Auburn went into its game against 20th-ranked Texas A&M hoping to get a big win in what had been a disappointing season. The Tigers had just enough impactful moments to scrape out a win.
Texas A&M has one of the most talented front sevens in the country, and Auburn struggled to get the run going all game. When Auburn’s offense was at its best, it was keeping A&M’s front sevem confused and off balance.
On this play early in the game, Auburn was facing a third-and-three. Auburn rolled quarterback Jarrett Stidham out to the right, with receiver Anthony Schwartz coming on an end around.
The play looks like either a screen to Schwartz, a Stidham run or a Stidham crossing route coming across the field. The entire A&M defense rolls to the right with Stidham, not wanting to give up the 3 yards for a first down. Stidham looks off the defense, waits, and then throws a cross body screen to running back Malik Miller, who has no defenders within 5 yards of him. He easily picks up the first down, and then some.
What makes this play so effective is how long the offense sells the fake. The thing that gives away most trick plays is the offensive line. If the defense can tell the offensive linemen let them by to set up a screen, they will react and defend the screen.
Auburn’s offensive line blocks until the last possible moment, leaving none of the defense suspecting a screen to the other side of the field. When Miller catches the ball, he has two blockers in front of him and no defenders anywhere near him. This was a perfect play call with perfect execution.
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After recovering a fumble, the offense was in prime position to score, and pulled out a beautiful trick play in order to score an easy touchdown.
On this play, Auburn receiver Ryan Davis catches a "screen pass" and delivers a perfect pass on the run in to hit a wide-open receiver, Sal Cannella.
The play is very simple, but it is the simplicity that makes it work. The play looks nearly identical to a play Auburn runs where Davis catches the screen and takes off up field with it. The only difference is that Cannella runs a route, and none of the linemen work their way up field.
The success of the play owes a lot to where Cannella lined up. Cannella lines up on the strong side inside as a receiver. Had he lined up on the outside on either side, there is a chance a safety or corner would have seen it coming. Being inside let him go ignored by the entirety of the defense, and resulted in the easiest touchdown Auburn has scored all year.
While the run game struggled, the passing game looked as good as it has all year, and this was thanks to Auburn finding success in the mid to short-range passing game. Too often this year, Auburn has seem dead-set on forcing deep balls, or 15-yard-plus passes, usually after being stuffed on a run.
This game saw Auburn more willing to throw short yardage passes, and as a result, the rest of the passing game opened up.
On this play, Auburn runs a play-action, then rolls Stidham to his right. Instead of Stidham’s only options being a 15-yard deep crossing route and a deep shot like they usually are, he has Davis open after running a quick curl. Stidham makes the decision right away and gets the ball out of his hands, with Davis picking up 6 to 7 yards and a first down.
A 6-yard pass is not a play that will end up on a ton of highlight reels, nor will it go down as an explosive play. However, it will give the defense more to think about, and will help keep the sticks moving and sustain drives.
On the fourth quarter drive that wound up winning Auburn the game, Auburn utilized short passes again to great effect. On this play, Auburn recognizes the blitz is coming, and Davis runs a short drag and takes advantage of the blitzing defense. He then runs for a huge gain, punishing the defense for blitzing.
This was a perfect play call for Auburn, and showed just how potent the offense can be when they are calling the right plays.
The game-winning touchdown was another thing of beauty, except there was nothing particularly fancy or tricky about it. Stidham delivered a perfect pass, and receiver Seth Williams made his second touchdown grab of the day.
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