Auburn came out on the wrong end of a pivotal divisional matchup against LSU this past weekend.
Many Auburn fans have taken to blaming the refs, claiming that the late-game pass interference calls won LSU the game. Auburn lost because it was unable to play a complete football game.
In a game dictated by momentum swings, Auburn started the game about as poorly as possible.
On Auburn's second play of the game, quarterback Jarrett Stidham tossed his first interception of the season. It was not a good decision by Stidham to try to force the ball in, but it wasn't a terrible play call.
The problem with the play did not stem from Stidham’s decision, nor did it stem from poor blocking or poor route running. The problem with the play was that LSU knew exactly what was happening the entire time. Auburn does not use any type of play-action, choosing to roll Stidham out as soon as the play begins.
This is where the problem stems from, with LSU’s linebackers and secondary not having to worry about the play being a run, they are able to react to the pass from the beginning. As a result, LSU defends the play picture perfectly. Every single Auburn receiver is covered as tightly as possible, and LSU has defenders applying pressure to Stidham.
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Without the play-action to freeze the defense and give the offense an advantage, LSU safety Grant Delpit reads the play perfectly, forces Stidham into a hurried decision, and comes away with the interception.
LSU would score a touchdown off of the turnover, but Auburn put together a drive and managed to get into the red zone. After being stopped on third-and-short, Gus Malzahn elected to go for it on fourth down, wanting a chance to score a touchdown instead of settling for a field goal.
Auburn is stopped well short of the first down. It is the design of the play itself that is odd. Auburn sends a receiver in motion in order to fake the jet sweep. This fake jet sweep just ends up hurting the play.
For starters, Auburn runs the jet sweep toward the short side of the field. Auburn is on the right hash and runs the fake jet sweep to the right, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The strength of the jet sweep play comes from a speedy wide receiver getting the edge, and having a lot of open field to work in. Therefore, jet sweeps are traditionally ran towards the side of the field with more room. The fact that Auburn even ran a fake jet sweep at all must mean they expect some defenders will be drawn in by it, if they do not think defenders will be fooled, then it would make more sense just to have the receiver block instead of faking a jet sweep.
So why is the jet sweep being ran to the same direction the run is intended to go? This does not appear to be a play where the running back is supposed to run to the weak side; Auburn’s left guard pulls, which indicates this. If the play is intended to be a strong side run by the running back, then why is the fake jet sweep being ran to the strong side as well? All that does is draw more defenders to the side where the ball is going to be.
LSU’s safeties start crashing down exactly where the play is going to go before the ball is even snapped because they are reacting to the fake jet sweep. This play could have still worked if Auburn’s pulling guard, Mike Horton, did not miss his block, but the play design is bad regardless.
After LSU scored another field goal, Auburn finally started to put together consistent drives and get back into the game. Auburn began using inventive and well-designed plays to keep LSU guessing.
This play takes place on first-and-10, meaning LSU has no idea whether it will be a run or a pass. It's a play action pass, but what sells the play-action is the way the linemen move. Linebackers often do not actually watch the quarterback on plays, but instead watch the linemen. A linebacker can react to a linemen’s first step and know whether it will be a pass or run depending on if the linemen take a step to run block or pass block.
On this play, Auburn pulls Horton again, something mostly done on run plays. As a result, every one of the four LSU linebackers is completely fooled, leaving the middle of the field, the area they should be covering, wide open, with an out of place safety trying to make up for this.
Auburn completes an easy pass over the middle for big yardage thanks to the great play-action.
The Auburn offense is at its best when it is using its misdirection effectively and keeping defenders confused. When Auburn fails to do that, as mentioned earlier, the offense will stall and fail.
On this touchdown, Auburn fakes an end-around and rolls Stidham out. Auburn fullback Chandler Cox stays back to pick up any rushers. LSU is scrambling to cover Auburn’s receivers, but because of all the misdirection and movement, they lose one, and Auburn scores an easy touchdown.
When Auburn’s offense is working, it is among the most dangerous in college football, and Auburn has the potential to find great score quickly. When Auburn begins to stall, it often struggle for long stretches of time, relying on big plays to pull them out of the rut.
As LSU showed, Auburn will need to find ways to consistently move the ball if it hope to find continuous success against top level opposition.
Auburn will look to get back on track against Arkansas (1-2), which lost by 27 at home to North Texas on Saturday.
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