Auburn's running game was very solid against a Warhawks' defense that thrives on slowing that part of the offense, churning out 255 yards. After holding Arkansas to under 100 yards, ULM couldn't contain the Tigers at the point of attack for much of the game. Onterio McCalebb showed a different part of his game on Saturday, not only running between the tackles but also making a move in the hole and showing better lateral movement than at any other time in his career on his way to 128 yards on just 11 carries.
Tre Mason delivered the steady running game the Tigers have been looking for with 90 yards on 22 carries while Mike Blakely added 32 yards on just three chances. The only negative was a Blakely fumble inside the 10-yard line that could have put Auburn up 35-14 in the third quarter and likely put the game away. Those are mistakes that can't happen for this year's Auburn team to win in the SEC.
After struggling against Mississippi State last week, sophomore quarterback Kiehl Frazier completed 10-18 passes for 130 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Needing to get off to a strong start, he hit 6-7 passes in the first quarter for 55 yards.
The most impressive passing play of the season for Frazier came in that stretch as well. On a first and 10 from the Auburn 39, Frazier dropped back and looked middle and right before making his way back to the left side of the field where he found a wide open Mason for a 34-yard gain. Those are the plays that Frazier must continue to improve on, finding secondary receivers to keep the chains moving and drives alive.
Defensively, Auburn had a much better day tackling against the Warhawks with very few missed tackles despite playing 89 defensive snaps. A big positive was having Daren Bates lead the team in tackles with 14, the first non-safety to do that this season. Fellow linebacker Jake Holland added 10 stops as well for his most productive day of the season.
Auburn's defense did a better job of tackling against ULM and getting multiple players to the football.
The Not So Good:
Even with all of Auburn's success running the football the Tigers struggled late in the game to move the ball on the ground when they had a chance to close out the Warhawks. Leading 28-14 Auburn got the ball on its own seven for the first possession of the fourth quarter. Getting eight yards on two carries the Tigers faced third and two yards to go, but Mason was stopped for no gain forcing a punt.
The next possession Auburn took over at the 44-yard line following a fourth down stop by the defense. A seven-yard gain on first down by Mason allowed the Tigers to take a shot down the field, but Frazier's pass to Philip Lutzenkirchen was overthrown. A pair of two-yard gains, the second on fourth down, gave the Tigers the first down at the ULM 47. Another two-yard gain on first down put Auburn in second and long and Frazier's pass was intercepted, turning the momentum of the game. Rushing for just 43 yards on 14 carries in the fourth quarter, Auburn must do a better job of finishing beginning this wek.
As much improvement as Frazier showed early in the game, he has to continue to work on not locking on his targets. That was the case with his fourth quarter interception. Following his receiver across the field, Frazier admitted not seeing ULM defender Mitch Lane right in his line of sight. He had another would-be interception dropped as well, the kind of mistake he can't afford to make when Auburn faces LSU, Arkansas, Georgia, Alabama, etc. down the road.
Even though the tackling was better defensively, Auburn's overall play must still improve by leaps and bounds to be good enough to win in the SEC. Doing a better job against the run for the most part, the Tigers had a mental mistake on Kolton Browning's 39-yard touchdown run as a defensive end didn't stunt inside leaving a gaping hole for the easy scamper for the score. It's those kinds of mistakes that can't happen with little room for error on both sides of the football.
There are still too many easy throw and catch situations for the opposition. Auburn allowed 10 third and fourth down completions to ULM on Saturday with eight of those going for a first down. The Warhawks had a total of 16 passing first downs for the game as Browning completed 29-48 passes overall for 245 yards on the day.