#10 Auburn Tigers vs. Louisiana State Tigers
Tiger Stadium – Baton Rouge, LA
Score: Auburn (23), LSU (27)
Louisiana State has two notable senior WRs
I was already well aware of senior DJ Chark (#7). He has a high cut frame and good long speed; plus a large catch radius that he’s able to put to good use even when defenders are in his general vicinity. Seeing Chark explode offensively in a passing offense that has been very erratic for the better part of his career in Death Valley was a great glimpse at what he can be: a RAC threat who brings a vertical element to the offense.
Specifically, I really liked an early target where Chark ducked his shoulder inside of press coverage and separated vertically. Unfortunately he fumbled that catch and turned the ball over, but the Tigers came back to him time and time again; including on a long punt return TD to bring LSU within 2 points.
Their other senior receiver, Russell Gage (#83) stood out for ball skills and versatility. A diving touchdown just before the half on a looping Etling pass was impossible to miss. So was a quick jet motion sweep that gained 70 yards on the play, just when the Tigers were teetering on the verge of getting blown out.
But did you catch Gage’s two big special teams plays? The first was a booming punt in which Gage managed to bring down the returner, saving a good 10+ yards of field position because he was the only guy able to greet the ball down field. The other was a key downed punt inside the 10, which backed up Auburn and allowed LSU to work into field goal position in the fourth quarter.
Being able to make plays in the special teams area of the game is key for any middle of the road prospect hoping to make a roster. I don’t know enough about Gage to say if his ceiling is more than that yet, but seeing his special teams value means he’s got a spot on my list going forward.
Arden Key is a great pass rusher
Wow, breaking news right? Key’s twitch, length and bend were effective on obvious passing situations against the Tigers, including on the game winning play, in where Key attacked up field before using his hands to create a crease to work inside and sack QB Jarrett Stidham on 4th down with 0:11 left.
But how about in the run game? Key has good length to stack blocks but I would like to see him anchor a little better at the point of attack, there were some instances in which Key was pulled off his spot. Teams betting on upside won’t care, but if Key hopes to be an every down player and instant impact NFL starter, he’s going to have to continue to work on adding functional strength.
That said, I do like how he’s built himself out a bit. Key is a Leonard Floyd style pass rusher but he’s notably thicker than Floyd. Just as important, he’s thicker than himself from 2016.
Kerryon Johnson is more than just a terrific name
13 rushing touchdowns in 6 games for Johnson tells you plenty about how big he is for the Auburn offense. But my goodness, Johnson had some excellent cuts against LSU. There was one play in particular where Johnson’s patience shined bright: he was able to slip past an unimpeded defender; looking like Le’Veon Bell in the process.
Johnson runs physical, has good patience and hard cuts. That’s a good combination for a back who is a true junior and eligible for the 2018 NFL Draft. Johnson missed two games due to a hamstring issue earlier this year (including the Clemson game) but he’s looking fully healthy now with a chance to establish himself further throughout SEC play (and what Auburn hopes results in a New Year’s Day bowl game).
Braden Smith’s versatility will serve him well in the Draft process
Braden Smith is a fun offensive lineman to watch. Why? Because unlike 95% of them, he’s not always aligned in the same spot. Smith is a physical and effective inside blocker; Auburn found a lot of success running behind him and letting him climb to the second level.
But Smith wasn’t always present at Left Guard. There were times he was in motion coming out of an unbalanced alignment. Or playing Tackle. The Tigers know the kind of blocker he is at the point of attack and wisely look to keep him involved near the heart of the play.
NFL teams looking for an interior starter who can move around as needed based on depth issues will put a gold star next to Smith’s name for his ability to play both sides of the line and meet a number of different needs.
We’re still waiting on Jarrett Stidham hype to be warranted
Some well respected people in the college football/NFL Draft realm have heaped praise to Jarrett Stidham. And he, like say, Josh Allen, has all of the physical tools to grab your attention. But against the cream of the crop, I’ve seen Stidham fail to put it all together twice now this season.
Yes, his receivers dropped a handful of throws that could have changed the complexion of the game against LSU. But Stidham still struggled when his timing had to be sped up and he largely failed to throw into tight windows with effectiveness.
While Stidham did have some nice passes (most notably a great vertical touch throw between the corner and safety), he finished this game 9 of 26 and was frazzled by pressure in the pocket.