The Auburn Tigers took the field against Texas A&M in a bright and early SEC west matchup last weekend. Despite a rocky start, the Tigers ultimately dominated the game, winning 42-27.
The Aggies defense was as talented as any Auburn has played all year, even if their resume doesn't show it. For the first quarter, that showed, as Auburn gave up two sacks and had nothing going on offense.
Head coach Gus Malzahn made an offensive line change after the first, and it paid dividends. While the game was a dominant win for Auburn, there is plenty to look at and improve upon, especially if Auburn hopes to find success against No. 1 Georgia.
Let’s start by looking at one of the few successful plays of the first half, a screen to receiver Ryan Davis that goes for 32 yards. As is customary for Auburn on these plays, they sell the handoff a large amount. Not only is there the fake handoff, but a guard pulls as well to suck the defense in.
A&M defensive back Armani Watts, No. 23, played very versatile roles throughout the game. This play he is lined up as a pseudo linebacker, a role he made plays in throughout the game. This play goes away from him, taking him out of the equation, most likely by design. Both of A&M inside linebackers bite on the fake, with one of them even crashing down the middle. The defensive line does the same thing.
When the ball is thrown, there are only two defenders who are even in a position to try to make a play on the ball, and both are defensive backs. Auburn has leaked out two linemen to block, and both linemen take care of their matchups which opens up the field for Davis. This is a great play, but the key is the direction it is run to relative to how the defense lines up.
Had it been run to the side where A&M defender Watts was, he would have had a chance to make a play.
Now let’s examine a similar play that shows why the ball going away from the strong side of the defense was so important. This is a reverse, a slower developing play than a screen, but the point still stands.
The thing that makes a reverse work is that the whole defense is sucked into chasing the initial ball carrier, so when the reverse occurs they are out of position and off-guard. There are usually one or two defenders that are still in position to make a play on the reverse, so they must be blocked.
However, A&M was stacking the box expecting a run all the way. The safeties are in close so that they can run up and make a play on the ball, and Watts serves as a third linebacker. A decent number of the defense does get too out of position on the initial run fake, but since so many defenders are close to the line of scrimmage, there are plenty of people who can still make the play. On this play Watts bit on the fake, but then was able to get back into position because of where he started. He doesn't make the tackle, but he slows Eli Stove down enough that the other linebackers and defensive linemen can recover from the fake and stop Stove for a loss.
A reverse against such a talented defensive front, especially when they have the box stacked, is not a good idea. The play has an uphill battle to be successful against a stacked box, and it shows here.
On Auburn’s first long touchdown pass of the game, it's set up by the play action. Kerryon Johnson receives a fake handoff and then goes out into the flats for a pass. Chandler Cox helps block. The play-action freezes the defense for a split second, and wide receiver Darius Slayton burns his man and Stidham delivers a perfect pass.
This is an example of Auburn’s playmakers making plays when the team needs it. Slayton has been a terrific deep threat all year, and Stidham does not typically miss long bombs like this. Auburn seems to feed off big plays for momentum, and a few plays like this will be needed to upset Georgia next week.
Stidham had a few runs this week, and as I said in the last Tale of the Tape, these are huge boosts to the offense. They make the defense think twice about crashing down on the runningback, and they lead to decent gains.
In this play in particular, it appears to be a designed QB run. Cox serves as a lead blocker for Stidham, and Stidham picks up big yardage on the play.
Auburn made great use of rollouts this week. Stidham has proven to be a great decision maker, and rollouts are the perfect match for him.
One of the largest benefits of a rollout is that if a team is running a zone defense, it puts defenders in a tough spot. When a quarterback rolls out, they can throw it or tuck it and run. If a defender is defending a zone that has a receiver in it, they must make a choice to either cover the receiver and open up a running lane, or come at the quarterback and leave a man open.
On this rollout, the entire linebacking corps follows Stidham and gets out of position and, with Johnson as the lead blocker, Stidham has all the time in the world to find the wide-open man and score an easy touchdown.
Next let’s look at another great red zone play call. Johnson, one of the nation's leaders in touchdowns scored, comes into the game in a red zone scenario. The defense assumes the ball will be going to him.
Instead, Stidham flips the ball to Stove on an end around which catches the defense off guard. They are a step slow to react, and Stove demonstrates great patience on his run, letting the blockers do their jobs then using his burst to get into the end zone at the last possible second.
This type of creative play calling is what allows the Auburn offense to put up the crazy numbers it does, and will be needed next week against Georgia.
Auburn will look to keep its playoff hopes alive this weekend by knocking off an undefeated Georgia team, who is currently believed by many to be the best in the country. South Carolina exposed the chinks in Georgia’s armor last weekend, and expect Auburn to follow a similar game plan against them with a focus on making the Dawgs pass to win.
Bonus clip: Kerryon Johnson was a man on a mission at Kyle Field.