Jason Caldwell's Monday Morning QB Column: An Auburn Loss That Could Have Been Avoided

Auburn's SEC football loss to Georgia is going to sting for a while for the Tigers.

Stick With the Plan

Now more than 24 hours removed from the loss at Georgia it’s still hard to comprehend what we witnessed on offense from the Auburn Tigers. First let me say that having an obviously less than 100 percent Sean White and playing without Kamryn Pettway was going to make it tough for Auburn to run up and down the field against the Bulldogs, but that wasn’t necessary on Saturday.

Auburn’s offense didn’t need to roll up 600 yards or score 30 points to win in Athens. All it had to do was be able to grind it out, only the Tigers didn’t because they went away from what was working.

In the first 21 minutes of the game things were going like the Tigers needed in order to get out of Sanford Stadium with a win. Without Pettway it was Kerryon Johnson getting the job done with 14 carries for 64 yards and a touchdown. Only four of those carries went for less than three yards, which in Auburn’s offense still gives you the option to run the football again.

Throw in a 16-yard carry by White, six yards for Chandler Cox out of the wildcat, six for Stanton Truitt, four yards for John Franklin out of the wildcat, 12 yards for Elijah Stove on a speed sweep and another nine yards on an inside pass (essentially a handoff) and you’ve got 117 yards in the running game from five different players and a 7-0 lead.

With a lead and getting the ball back on its first possession of the second quarter, Auburn got runs of five, 18 and four yards before White’s 16-yard scamper moved the Tigers to the Georgia 42. Franklin’s four-yard run put the ball on the 38 with a second and six, still ahead of the chains. Instead of grinding it out the Tigers attempted two passes, the second losing 13 yards to knock them out of field goal range.

Backed up on their own goal line the Tigers got a first down pass completion by White to Tony Stevens, but that was it before the half. That was the end of the production for Auburn because the Tigers went away from what worked.

Throwing on all three downs to start the second half, White’s pick-six put the Bulldogs back in the game. On the next two possessions Auburn ran the ball on both first and second down and gained eight yards. With only two yards to gain a first down and with the best running attack in the league the Tigers instead chose to throw both times. Instead of grinding out first downs and wearing down the Bulldogs, Auburn’s offense instead got in an inexplicable pattern of throwing the ball.

In the second half the Tigers threw 14 passes with only eight runs and in a one-score game that just can’t be justified on a day when your quarterback is visibly struggling to find a connection with his receivers.

Defense Just Keeps Getting It Done

Allowing only a pair of field goals in the loss to Georgia, Auburn’s defense continues to climb up the standings in the country in several categories. Eighth in scoring defense (15.7 ppg), the Tigers have only allowed four rushing touchdowns this season with the last coming against Texas A&M. Against the pass the Tigers have allowed just 10 touchdowns, good enough for a tie for 15th in the country.

While playing well up front has been one of the big keys for the Tigers, they’re also getting solid play on the back end of the defense. Fifth-year senior Josh Holsey has proven to be one of the top cornerbacks in the league while Stephen Roberts is coming off perhaps the best game at Auburn on Saturday.

Making several impressive plays in the open field to thwart possible big plays for the Georgia offense, Roberts was a heat-seeking missile against the Bulldogs and showed he’s one of the top players for the Tigers on defense. He could be an important player down the stretch for the Tigers, especially in two weeks against Alabama. With Jalen Hurts’ ability to test the defense on the zone read, Roberts’ open field tackling is a big plus for the Tigers.

Around The Country

It’s pretty amazing that heading into Saturday the Michigan Wolverines were considered one of the top four teams in the country yet they still had not beaten a team on the road that had a single conference win to their credit. Playing at Rutgers and at Michigan State were the only two trips away from home until Saturday when Jim Harbaugh’s team traveled to Iowa.

A team that lost at home to North Dakota State earlier this year and whose best win was over Minnesota, 5-4 Iowa took it to Michigan from the outset. The Hawkeyes allowed just 201 total yards to Michigan the week after allowing 359 yards rushing yards alone to Penn State.

Now all that stands between a huge Big 10 Championship Game of Penn State-Wisconsin is an Ohio State victory over the Wolverines in two weeks, which is a very real possibility at this moment.

In the Pac 12 things are just as peachy for the College Football Playoff committee after a Washington loss. The Apple Cup could decide one side of the conference and a Washington State victory could set up a title game vs. either Colorado or Utah. That has to have people cringing when combined with the potential Big 10 title game as well as Alabama vs. either Florida or Tennessee in the SEC. Throw in the Clemson loss to Pitt and this year’s Final Four is still a long way from being determined.

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