Auburn football: Takeaways from escape win vs. Arkansas

It certainly was not a pretty win. As the rain fell, the unpredictability of the outcome rose. Eventually, Auburn football escaped Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday with a 30-28 win against Arkansas. A loss would have been catastrophic, but credit should be given to the Arkansas Razorbacks for scrapping and making the game close. Heck, most people would say Arkansas should have won the game had it not been for a questionable call at the end.

Controversial final minute

Auburn, down by one point, drove into Arkansas territory with less and a minute to play. The Tigers had a third-and-1 from the Arkansas 19-yard line. For whatever reason, Auburn attempted to spike the ball, even though it needed just one yard for a first down. Bo Nix fumbled the snap and then picked it up and tried to spike it. A player must handle the snap cleanly to spike the ball. When a snap is muffed, picked up, and spiked forward, intentional grounding is the correct call.

The controversy comes in when Nix threw the ball backwards. It was obvious the ball went backwards from the point it left his hand to the moment the ball hit the ground. The review of the play concluded there was no immediate recovery from Arkansas, which did recover the ball first. This resulted in an intentional grounding penalty due to the dropped snap. The referees moved the ball back three yards, setting up a 39-yard field goal kicker Anders Carlson barely snuck through.

It was a chaotic finish that Tigers’ fans have grown accustomed to under Gus Malzahn.

Questionable play calls

The most questionable play calls on the final drive were on second-and-short and third-and-short. It was second-and-2 from the Arkansas 20. The clock was running with plenty of time to set up a field goal. Nix ran the ball for one yard on this play, keeping the clock moving. This seemed to cause panic from the Auburn offense.

If Auburn throws the ball on second or third down, it gives everyone a chance to catch their breath. Nix did not have a great game, but he was taking care of the ball through the air. Take a shot on second or third down, maybe Auburn scores, maybe Nix throws an incompletion, maybe he throws a pick or maybe he gets sacked. The fear of the last two options was evident on Saturday.

Offensive coordinator Chad Morris and Malzahn will have to trust Nix and the pass protection in crunch time at some point. They did not trust the pass protection against Arkansas. They cannot be blamed for a lack of faith in this regard, given the offensive line’s performance the last two weeks. Overall, Morris and Malzahn expected to get a first down on second-and-2 running the ball. That is understandable because the Tigers ran for 6.3 yards per carry throughout the contest. The spike on third-and-1 with 20 seconds left makes little sense because in the same amount of time, they could have set up a short pass play beyond the sticks.

Defensive issues

The issues do not solely lie on offense. The defense looked mediocre at best, as the Tigers are missing some key players to injury. Still, Auburn’s secondary did not put its best foot forward on Saturday. Feleipe Franks ripped the Tigers apart for over 300 yards and over 10 yards per pass attempt. If Jaylin Simpson can return soon, that would be a huge boost for this unit.

Final thoughts

The biggest positive takeaway from Saturday’s win was the run blocking from the offensive line and the running by Tank Bigsby. The rrue freshman averaged 7.3 yards per carry and added 26.5 yards per kick return on four returns.

The special teams units looked solid, outside of the missed kick from Carlson. The blocked punt early ended up being the difference in the game.

Improvements are needed fast when it comes to the O-line’s pass protection. Nix needs to show more poise in the pocket, although it is hard when the defense is instantly in the backfield. Additionally, there needs to be better effort to get the ball to Nix’s best weapon Seth Williams.

All in all, it was a sloppy game in sloppy conditions. If you are an Auburn football fan or player, be happy for the win and move on.

What’s next for Auburn football?

Opponent: South Carolina (1-2)
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