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  1. Post Season Numbers & Thoughts: During the first 7 games of the season the Auburn defense allowed 5.88 yards per play during the first-half and 4.21 yards per play during the second-half. During the final 6 games of the season, the Auburn defense allowed 5.97 yards per play during the first-half and 6.76 yards per play during the second-half. During the first 7 games of the season, 49.0% of the snaps defended by the Auburn defense during the first-half, went for 2-yards or less. It increased to 55.6% during the second half of games. During the last 6 games of the season, 43.7% of the snaps defended by the Auburn defense during the first-half, went for 2-yards or less. It decreased to 42.9% during the second half. The top-5 play-makers on offense this season based on impact-plays were: Cameron Artis Payne (26), Duke Williams (22), Nick Marshall (20), Sammie Coates (14) and Quan Bray (12). Injuries to Williams and Coates took away from Auburn's explosiveness this season. During the first 6 games of the season, Nick Marshall averaged 82.0 yards rushing per game on 6.6 yards per attempt. During the final 7 games of the season, Marshall averaged only 43.7 yards per rush on 3.9 yards per carry. The read-option was nowhere close to last season. During the final 7 games of the 2013 season, Marshall & Mason averaged 257.6 YPG on 6.09 YPC. During the final 7 games of 2014, Marshall & CAP combined for 179.3 YPG on 4.92 YPC. Ricardo Louis is a player to watch for in 2015. With the departure of Sammie Coates, Auburn will need him to become a consistent playmaker. During the first 6 games of the season, Louis had 15 offensive touches for 118-yards. During the final 7 games of the season, Louis had 22 offensive touches for 353-yards. Of his 9 impact plays on the season, 7 came during the second-half of the season. Duke Williams was No. 12 nationally in generating pass-receptions of 15-yards or more and Sammie Coates was No. 21. The Auburn offense simply wasn't the same without both healthy and on the field together. During Auburn's 8 victories this season, the Tigers compiled a pass-rating of 157.1 on first-down and only 117.2 during their 5 defeats. From 1992-2014 Auburn has compiled a pass-rating of 136.0 on first-down and was only 134.9 in 2014. Of Auburn's 332 passes on the season, only 96 (28.6%) came on first down, which was dead last nationally. The national average was 37.9%, which means Nick Marshall was forced to throw more often when the opponent wanted him to, rather than when Malzahn wanted him to throw. I expect that percentage to change drastically with Jeremy Johnson at quarterback. In terms of the game day report cards, the Auburn offense had a passing grade in 11 of 13 games, the defense 6 in 13 games and special teams, 7 of 13 games. Last season the offense had a passing grade in 12 of 14 games, the defense 7 of 14 games and special teams 13 of 14 games. Overall the offense improved to 74.9% from 74.6% in 2013. The defense dropped to 47.7% from 49.3% in 2013 and special teams took the biggest dive to 53.4% from 71.7% in 2013. During the last 3 games of the season Auburn allowed 3.93 yards per rush during the first-half and 7.58 yards per attempt during the second-half. How vital are impact plays? During Auburn's 73 scoring drives this season, 63 involved at least 1 play of 15-yards or more during the possession. Last season the Auburn defense registered 32 sacks and 13 interceptions. This season despite only 20 sacks, Auburn intercepted 22 passes. One can only imagine how many picks Auburn could have totaled in 2014 with a more consistent pass-rush. During the first 5 games of the season, the Auburn defense forced a "3 & out", 45 percent of the time. During the final 8 games of the season, it dropped to only 18 percent. During the first 5 games of the season, the Auburn defense allowed 24-yards per possession and a TD every 37.2 snaps. During the final 8 games of the season, the defense allowed 36-yards per possession and a TD every 16.6 snaps defended. During the first 7 games of the season, Auburn scored 75 points from their opponent's turnovers. During the final 6 games of the season, Auburn scored only 24 points off of turnovers. Rarely does a player find immediate success after making a position change at the collegiate level. Johnathan "Rudy" Ford moved to safety this season, finishing the year as Auburn's leading tackler with 93 stops. He also had 2.5 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions and 1 forced-fumble. Look for him to continue to grow into his position under Will Muschamp. Rudy Ford was No. 14 in the SEC with 7.15 tackles per game. Cassanova McKinzy was No. 16 and Kris Frost was No. 17. McKinzy was also No. 14 in the SEC with 11 tackles for loss. Fifteen SEC defensive linemen had more tackles for loss than Auburn's leader, Montravius Adams (8). Cameron Artis-Payne had some major shoes to fill, replacing Tre Mason. The senior RB, responded with an All-SEC season, leading the conference in rushing and No. 2 in rushing TD's. CAP's 123.7 yards per game was the 5th best average in school history. Cameron Artis-Payne was No. 15 nationally in yards per game. Quarterback Nick Marshall improved his passer-rating from 143.2 in 2013 to 150.8. His 150.8 rating is the 4th highest rated performance among the 37 Auburn quarterbacks to attempt at least 150 passes during a season. His TD ratio of 1 every 14.6 attempts was 5th best in school history. Marshall was No. 33 in pass-efficiency during 2013, improving to No. 15 his senior year. The Auburn offense finished No. 13 in run-offense and No. 9 in pass-efficiency offense. The Tigers were No. 17 in total-offense and No. 26 in scoring-offense. Based on yards per game, yards per play, points per game, TD ratio and strength of schedule, the 2014 Auburn offense is No. 3 among the past 60 Auburn offensive units. The 2010 offense was No. 1 with a 213.5 rating, the 2013 offense was No. 2 with a 209.9 rating and the 2014 unit had a rating of 199.6. From 1970-2014, Auburn has compiled a record of 204-6-0, when scoring at least 30 points during regulation. Four of the 6 losses have come during the past 2 seasons. From 2009-2014 (79 games), Auburn has allowed 26 PPG, 398.3 YPG and 163.2 yards rushing per game. Of those 79 games, it includes 26 losses, where Auburn allowed 36 PPG, 446.5 YPG and 222.6 yards rushing per game. The second installment of Will Muschamp's defense cannot start soon enough. The 2014 season marks the 12th time Auburn has closed a season with only 1 win during their last 5 games of the season since 1950. The Auburn coaching staff has their work cut out for them as Auburn followed up the previous 11 seasons with a win percentage of .622 the following year. Looking at only FBS competition, Auburn's 2014 schedule ended up being the 6th most difficult in school history, minus the result of the "Auburn" game. 10 of Auburn's 13 opponents this season (76.9%) were FBS programs that finished the season with a winning record. It was the 3rd highest percentage of winning opponents faced during a season from 1950-2014. The 1983 team holds the highest percentage (83.3%). So what happened to the 2014 Auburn defense? During the first 5 games of the season, Auburn faced opponents that averaged 402.0 YPG, averaging 30.4 PPG. The Auburn defense held them to 24% below their yardage average and 53% below their scoring average. During their last 7 FBS games, Auburn faced offenses that averaged 463.3 YPG, while scoring 35.1 PPG. Auburn allowed those 7 teams to gain 5.5% more yardage than their average, while scoring 7.7% more than the opponent's average. In a nutshell, the competition was better during the second-half of the season, but Auburn's production percentages should not have collapsed as much as it did. Time to move onto 2015 and Happy New Year!
  2. The Wisconsin defense has been very solid all year up until the B10 Championship. Despite their major beat down at the hands of the Buckeyes, the Badger defense is still No. 4 in total-defense. Some of their success on defense has to do with the caliber of offenses Wisconsin faced but they did hold their opponent to 23 percent below their yardage average for the season. One area Auburn should be able to exploit is the Badger pass-defense. The Wisconsin pass-defense is No. 108 nationally allowing big pass-plays (25+) every 12.4 pass attempts. The Auburn pass-offense is No. 7 nationally in generating big pass-plays every 9.7 pass attempts. The play... Against Alabama, Auburn faced a very good defense that was exceptional against the run. Gus Malzahn's plan of attack was to challenge the UAT secondary deep, which often played man-coverage. The plan was solid and the Auburn offense did a very good job executing the game plan. Nick Marshall was 6 of 9, throwing the ball deep for 272-yards and 2 touchdowns. On this play Auburn faces a 2nd & 12 from the UAT 34-yd line. Auburn comes out in a 4-WR with Sammie Coates and Duke Williams split on the boundary side. Nick Marshall will play-action with Cameron Artis-Payne, while reading the boundary safety. Coates and Williams break off the line, running vertical routes. Williams will cut inside on a deep square-in, while Coates runs a fly-route. The boundary safety commits to Williams over the middle, leaving Coates 1 on 1 with the corner. Marshall delivers a perfectly thrown ball that Coates is able to haul in for the touchdown. Play #2: This is basically the same play, though circumstances are different. Auburn faces a 2nd & 3 from their own 32-yard line with under 1:30 remaining in the first-half. Once again Auburn comes out in a 4-WR set with Coates and Williams aligned to the boundary side. At the snap, the two WR's run vertical routes with the boundary safety committing to the deep pass over the middle (Williams). Once again, Sammie Coates has the corner beat 1 on 1 and Marshall hangs a deep ball that Coates is able to run under for the touchdown.
  3. Game #12 Statistical Evaluation (Alabama Game) Offensive Report Card: 01) Avg 6-yards per play on 1st down: [5.64] fail 02) Convert at least 40% of 3rd downs: [47.4%] pass 03) Avg at least 4.5 yards per rush: [3.72] fail 04) Score on at least 1/3 of possessions: [61.5%] pass 05) Keep 3 and out series under 33%: [15.4%] pass 06) Average 8.0 yards per pass attempt: [10.6 yds] pass 07) Score at least 75% inside red zone: [87.5%] pass 08) TD red zone above 60%: [25.0%] fail 09) Avg at least 30-yards per possession: [45.0 yds] pass 10) 40% of offensive snaps part of scoring drives: [75.3%] pass 11) TD / Turnover ratio above 1.6: [4 TD’s / 2] pass 12) TD ratio of at least 1 every 17 snaps: [22.2] fail 13) At least 8 impact plays: [11] pass 14) At least 2 big plays: [6] pass 15) Pass rating of at least 125.0: [170.2] pass * Red Zone offense ended up being the difference in the game but 44 points and over 600-yards in offense should always result in a victory. * Nick Marshall was a baller tonight, setting a new school record in passing yardage against the No. 1 ranked team in the country. * I wish there was a way of keeping Duke Williams for his senior year. He was a warrior tonight. Score: 11 of 15 (73.3%) Pass Defensive Report Card: 01) Avg under 6-yards per play on 1st down: [11.0] fail 02) Convert below 35% of 3rd downs: [55.6%] fail 03) Avg at least 4.0 yards per rush: [6.68] fail 04) Score below 1/3 of possessions: [61.5%] fail 05) Keep 3 and out series above 33%: [23.1%] fail 06) Average below 7.5 yards per pass attempt: [11.6 yds] fail 07) Score below 75% inside red zone: [100.0%] fail 08) TD red zone below 60%: [100.0%] fail 09) Avg under 30-yards per possession: [38.5 yds] fail 10) Less than 40% of offensive snaps part of scoring drives: [77.0%] fail 11) TD / Turnover ratio below 1.6: [8 TD’s / 3 turnovers] fail 12) TD ratio of at least 1 every 30 snaps: [7.6] fail 13) Less than 8 impact plays: [14] fail 14) No more than 2 big plays allowed: [3] fail 15) Pass rating below 125.0: [197.8] fail Score: 0 of 15 (0.0%) fail * Since 1961 Auburn is 45-2 with at least 540-yards in total offense and both losses were suffered this year. Since 1961 Auburn is 134-4, when scoring 38 points during regulation. Two of those losses occurred this season. This was the first time in school history Auburn lost a game after scoring at least 40 points during regulation. Special Teams Report Card: 1) Punt Average (Above 41.3): [41.0] 0 inside 20 (fail) 2) Punt Return Defense (Below 7.8 YPR): [12.0] fail 3) Punt Return Offense (Above 9.8 YPR): [0.0] fail 4) Kick-Return Defense (Below 21.2 YPR): [15.8] pass 5) Kick-Return Offense (Above 22.3 YPR): [20.8] fail 6) PAT’s (100%): [4 of 4] pass 7) FG Pct (75% or above): [100.0%] pass Score: 3 of 7 (42.9%) fail * Keep in mind that 50% is a passing score. War Eagle!
  4. Post game Numbers & Thoughts: Prior to the 2014 Iron Bowl, Auburn had passed for a combined 446-yards during their last 4 meetings against the Tide. Nick Marshall passed for 456-yards last night. Prior to last night Alabama had allowed only 2.6 trips per game inside their red zone. Auburn had 8 trips last night but only scored 2 TD's. Alabama was No. 7 nationally in TD percentage allowed inside the RZ. Though Auburn had opportunities to score more points, their 27 points scored inside the RZ, far exceeded the 12.0 PPG Alabama had allowed inside the RZ prior to last night's game. The 630-yards gained against Alabama last night was the 4th most yards gained by an Auburn offense in conference play. It was the most ever gained against Alabama by Auburn and the most yardage gained by an Auburn offense against a team ranked No. 1. Auburn is now 32-2 since 1960, when gaining at least 500-yards against a conference opponent during regulation. Both losses came this season. Auburn has averaged 502-yards and 37 PPG in conference play during 17 games as Gus Malzahn as the head coach. Despite the record-setting offensive production, Auburn is 12-5 in those games, primarily because the defense has surrendered an average of 453-yards and 31 PPG. During the previous 17 conference games before Malzahn became head coach, Auburn averaged 287-yards and 17 PPG on offense, while the defense allowed 417-yards and 31 PPG. Cameron Artis-Payne has 1482-yards rushing on the season, fighting for every inch he could muster last night against Alabama. He finished the game with 77-yards on 25 carries. I have watched 36 Iron Bowls during my lifetime and I've never witnessed an Auburn offense attack an Alabama defense the way I saw last night. During the 7 previous Iron Bowls (2007-2013) with Nick Saban as the head coach, Auburn's offense had a combined total of 8 plays of 30-yards or more combined. The most impact plays during any of those games was 7. Last night Auburn had 11 impact plays of which 6 went for over 30-yards. During Auburn's last 6 conference games, the opponent has averaged 483-yards and 39 PPG, scoring a TD every 14 plays defended. Since 1992 Auburn is 92-2, when the offense scores on at least 42 percent of their offensive possessions. The two losses both occurred this season. Sammie Coates 206-yards in receiving was 5th best in school history and the most receiving yardage an Auburn player has ever recorded against Alabama. Since 1986 Auburn has faced 30 opponents ranked in the top-5. Nick Marshall has produced the top-4 passing performances based on efficiency-rating during those games. During the last 7 games the Auburn offense had a passing-grade 5 times, special teams 3 times and defense 1 time. With Gus Malzahn directing the Auburn offense, the Tigers have averaged 435-yards and 32 PPG during 42 conference games. The defense during that same time period has allowed 409-yards and 29 PPG. Prior to last night, the most yardage gained by an Auburn offense against a top-10 defense was 451-yards. Auburn shattered that mark with 630-yards. Auburn is now 10-3 against top-10 defenses, when gaining at least 350-yards per game since 1981 and 2 of those losses have come during the past 2 seasons. Of Duke Williams 45 receptions on the year, 37 have resulted in an Auburn first down or touchdown. Sammie Coates has 30 receptions on the year and 25 have resulted in a first down or touchdown. Alabama came into the game with the No. 5 rated defense (total-defense), allowing 283 yards per game. Auburn's 620-yards was nearly 123 percent more yardage than Alabama had allowed per game. The Crimson Tide has now dropped to No. 11 in total-defense. Prior to last night Auburn had never lost to Alabama after generating at least 350-yards in offense (10-0). Despite gaining over 600-yards, Auburn still lost by 11 points. Auburn is now 111-1 from 1951-2014, when scoring 40 points or more during regulation. I thought the entire team played with passion and desire last night. There was no indication a "team" going through the motions and no sign of quit. Some will say they saw some players quit last night but I disagree. There is a big difference between quitting and a player working through frustration. Last night I saw an offense confident in their game plan, working hard to execute it to the best of their ability. They believed in their game plan and coaches and became stronger after every successful play. I saw a defense that played hard and with passion early on but often looked lost and confused. It is difficult to play with confidence and passion, when you're lost. Speaking of a lack of confidence and being confused. During the first 30 snaps on defense, Auburn allowed 196-yards and 20 points. Had they maintained that pace for the remainder of the game, Auburn would have won. During the next 30 snaps defended, Auburn allowed 345-yards and 35 points. During the first half Auburn's defense allowed 6 impact plays for 105-yards. During the second-half, they surrendered 8 impact plays for 260-yards. It was a perfect example of a house of cards crumbling to the table, once the foundation had been breached. War Eagle!
  5. Last night was a clear example of a team that has lost its focus primarily because of how the season has played out. It is much easier to dig down deep physically and mentally, when you have major goals to play for like 2013. This isn't the case this late into the 2014 season and it shows. This is not an excuse for the poor performance last night but this clearly isn't a motivated "team". There are some players who continue to play hard but not enough to make the difference. When Gus Malzahn arrived after the 2012 season, his biggest challenge would be teaching the players how to win again. The challenge now for the coaching staff is demanding the players to play hard all the time, no matter the opponent and record. The second challenge is more difficult than the first. Speaking of players who have not mailed in their performance. Cameron Artis-Payne is a baller and brings his lunchbox to every game. He is not a thriller or speedster but he is a player you want to go to battle with. He ran hard last night just as he has against better competition. Through 11-games, his totals are the 6th best rushing performance by an Auburn player based on yards per game, yards per rush and TD ratio. He has been Auburn's most consistent offensive player this season. What has happened to Corey Grant? His first 20 carries of the season (1st 2 games) produced 14 runs of 5-yards, 7 of 10-yards or more and 3 of 15 yards or more. He was never tackled for a loss and had only 4 carries of 2-yards or less.The remainder of the season he has only 31 carries. Of those 31 attempts, 13 went for 5+, 5 for 10+ and only 2 for 15+. Of his last 31 carries, 14 have gone for 2-yards or less and 6 went for a loss. I believe this is why we have seen less of him running the football. This is also why we have seen more of Ricardo Louis and Quan Bray on the perimeter runs. During the first 9 games of the season, 46.4% of Auburn's offensive snaps resulted in at least 5-yards. During the past 2 games, it has dipped down to 41.7%. Gus Malzahn's offense is built around success on first down. The HUNH aspect doesn't come into play until the first 1st down is made during a possession. Last season through 11 games, 29% of Auburn's first down plays netted 2-yards or less. This season it is 40% through 11 games. Who are the impact players on offense this season? CAP (22), Duke Williams (19), Nick Marshall (18), Sammie Coates (10) and Quan Bray (8). Last year through 11 games it was Marshall (21), Tre Mason (14), Sammie Coates (13), Corey Grant (13) and CAP (10). Last season through 11 games the Auburn offense scored 11 touchdowns on 17 possessions (64.7%) beginning on the opponent's side of the field. This season it is only 6 from 16 possessions (37.5%). In terms of the weekly "report card " features, this is how this year's team compares to last year's through 11 games. 2014 offense (74.5%) slightly up from 73.2% in 2013. This year's defense (52.7%) slightly down from last year's 55.5%. This year's special teams (55.4%) significantly down from last year's 71.4%. In terms of recent trends, the offense has a report card percentage of 55.6% during the last 3 games. The defense is 42.2% and special teams is 50.0%. Last season the Auburn run-offense converted 86.0% of their short-yardage situations of 2-yards or less to convert. This season it is down to 78.4%. During the first 7 games of the season Auburn averaged 10.7 PPG from their opponent's turnovers, while allowing the opponent to score 4.0 PPG from Auburn's turnovers. During the last 4 games, Auburn has scored zero points from their forced turnovers, while allowing 5.2 PPG from their miscues. That is basically an 11-point swing per game. In terms of penalty yardage per game, Auburn is currently No. 114 nationally compared to No. 30 last year. Auburn has surrendered 31 first downs on penalties alone or 2.8 per game. From 2004-2013, Auburn allowed an average of 21 per season or 1.6 per game. The 2013 and 2014 offense both produced 106 impact plays through 11 games. The difference is the 2013 offense had a combined 67 turnovers and penalties, while the 2014 offense has 93, offsetting their offensive production. During the first 5 games of the season the Auburn offense went "3 & out" only 16.1% of the time, while the defense forced a "3 & out", 45.0% of the time. During the last 6 games the offense is hitting at 23.2% and the defense has fallen to 20.0%. As any football season progress teams either improve or regress. Last season's team progressed as the season moved forward and this year's team has retreated. There are many valid reasons for the lack of production. Talent, depth, coaching, preparation, strength of schedule and senior leadership. After the Iron Bowl and headed into bowl preparation, the coaching staff needs to seriously look at themselves as well as the players coming back next season. It will be interesting to see just how much fight this team has left for the Iron Bowl and how the coaching staff schemes to give their players the best opportunity to compete. War Eagle!
  6. D'haquille Williams has been a key component of the Auburn pass-offense this season. Of his 37 receptions this season, 29 have resulted in a first down or touchdown for the Auburn offense. This also includes 18 impact plays. Of his 15 receptions on third-down, 13 have resulted in a first down or touchdown. Against Ole Miss Nick Marshall made 4 critical completions on third-down, totaling 107-yards of offense. Marshall prior to the last bye-week was completing only 51% of his third-down passes. Since the bye-week, Marshall has completed 64% of his third down passes the last two games. The play... The Auburn offense faces a 3rd down and 5 from the Rebel 20-yard line. The Auburn offense comes out in a 2-WR set with Duke Williams lined up on the wide-side of the field. Just before the snap Ricardo Louis motions into the backfield on the speed-sweep look. Nick Marshall will play-action with Louis after the snap to freeze the LB's. As Marshall drops to pass, he will look off his intended target (Williams), focusing on the TE coming off the line. Duke Williams will fake the post-route and cut back outside on the deep out-route. Because Williams makes a hard cut inside to sell the post-route the CB and safety both bite on the initial move inside. Once Williams breaks back outside, the CB is completely turned around and out of position. Nick Marshall floats his pass to the sideline, where Williams makes the reception. He initially juggled the reception but regained control before going out of bounds. Needing only 1 foot in bounds, Williams manages to get both feet down, which would have made it a reception at the next level.
  7. Auburn's 508-yards in total offense was the most yardage gained by an Auburn offense against a top-10 defense from 1981-2014. Despite a turnover, dropped TD pass and 13 penalties, Auburn was able to overcome adversity, to record a 35-31 victory over the 4th ranked Ole Miss Rebels. One of the keys to success on offense were the numerous plays Auburn called, which were secondary-options from previously called plays against South Carolina. Gus Malzahn counted on the Rebel defense to be familiar with the offensive game plan Auburn executed against the Gamecocks. Auburn showed similar formations and personnel groupings but elected to go with a different play to catch the Rebels off guard. The following play is one of those plays Auburn changed up the actual delivery. The play... On this play the Auburn offense faces a 2nd & 8 from their own 43-yard line. Auburn comes out in a 3-WR set with the H-Back in the backfield with Cameron Artis-Payne. Before the snap Ricardo Louis motions into the backfield on a speed-sweep look from right to left. Last week against the Gamecocks, Auburn executed the actual speed-sweep with Ricardo Louis. The play was successful as Louis recorded 102-yards rushing on 3 rush attempts. The play is designed to utilize Cameron Artis-Payne as a lead blocker for Louis. At the snap Nick Marshall play-actions with Ricardo Louis and rolls to his right. CAP slides out of the backfield to sell the speed-sweep look. As Marshall rolls to his right, Duke Williams runs a shallow crossing-route from his slot-WR position. Marshall looks off his intended target (Duke Williams), which pulls the defenders over top towards the WR running a route closer to the sideline. When the defenders over top clear the middle, Nick Marshall delivers his pass to Duke Williams, who hauls in the pass for a 12-yard gain and an Auburn first down. Auburn scored a touchdown, five players later, giving the Tigers a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter. The majority of plays Malzahn designs possesses a secondary option to be run at a later time. This allows Auburn to exploit opposing defenses from selling out to defend a previous play from the same formation.
  8. One of the first things taught to young football players is never give up on the play. Not the kind of effort that allows you to stomp on an opposing player down the field but the kind of effort that allows you to make a fumble (Kris Frost) and the recovery (Cassanova McKinzy). Twenty-two games into the Gus Malzahn era, we have seen a team that never stops fighting, which is reflection of the coaching staff. There were plenty of mistakes made by the Auburn players but their effort kept them in the game and allowed them to come out victorious at the final whistle. It is this kind of effort that keeps the Tigers in the championship race, which will be needed with 2 major road games remaining. Nick Marshall's best attribute as a player resurfaced once again as he is never too high or too low, when it comes to his composure on the field. After throwing a horrible pick, Marshall was 11 of 16 for 199-yards and 2 TD passes. Of Auburn's 9 impact plays, Nick Marshall was directly involved in 7 as he continues to be the heart of the offense and why the coaching staff believes he is the best option. Cameron Artis-Payne registered another great game and is 26-yards away from rushing for 1000-yards, which he should easily accomplish in game #9 against the Aggies. The defense was actually in position to make plays but failed to do so with poor tackling and poor pursuit angles. The defensive line clearly played much better this week, when it came to rushing the passer. Texas A&M struggled against Louisiana-Monroe and their starting quarterback is suspended for this Saturday's game. Though the Aggie defense is not playing well, it will be vital for the coaching staff to keep the players focused this week. The Ole Miss win was a terrific road victory but Auburn can not afford to overlook the Aggies, who will likely be a major underdog against the Tigers. The defense has struggled for three consecutive games and tackling must be cleaned up or witness the opponent look better than they should. Inside the Numbers... Ole Miss became the 126th time Auburn has faced a top-10 opponent since 1961. Nick Marshall's quarterback rating of 186.1 was the 3rd best performance during that time span. Auburn extended their 200-yard rushing games streak against SEC teams to 13, a school record. Gus Malzahn is now 14-0 as a head coach, when his team scores first at Auburn. Auburn finished the game with a 200-yard passer, 100-yard rusher (RB) and a 100-yard receiver against the Rebels. It is the 6th time Auburn has accomplished this feat in their last 19 games. Prior to the last 19 games, Auburn did it 6 times in a span of 122 games. Kris Frost had another solid game, recording 9 tackles, 1 forced-fumble and was involved in a sack. Cameron Artis-Payne has totaled 974-yards through 8 games, compared to Tre Mason's 753-yards through 8 games into 2013. CAP is currently averaging 5.5 yards per rush to Mason's 5.8. After going 1 of 6 on third-downs during the first-half, Auburn was 5 of 7 during the second-half. The 4th quarter continues to be the Auburn's best quarter on defense. Opponents continue to struggle converting third-downs during the final quarter, converting 25.8 percent on the season. Last week against the Gamecocks, the Auburn defense allowed 3 of 6 third-down conversions with at least 10-yards needed to convert. The Rebels were 0 for 4. With 631-yards rushing, Nick Marshall is still on pace for a 1000-yard season in 13 games. Last season through 8 games, Nick Marshall had completed 59% of his passes for 7 TD's and 4 interceptions. This season he has completed 60% of his passes for 13 TD's and 4 interceptions. He also has nearly 100 more rushing yards than last season. In 13 games against FBS opponents with a winning record, Nick Marshall has averaged 284.3 yards per game, scoring a combined 34 touchdowns. The Auburn offense has generated 20 plays of 30-yards or more down from the 29 recorded during the first 8 games of the 2013 season. In terms of consistency, 48.5% of Auburn's offensive snaps netted at least 5-yards and Ole Miss hit at 47.2%. Ole Miss averaged 6.06 yards per play during the first-half and 7.49 yards during the second-half. Take away both team's impact plays on offense and Auburn averaged 4.37 yards on 59 snaps and Ole Miss averaged 2.34 yards per play on 59 snaps. During the first 5 games of the season, 48.5% of Auburn's first-down plays netted 3-yards or less and 44.2% went for at least 5-yards. During the last 3 games, 45.5% have gone for 3-yards or less, while 48.5% has gone for 5-yards or more. 43.1% of the Rebels offensive snaps went for 2-yards or less. This was a season low for the Auburn defense. The previous low was 46.8% against Mississippi State. Last season Nick Marshall was directly involved in 48.5% of Auburn's impact plays (15+). This season it has increased to 60.7%. Auburn has totaled 36 run plays of 15-yards or more and 48 through the air. Last season through 8 games, the Auburn offense scored on 38.5% of their possessions starting on their side of the field. This season it is up to 42.4%. Coming into the game Auburn had forced 17 fumbles but recovered only 3. Against the Rebels, Auburn was 2 of 2 and they were critical. Auburn's average penalty distance this season is 10.3 yards, while the opponent is 7.8 yards. Final Word: With 2/3 of the regular season in the books, it appears the offense will have to carry the defense for the second consecutive season. Much like last season, the defense has risen in critical moments of the game but the big plays allowed remains a concern. Run-defense and interceptions have improved this season but Auburn continues to give up too many yards and points. Fortunately for the Tigers, the offense is playing well enough to win a championship but the odds are slim with special teams not carrying their weight. Punt-return offense has improved this season but punting and kick-return offense has taken a step backwards. Auburn will likely be favored in 3 of their 4 remaining games and a 4-0 regular season finish will certainly lock the Tigers into the first 4-team playoffs. It appears the offense has made a similar improvement as the 2013 offense did, during their final bye-week. Since the bye-week the Auburn offense has averaged 529-yards and 39 PPG but the defense has surrendered an average of 513-yards and 33 PPG. Ellis Johnson will likely address some breakdowns in coverage as well as poor tackling and pursuit angles against the Rebels. During the Gus Malzahn era (22 games), Auburn is 19-3 despite facing 11 ranked opponents. His offense has averaged 500-yards and 39 PPG but the defense has allowed 405-yards and 24 PPG. The Auburn run-offense has averaged 310-yards per game, the driving force of the most prolific era of offensive football at Auburn. Just how dominating would Auburn appear with a consistent defense during the past 22 games? The defense has improved in many areas this season but the big plays and first-down defense continues to be an issue. Hopefully the defense will continue to improve to increase Auburn's chances of making it to the final-4. War Eagle!
  9. Ricardo Louis has recently struggled at times in the passing game but his speed is something Gus Malzahn wants to utilize. He only caught 1 pass against the Gamecocks for 7-yards but the Tigers utilized him in the running game and he gained 102-yards on just 3 carries. Two of his 3 runs resulted in impact plays as he was 1 of 9 different players involved in an impact play against South Carolina. The Play... On this play Auburn has a 1st & 10 from their own 25-yard line. Auburn will run their speed-sweep with Ricardo Louis. During the past few games, Corey Grant has been taken away on the perimeter. This was due to failing to set the edge and the tendency for Corey Grant to be utilized in this manner. Just before the snap, Louis comes in motion into the backfield. Because Nick Marshall has already rushed for 68-yards on 8 carries for 2 TD's at this point, the Gamecock defense must respect the possible inside run by Marshall. The brief hesitation by the defense is long enough for Louis to take the inside hand off, moving quickly towards the edge. Brandon Fulse and Sammie Coates set the edge by taking out the OLB and boundary safety. Cameron Artis-Payne now becomes the lead blocker on the play and will take out the CB. Louis turns the corner and sprints down field for a 75-yard touchdown. Auburn has 9 different players that have registered at least 3 impact plays through 7 games. Last year at this time Auburn only had 6 such players. The top-3 play-makers through 3 games: Duke Williams ................... 17 Cameron Artis-Payne ........ 16 Nick Marshall ..................... 15 Last season through 7 games: Nick Marshall ........................ 12 Tre Mason ............................. 9 Sammie Coates ...................... 8 Corey Grant ........................... 8
  10. Looking at 15 primary statistical categories, here is how Auburn currently ranks in 2014 compared to 2013. Because the statistical rankings (national) are from the completed 2013 season and one-half of the 2014 season, the comparison is skewed. However it does provide some insight to where Auburn stands through 6 games and the direction they need to go moving forward. I think most fans will agree the offense has played well for the most part but there is a feeling of a lack of consistency. Regardless of what the numbers might show, the coaches have recently admitted there are certain aspects of execution the Tigers need to improve upon. These were issues addressed during the recent bye-week. Here are of the offensive national rankings. The categories are sorted from the most improved from 2013 to 2014 to the least. The first item that immediately stands out is the lack of production on first-down. Three of the four lowest national rankings this season is relative to first down production. Coach Rhett Lashlee recently commented on this particular area. Overall Auburn is 52nd in yards per play on first down, which is a 41 point drop from last season's No. 11 ranking. Broken down, the run-offense on first-down is No. 34 this season compared to No. 3 in 2013. Pass-efficiency on first-down has suffered the worst, currently ranked at No. 89 nationally, a drop of 60 points from last season's No. 29 ranking. Thus far Auburn has an overall national ranking of No. 26, which is very good. This includes a top-20 ranking in 7 of the 15 categories and 10 in the nation's top-25. Logic would dictate that improved production on first-down, would likely improve Auburn's national rankings in the majority of the above categories. The good news is that Auburn has actually improved on third-down offense, despite the drop in production on first-down. They are also productive in generating first downs and impact plays. There is a drop in big play production, which will be something to watch for moving forward. The next concern is the turnover ranking of No. 52, which is based on the average number of turnovers given up per game. This was one of the primary reasons why Auburn is no longer undefeated. The next area of concern is the No. 27 ranking in TD percentage within the red zone. The ranking itself is far from being horrible but a notable drop from last year's No. 13 ranking. Once again, this is an area related to first-down production, primarily the run-offense on first-down. Had Auburn taken care of the football and was more productive inside the RZ against MSU, they would have likely left Starville with a victory. Next up.... Defensive breakdown
  11. The name of the game in pass-offense is placing the defense in situations, which result in mismatches on the field. One of the reasons why Duke Williams has been so successful this season is the ability of Auburn to set him up for success. Though the running game is not playing at the level of last season (very few have), it still remains the primary component opposing teams must control to have defensive success against the Tigers. By lining Williams up in the slot, it is an almost given he will be covered by a LB or safety, especially on first-down. In obvious passing situations, opposing teams can bring an extra CB on the field but on first-down, opposing teams must respect the threat of the run within their base defense. The play... On this play Auburn is 1st & 10 from the MSU 36-yard line. Auburn comes out in a 4-WR set with trips to the wide-side of the field. Before the snap, Nick Marshall can see the safeties will be locked onto the boundary WR and the inside slot-receiver (Marcus Davis). This will leave Duke Williams 1 on 1 with the OLB, the match up favoring the Tigers. At the snap Nick Marshall play-actions with CAP. As Marshall drops his initial read on the safeties is correct and he knows he will have Williams 1 on 1 with the OLB. When Williams comes off the line, he will cut inside the OLB, running a seam route down the middle of the field. Marshall delivers his pass to the inside shoulder of Williams, away from the OLB. Duke Williams leaps to haul in the pass at the highest point, away from the defender. The play nets 29-yards and a first down for the Tigers inside the MSU 8-yard line. Through 6 games Duke Williams has recorded 17 impact plays in the passing game. WR Impact-plays of note: 1993: Frank Sanders (21) 1994: Frank Sanders (23) 1996: Tyrone Goodson (22) 1997: Tyrone Goodson (29) 1999: Ronney Daniels (21) 2004: Courtney Taylor (26) 2006: Courtney Taylor (21) 2009: Darvin Adams (29) 2010: Darvin Adams (23) 2012: Emory Blake (27)
  12. With Duke Williams being the primary target 30.5% of the time in the passing game, opposing defenses are now shifting and adjusting their coverages to match up with Williams. This should create opportunities for the other Auburn receivers in the pass-offense. Because Sammie Coates has been slowed by an early-season knee injury, Auburn's coaches have been pushing for other players to step up. One of those options has been Quan Bray. During the last couple of games, Quan Bray has been more involved in the offense and he is currently on pace to have his best season as an Auburn wide-receiver. The play... During this play Auburn has a 1st & 10 from their own 20-yard line. The Tigers are set to run a play-action pass from a 4-WR set. Before the snap Nick Marshall knows the safeties are in a cover-2 with Duke Williams in the slot. At the snap Marshall play-actions with Cameron Artis-Payne. As Marshall drops to pass he see's the LB dropping short to cover Williams underneath and the safety over top. This leaves Quan Bray 1 on 1 with the field corner, playing 7-yards off the line. Quan Bray will run a down & out pattern as Nick Marshall looks off his intended target. After looking Bray off, Marshall will quickly reset his feet and hips, firing a bullet out to Bray. The pass is thrown just as Bray is coming out of his break, allowing the senior wide-out to haul in the pass without the defender right on top of him. The play results in a 12-yard gain and another Auburn first-down. It should be noted that Williams ran a short dig route underneath the OLB and he was also open on a shorter route than Bray. These are the types of passes Auburn needs to run more of on 1st down, which would help bring up Marshall's 62% completion rate on 1st down.
  13. One of the reasons for Nick Marshall's drop in completion percentage this season is the lack of short to intermediate pass attempts through 6 games. Last season through Marshall's first 6 games, he attempted 17.4% of his passes beyond 20-yards of the line of scrimmage. This season it is 22.3%. Last season through his first 6 games, 35.7% of his pass attempts were beyond 10-yards of the line of scrimmage. This season it is 43.1%. Though his ratio of impact pass-plays has improved from last season, Auburn has missed out on opportunities to extend drives by attempting deep passes on third-down rather than targeting areas closer to the sticks. Hopefully this is something Auburn's coaches will research and address during the bye-week. The play... On this play Auburn has the ball at their own 41-yard line with a 1st & 10. The Tigers come out in a 4-WR with the intent of running a play-action pass, with Nick Marshall on a half-roll from the pocket. Duke Williams is lined up in the slot on the wide-side of the field with the safety play 11-yards off the line of scrimmage. At the snap Nick Marshall will play-action with Cameron Artis-Payne, making a slight roll to his right. With the safety playing so far off Williams, Duke Williams will run a short button-hook to the 44-yard line. Nick Marshall delivers his pass over an oncoming pass-rusher to Williams, who spins up field. The safety attempts to recover the distance to make a play on Williams but Williams cuts inside of the safety to continue up field. Williams races down field for a 32-yard gain and an Auburn first down. The short route takes advantage of the loose coverage and the roll-out by Marshall gives him a clear line of sight to his target. Last season through his first 6 games, Marshall completed 67.1% of his passes on first-down. This season it has dropped to 62.5%, primarily because of the increase in vertical passes. Last season Marshall closed out the last 6 games, completing 80.8% of his passes on first-down. Nick Marshall will need to make this kind of improvement to close out the second-half of the season if Auburn is to make another serious run for another championship.
  14. With half the regular season in the books, Auburn is currently No. 15 in rushing and No. 4 in the conference. Hoping to add some additional spark to the offense and Auburn's 262-yards rushing per game, Gus Malzahn gave Roc Thomas his first meaningful snaps of the season against Mississippi State. Auburn suffered their first loss of the season but Thomas had 42-yards on 6 carries during his limited role in the Auburn game plan for the Bulldogs. The true freshman currently has 19 carries on the season, averaging 5.68 yards per rush. Despite his limited action, he has converted this 19 carries into 7 first downs and 5 runs of 10-yards or more. The play... During this play Auburn faces a 2nd & 3 from the MSU 29-yard line. Auburn will run their counter play and the key to the play will be how the MLB tracks the Auburn backfield and the block by Duke Williams on the edge. At the snap Nick Marshall will make the inside give to Roc Thomas. The MLB freezes to make sure Marshall doesn't keep and to make sure it is not an inside run by the RB. Roc Thomas initially sells the inside run before bouncing the play outside. Duke Williams makes a crackback block on the OLB, sealing him inside of Thomas, running to the edge. Thomas sprints into the secondary, where he fakes going inside the secondary, before spinning outside towards the sideline. The play nets 18-yards and an Auburn first down. At 5-10, 193 pounds, Thomas might not be physically ready for a full workload as the primary rusher but he can provide Auburn with a compliment to Cameron Artis-Payne. Malzahn is hoping that Thomas can provide the extra burst to give Auburn a home-run threat at the primary RB position. The bye-week will give Thomas and the Auburn coaches time to prep Thomas for extended play against South Carolina.
  15. Coming into the Mississippi State game, Auburn was 3-18 since 1981, when trailing by 14 or more points after the 1st quarter and 6-29-1, when trailing by at least 10. This made the 21-0 deficit after the 1st quarter almost impossible to recover. Gus Malzahn stressed the importance of starting off the game productively, which Auburn failed to do. After the first 4 possessions, Auburn had 85-yards of total offense and zero points. MSU had 142-yards and 21 points. For the remainder of the game Auburn gained 356-yards and 23 points to MSU's 327-yards and 17 points. Because of the two early turnovers, Auburn trailed on the scoreboard, 14-0 after only 2 offensive snaps. Once again it was a hole that was virtually impossible to overcome, especially against a very good team like Mississippi State. One of the key stats I mentioned during the MSU preview was the number of snaps both teams had taken, trailing on the scoreboard. Auburn had taken only 9 during their first 5 combined games and MSU had taken a total of 25 during their first 5 games. I thought the team that could handle diversity the best would win. Auburn simply dug themselves an early hole just as they did against LSU in 2013. The final score and the poor start gave the impression Auburn was dominated during the game. The actual numbers state otherwise. There was certainly early domination during the first period on the part of MSU but the final three periods was slightly in favor of the visiting Tigers. Of course that is why coaches stress playing a 4-quarter game and you are what you make of the game. Had Mississippi State self-destructed in the same fashion Auburn did during the first quarter, it was unlikely they could have overcame the same deficit. To their credit, they built a 21-0 lead and did what they had to do to secure the victory. Inside the Numbers: MSU was 7 of 9 on third-downs during the first-half and 1 of 8 during the second-half. 46.2% of Auburn's offensive snaps netted 5-yards or better and Mississippi State hit at 43.0%. After gaining 316-yards on 44 plays during the first-half (7.18 YPP), MSU was held to 153-yards on 35 snaps during the second-half (4.37 YPP). For the season Auburn allows 5.6 yards per play during the first-half and only 3.9 yards during the second-half. 43.6% of Auburn's snaps held to 2-yards or less and 46.8% of MSU's snaps held to 2-yards or less. Nick Marshall entered the MSU game with only 23 pass attempts on first-down through 4.5 games. He had 17 against MSU. MSU averaged 6.1 yards per rush during the first-half and 4.1 yards during the second-half. For the second game in a row, Auburn's front-7 accounted for more than 60% of the team's tackles. During the previous 4 games, it was no higher than 58%. Mississippi State recorded 3 sacks on Nick Marshall, equaling the total number of sacks Auburn had allowed in their previous 5 games. For the 4th time this season, Auburn was held to less than 6-yards per play on first-down. That equals the total number of times it happened to the Auburn offense during the entire 2013 season. Nick Marshall was only 10 of 17 throwing the football on first-down against the Bulldogs after completing 100% during his previous 2 games. Since 1961 Auburn's average pass-rating against a top-5 ranked opponent is 101.5. Auburn had a rating of 106.2 against No. 3 MSU. This was the 25th best passing performance from the 59 previous games against top-5 teams. Take away the hideous PI call on Sammie Coates and Auburn's rating was 121.9. Under Gus Malzahn the average pass-rating at Auburn vs. top-5 teams is 120.2. The two key factors in the outcome of the game was the scoring off turnovers and red zone production. MSU scored 21 points off of Auburn's turnovers and scored 31 points inside the Auburn red zone. Auburn scored 13 points off of turnovers and only 20 points inside the red zone. Prior to the Mississippi State game, Auburn had compiled a record of 72-7-1 since 1961, when they had over 200 rushing and 200-yards passing in the same game. The average score in the previous 80 games was 42-17. Auburn is now 9-18-0 (.333) since 1992 with 4 or more turnovers during a game. Another key to this game I previously outlined during the MSU preview was first-down production. The team that was more productive in the last 22 meetings, went 19-3. Saturday's game now makes it 20-3 in the last 23 meetings. Coming into the MSU game Auburn's average distance required to convert a 3rd-down was 6.2 yards. It was 8.0 against the Bulldogs. MSU on the other hand, faced an average distance of 5.4 yards against Auburn. Through 6 games into the 2013 season, Auburn's offense generated 54 impact plays. This season the offense has totaled 64 through 6 games. It was 55.6% run last season through 6 games and 59.4% pass this season. Auburn's top-3 play-makers through the mid-season mark are Duke Williams (17), Cameron Artis-Payne (13) and Nick Marshall (12) based on plays of 15-yards or more. Corey Grant, Melvin Ray and Sammie Coates are tied for 4th with four each. Nick Marshall has been directly involved in 38 of Auburn's 64 impact plays. Through 6 games into 2013, Tre Mason averaged 5.59 yards per rush and CAP is at 5.27 yards. CAP had a higher pct of impact runs with 7.1% to Mason's 5.4%. Mason had a higher pct of 5-yd runs at 42.4% to CAP's 38.9%. Mason had a higher pct of 10-yard runs at 15.2% to CAP's 13.5%. Racean Thomas had his first meaningful snaps this season with 42-yards on 6 carries. He also recorded his first impact-play with an 18-yard run. It appears Gus might be ready to give the true-freshman more a role in the offense. Final Thoughts... The loss to Mississippi State is disappointing but not devastating in terms of Auburn’s future. Last year after a similar loss to LSU on the road, the team bounced back after a bye-week and everything fell into place to have an extremely rewarding season. Though MSU clearly has an easier path to maintain their momentum, there are 2 teams remaining on their schedule that could derail their season late. They will likely be favored in every game but one but crazier things have happened in this wonderful game. As disappointing as the beginning of the game was, I was pleased to see the team never stopped battling. They overcame a 21-0 deficit to close the game to 28-20 and were in position to make it a one-score game again until they threw their final pick inside the MSU red zone. There are some issues about this team that need to be addressed but adjustments and changes won’t mean anything if you have don’t have perseverance. Auburn has a much-needed bye-week to clear their heads to focus on the second-half of the regular season. If they don’t improve, they could likely drop 1-2 more games. If they do improve, they can defeat everyone remaining on their schedule. I said before this season started, this could be a better overall team than the 2013 version but their schedule might be their primary downfall. Despite the 15-point loss to Mississippi State, Auburn still remains as one of the better teams in the country. I have not seen anyone playing better overall football than the teams I’ve observed within the Southeastern Conference. I told Mark Murphy before the LSU game, I was more concerned about Mississippi State than LSU. Now I have no doubt just how good this Mississippi State can be. The Bulldogs were the better team on Saturday but I reserve the right to not say they are the better team until all the games have been played. LSU was the better team the night they took Auburn by 14-points last season but that clearly was not the case by the end of the season. I do believe they have a good chance of going 12-0 with only Ole Miss in position to take them down. Though I believe they are a better team than Alabama, all it takes is one bad quarter to give Alabama a shot at the upset. With all that being said, I do believe the Bulldogs should be the No. 1 ranked team for now. I do have faith in the Auburn coaches and players to bounce back from this loss. Except for the first quarter, I thought Auburn played better on the road against Mississippi State than Kansas State. This is based on MSU being a much better overall team than Kansas State and the fact Auburn had to overcome such a major deficit. The bye-week gives us fans a week to gripe and moan about what needs to be fixed and then it is game-week for South Carolina. We as fans have the right to be upset, angry and disappointed, simply because we are all entitled to our opinions. We have one week to get it out of our system folks and prepare to support our team as they begin the second-half of the regular season. The remaining schedule indicates a bumpy road but this team has far more positives than negatives to navigate through it. War Eagle!
  16. If Auburn is to leave Starkville, Mississippi with a victory this Saturday, Sammie Coates will likely play a major role on offense. Off to a slow start this season, Coates had not made his presence known on the field until the LSU game, when he made 4 impact plays during a 41-7 Auburn victory. Hopefully as his knee becomes 100%, he will continue to make big plays in the Auburn pass-offense. Last season the Auburn pass-offense generating 54 impact plays (15+ yards). This season they are on pace for 87 in the same number of games. Play #1... On this play Auburn faces a 2nd & 19 from their own 44-yard line. Auburn comes out in a 4-WR set with "trips" to the wide side of the field. Sammie Coates is singled on the boundary side. At the snap Coates must work through press-coverage by the CB. He stiff-arms the CB coming off the line and works to the CB's inside shoulder as he runs a fly-route. Nick Marshall has a great pocket to work within, allowing him to wait on Coates to get down field. Marshall has time to step into his deep throw as he launches a deep ball to Coates. Sammie Coates is able to haul in the deep ball between two defenders, powering his way into the LSU end zone for the score. This play was very similar to the two deep passes Coates caught against LSU, during Auburn's 35-21 loss to the Bengal-Tigers. Play #2... Through the first 3 games Sammie Coates had failed to register a single play of 15-yards or more. Against LSU, he came up with 4. During this play Auburn faces a 3rd & 6 from midfield, coming out in another 4-WR set. The Tigers have 2 double-stacks at WR before the snap. Sammie Coates and Marcus Davis are stacked at the bottom of the formation, with Quan Bray and Duke Williams stacked at the top. At the snap Sammie Coates runs a square-in route as Marcus Davis runs a short stop and out underneath. Cameron Artis-Payne releases out of the backfield, which pulls the 2 LB's underneath Coate's square-in over the middle. Nick Marshall zips his pass over the LB's and underneath the safety covering Coates. Sammie Coates hauls in the pass and picks up 21-yards on the play for an Auburn first down. Nick Marshall had his best passing performance of the 2014 season and Sammie Coates played a major role in Marshall's success. Though Auburn hasn't been able to run the football at the record-breaking pace of last season, this year's offense could become more explosive and balanced with this kind of performance in the passing game.
  17. It is always good to see a senior step up during the season, especially when it is a player who is not a frequent starter. Quan Bray stepped up during Auburn's Homecoming game against La. Tech, accounting for 3 touchdowns during the game. Bray's performance was a catalyst to breaking open what was a close game. Through the first 3 games Auburn's receiving corps has not played to their full potential as a group, so it was great to see Quan Bray making explosive plays on a day they were much needed. The Play... On this play Auburn faces a 3rd & 10 from inside the Bulldog 38-yard line. Auburn comes out in a 4-WR set but only 3 of the 4 are eligible for a pass. Quan Bray and Ricardo Louis are lined up two-yards off the line, so they are considered to be in the backfield, thus eligible for a pass. D'haquille Williams is on the line and the last player on the end, so he too is eligible. Sammie Coates is the only player not eligible because of the alignment. At the snap Sammie Coates will fake the screen-look but the La. Tech defense did not bite. In image #1, you can see the Bulldog safety pointing out that Coates is not an eligible receiver (good recognition on his part). Nick Marshall carries out his pump-fake to Coates before resetting his feet and throwing to Quan Bray on a go-route. Though La. Tech did not fall for the "Coates" fake, the safety over top does commit to Duke Williams running a post-pattern. This leaves Quan Bray 1 on 1 with the corner. Bray works his way to the inside shoulder of the corner, giving him additional space to position for the eventual pass. Nick Marshall delivers a perfect pass, hitting Bray in stride. Bray does a great job of positioning his body to shield the corner away from incoming pass. Bray hauls in the pass for an Auburn touchdown. Pass-protection was stellar on the play, allowing Marshall to go through his fake and to reset his feet for the deep pass to Bray. * Auburn was 6 of 10 passing on third-down for 132-yards and 3 TD's
  18. You know there are high expectations when your team wins by 28, yet there are numerous concerns moving forward. Four games into the season and Auburn is 4-0 on the season but that was expected to be the case before the 2014 season began. Auburn now moves into the heart of their schedule and we are about to see what this team is truly made of beginning this upcoming Saturday as the Tigers play host to visiting LSU. The defense is playing well but there are question marks concerning the offense and the kicking-game. Coach Dameyune Craig was hoping for some of the Auburn receivers to step up other than Duke Williams and Sammie Coates before the season began, so it was a pleasant surprise to see senior Quan Bray make a statement against Louisiana Tech. He basically turned in a game-changing performance in what was a close ball game until he began to make his impact felt. His performance is what you wish seniors to deliver and he delivered in a big way. He recorded 3 touchdowns on the day and all three were needed to generate the separation Auburn needed to put away the Bulldogs. Except for the injuries and a couple of big plays, the defense delivered another solid performance. Auburn continued to be sturdy on run-defense and came up with a couple of big turnovers. These are trends this season Auburn must continue to navigate through their upcoming beast of a schedule. The offense continued to sputter in the running game but at least came up with several big-plays, something they could not deliver against Kansas State. Gus Malzahn is still searching for Auburn to be more physical at the point of attack, which will be desperately needed in the next games. Inside the Numbers... After beginning the season with a 100% conversion rate on third-downs during the first quarter of the first two games, Auburn has now gone 0 for 7 during the last two games during the first quarter. This slow start offense must be addressed. During the last 2 games, Cameron-Artis Payne and Corey Grant have rushed for an average of 3.77 yards per rush on 58 combined attempts. After giving up only 2 plays of 30-yards or more during the first 3 games, Auburn's defense surrendered 3 against La. Tech. Prior to Saturday's game against La. Tech, Quan Bray had 1 career offensive play of 30-yards or more (Miss State 2013). He recorded 2 such plays on offense against Louisiana Tech. In terms of consistency, here is the percentage of offensive plays of at least 5-yards through 4 games. 50.0% against Arkansas, 52.1% against San Jose State, 31.6% against Kansas State and 51.4% against La. Tech. Last season through 4 games, Auburn's offense gained at least 5-yards on 45.0% of their offensive snaps, while allowing the opponent to gain at least 5-yards on 44.0% of their snaps. This season the Auburn offense is hitting at 46.0% and the defense is at 37.1%. Louisiana Tech is the first team to gain more yards per play during the second-half than the first-half against the 2014 Auburn defense. For the season, Auburn has allowed 5.2 yards per play during the first-half and 3.8 yards per play during the second-half. Through 4 games, 52.4% of the snaps defended by the Auburn defense has been held to 2-yards or less. Last year through 4 games, it was 46.0%. Auburn currently gains at least 5-yards on first-down, 46.9% of the time. Last season through 4 games it was 45.6%. The 2013 offense closed out the last 10 games, gaining at least 5-yards on first-down, 53.7% of the time. Auburn has 16 impact run-plays and 22 impact-pass plays through 4 games. Last season it was 13 run-lays and 17 pass-plays through the first 4 games of the season. Nick Marshall has converted 48.2 percent on third-down, throwing the football this season. Last year through 4 games it was 34.5 percent. Last season through 4 games the Auburn offense began an offensive possession on the opponent's side of the field, 5.7% of the time. This season it is up to 18.4%, which will be a major factor for success if this continues. Auburn has scored 40% of the time beginning a possession on their side of the field and 89% on the opponent's side of the field. Last season the Auburn defense finished the season ranked No. 62 in pass-efficiency defense. This season they are currently No. 24 nationally. Nick Marshall is currently 11 of 32 (34.4%) throwing beyond 10-yards of the line of scrimmage. Jeremy Johnson is 9 of 12 (75.0%). 43.0% of Cameron Artis-Payne's carries have netted at least 5-yards and 12.8% have gone for at least 10-yards. Tre Mason through 4 games hit 5-yards 46.2% of the time and 10-yards or more 13.8% of the time. Auburn run-defense has allowed 3.16 yards per rush during the first-half and 1.95 yards during the second-half. Of Auburn's 24 scoring drives this season, 20 of them have involved at least 1 impact play during the possession. This season facing 2-yards or less to convert, Auburn's offense is 19 of 23 running he football (82.6%). Last season through 4 games it was 20 of 26 (76.9%) and 82.9% for the entire season. 62.2% of Auburn's offensive snaps have been part of a scoring drive. Only 26.2% of the opponent's snaps have been part of a scoring drive. Last season through 4 games it was 49.5% on offense and 33.1% on defense. Moving forward... Plenty of concern by Auburn fans about the offense and some of it is clearly valid. It all starts up front with the offensive line as well as perimeter blocking. Production on first down has slightly declined this season, which is the origin of the subsequent offensive woes. Last season Auburn averaged 6.7 yards per play, running the ball on first down. This season it is 5.6 yards, which is still respectable but not as dominating as 2013. The primary concern in my opinion is the lack of production during the first quarter of the last 2 games. A slow start to Gus Malzahn's offense is rarely a good sign and something the Tigers must address with LSU coming to town this Saturday. The good news is that the defense is playing well enough to keep Auburn in every game. It's no longer that feeling of having to score at least 30 points every game to have an opportunity to win. Ellis Johnson's defensive unit has made major strides this season and are obviously way ahead of the 2013 version during the first 4 games of the season. Tackling is much better and the Tigers are forcing more turnovers. Run-defense has been solid but they still lack a consistent pass-rush without blitzing. With that being said, the improvement on the defensive side of the football makes up for the inconsistency on the offensive side. Overall, Auburn is still a very dangerous team, capable of beating anyone on their current schedule. As fans we would be more excited about the prospects of the remainder of the season if the offense was hitting on all cylinders. Regardless of the sputtering moments on offense the past two weeks, there is still valid reasons to be excited about the unit's potential. There is still plenty of talent in a system designed to generate explosive plays. Only time will tell if this team can live up to its potential but I expect plenty of excitement as we witness the growth of the 2014 Auburn Tigers. Is this a team of championship quality? I still believe so but the schedule will severely test this Auburn team more so than the 2013 squad. Keep the faith and watch our young men compete to be the best in the conference once again. War Eagle!
  19. Perhaps the most important element of the offense Auburn coaches wanted to improve upon was their vertical passing game. As explosive as the offense was during 2013, there were too many missed opportunities in the vertical passing game. This was the focus of the game plan against San Jose State, attempting to challenge the opposing secondary down field. Though Auburn secured a comfortable 59-13 victory over the Spartans, Auburn struggled throwing the football down field. Because opposing defenses will be so focused on defending the Auburn running game, there will be ample moments to exploit the opposition with the passing game. The play... On this play Auburn faces a 2nd & 13 from their own 30-yard line. Auburn comes out in a run look with both TE's in the backfield. San Jose State is in a Cover-1, with one safety covering the entire back end of the field. Before the snap, the CB covering D'haquille Williams is playing nearly 10-yards off the line. At the snap, Nick Marshall will look off to the boundary side as Duke Williams breaks into his route. D'haquille Williams initially pulls the CB inside on what appears to be a post route but makes a double move to run a deep out towards the sideline. The CB becomes twisted around with no safety help over the top. Nick Marshall resets his feet and shoulders and delivers a soft arching pass towards Williams. The pass allows Williams time to run under the ball for an easy completion. The pass-play picks up 27-yards and an Auburn first down. Williams has caught 13 passes through 2 games, with 7 resulting in an impact play. He is currently on pace to establish a new school record in impact plays.
  20. D'haquille Williams clearly lived up to all the preseason hype, catching 9 passes for 154-yards against the Razorbacks. He led all offensive players with 5 impact plays or plays of 15-yards or more. He became only the 4th Auburn WR to record at least 5 impact plays during a game against a conference opponent from 1992-2014. The play... On this play Auburn faces a 3rd & 6 from the Razorback 18-yard line. The Tigers come out in a 4-WR set with D'haquille Williams lined up in the slot on the wide-side of the field. Arkansas responds with a nickel package and their safeties playing deep off the line. This opens up the middle of the field for a quick slant, which Auburn executes with Williams. As soon as Jeremy Johnson takes the snap, he immediately fires his pass to Williams, who cuts inside the nickel corner. By the time the safety arrives into view, Williams already has made the first down, headed towards the Razorback endzone. Williams fights through both DB's and extends his upper body and ball over the goal line for his first touchdown as an Auburn Tiger. D'haquille Williams will be a nightmare to cover in the slot this season but expect Malzahn and Lashlee to move him around to create other mismatches on the field. Prior 5-play impact performances against SEC teams... 1995 Tyrone Goodson - Ole Miss 1996 Tyrone Goodson - Miss State 1997 Tyrone Goodson - LSU 1997 Tyrone Goodson - Ole Miss 2009 Darvin Adams - Miss State 2012 Emory Blake - Georgia
  21. The Auburn Tigers kicked off the season with a 45-21 victory that was a tale of two halves. Auburn jumped out to a 21-7 lead, only to see the Razorbacks rally to tie the game at 21 by halftime. The Tigers played an inspired second-half, dominating the Hogs, 24-0 during the final two quarters. As well as Jeremy Johnson performed during the first half, it was the return of Nick Marshall that opened up the Tigers powerful run assault. The second-half performance of the Auburn defense marked the first time since the 2011 Florida game, Auburn shutout their conference opponent, during the final two quarters of the game. Auburn extended their record to 83-5 since 1981, when scoring at least 14 points during the first quarter. The Tigers also extended their current scoring record, which is now 11 consecutive games of 30 points or more, dating back to the 2013 season. The previous stretch of 30-point games came during the 1994 season, when Auburn had 8 consecutive games of 30-points or more. It appears Auburn will have another stellar offense this season but there are a few question marks regarding the defense. Special teams had a solid performance against the Razorbacks and it will be interesting to see how much this team improves as the season progresses. I do believe it is safe to say, Auburn's offense will give them a chance to beat anyone in the country in 2014. After week No. 1, it is way too early to begin placing labels on any team in the conference. Teams are often not as bad or good as they initially appeared. We won't observe true "team identities" until a few games into the season. LSU was a prime example of a team that looked hideous during the first 3 quarters against Wisconsin but looked like a typical LSU squad during the final period. As for Auburn, the Tigers are where they should be on offense with plenty of potential on defense and special teams. Inside the Numbers: Auburn converted 57.1 percent of their third-downs during the first-half and 71.4 percent during the second-half. The defense held Arkansas to 25.0 percent during the first-half and 16.7 percent during the second-half. This is a wonderful trend, which hopefully carried over from 2013. Cameron Artis-Payne recorded the 41st 100-yard rushing performance during the Gus Malzahn offensive era at Auburn. 50 percent of Auburn's 70 offensive snaps netted at least 5-yards, while Arkansas hit at 40.0 percent. The Razorbacks averaged 7.6 yards per play during the first half and only 2.4 yards per play during the second half. The Razorbacks recorded 6 impact plays on offense during the first half but was held to just 2 during the second half. (Impact plays = 15+ yards) 34.3 percent of the Razorbacks offensive snaps were held to 2-yards or less during the first half, increasing to 68.0 percent during the second half. D'haquille Williams led the Auburn offense with 5 of Auburn's 14 impact plays on offense. The former JUCO standout was targeted 9 times during the game, making good on all 9 passes thrown his way. From 1981-2014, Auburn is now 134-9-1, when scoring on 33 percent of their offensive possessions. Auburn scored on 50 percent of their possessions against the Razorbacks, increasing Auburn's record to 62-0, when scoring on at least 50 percent of their possessions. The combination of Auburn's quarterbacks were lethal against the Razorbacks. Jeremy Johnson and Nick Marshall combined for a pass rating of 233.6 on first down and 232.5 on third down. Auburn lost the tackle for loss battle to the Razorbacks, 6 to 5. Auburn recorded only 1 sack against the Razorbacks but did have 9 QB hurries. The Auburn pass-offense was extremely efficient in their intermediate to deep routes. The Tigers were 8 of 12 for 233-yards. One of the incomplete passes was a dropped TD pass by Sammie Coates from Nick Marshall. Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant combined for 3.8 yards per rush with Jeremy Johnson as the quarterback. During the second half, Thunder and Lightning averaged 10.9 yards per rush with Nick Marshall at quarterback. 50 percent of CAP's 26 carries went for at least 5-yards but he was tackled for a loss on 3 occasions. After surrendering 267-yards of offense during the first half, the Auburn defense held Arkansas to just 61-yards during the second half. The secondary accounted for 50 percent of Auburn's tackles. The front-7 must become more active, which was the case during the second half. Auburn surrendered 151-yards rushing during the first half and only 2-yards on the ground during the second half. Auburn was 3 of 6 in situations of 2-yards or less to convert. The Tigers were 2 of 4 running and 1 of 2 passing. The two failed 3rd & 1 run-plays is something that should be addressed . Both teams had one turnover but Auburn converted their forced-turnover into a TD, which was a major momentum swing for the Tigers during the third quarter. The game plan against Arkansas with Jeremy Johnson was to attack vertically and the plan was successful. If not for the first half collapse by the defense, Auburn could have dominated earlier in the game. Full credit goes to the Razorbacks offensive line and running backs, for making the first half and extremely competitive game. In the future it will be interesting to see how the offense looks, when Johnson is allowed to run the football. He is not the same caliber of runner as Nick Marshall but he is certainly athletic enough to move the chains. Each year brings a new personality for the team. Despite having plenty of returning personnel, the 2014 team will not have the same personality as the 2013 squad. The opening game revealed an explosive offense by ground or air and a defense that played better as the game wore on. If this becomes the trend for the 2014 season, Auburn will be a very difficult team to contend with down the road. War Eagle! Photo: Wesley Sinor
  22. Basically the Auburn-Arkansas game will come down to the Razorbacks ability to defend space and Auburn's ability to defend mass. We witnessed South Carolina struggle dearly last night. Defending 60 pass attempts, the Gameocks mustered up only 1 sack, 2 QB hurries and had only 2 passes defended. In contrast, A&M defended 40 pass attempts but came up with 3 sacks, 6 QB hurries, 4 passes broken up and 1 pick. Go back and watch A&M's QB and he rarely had to go through any progressions. His primary receiver was open on almost every pass play to the point he got away with starring down his primary target. At times last season we witnessed the Auburn defense struggle, defending mass. Hopefully the front-7 will be better defending the run and creating more situational plays. The way the Auburn offense is built in comparison to Arkansas, on paper it would appear Auburn has a smaller field to defend except for the times the Razorbacks throw vertically. On a dry field, I believe this heavily favors Auburn but a heavy rain could even those odds for Arkansas. With all the attention on Coates and Williams, when Auburn passes, I believe this could open up a huge opportunity for Ricardo Louis. He is a play that will touch the ball in the running game as well as the passing game. Enjoy the season folks and don't let one game define the season. We will have some ups and downs this season, so don't focus too much on the negatives. If Auburn stays fairly healthy, there will be far more ups than downs. War Eagle and beat those Pigs! Auburn 38, Arkansas 23
  23. Nick Marshall's Performance 13-22-0-236-4 (209.2 rating) Very good overall rating. Had a few deliveries that involved going through his progressions to make the completion. One good scramble to buy additional time to make a key completion on 3rd down (great vision down field, while on the move in the pocket). By downs: 1st: 236.0 rating 2nd: 158.1 rating 3rd: 195.9 rating (converted 4 of 5 third-downs passing) Started the game 3 of 8 but finished 10 of 14. 15 of his 22 pass attempts (68%) were beyond 10-yards of the line of scrimmage yet he still completed nearly 60% of his passes. Keep in mind that 61% of his pass attempts during 2013 were within 10-yards of the line of scrimmage. Marshall completed only 39.8% of his intermediate to deep passes during 2013. He was 53.3% during A-Day. Lots of outs, screens and sideline routes. Only 2 of his pass attempts were targeted over the middle, excluding the deep post to Quan Bray for a TD. 11 pass attempts to the left side of the field. 2 over the middle (intermediate) 9 to the right side (Includes deep post to Bray for TD) The 2 pass attempts over the middle were both completed. The first was a crossing route to D-Williams and the second was a seam-route to Uzomah. No slants for Marshall, though Jeremy Johnson had a nice one to Melvin Ray. I realize the #1 offense faced backups on defense but thought the offense still managed very well despite not having the "true" threat of Marshall running the football. I believe we saw enough of Williams and Coates to see the great potential in the pass-offense. I felt bad for Jeremy Johnson as he appeared frustrated at times. I do believe had Barber not gone down with an injury, he would have kept the starting defense more honest, opening up the #2 offense for Johnson.
  24. One of the primary goals during spring practice was improving Auburn's pass-offense, especially when it comes to attacking vertically. Sammie Coates proved to be a dangerous weapon last season but Auburn coaches expect for others to step up this season to complete the wide-receiver corp. Top-5 receivers from A-Day: Melvin Ray: 6-91-0 "Duke" Williams: 5-88-1 Quan Bray: 3-89-2 Tony Stevens: 3-64-2 Sammie Coates: 2-29-1 Taking the top-5 WR performances from A-Day, Auburn's top receivers caught 19 passes for 361-yards and 6 TD's. The top-5 receivers averaged 19.0 yards per reception compared to the 14.1 average during the 2013 season. The top-5 receivers generated 10 plays of 15-yards or more for a ratio of 1 for every 1.9 receptions made. Last season Auburn's WR's averaged an impact play every 3.1 receptions. The top-5 receivers averaged a TD every 3.2 receptions compared to the 2013 ratio of 1 every 9.1 receptions. JUCO transfer D'haquille Williams lived up to the hype, catching 5 passes for 88-yards. He caught 1 TD pass, which is broken down in the above clipbit. Facing a 1st & goal from the 3-yard line, Nick Marshall will throw a fade-route to the corner of the end zone. Duke Williams utilizes his physical attributes to create separation between himself and the CB covering 1 on 1. Williams goes vertical to snag the football at it's highest point. He turns his upper body to shield the ball, while securing it with both hands. Needing only 1 foot down to complete the reception, Williams manages to get both feet in bounds. Coach Rhett Lashlee has stressed to his quarterbacks for them to allow the WR's to make plays. Auburn was 39th nationally in terms of pass-efficiency inside the red zone during the 2013 season. The above play and Sammie Coates 1-handed TD reception are the type of plays Lashlee wants from his passing game. Yards per reception: Auburn's WR's averaged 14.1 yards per reception, which was 17th best among Auburn receivers over the past 30 years. If you took the top-5 WR corps in terms of yards per reception, they combined for a 57-7-0 record. Look for Auburn to make a major improvement in their vertical passing game, which will means a better impact ratio in the passing game and a better yards per reception.