Wesley Foster, Sports Writer for The Auburn Plainsman, analyzes the film from Auburn's victory over Missouri and offers his perspective on the 51-14 win.
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Coming off a 51-14 win over Missouri, Auburn’s offense appeared to be in top form. However, just two weeks ago, the same offense struggled to put up six against Clemson. What changed between these two outings to spark such a difference?
Starting running back Kerryon Johnson returned from injury and rushed for five touchdowns in the game. Clemson’s defense is currently ranked 3rd in both points allowed per game and yards allowed per game, whereas Missouri is 122nd in points per game and 107th in yard allowed.
Another crucial change made was the play calling, which was very successful; implementing new plays and adding new spins to old ones.
Auburn completed its three deepest passes of the season against Mizzou, something that had been a struggle all year for the Tigers. The key difference was getting the linemen help. As seen below, on this deep pass completed to Kyle Davis on Auburn's first play from scrimmage, two running backs remained in the pocket to pass-protect, giving Jarrett Stidham the time to wind up and hit the 6-foot-2 receiver at his highest point.
Keeping extra help to block was seen throughout the game. During the game against Clemson, when 11 sacks were given up, very rarely did the offensive line have any help, as visible on the first play of that game. Keeping extra help back to block allowed Stidham be comfortable in the pocket and led to a beatdown of Missouri’s defense.
If a player was not kept back to help block, then the pass was delivered quickly. In the play below, Missouri runs a blitz and has six men rushing the passer. If the routes had been long, or taken a while to develop, Stidham might have been hurried. Instead, it is a three step drop. All of the routes ran were close to the first down marker to allow for a quick throw. Will Hastings makes the right choice on the option route and hauls in a great catch away from the defender. Fast routes are a great way to beat a blitz, and Auburn utilized this consistently during the game.
Another way to buy time for the passer is by running a play-action. This helped set up a lot of plays throughout the game, and the play shown below utilized play action as well as keeping an extra blocker back, along with a short pass option.
Stidham's touchdown to Nate Craig-Myers begins with a play-action, causing the defense to be a second late reacting to the pass. The fullback stays back to help pass protect, canceling out Missouri’s blitz. Eli Stove goes out for a screen pass after faking the handoff, setting up an easy dump-off pass should the defense be ready to sack Stidham, or if nothing downfield is open. The play call helps protect Stidham from the rush, but also gives him an option should the rush still be there. Craig-Myers was wide open because the safety fell down on the play, however he still would have ended up behind the defense after the fake end-around to Stove, who had been carving up the defense on similar plays.
Auburn’s run game saw great success Saturday as well, with Kerryon Johnson scoring a 2017 FBS-tying five touchdowns. The key to opening up the run game was to attack the edges. All night long, Auburn ran Johnson or Stove around the tackles.
Running outside keeps the run game unpredictable. It is also a blitz counter, as a blitz is committing players to the middle of the field, and will be burned by outside runs.
In the play shown below, both attacking the edge and play action are used to obtain a big gain. First, the ball is faked up the middle, drawing the defenders inside, so that when Stove has the ball and is running outside, the defenders are out of position. Defender's on the right side of the play, like Mizzou's No. 28, are taken out of the equation completely by the possibility of Stidham keeping it. The offensive line pins the edge well, allowing bulldozer Chandler Cox to lead the way and show Stove his running lane.
Much of Johnson's success came in the wildcat formation, a play designed to put the tailback in the shotgun to run out of a direct snap. Johnson has run out of this formation successfully since his freshman campaign, and used it on Saturday to dominate the redzone. Below, Johnson waits for the blocking to develop, while remaining conscientious of the defenders on the edge. He shoots the gap and scores after the play-action to Stove and the threat of Stidham freezes the defense.
At long last, Malzahn and staff burned the redshirt of true freshman quarterback Malik Willis on Saturday. Willis was named the No. 2 QB after Sean White's dismissal, and most expected the dual-threat Willis to see playing time in mop-up duty later in the year. Auburn handled Missouri enough to warrant playing time for the second-string offense, and thus Willis saw action in his first collegiate game. His first play as an Auburn Tiger was a memorable one, as the QB kept the ball on a read-option and rifled around left end. He was torn down by his facemask after a first down gain, tacking on 15 more yards to the play. The shiftiness in the open field exposed Auburn fans to the legitimacy of the Nick Marshall comparisons made by the coaching staff in camp.
There were few wasted snaps in Saturday’s massive victory. The Auburn offense had its best scoring output of the season, and it was thanks to a smart game plan and well-designed plays. Auburn will need to be just as strong in its play calls this weekend, as the Tigers take on No. 24 Mississippi State at Jordan-Hare Stadium.