Auburn Football: What We Learned from the Week 1 Game vs. Clemson
The Auburn Tigers had some bright spots in their game vs Clemson on Saturday, but they fell to the Tigers from the Palmetto State, 26-19.
Auburn had a fourth-quarter lead, but the inability to put the ball in the end zone came back to haunt the Tigers from The Plains.
Along with several players that made their collegiate debut, Brian Van Gorder and Scot Loeffler made their Auburn debut as Auburn coordinators.
The Auburn football team will head to Mississippi State next week to open up SEC play.
Before looking ahead to the Bulldogs in Maroon and White, let's look back at what we learned in Week 1...
The Defense Cannot Be Fixed Overnight
After 528 yards and 87 plays, Auburn fans realized that the arrival of Brian Van Gorder will not magically fix the Auburn defense.
The scheme was different and the Auburn defense was much more aggressive than a year prior. Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford combined for four sacks. Beyond that, there was not much for Auburn fans to be happy about with the defense.
The first three-and-out for the Auburn defense occurred on Clemson's first possession of the second half.
In 2011, Clemson racked up 624 yards and ran 92 plays. That is only an improvement of 96 yards and five plays in one year under a new coordinator.
Some of the same things that plagued the Auburn defense last year reared their ugly heads again on Saturday night in the Georgia Dome. Van Gorder summed up his thoughts on the defense's play succintcly by saying "poor tackling."
Not surprisingly, 320 of the yards allowed by Auburn were on the ground (231 yards by Andre Ellington). A lot of those yards occurred after initial contact. Missed tackles occurred on all levels of the defense. Defensive tackles, linebackers and safeties.
Third-down defense was somewhat better in this matchup. Clemson converted 8-of-17 third-down plays. When a stop was needed the most on Clemson's next to last drive, the Auburn defense allowed Tajh Boyd to escape the pressure and get a first down that may have clinched the game.
The secondary play against Clemson deserves its own slide for its efforts. We will talk about that unit later in this column.
On the bright side, the defense did do a decent job of bending but not breaking. Auburn forced Clemson to kick field goals in three of its five trips to the red zone.
Also, Daren Bates intercepted Tajh Boyd to help give Auburn the lead early in the fourth quarter. There was also a turnover in the first half that was overturned after video replay.
This was Van Gorder's first time against an offense like Chad Morris' uptempo hurry up, no huddle style. According to Justin Hokanson of AuburnSports.com (subscription required), Van Gorder allowed 500-plus yards one time when he was defensive coordinator at UGA. Auburn fans hope this is the only time he allows 500-plus as an Auburn defensive coordinator.
Auburn will most likely not see any offenses that have better playmakers at the skill positions than Clemson's. Excuses aside, this was not a good start for Van Gorder's tenure as Auburn defensive coordinator.
Tre Mason Can Be a Productive SEC Running Back
Despite coughing up a fumble, Tre Mason picked up where he left off against Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year's Eve.
The sophomore racked up 106 yards on 14 carries. That resulted in a 7.6 yards per carry average.
Mason has the speed to break away from defenders and the quickness to make defenders miss. He also has enough size to take the ball up the A and B gap. Jay Prosch did a great job of opening up big holes for Mason to run through against Clemson.
After the fumble by Mason, he bounced back and did not let the miscue affect him the rest of the game. Gene Chizik was impressed by that.
It is important that Mason continue to run the way he did against Clemson for the upcoming weeks. Especially when the depth chart took a hit with the loss of Mike Dyer and Jovon Robinson.
Mason has proven that he can be a productive SEC running back for the Tigers.
Kiehl Frazier Is Still a Work in Progress
The 54-yard touchdown pass to Emory Blake was beautiful. The overthrows of Phillip Lutzenkirchen and other receivers were ugly. There were some highs and lows in between.
All in all, Kiehl Frazier had a decent night for his first collegiate start. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler attempted to get Frazier comfortable early in the game by throwing some short screens and underneath routes. Frazier then threw his first career touchdown pass to Emory Blake on a beautiful play-action pass that froze the linebackers and secondary just long enough for Blake to beat his man.
Behind a young offensive line that featured three players getting their first collegiate start, Frazier did feel a little pressure. At those times, he moved out of the pocket and could not get off many accurate throws.
Frazier did a poor job of distributing the ball to his receivers. Only four Auburn payers caught passes from Frazier: Blake, Lutzenkirchen, Onterio McCalebb and Quan Bray.
Frazier had a chance to make an early name for himself and to lead a fourth-quarter drive that would have possibly tied the game. The attempt was more like Ryan Leaf than John Elway. Overthrows and almost a lost fumble highlighted the drive and Auburn did not threaten.
There is no reason to think that Frazier will not be a successful quarterback in the SEC. Right now, he remains a work in progress.
Secondary Needs to Improve in a Hurry
It was a bad night for the Auburn secondary. Actually, it's been a bad three years plus one game. Nothing appeared to have changed for the Auburn secondary with the change of Willie Martinez.
Many thought that the suspension of Sammy Watkins for Clemson would have a big impact on the game. It did not. DeAndre Hopkins was more than adequate taking the place of Watkins. Hopkins' line read 13 catches, 119 yards and one touchdown.
Tajh Boyd threw 34 times and completed 24 of those passes. These passes resulted in 204 yards. "He was phenomenal," Swinney said via Yahoo! Sports. "We've talked to him about not taking sacks and making plays with his legs. We know that was the difference tonight."
It could have been worse for the Auburn secondary. Penalties and dropped passes negated more than a couple big plays for Clemson.
Gene Chizik had some harsh words for the Auburn secondary, specifically the safeties, on his weekly teleconference. "[Safety play] was very suspect. I thought the tackling was poor. The level of play at that position has to improve significantly," Chizik said via al.com. He also left the door open to changes in the depth chart if play does not improve.
Auburn played a lot of loose zone coverage, which is understandable due to the athleticism of Clemson's receivers. What was not understandable was continuing to play that loose zone coverage after the first half when it was apparent that was not the solution to stopping the receivers. It indicates a lack of trust in man-to-man coverage.
Teams will continue to exploit this weak secondary until it prove itself. Apparently all it takes is a bubble screen to an athletic receiver and an Auburn defender will leave his feet and not make the tackle.
Willie Martinez and Brian Van Gorder must improve this Auburn secondary in a hurry if Auburn wants to be thought of as one of the top defensive units in the conference.
The Offense Must Come Away with More Than Three Points in the Red Zone
Three trips to the red zone for the Auburn offense resulted in nine points on Saturday. That is not a recipe for success against a team like Clemson who can score in bunches and in a hurry.
Scot Loeffler took some shots in the end zone that ended up in drops. Kiehl Frazier under-threw a fade route to Emory Blake that Blake could not come down with.
Although it was just outside the red zone, Frazier had a wide open Trovon Reed in the end zone when Reed had a mental lapse. Reed lost field awareness and he caught the ball with two feet out of the back of the end zone.
The only time Auburn found the end zone was on Frazier's 54-yard touchdown pass to Emory Blake. The rest of Auburn's points came courtesy of Cody Parkey.
Only being successful inside the 20-yard lines will make for a long season for the Auburn offense. Loeffler must call the right plays to get the ball in the end zone and the offense must execute.
The offense needs to at least have a touchdown 50 percent of the time it gets into the red zone. Field goals are great, but Auburn will need more than three points when getting that deep into the opponent's territory.