AUBURN, Ala. — The test was the easiest one of the semester, and the threat of “senioritis” was real in the final home game of the year. But the Auburn football team didn’t drop down Saturday night against Alabama A&M — it checked off its boxes and moved closer to a major final exam.
Auburn delivered a comprehensive beatdown of FCS opponent Alabama A&M, 55-0, Saturday night. The Tigers’ eighth win of the season ensured improvement from a lackluster 2015 campaign, and it gave them a confidence boost ahead of their Iron Bowl matchup against undefeated rival Alabama.
Gus Malzahn’s team didn’t play a perfect game against the overmatched Bulldogs, but it was more than enough to get the desired results. After a bad loss to Georgia a week earlier, Auburn needed a turnaround like this in production and overall team health.
With that in mind, let’s turn to the weekly report card for Auburn’s performance. As always, A+ is a legendary performance, C is average and F is a complete failure. The Tigers are mostly back on the honor roll this time.
Jeremy Johnson had a player of the game type performance in his spot start for the injured Sean White. The former Auburn starter scored 3 touchdowns, including the game’s only passing score — a 14-yard dime to true freshman wide receiver Kyle Davis. He scored twice on the ground and had a fantastic 31-yard scramble in which he avoided two different sack opportunities.
Johnson had his miscues through the air — he overthrew a sure touchdown to Ryan Davis — but he completed 14 of his 19 passes for 147 yards. Backup John Franklin III didn’t throw the ball, but he showcased his wheels with 81 yards on just 4 carries, including a 45-yard sprint on one of his first snaps of the night.
Running Backs: A
It was no Kamryn Pettway, no problem for the Auburn rushing attack against an overmatched Alabama A&M run defense. Kerryon Johnson set the tone with 18 carries for 108 yards and a touchdown in the first half. While Auburn fans probably wanted the sophomore off the field quicker, he looked closer to 100 percent than he did last week against Georgia.
True freshman Kam Martin came into the game and delivered in the second half, carrying the ball 21 times for 176 yards and 2 touchdowns. The speedster had three straight explosive runs in the third quarter. When the Tigers dipped deep into the reserves with Cedric Chambers and Damian Lewis, they moved the ball well. This was pure domination from a deep running back group.
Wide Receivers: A
Auburn’s receivers had more opportunities to bounce back Saturday night with a healthy quarterback and a weaker pass defense in front of them. Kyle Davis made one of the most impressive catches of the season, and Darius Slayton got back on track with a few slick grabs. Both freshmen got the start, along with true freshman speed threat Eli Stove. Senior wide receiver Tony Stevens got back to his old ways by leading the team with 4 catches and 44 yards. Senior defensive back Rudy Ford even lined up out wide to take a speed sweep for 25 yards, although he couldn’t handle an early one from Jeremy Johnson. The receivers took a back seat in a run-heavy second half, but they did their jobs well in the win.
Offensive Line: A-
Alabama A&M’s undersized defensive front broke through for 6 tackles for loss and 6 quarterback hurries. But most of them came in the first half, as the Tigers buckled down and started moving the ball better as the game continued.
The second-string offensive line made a big impression in this one. Auburn’s reserves moved the ball at will in the second half, and the backups up front were a huge reason for that success. Auburn will face an infinitely tougher task next Saturday against Alabama’s defense. But getting some of that confidence back in a lopsided win can only help.
Defensive Line: A
While Auburn only picked up 1 sack and 3 tackles for loss from its defensive line, this unit was in the backfield for most of the game. The Tigers pressured opposing quarterback De’Angelo Ballard on plenty of passes, and he finished with 15 completions on 39 attempts. Auburn swatted several passes at the line of scrimmage, including one that deflected off Ballard’s helmet and into the path of Montravius Adams for an interception.
The Bulldogs also got absolutely nothing in the running game — Ballard had 29 rushing yards, and Alabama A&M’s running backs combined for minus-2 yards. Auburn dominated up front like it was supposed to do.
Auburn rested junior linebacker Tre’ Williams, but there wasn’t any noticeable drop-off from the linebackers. The Tigers tackled well in this area, especially in run-stopping. Darrell Williams and Tre Threat each picked up a tackle for loss.
The only negative for the linebackers came in the second quarter when Darrell Williams left the game after taking a nasty hit to the helmet on a play that resulted in the targeting ejection of an Alabama A&M wide receiver. Deshaun Davis said after the game that his fellow sophomore should be good to go for the Iron Bowl. That’s a a relief to a defense that is playing extremely well as of late.
Defensive Backs: B+
Auburn’s secondary only allowed one big pass play through the air — a 19-yarder in the second quarter. Other than that, the Tigers kept the top on the coverage and made it hard for Ballard to get in any rhythm through the air. Safety Stephen Roberts atoned for some early mistakes with an interception in the third quarter.
The Tigers’ biggest trouble in pass defense is it could’ve done more. Senior Marshall Taylor, who subbed in for the injured Josh Holsey, missed multiple chances to pick off passes. There were big plays to be had in this secondary. Auburn just didn’t take full advantage in what was a great shutout victory for the entire defense.
Special Teams: C
The Alabama A&M game won’t exactly be looked at with total fondness from the Auburn special teams unit. Daniel Carlson missed his first non-blocked field goal of the season. The snap-and-hold combo wasn’t as crisp as it should be on his attempts. Kevin Phillips put too much in a couple of his punts, and Roberts fumbled away a punt return early in the game.
However, Auburn wouldn’t have pitched the shutout if it wasn’t for Maurice Swain’s field-goal block in the first half. The Tigers will need their special teams unit firing on all cylinders in the Iron Bowl, and they picked up a couple of good moments to offset the more obvious miscues.
Auburn left starting running back Kerryon Johnson in for a good while against Alabama A&M, even when it was obvious he was having a hard time getting back up from some tackles. Johnson looked fine by the end of his shift Saturday night, but the coaching staff made a puzzling decision to leave him out there for as long as it did.
On defense, coordinator Kevin Steele put the goal of a shutout in the mind of his players from the beginning of the week. His side of the ball delivered with the first one of those for an Auburn team in eight years. The Tigers avoided a letdown against an overmatched team. Now the coaches have to get Auburn prepared for its toughest test — No. 1 Alabama.