Grading every Auburn position group after 3 games
Gus Malzahn has his team 3-0 as they head into SEC play Saturday at Texas A&M.
While we have seen some positives — defensive line has lived up to the hype — there is room for improvements at almost every position. The offense has yet to find its stride due to a couple of issues, one of them being the line, and the special teams have been downright woeful (how woeful? Read ahead) on opposing punt returns.
Here’s a grade for each position unit after 3 games.
Bo Nix has had his moments, but inconsistencies (52.4 completion percentage) and a lack of rhythm have given the true freshman some early bumps. The good thing is that his confidence has never wavered and each game he seems to be improving. A big test will come Saturday in his first true road game at Kyle Field. As for Joey Gatewood, he has shown that he can be a big force in goal line situations and can sort of mix up the offense when lining up behind center. This is Nix’s team, but Gatewood, with 3 rushing TDs already, will remain a big part of it.
Running backs: B-
Leading up to the Kent State game, the grade wouldn’t have been higher than a C as the Tigers struggled to get anything going on the ground. Boobie Whitlow (341 yards, 3 touchdowns) has had a case of the fumbles early on. Kam Martin (114 yards, 1 TD) has seen the field sparingly, and the holes have not been open for the backs to gain yards. That wasn’t the case against the (sure, overmatched) Golden Flashes as the Tigers put up 467 rushing yards. Let’s see if that can continue now that SEC play begins.
Wide receivers: C
It is difficult to judge the receivers after 3 games due to injuries the unit has sustained. Will Hastings has been good in his return from missing last season with an ACL while Anthony Schwartz still is dealing with his hand being in a cast. All in all, Seth Williams and Co. have not always been in tune with Nix, as expected with a new quarterback. The leading receiver? Eli Stove with a meager 133 yards, and many of those have come on jet sweeps where Nix pushes the ball to him. This group has a lot of improving to do.
Offensive line: D
Oh, boy. This group, with all 5 returning and all being seniors, has been the biggest disappointment. While they have allowed only 2 sacks — a lot of that has to do with Nix’s ability to get out of the pocket — they have also been pushed around when it comes to creating holes, even against teams such as Tulane. J.B. Grimes has a lot of work to do with this veteran group and if they don’t improve fast, SEC defenses will have their way with them.
Defensive line: A
The strength of this team, the front 4 led by Derrick Brown has been as advertised. Brown, despite sitting out almost the entire game against Kent State, has proven that he should be a high draft pick in next year’s NFL Draft, and Marlon Davidson, Tyrone Truesdell, Nick Coe and Big Kat Bryant have all been forces. Taking on the talented Oregon offensive line in the opener, the Tigers’ front four dominated in the 2nd half, allowing Nix and the offense time to rally.
The linebackers are young but playing well. Chandler Wooten, K.J. Britt and the true freshman Owen Pappoe have held their own and given defensive coordinator Kevin Steele even more weapons in the front 7. Pappoe has been lights out, earning trust and more playing time. Keep this up, and the Tigers’ defense can become somehow even better.
What a difference a year makes. This group was plagued with penalty issues in 2018 but that hasn’t been the case so far. While their approach of face guarding receivers and not turning and finding the ball might cause a lot of cursing from Auburn fans, it has proven effective. Noah Igbinoghene and Jeremiah Dinson have taken on the role as leaders of this unit, and Christian Tutt, Javaris Davis and Roger McCreary have flashed their potential at times. This could be an elite unit, but we will have to judge that after facing much more talented wide receiver groups.
Special teams: C-
Let’s start with the good: Anders Carlson looks more refined this season. His kickoffs go for touchbacks 83.3% of the time and he has been perfect on extra points (again) and made 5-of-6 field goal attempts.
The bad? The Tigers are 126th in FBS in opponents punt returns, allowing a monstrous 35.80 yards per return. The team at 125th place? UTSA, which is allowing just 22.25 yards per return.
Auburn has allowed an astounding 179 yards in punt returns. That doesn’t need a lot of perspective, but consider this: Florida and Arkansas haven’t even allowed a single yard yet. Tennessee and LSU have allowed 2 yards, Alabama 4 and Kentucky 6. Only 2 SEC teams allowed more than 179 yards in all of last season. The Tigers weren’t one of them; they allowed a scant 37 yards in 2018.
This needs to be fixed immediately or this will start costing Auburn games. You can’t continually give good field position to explosive offenses.