685 days later, Auburn has an SEC win under their belt. What I witnessed on Saturday was the ugliest brand of Auburn football I have seen this year, which for an SEC opener, is to be expected. Although it was the ugliest, I did see this team pull through hardship....something the 2012 team could never achieve. On Saturday, I remembered what it's like to win a "big" game, and Jordan-Hare felt it too. When C.J. Uzomah caught the game-winning pass in the corner of the south endzone, pandaemonium ensued, and for the first time, in a long time....there was hope on the Plains.
Quarterback - B-
Nick, Nick, Nick....oh how you frustrate me. Going into this week, I really had no idea what to expect from Nick Marshall. Which Nick would show up? All during pre-season workouts, Coach Malzahn marveled over Nick Marshall's athleticism and his ability to make big plays. While both of those things are true, as we saw on Saturday when he caught a tipped pass to himself, he still needs to master the consistency aspect of his game. Down 20-17 in the fourth quarter, Nick had a streaking Sammie Coates, wide-open, on his way for what would've been an easy touchdown pass. However, Nick prevented a lead change by overthrowing Sammie by a good 10 yards, and the pass, disappointingly, fell incomplete. My thinking is that the play was a combination of over-excitement and an under-estimation of his pure arm strength. The question is not a lack of clutch play, because the final 88 yard drive capped off with a game-winning touchdown was the definition of clutch, and I think (hope) that Nick Marshall came into his own on that final drive.
Running Back - N/A
There is really no possible way for me to grade the performance of our backs, as the offensive line had their worst showing to date on Saturday. Throughout the entire game, our trio of backs had the toughest time running in between the tackles due to the weak showing of our offensive linemen. Corey Grant was the leading rusher on Saturday, as he carried the ball 8 times for 44 yards, primary because of his ability to bounce to the outside with his speed. Mason and CAP followed behind Corey, as each gained 34 and 12 yards, respectively.
Wide Receiver - B-
Much improvement from this position, as I saw sparks of greatness from Ricardo Louis and even Trovon Reed for one play, as he delivered a very nice stiff arm on his way to a twelve yard gain. However, Ricardo's dropped pass made me cringe in frustration, as it was apparent that he could get a second hand on that ball to make a play. From what I saw on Saturday, there was a step backwards from the effectiveness of run and screen blocking, as Jay Prosch (surprisingly) and Trovon Reed slipped up on a few of their assignments throughout the game.
Offensive Line - D+
The productivity from this unit was the worst I've seen this year, by far. Pass blocking was at an all time low, as we actually managed to allow a few sacks. The run blocking was even worse, as runs in between the tackles were basically non existant. Only 120 rushing yards were gained against the Bulldogs, which forced Nick Marshall to drop back in the pocket and throw for over 300 yards.
Defensive Line - C+
The first half was rough for this unit, as Dak Prescott had all day in the pocket to throw the ball. However, as the game progressed, so did the line, as senior DE Dee Ford made his return for the first time this season, and his debut was pretty solid. According to defensive coordinator, Ellis Johnson, Ford was a part of four tackles with a sack in his first five snaps of the season. Not too shabby, Mr. Ford....good to have you back. Just like the two previous games, the defense stepped up in a huge way when it mattered most and allowed the offense one more opportunity to score late in the ballgame.
Linebackers - D
Ellis Johnson has his work cut out for him with this unit, as Jake Holland struggled to stop one play...the quarterback draw. 6'-2", 230 pound, Dak Prescott gave Holland a nightmare of a game, as the Bulldog quarterback carried the ball 22 times for 133 yards on the ground alone. The lone man that saved the passing grade was Kris Frost, as he came back from his targeting suspension in the second half, and actually managed to prevent Prescott from having a clear shot right between the tackles. Frost only managed to tally one tackle on the day, but his presence was felt as Prescott was forced into other defenders instead as his productivity from the draw play faded as the game went along.
Secondary - B
Another iffy grade, as our corners were worn down in the first half due to a lack of pressure in the Bulldog backfield. The second half told a different story though, as once we were able to force pressure on Prescott, our corners locked the pass game down. At star position, Robenson Therezie, once again, had everything under control, including a huge hit on Bulldog running back, LaDarious Perkins. Although this unit forced no turnovers this week, they still managed to hold Prescott to a very average completion rate of 53% through the air.
Special Teams - A
Yet again, another solid performance by the special teams, as Cody Parkey connected on 3 field goals, two being from 40+ yards, and hitting all of his extra point attempts. Steven Clark was a secret weapon this week, averaging 48 yards per punt, while also downing two of his attempts inside the 10. Not a single punt from Clark was returned. Quan Bray, filling in for the injured Chris Davis, managed to make something out of nothing, back returning punts. All-SEC Bulldog punter, Baker Swedenburg, averaged 46.6 yards per punt, but that didn't faze Quan, as the junior averaged 14.7 yards per return.