November 26, 2007

Grading the Tide: Auburn 17, Alabama 10

Quarterback
John Parker Wilson's final start was relatively mistake-free, but relatively playmaking-free as well. His final numbers - 12 of 26 for 113 yards, one interception and no touchdowns - weren't nearly strong enough to sustain the offense. His best throw was a deep dig route to Keith Brown, but he rarely looked comfortable. As ineffective as he was, however, consider the impact of one drop: Had DJ Hall hung onto his potential touchdown catch, Wilson's efficiency rating jumps from 74.9 to 102.7.

Offensive line
Auburn's pass rush recorded two sacks and nine hurries, which was more than enough pressure to make Wilson uncomfortable, especially on the road. Had Wilson been in the shotgun and thrown 40 passes as he has at times this year, two sacks and nine hurries wouldn't have been such bad protection. But on 26 attempts, it was lacking at best. The push up front for the running game (3.1 yards per carry) wasn't much better. Glen Coffee isn't the type of runner who can effectively bounce plays outside, and the line too often forced him to do just that.

Running backs
As noted above, Glen Coffee (20 for 60) gave a workman-like effort but needed a few more holes to make a real difference. Credit both he and Roy Upchurch for running hard - although the results were marginal, both carried the ball into the teeth of a strong defense aggressively and without a fumble. Neither was ever able to break into the secondary, and pass protection could have been better. Upchurch provided a nice effort off the bench (8 for 41).

Receivers
DJ Hall's drop of a potential touchdown replaced Nikita Stover's against Mississippi State as the most regrettable drop of the season for this receiving corps. As effective as he has been this season and as few drops as he has had, that one will unfortunately be a lasting memory for UA fans. Nikita Stover made his toughest grab of the season, paying the price on a quick slant route. Whether the blame was his or not, Matt Caddell's production (one catch) must be better when Hall is drawing two defenders, which he often did.

Defensive line
Pressure on Brandon Cox was pretty good considering Auburn did a nice job blocking Wallace Gilberry. Just like AU, the Crimson Tide posted two sacks and nine hurries, although just one of those sacks (Lorenzo Washington) came from the defensive line. Alabama's front was less effective stopping the run, allowing AU a rush-heavy touchdown drive to open the game and a rush-heavy touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to put it away. The Auburn rushing total (165 yards) wasn't awfully high, but it was awfully effective. There were no TFLs recorded by the defensive line on running plays.

Linebackers
Some blame for this goes to the defensive line, but Alabama's linebackers caught too many blocks and thus made too many tackles too far downfield. Ezekial Knight deserves a curve on his grade considering he gutted out the game on a bad wheel. Another ankle twist early in the game should have finished his night, but the junior from Wedowee played through it. Keith Saunders' missed sack (third quarter) and personal foul (fourth quarter) were crucial plays, particularly the latter. Rolando McClain's 15 tackles and a second-quarter interception served impressive notice for his future.

Secondary
Amazing, but the best performance by an opposing quarterback over Alabama's last three games turned out to be ULM's Kinsmon Lancaster. AU's Brandon Cox did just enough not to lose the Iron Bowl for the SEC's No.1 scoring defense. He was 12 of 22 for 117 yards. Simeon Castille, Kareem Jackson and Rashad Johnson each recorded a PBU and recorded 18 tackles between them. Johnson's PBU attempt on Rod Smith 31-yard catch was late, setting up a first-quarter AU field goal, but Johnson loses no points for aggressiveness.

Special teams
Javier Arenas was missed. Although Jonathan Lowe did break a kickoff return 41 yards, UA got pinned on its 1-yard line when Matt Caddell tried to field a punt inside his own 10 and lost the ball out of bounds. Leigh Tiffin converted one of two field goals, and P.J. Fitzgerald had just a 36.3-yard average. Kickoff coverage was excellent, but the punt coverage unit allowed a 31-yard return by Robert Dunn.

The plan
With Travis McCall spending a good part of the night at fullback, the plan was clearly to run the ball between the tackles, shorten the game and keep pressure off Wilson. It was the right idea given the offensive line was fortified by the return of two starters, but the execution was short by at least 50-75 rushing yards (UA finished with 112). Defensively, UA altered between the nickel and its base 3-4 look with reasonable success. Although the last thing Alabama needed was to be in a 7-0 hole early, the defense held together well enough to win.




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