The No. 10 Auburn Tigers took the field against longtime rival and No. 1 ranked Georgia hungry for a win. The Tigers playoff hopes rested on this game, and in the opinion of many members of sports media, so did head coach Gus Malzahn’s job security.
The Auburn Tigers played their most complete game of the season and dominated Georgia. The defense completely shut down the Bulldogs offense, and only gave up a few fluke plays. The offense did not get off to a great start, but turned it on after the half and drove up the score.
The play calling was aggressive and the offense introduced new wrinkles that had not been seen before, and it all went a long way to keeping Georgia off balance and wearing their defense down. Despite giving up a touchdown on the first drive, Auburn’s defense stuffed the run and only allowed yards off of breakdowns in coverage.
On Auburn’s first offensive snap of the game, they ran a jet sweep with wide receiver Eli Stove. Stove was brought down behind the line, but the play had deeper ramifications than that. It showed Georgia that they could not simply crash down the middle to try and stuff the run, they would have to account for any number of plays from Auburn.
The very next play, Auburn utilized play-action and rolled sophomore quarterback Jarrett Stidham out. In last week’s Tale of the Tape, rollouts were highlighted as effective, and this game furthered that point.
Stidham rolls to his right, and has a ton of time and space. Had no receivers been open, Stidham could have pulled it and ran for at least 5 yards. Nate Craig-Myers comes open and Stidham hits him for an easy 14-yard gain.
On the play after that, the ball doesn't go to star running back Kerryon Johnson for the third straight play. It is faked to Johnson, and then Stidham pulls and it and quickly throws a screen to wide receiver Ryan Davis.
The play gains about 7 yards, but as with the other two plays it sets up the offense for success. Georgia’s defense has now seen three very different plays, all of which look very similar as they begin.
If the defense worries about so many things, they will not defend as effectively. This play-style also wears a defense down. A run up the middle or inside does not require the defense to chase it, anything that goes to the outside will make defenders run more.
The drive later stalled and Auburn settled for a field goal, but the important thing was Auburn showed how unpredictable and varied they were willing to be.
The next couple drives were unspectacular resulting in a pair of field goals, but the run was established. Auburn proved that if they wanted to, they did not need to rely on motion and fancy formations, they could just hand it off to Johnson and let him go to work. The defense forced three straight three and outs.
On this play, Auburn scored their first touchdown of the game on a beautiful catch and throw by Stidham and wide receiver Darius Slayton. On this play, Auburn keeps a tight end back to help block, as well as Kerryon Johnson to pick up blitzers.
Pass blocking is the most underrated part of Johnson’s game, and he shows why here, stepping up and giving Stidham the time he needs to make the throw.
On Auburn’s next touchdown, Stidham runs it in on a read option. The defense is desperate to stop Johnson, and the two inside linebackers are both so out of position that when Stidham pulls it they have no chance to make the play.
Chandler Cox blocks the safety who is the only player in a position to make the stop, and Stidham runs in to the end zone untouched.
This next touchdown is a terrific play call, and is what Auburn needs to do to beat a team that blitzes. Georgia blitzes off the edge, and Stidham first fakes a handoff. This pauses the blitz just a second and allows the receiver who will catch the screen to get into place. Stidham then delivers the pass to Ryan Davis.
It is a delayed screen pass to the side where the blitz was coming from. Had this been a long developing pass play, Stidham may have been sacked. Instead, the defenders are out of position and Davis can take the short pass all the way for a touchdown.
Throwing a screen into the blitz like this will work every time, and the play action allows the defense to be sucked all the way in so that they have no hope of recovering and making the play.
This makes opposing defenses scared to blitz and is the perfect way to beat a team that is getting pressure on the quarterback.
This play has been getting a lot of attention, and deservedly so. This is one of the most well-designed and well executed plays in all of college football this year.
Ryan Davis comes around in motion to fake the sweep to start the play. Auburn had been running the sweep all game, so Georgia is frozen for a second making sure it is a fake. Stidham rolls to his right, something he had consistently done all day on 3rd down or red zone situations.
The entire Georgia defense goes with him, desperate for a stop to have any chance of winning. Johnson appears to stay back to help block, something he had done on previous rollouts.
However, once Johnson’s man gets past him, Johnson slips out to the left and is wide open. Stidham makes a cross-body throw to Johnson who has three linemen to block for him and a whole lot of room to run.
Johnson takes it in for the win-sealing touchdown and Georgia’s hope is gone. This play is brilliant because of how rare it is.
Very rarely will a play be designed around a quarterback throwing across their body. A throw across the body is very difficult and awkward, yet Stidham pulls it off to perfection. Auburn had been setting up for this play the entire game, starting with the first jet sweep to begin the game. It paid off in a touchdown, and was the best play Auburn has ran all season.
Auburn will face Louisiana Monroe at home next week, but all eyes are looking ahead to a pivotal Iron Bowl which will decide the winner of the SEC West. If Auburn plays like they did against Georgia, it can beat any team in the country.