This was the most effective and in control Sean Clifford I’ve ever seen. If he stays around for the big road games, I may have to admit he’s improved more than even hoped. I’ll need to see it though, I’ve been tricked before.
Auburn played better than I expected, especially from their OL. Sure Bo Nix threw the ball extremely quickly on every play but PSU could only hit him and never sack. PSU held Tank Bigsby to his 2nd worst game on average since he became the starter for Auburn, but his volume racked up behind the OL. Defensively they were less aggressive than I expected, and certainly were focused on the running game.
Mike Yurcich keeps digging into his bag of offensive plays. This offense is still a long way from it’s ceiling but each week has notable advancement. If that continues, late October and November should be fun. His use of tempo has been very good all season and this team seems to understand what is asked of them nearly every play. Most importantly, Sean Clifford seems to understand it. While he’s still not going through progressions at a "surefire NFL starter" rate, he is actually progressing through his reads. And he knows where guys will be as his eyes move to find them. The only passing miscue of the night was the "intentional grounding" where receiver and he weren’t on the same page. The INT was more a result of pressure than mental mistake.
Brent Pry keeps doing Brent Pry things. Redzone scoring is not a guarantee against this defense, offense beware. He knows what he has in that secondary and he’s relying on them while doing a bit more with the front levels.
Offensive Snap Counts (total 69):
- QB: Clifford (69)
- RB: Cain (47), Lee (2), Lovett (18), Ford (2)
- WR: Dotson (55), KLS (46), Washington (34), CSB (10), Wilson (8), Eubanks (2)
- TE: Strange (62), Johnson (37), Warren (20)
- OL: Walker (69), Miranda (69), Scruggs (69), Wallace (69), Wilson (51), Effner (20)
Offensive Personnel Takeaways:
- I’ve stopped tracking the under center, 3TE & 2RB sets in this offense because it’s obviously a core part of the offense. Still some wrinkles under analysis though.
- The offense had 2 more guys get snaps than in the Wisconsin game (18). The trust only goes so far.
- Bryce Effner got the final two series of Q2 at LG. After missing the spying LB blitz who hit Clifford pre-INT, he only returned to the game for heavy packages where he was a 6th OL.
Defensive Snap Counts (total 84):
- DE: Ebiketie (74), Luketa (58), Tarburton (36)
- DT: Mustipher (61), Tangelo (48), Ellies (41), Izzard (4)
- LB: Smith (79), Brooks (84), Jacobs (55), Katshir (5)
- CB: TCF (76), JPJ (78), Hardy (29), King (14)
- S: Brisker (84), Brown (66), Sutherland (32)
Defensive Personnel Takeaways:
- Rotations tighten up in big games. There were 6 fewer guys in the rotation than the Wisconsin game (24).
- Right now, there’s obviously three DEs and three DTs that have Pry’s full confidence. Villanova will be another chance to build depth beyond those 6.
Auburn Passing Chart
Sean Clifford: On Target - 15, Catchable - 13, Miss - 2, Uncatchable - 4, Throwaway - 0
Jahan Dotson: On Target - 0, Catchable - 1, Miss - 0, Uncatchable - 0
- Sean Clifford played the game of his life. And the OL gave forth the best pass protection against quality competition in the Franklin era. Together they allowed Clifford to shred the zone offense Auburn employed throughout much of the game. On the 2nd pass attempt, it was a full 7 seconds before Clifford found Keandre Lambert-Smith right at the sideline. He made progression reads all night behind the OL.
- We got our first taste of John Lovett who had the only explosive play among the RB crew with his 18yd reception. Keyvone Lee showed a great deal in his two carries, both the ability to make plays downhill and forgetfulness of ball security. Noah Cain was steady yet boring on Saturday.
- As good as the OL was in pass protection, the interior didn’t do so well in the ground game. There were several times Eric Wilson looked like he hadn’t been in a FBS strength & conditioning program for very long. Miranda continues making some mistakes too.
- Jahan Dotson had his normal type of game. One thing I’ve noticed this season is he’s running a lot of return motion, which I noticed a lot with Devonta Smith but not in any of Yurcich’s former offenses. His gravity draws the defense more in motion and the idea is on the return to beat his defender who got sucked into the box. Keandre Lambert-Smith is looking like a trusted target. ParkJer Washington had his struggles getting to the sticks and maybe the first simple drop of his career, but after seeing Stubbs giving him a lot on the sidelines he got 4 straight receptions on the 2nd drive of Q3 (that ended in erroneous 4th down ball placement on the fake punt).
- The TE crew was the big play group with half the explosive receptions and 122 of the 177 explosive reception yards. When PSU is going fast with at least 2 TE, Yurcich really likes to stack the receivers behind the TEs way out wide. It looks almost like a Briles alignment. It forces the defense to either allow an easy screen to get a positive gain or cover the screen and remove defenders from the box. He will run it with a TE stacked behind another, a RB behind, or occasionally even a WR in front but that’s less common. This formation led to the big Theo Johnson 37yd gain as both outside defenders crashed on the screen leaving him wide open. Another instance where Yurcich sets up and counters.
- Another instance of set up, counter for Yurcich was on the Strange TD goalline drive. For three consecutive runs PSU pulled RG Juice Scruggs and followed with Brenton Strange blocking for Noah Cain. And those three runs did gain a 1st down but only totaled 5yds and the DT blew through the vacated gap for a TFL on the final run. However, it set up the TD because when Scruggs once again pulled, the LBs completely bit on the run. Strange was able to leak out and Scruggs protected the backside so Clifford could make the short toss for TD. Offensive coordinating at it’s finest.
- Saturday was the first time we’ve seen Pistol formation this season (or maybe any PSU season, at least that I remember) when it was used on the Lovett screen for 18yds. The very next play they ran to the line with Strange aligned as the tackle-eligible and Caedan Wallace out wide in the slot. Biggest slot "receiver" you will ever see. The formation caused confusion and upon the snap Brenton Strange was about as wide open as he may ever be again. Meanwhile Caedan Wallace called for the screen pass. The use of unique formation and tempo is now an item future defenses will have to guard against and it can happen at any moment.
- The use of the screen has been heavy in 2021. So heavy that from the 3yd line, a trips boundary formation so worried the defense that they put 4 defenders out to cover those 3 players. So when Rasheed Walker completely collapsed his side of the defense, there was no one home to stop Noah Cain.
- This secondary is so physical. They bullied an SEC team out on the edges. As successful as the PSU offense is with screens, opponents have been equally unsuccessful. The CBs take WRs blocking as an insult and treat it as such most times. JPJ uses those long arms not only to defend passes but also to keep blockers at bay while he positions for the tackle. TCF has always been physical, Brisker will come downhill with relish, Sutherland is best downhill, and Kalen King might relish the contact more than anyone. Even JiAyir Brown who is usually the deep safety will get in on the action when warranted.
- The LB corp looked very good flowing laterally to the outside run and screen game for much of the game. Between the tackle runs had a few more long successful runs (8+ yds, shy of explosive which is 15) than I’m sure Pry likes. In pass defense, the TE often found holes in the zone at the LB level but usually when both LBs were headed to the QB. It was the first game I’ve seen such consistent ‘breakdowns’ so I wonder if Pry was willing to risk that TE catching those short ones without much fear of a big play.
- Along the DL, Jesse Luketa earned the starting spot he got vs Auburn. He’s a difference maker at DE whereas Tarburton is a solid player. He really shows his LB background on runs or screens to his side of the formation. He recognizes them so quickly.
- Give Derrick Tangelo a hand. He ran downfield and caught Jaquez Hunter on the hurdle run. If not for his hustle, PSU was looking at an AU touchdown instead of a goal line stand. Big boy did it though.
- I’m not sure exactly what Pry was doing with Ellis Brooks at the deepest coverage level and Sutherland up pressuring the QB during the final 3 plays, but that’s...odd.
- Note to opposing teams: if you need a late TD, don’t throw over the deep middle. Jaquan Brisker will ruin your plans.
Special Teams Analysis:
- Jordan Stout is once again booming. I think Saturday did show a chink in his armor though, one kickoff only made it deep into the end zone and not all the way past it.
- I saw Kobe King and Keaton Ellis on special teams this week. I don’t track special teams snaps but that’s another game for Kobe on the redshirt tracker and Keaton Ellis is finally back along with John Lovett. Hakeem Beamon is still out it seems.
- It was bad, very bad. The little things like ball placement after plays was maybe the most subtle yet effective. Many times the PSU player landed with the ball on a hash and when the ball was set the next snap it was a half or full yard back. The Mustipher one was most costly but the most obvious was Keyvone Lee’s 10yd run that was actually 11.
- The right tackle was moving early all night for Auburn. I’m not sure he got called once, the false starts were on the other side of the OL. I quit counting at 5 for that player alone.
- Brandon Smith could have tried to catch Bo Nix’s flop and I bet they’d still have penalized him. Next time, just level him because the penalty is the same.
- We all have hashed and rehashed the intentional grounding, missed 2nd down, missed Nix intentional grounding, and Mustipher forward progress calls. I think the most telling part of all those calls is that the entire referee crew huddled up and came to those conclusions.
- It was obvious that the referee’s couldn’t handle the Beaver Stadium environment. That has to be the explanation, surely no one at the SEC office asked them to give Auburn a chance. SEC ref squads couldn’t handle even Memphis’ Liberty Bowl, how should they be expected to think straight in Beaver Stadium?
True Freshman Redshirt Tracker:
- CB Kalen King #4 (3 games) - played defense
- CB Kaleb Brown #30 (2 games) - walk-on played special teams
- WR Harrison ‘Tre’ Wallace #85 (1 game) - played offense
- DT Jordan van den Berg #52 (1 game) - played defense
- LB Kobe King #41 (2 games) - played defense & special teams
- LB Jamari Buddin #42 (1 game) - played defense
- LB Dominic DeLuca #34 (1 game) - walk-on played special teams
- S Jaylen Reed #7 (1 game) - played defense