AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn and Louisiana-Monroe’s last two matchups inside Jordan-Hare Stadium were extremely close calls. But that wasn’t going to be the case with their 2016 meeting, as the Tigers showed from the opening drive.
Gus Malzahn’s team moved to 3-2 on the season with a 58-7 throttling of rebuilding Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday afternoon and checked plenty of boxes for improvement in the process. Auburn found a way to finish drives in the red zone and limited a spread offense from coming up with strings of explosive plays.
The visiting Warhawks were completely overmatched, but the Tigers still had to guard themselves against an underwhelming performance after the high of beating LSU in dramatic fashion. A 28-point third quarter did just the trick, as Auburn got almost everyone on the roster involved in the victory that will lead the Tigers right into their first road test of the year against Mississippi State.
Now let’s put this game in the grade books with this week’s report card. As always, each positional unit is graded from A+ (all-time great performance) to F (complete failure), with a C serving as an average game.
On Auburn’s second drive of the game, Sean White threw three straight incompletions. Those were the last ones he would throw. White finished 14 of 17 for 239 yards and 2 touchdowns, and they weren’t always easy — Louisiana-Monroe blitzed on plenty of downs.
The best pass of the game, though, came from the arm of John Franklin III. After burning through the defense with an 80-yard touchdown run, Franklin dropped a 39-yard dime to Nate Craig-Myers for his first career touchdown pass. White continues to shine brightly at quarterback, and his starting job isn’t in doubt. But Franklin needs to get on the field more for this Auburn offense.
Running Backs: A
Kerryon Johnson had a career day marked down on the stat sheet midway through the second quarter. With Kamryn Pettway getting the afternoon off with a minor injury, Johnson ripped through the ULM defense for 146 yards and 2 touchdowns on 24 carries — 21 of which came before halftime. There’s no question now about his durability as a No. 1 running back.
Each Auburn running back that got a carry Saturday averaged at least 4 yards per touch, and that included walk-on Damian Lewis. Wide receiver Stanton Truitt and H-back Chandler Cox even got reps at the position behind Johnson. Only Malik Miller’s second-half injury could put a damper on a fantastic day from the running backs.
Wide Receivers: A
Surprisingly enough, only six receivers got into the mix in what was a bigger day for Auburn’s receiving corps — and one of them, Will Hastings, had a lone catch that went for a loss of 4 yards. Tony Stevens had another huge day, setting a career high in yards with 109. Ryan Davis showed off a few slick moves with a team-high 5 receptions.
What Auburn should be especially happy with was the big-play production from its true freshmen wide receivers. Kyle Davis had a 48-yard touchdown catch. Eli Stove had a few explosive plays. Craig-Myers, as previously mentioned, caught his first career touchdown on Franklin’s picture-perfect pass. The depth at the position continues to grow in experience at the right time for the Tigers.
Offensive Line: A-
After a week in which the offensive line had little push, the Tigers had their way up front for the most part when it came to the ground game. The pregame switch to Darius James at left tackle and Austin Golson to center due to Xavier Dampeer’s injury worked well in pass protection — James didn’t allow a pressure on his side of the field.
Auburn finished the game with four negative plays and the one allowed sack in which the right side of the field opened up for a blitzing Louisiana-Monroe defender. Still, this line kept White’s pocket almost 100 percent clean and paved the way for an average of 6.2 yards per carry. That’s a good afternoon, no matter the opponent.
Defensive Line: A
The defensive line was responsible for both of Auburn’s sacks, 3 of its 5 tackles for loss and 6 of its 7 quarterback hurries. The leaders of the line are starting to pick up the stat-sheet production fans have wanted to see, especially the power combo of Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson.
Lawson and Jeff Holland were constant menaces off the edge for Auburn whenever they were on the field, and Lawson blew up a read-option play in the backfield in the first half. Even walk-on defensive end Gary Walker got in on the fun, forcing a safety on ULM quarterback Garrett Smith in the final minute of the game.
Four of Auburn’s top five tacklers were linebackers, which is always a good sign for a defense. Tre’ Williams enjoyed being back on the field after his first-half ejection against LSU by recording a team-high 9 tackles (including 1 for loss) and a forced fumble deep in Auburn territory. Montavious Atkinson shut down back-to-back ULM plays in the first quarter to kick off his best game for the Tigers.
The Warhawks got loose for a few explosive carries in the third quarter when the rotation was rolling strong, and a couple of big passing plays down the middle of the field fell on the shoulders of the linebackers. But ULM averaged just 2.7 yards per carry in the first three quarters and only scored once on a drive with a questionable call or two. One can’t fault this unit too much.
Defensive Backs: A-
Auburn’s pass defense held Smith to his worst day of the season in terms of quarterback efficiency, and he finished with just 139 yards on a whopping 33 attempts. Javaris Davis came through with an impressive interception. The Tigers had 7 pass breakups as a secondary, with Rudy Ford coming up with 3 of them.
There were some notable miscues along the way, though. Tray Matthews was beaten on ULM’s lone touchdown of the game and had a few misplays. The Tigers had a hard time handling the quick slant, especially on plays where they had the Warhawks well behind the sticks. But there still was a lot to like about a secondary that continues to improve each week.
Special Teams: B+
So Daniel Carlson is human after all. “Legatron” had his lone field-goal attempt partially blocked in the first quarter, which was his first miss of the season. But all of Carlson’s kickoffs went for touchbacks, and his extra-point attempts were always center-cut.
Daniel Carlson has now passed Bo Jackson on the #Auburn career scoring list and had moved into a tie for 3rd with Cadillac Williams.
— Joe Whelan (@WhelanABC3340) October 1, 2016
The Tigers never punted, which is always a major accomplishment. Marcus Davis got his first real chance to make a big play in the punt return game and delivered with a 25-yard return. Adams got his hands on a field goal for Auburn’s first block in a regular season game since the 2013 Iron Bowl. It was an above-average day overall for the special teams, even though the dreams of a perfect season are dead for their ace kicker.
Auburn’s coaching staff stressed the high priority of improving in the red zone all week and it showed. The Tigers had a hard time putting the ball into the end zone from close range in their early-season blowout against Arkansas State, but that wasn’t the case against Louisiana-Monroe. The only time Auburn didn’t score inside the 20 was on the final drive of the game, when walk-ons were starting to take control.
The defense made a couple of early tweaks to corral Louisiana-Monroe’s spread offense, which will be a good adjustment for Mississippi State after one week of pro-style power from LSU. None of these improvements will matter in the big picture unless Auburn performs at a high level next Saturday against Mississippi State. But there wasn’t much to complain about from an Auburn viewpoint.