicking team recovers. Instead, both players and referees have gotten lazy, and have been just letting the ball lie. I would like to see Auburn shore this up, and make sure the ball is secure. Don’t walk away till it is marked down! Ole Miss lost out on a touchdown because the refs had blown the play dead, on what should have still been a live ball. On a side note, Auburn muffed 2 kickoffs deep, and lived to tell the tale. That is certainly the sort of thing that can lose a game.

     I was stunned that Ole Miss did not try to throw more against the Auburn secondary. Perhaps it was the wet conditions, or maybe Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin wanted to protect his suspect defense via ball-control. Running the ball worked well for the Rebels, as they were able to keep Auburn off balance on defense and kept the Auburn offense on the sidelines for long stretches. As much as I’ve complained about Auburn strategy, some of Kiffin’s plan blew up during the game, as well. There was a forced pass picked off in the end zone early, where Ole Miss could have just thrown the ball away and taken an easy 3 points. Then after failing to convert Auburn’s muffed punt snap, Ole Miss tried a fake field goal and didn’t make it. If Ole Miss had just taken the points on those 2 opportunities, it might have been a whole different ball game.

     The Auburn offense continues to improve, but was not without issues once again. Line play is a lot better, and Auburn did damage on the ground. For the most part, Bo Nix was much better throwing the ball this week, and with one exception, did not force the ball into tight coverage. I can still quibble about some of his hand-it-or-give-it decisions on the ground game. When Ole Miss got a free defender in the backfield, that defender was taking the running back EVERY time. One thing I did like was Auburn’s use of the triple wide receiver look this game against the Ole Miss zone coverage. Auburn would have 2 receivers run the coverage off deep, while Seth Williams would stop at the stake and get an easy toss for a first down. Auburn will have to eventually show willingness to throw to the deeper guys, especially facing a mostly man-to-man defense like LSU will likely show Saturday.

     Defensively Auburn is still having trouble covering tight ends and backs out of the backfield. Fortunately, Ole Miss didn’t even throw much to their backs. Tight end Kenny Yeboah was a big issue, and Auburn was fortunate that Yeboah dropped the next to last Ole Miss pass, or he might have scored. Auburn failed to cover him on a hail-Mary situation. It is also highly concerning to give up 283 rushing yards in a game. Auburn did bite the bullet and played some of the younger back-seven players, who really need the experience. The defense has had to play a lot of long stretches this year, and if the defense can’t get off the field, depth is sorely needed.

     Auburn had been having trouble fielding punts, and made the switch at return man to veteran Eli Stove. I don’t think Stove is as elusive a return man as Tutt is, but he did field both of his opportunities and kept the ball from rolling dead inside the ten. The rest of the special teams units had been really solid this year, till this game. Auburn put 2 kickoffs on the ground, and had muffed extra point and punt snaps.

Unit grades after the jump!

Defensive Line: D+. This unit was put in a bad way for much of the game, as Auburn tried to go with only a 3 man front. Ole Miss took advantage with a lot of double-team blocks. Colby Wooden led the line in tackles with 5, and had a tackle and a half for a loss. Overall, the line produced 3.5 tackles for loss, no sacks and 1 quarterback hurry. The line only had 12 total tackles.

Linebackers: C+. Auburn played multiple linebackers, and Owen Pappoe was all over the field, leading the team with 14 total tackles. However, there were times when Ole Miss runners were streaking by. Coverage remains an afterthought. Overall, the linebackers made 23 total tackles.

Secondary: C+. It was up to the secondary to stop Ole Miss, and the unit totaled an astounding 47 tackles. On the other hand, Ole Miss put the ball in the air 28 times, and the secondary managed 2 interceptions and 1 pass breakup. Auburn did get called in the secondary for 1 pass interference flag, and there were some grabby hands beyond that. Nonetheless, it was an improved day on the back end.

Punting: C. I’m not sure what happened to Aiden Marshall as the punter. He was quietly having a great season. Oscar Chapman handled (or didn’t handle) all the punts in this game. There was the one muff, but the ball was snapped over Chapman’s head. Chapman averaged 41.8 yards per punt, which is decent, and had 2 of 4 punts killed inside the 20, which is better. Ole Miss had negative 7 punt return yards.

Punt Returns: B. On 3 Ole Miss punts, Eli Stove fair caught 1, had a 7 yard return on the next, then let the last one roll in for a touchback. Auburn did not get killed inside their own 20 all game on punt fielding.

Kick Returns: C. There was a potential game-breaking return for a touchdown wiped out by a poorly called penalty, and had 2 kickoffs that were not handled well. It was kind of a feast or famine day. Tank Bigsby had the touchdown wiped out, but he was credited with 3 returns for a 23 yard average. Where Auburn had trouble was if the ball was kicked away from Bigsby. I’d expect that future opponents will note that.

Place Kicking: B. Anders Carlson hit 3 touchbacks on 6 kickoffs. While I’d like to see more go for touchbacks, Ole Miss managed only 18.5 yards per return.

Offensive Line: B. This was the most solid day of the year so far, and it really looked this this bunch was becoming a unit. Auburn’s biggest weakness at this point is probably protecting against speed-rushers on the edges. Auburn faced a slanting, stunting defensive line, and really did a good job of switching off for the first time this season. Loved seeing the 2 pulling linemen over and over. Ole Miss got crushed by that repeatedly. It reminded me of the old Washington NFL offense in the mid-1980s running that famed counter-trey.

Running Backs: A. Again Auburn’s backs were not charged with any turnovers. And, it was nice to see Shaun Shivers back in fine form this week. Unfortunately, this came at the expense of DJ Williams, who played sparingly. Tank Bigsby produced another 100 yard game, smashing for 124. With Auburn’s backs and lead blockers, there is really no reason not to keep taking it right at defenses, and daring them to stop it.

Receivers: B. Seth Williams had a monster game, and it seemed to me that he caught the ball every time he was targeted, twice to spectacular effect. Anthony Schwartz remains a weapon in the quick pass game, and Eli Stove was a factor. I’d really like to see the team look more at Stove in the downfield passing game. There were a number of times that he was running around wide open and didn’t get a look. The younger guys had the same hands issues, dropping several. Also worthy of mention was the play of the tight ends, Schenker, Pegues and Deal. There were some misses on wide receiver screen blocks, but a lot of good blocks in the tackle box springing big runs.

Quarterback: B. Nix was much more accurate this week, and I only saw a couple of short throws. The short passing game can work, especially with Auburn’s receivers, if the quarterback gets the ball there in place for a catch and run. I felt like Nix forced his one deep throw, sailing it back across his body and into double, if not triple coverage. Amazingly, Seth Williams went up and caught the ball and set the Tigers up on the one yard line. I think the read-running game could use more work, but Nix was effective once again when he pulled the ball. Overall, Auburn had a quarterback this week that accounted for 290 yards and 2 scores, and did not turn the ball over.

     Next weekend, Auburn hosts LSU for a Halloween afternoon bash. Yards have been there for the taking against the LSU defense, particularly through the air. I don’t think LSU will let Auburn just line up and run. Defensively I expected LSU to have real trouble against the South Carolina defense, especially starting a true freshman quarterback. Color me stunned at what happened, as LSU racked up 52 points. Granted, they scored on defense and a kick return, but it was still a successful day for the LSU offense. They have skill players that are very talented, if not terribly experienced. Auburn’s past is checkered with games where a visiting young LSU quarterback was made miserable in the confines of Jordan Hare Stadium. Here’s hoping that happens again!

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