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  1. 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!
  2. Perhaps the biggest key for the Auburn defense this Saturday night will be defending the Gamecock running game. The Gamecocks are currently averaging 220-yards rushing during their last 4 games. Steve Spurrier will lean heavily on Mike Davis to control the tempo of the game and to keep his porous defense off the field. Auburn has drastically improved their run-defense from last season, which was ranked No. 63 nationally, allowing 163-yards per game. This season Auburn is allowing 120-yards per game, ranked 24th nationally. Though it appears Auburn has improved upon their run-defense, they have surrendered 171-yards per game to conference opponents. If South Carolina can rush for 140-170 yards Saturday night, it will keep Auburn honest on defense and open up the Gamecock passing game. South Carolina's run-offense could dictate if Auburn has 10-12 possessions or 13-15 possessions, which could decide whether Auburn scores into the low 30's or into the 40's. The play... On this play MSU faces a 3rd & 3 from their own 32-yard line. The Bulldogs come out in a 4-WR set to spread out the Auburn defense. At the snap Auburn must play the play-action pass option first. (Note McKizy staying put until the hand off is made) DaVonte Lambert does a great job of taking away the edge, forcing the RB to stay inside. Gabe Wright knifes through the line despite being held. Cassanova McKinzy tracks the RB, avoiding the second level block by the MSU center. McKinzy is able to shoot through for the hit on the RB, dropping the RB for a loss in the backfield. Note how Kris Frost had backside containment had the QB kept on the play. Don't be surprised if the Gamecocks have early success running the football. Auburn has allowed all three prior SEC opponents to run for over 100-yards during the first-half. The Tigers in their 3 SEC games have allowed an average of 132-yards rushing on 6.1 yards per rush during the first-half and 39-yards on 2.7 yards per carry during the second-half. During the Gus Malzahn era at Auburn, the Tigers are 6-6 in games the opponent had at least 40 rush attempts. During those 12 games, Malzahn's offense averaged 373-yards and 27 PPG. The opponent averaged 216-yards rushing.
  3. Prior to this season, the Auburn defense had allowed an average of 182.7 yards rushing per game from 2011-2013. During that 39-game run, Auburn allowed the opponent to rush for over 200-yards, 18 times. Ellis Johnson made run-defense a high priority, when he arrived at Auburn and we are beginning to see the results. During the 2012 season Auburn finished at No. 100 in run-defense. The Tigers improved to No. 63 last season under Ellis Johnson and are currently No. 11 after 3 games into the 2014 season. Tackling has improved dramatically and the players appear far more comfortable in year #2 under Ellis Johnson. The Play... On this play Kansas State has the ball at their own 46-yard line, facing a 2nd & 2. The Wildcats will attempt to run a counter-trey to the boundary side of the field. Auburn has 7 men in the box to defend what is likely going to be a run play. The key to defending this play is LaDarius Owens. He has backside responsibility to defend any cut backs by the RB and the quarterback, should he play-action and bootleg. When the KSU running back makes his cutback, Owens is in position to force the play deep and wide. This allows Johnathan Ford and Kris Frost time and space to run the play down. Rudy Ford closes and makes the tackle on the RB for a loss, forcing a passing situation on 3rd down. Though the DL only accounted for 9 tackles against the Wildcats, the numbers are misleading, when judging the performance of the Auburn DL. In this case, Owens is not credited for a tackle on this play but he was the primary reason why the play resulted in a loss. Through 3 games the Auburn defense is holding their opponent to 59 percent below their rushing average. You cannot establish that kind of production without the DL playing well.
  4. Auburn's defense played a major role keeping the Tigers in the ball game, while the Auburn offense sputtered. If not for the performance of the Auburn defense, Kansas State would have pulled off a major upset over the 5th ranked Tigers. Ellis Johnson was creative with his blitz packages against the Wildcats. He brought pressure off the edge, pressure up the middle and called a few zone-blitzes. The Tigers were able to force 3 turnovers, 3 sacks and a total of 6 tackles for loss against Kansas State. The play... On this play Kansas State has the ball at the Auburn 13-yard line, facing a 2nd & 9. They have only 1 timeout remaining with 22 seconds before the first-half expires. Knowing the Wildcats must pass, Ellis Johnson calls a blitz. At the snap, Justin Garrett and Robenson Therezie come off the edge. Kansas State's RB and TE must pick up the pressure coming off the edge as their QB drops to pass. As soon as all the Wildcat backfield is occupied, Kris Frost comes on a delayed blitz up the middle. Montravius Adams runs a stunt, which opens up a larger gap for Frost to come up the middle. The KSU quarterback is preoccupied looking down field and doesn't see Frost until it is too late. Kris Frost takes the quarterback down for the sack, forcing a fumble. Auburn did not recover the fumble but were able to push Kansas State back, while forcing them to burn their final timeout. K-State's kicker misses the field goal, failing to tie the game before the half expired. Through 3 games Auburn has registered 21 tackles for loss, including 8 sacks.
  5. Sometimes it only takes one player to blow a perfectly called play or alignment or for one player to make a great play to disrupt a perfectly called play. Kris Frost did not play well against Arkansas but rebounded with a very strong performance against San Jose State. His play on a San Jose State "double-screen" play, was one of the better defensive plays of the game. It was a prime example of one player disrupting a play that was designed to catch the defense out of position. The Play... On this play San Jose State will run a double-screen pass, with the ball at their own 38-yard line. The Spartans come out in a 5-WR and empty backfield. At the snap, the Spartan quarterback fakes the screen pass to the wide-side of the field, to set up the actual play to the boundary side. Kris Frost recognizes the double-screen before the ball leaves the quarterback's hand. Not only does he recognize the boundary side-screen, he takes a great angle to make a play on the WR. Frost is quick and athletic enough to split the two OL setting up to wall off the play. Kris Frost buries the WR for no gain, preventing what would have likely been a substantial gain. This was a great example of recognition and reaction to stop the play cold.
  6. The Auburn Tigers dominated the Spartans, 59-13 to move to 2-0 on the season. The Tigers were 31-point favorites over San Jose State and easily covered the spread despite having issues in their vertical passing game. The defense played very well except for 2 big plays allowed during the game as the front-7 had a solid game against the Spartans. The good news is that Auburn came out of the game without any major injuries with 12 days to prepare for their first road game of the season. Auburn's front-7 played much better this week and it was good to see Kris Frost rebound from a shaky performance against the Razorbacks. Auburn's pass defense had a solid performance minus the 75-yard touchdown surrendered early in the game. San Jose State attempted 32 passes against the Tigers. Auburn recorded 4 sacks, 3 picks and 11 quarterback hurries. Quan Bray is off to a great start this season, averaging 28.7 yards per return through 2 games. Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant continued to play well for the second week in a row, establishing themselves as a great 1-2 punch from the RB position. Dating back to last season, the duo has combined for 1722-yards rushing on 219 carries for 17 touchdowns. This includes a whopping average of 7.86 yards per rush. Inside the Numbers: Auburn had 10 tackles for loss, while allowing only 2. Auburn struggled with their vertical pass-offense, completing only 3 of 10 passes past 10-yards of the line of scrimmage for 59-yards. The Auburn pass-offense was 3 of 9 passing on first down for 26-yards. Their 57.6 rating on first down was the 25th worst passing performance on first down in Auburn's last 273 games. During Steve Spurrier's first 56 games at Florida, his offense averaged 451.6 yards per game on 6.07 yards per play, while scoring 35.3 PPG. Gus Malzahn's first 56 games at Auburn has netted 448.3 yards per game on 6.52 yards per play and 35.7 PPG. Auburn targeted 8 different players in the passing game with D'haquille Williams leading the way, 5 times for 3 receptions. Through 2 games the Auburn has converted 100% of their third-downs during the first quarter, 50% during the second, 60% during the third and 71.4% during the fourth quarter. Auburn converted 7 of 8 third-down situations running the football against the Spartans. Last week the Auburn defense failed to force any third and 10+ situations. This week against San Jose State, they forced 7 such situations, only allowing 1 conversion. Auburn's third-down defense generated 2 picks and 3 sacks tonight. Auburn's 3 interceptions against the Spartans was only the 5th time in the last 89 games, Auburn has picked 3 or more passes in one game. Gus Malzahn has now fielded (43) 100-yard rushers during his 56 games at Auburn. Through 2 games, 51.0% of Auburn's offensive snaps has resulted in 5-yards or more and the opponent had been held to 33.6%. Through 2 games the Auburn defense has allowed 6.12 yards per play during the first half and only 3.13 yards during the second half. Through 2 games the Auburn defense has held their opponent to 2-yards or less on 43.8% of their first-half snaps and 60.9% during the second-half. Cameron Artis-Payne has 289-yards on 42 carries for 4 TD's through 2 games (6.9 YPC) Tre Mason had 172-yards on 29 carries for 2 TD's through 2 games in 2013 (5.9 YPC). Earlier this week I expressed the need for Auburn's offense to have more opportunities to play on a short field. The Tigers had only 4 possessions beginning on the opponent's side of the field during their last 71 possessions prior to San Jose State. Auburn's offense was given 3 possessions beginning on the Spartan's side of the field and they cashed all three opportunities into touchdown drives. 37 of the 62 combined carries by Corey Grant and Cameron-Artis Payne have netted at least 5-yards (59.6%). Last season Grant and Tre Mason hit at 53.3% through 2 games into the season. Through 2 games Auburn's defense has allowed 4.35 yards per rush during the first-half and only 1.00 yards during the second-half. Of Auburn's 14 scoring drives this season, 67.6% of the plays have been on the ground. Last season it was 74.0% for the entire season. Last week against Arkansas, Auburn was 2 of 4 running the ball with only 2-yards needed to convert. This week against San Jose State, Auburn was 10 of 11. Last week Auburn's front-7 totaled 25 tackles. This week they recorded 44. Through 2 games Auburn has turned the ball over 3 times, resulting in zero points. Auburn's defense has forced 5 turnovers, resulting in 28 points for the Tigers. Final Words: Though it was disappointing to see the pass-offense struggle, it is way too early to panic at this point. Auburn's run-offense appears to be as strong as last season. Last season through 2 games the pass-offense had a pass-rating of 128.6. This season it has improved to 166.3 through 2 games. Sammie Coates being out of the lineup, likely set the pass-offense back against San Jose State. There is no doubt there is plenty of room for improvement but Auburn remains one of the most difficult offenses to defend in the country. Once Auburn built a substantial lead against the Spartans, the team lost a little focus but that is to be expected when competing against a lesser opponent. The coaching staff will take full advantage of the extra prep-time to have the team ready for Kansas State in 12 days. Gus Malzahn has raised the fan's expectations of offense to a higher level. 400-yard and 30-point games are not enough, nor is 200-yards rushing. Through 56 games, his offense has averaged 256.7 yards rushing and 448.3 yards per game. This includes a pass-rating of 150.0 and 35.7 PPG. How wonderful it is to be spoiled. The coaching staff is attempting to take the same approach they did last season, when it comes to taking it one game at a time with the goal of becoming better each week. The challenge becomes more difficult as the wins roll in and the opponent places a target on Auburn's back. We as fans and supporters of Auburn University might be wise to take the same approach. Enjoy each game and try not to stress over the little things. The team is still playing well overall and the coaches continue to obtain the most of their existing personnel. War Eagle and Beat Kansas State!
  7. During the season opener, the Auburn front-7 accounted for 50 percent of the team's tackles. Last season the front-7 dropped under 53 percent only 2 times out of 14-games. For the sake of this discussion, I included the "star" position as part of the front-7 totals. The defense clearly played more to its potential during the second half, holding the Razorbacks to just 2-yards rushing compared to the 151 allowed during the first half. The following breakdown is an example of the type of needed to make a major impact this season. The play... On this play Arkansas faces a 3rd & 4 at the Auburn 28-yard line. The Razorbacks elect to run the football from a bunch set, hoping to catch the Auburn defense playing the pass. At the snap, DaVonte Lambert, Gabe Wright and Ben Bradley are able to make a good push at the line of scrimmage. By maintaining their gaps, the Arkansas RB is forced to bounce the play outside. During the attempt to bounce the play outside, Justin Garrett and Jonathan Jones make deep penetration into the backfield, stretching the play further towards the sideline. Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost initially take on blocks by the OL but because of Auburn's DL penetration, the play is forced outside. This allows McKinzy and Frost time to work themselves free to continue their track towards the ball carrier. McKinzy is able to motor his way towards the new point of attack (outside). Jonathan Jones makes the first contact with the RB, deep in the backfield. McKinzy arrives in time to finish off the play and to tackle the RB for a 6-yard loss. The huge loss pushes the Razorbacks out of FG range, forcing a punt with Auburn holding a 7-point lead (28-21) at the time. Though Lambert, Wright and Bradley were not credited for a tackle, it was their initial attack at the line, which forced the play outside. By extending the play, it allowed time for other defenders to work their way to the football. During the first half, 34% of the Razorbacks offensive snaps were held to 2-yards or less. During the second half, 68% of their snaps were held to 2-yards or less.
  8. In a follow up to the Jake Holland spotlight, Cassanova McKinzy is spotlighted on this play. Once again Arkansas runs from a 2-TE set and an I-formation. On this play Arkansas is at the Auburn 24-yard line with a 1st & 5. The Razorbacks will attempt to run out of an I-formation with a 2-TE set. This time around, Auburn has 8 men in the box to defend the run. At the snap Kris Frost attempts to shoot throw the "B" gap but is engaged by the FB. As the RB takes the hand off from the QB, Carl Lawson beats his man, penetrating the backfield, forcing the RB to stay inside of the tackles. Cassanova McKinzy shoots through the gap, hitting the RB at the line of scrimmage. The RB attempts to spin away from McKinzy's initial contact but McKinzy wraps up his legs until additional defenders arrive to finish off the play. Arkansas rushed for 139-yards during the first half and 83 during the second-half.
  9. If the Auburn defense is going to have success against the LSU offense, Ellis Johnson will need to call a more aggressive game. We will likely see more man coverage so that Auburn can overload in run-support. This also means the potential of giving up big plays but it's the gamble Johnson will likely have to take Saturday night. Zach Mettenberger has gotten off to a great start for LSU but has struggled when facing 3rd & 10 or longer. On the flip side, Auburn's defense has only given up 4 of 20 conversions on 3rd down, when the opponent has faced 10-yards or more to convert. On this play MSU faces a 3rd & 14 from their own 48-yard line. Ellis Johnson dials up a zone-blitz with Kris Frost coming up the middle and Robenson Therezie off the edge. Angelo Blackson will back out into coverage at the snap. At the snap, Kris Frost and LaDarius Owens establish penetration into the backfield, forcing the MSU QB to step up in the pocket. Robenson Therezie arrives and is able to slow the QB down by holding his foot. Joshua Holsey closes in and holds the QB until other Tigers arrive to finish off the play. If Auburn cannot place LSU into 3rd & long, it could be a long night for the Auburn defense. Expect LSU to have their share of yardage but Auburn needs to counter with tackles for loss and turnovers to make it a game.
  10. Who else would really love to see him play this week? I mean, I would've loved to see him at linebacker against Clemson and Mississippi State, but that just wasn't so (I did not get to catch the end of the Auburn/State game due to the power going out, so I don't know if he saw any time at that point). It's obvious that our linebacker play has been borderline terrible in the first 2 games, which is no surprise after seeing it all of last season. Why not give him some snaps? I don't think I'm the only one that holds this opinion, but Jake Holland and John Evans just aren't SEC level linebackers, and Daren Bates is obviously undersized. Thought and opinions are welcomed.
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