- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
Texas A&M cruised by Auburn 63-21 on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium and it was a night of offensive dominance for the Aggies. There were many big plays, but we chose three that illustrated why the Aggies were so successful offensively against the Tigers on Saturday.
Situation: Texas A&M ball, fourth-and-1 at the Auburn 6 (5:45 left in first quarter)
Score: Texas A&M 7, Auburn 0
Result: 6-yard touchdown run by Johnny Manziel.
Breakdown: Here, the Aggies do a nice job of pre-play deception with their "unbalanced line." On short-yardage plays this season, the Aggies have occasionally made a personnel change in which they shift one of their starting tackles to the opposite side lined up where a tight end normally would, and Joseph Cheek comes in to replace the shifted tackle's original position. In this case, it's right tackle Jake Matthews who moves to the left side, next to left tackle Luke Joeckel, while Cheek comes in at right tackle.
Auburn overloads this side of the formation on defense, anticipating a running play to that side. This is further supported by the fact that tight end Michael Lamothe is lined up with Matthews and Joeckel. Tight end Nehemiah Hicks is on the right side of the formation in a three-point stance, lined as an H-back. Hicks' presence here is key because he picks up a key block on the scoring play.
The call is a basic option run with Manziel running right, behind Hicks while running back Ben Malena serves as the pitch man if needed. Auburn defensive end Dee Ford crashes toward the pocket at the snap and by time he realizes Manziel is running wide, it's too late for him to recover and catch the quarterback. The only other Auburn defender there to put up a fight is safety Jermaine Whitehead, who is blocked by Hicks. Manziel doesn't need to pitch it because there's a large hole there and he hits the end zone with ease for the two-touchdown lead.
Situation: Texas A&M ball, first-and-10 at the Auburn 19 (2:14 in first quarter)
Score: Texas A&M 14, LSU 0
Result: Touchdown on a 19-yard pass from Johnny Manziel to Ryan Swope
Breakdown: The play before this one (and the Aggies' effective running game in general) set up this touchdown pass beautifully. On the previous play, Ben Malena gained 21 yards on a draw. This time, the Aggies go with the play action fake to Malena, who goes right as the offensive line blocks that direction to sell the run. It's sold well as defensive end Corey Lemonier and outside linebacker Daren Bates -- who would both be the guys responsible for containing the left side -- bite on the fake to the right while Manziel rolls to the left.
Swope runs a crossing route in the same direction Manziel is rolling toward and Manziel throws a strike on the run to Swope, who not only makes a nice catch but plants his foot and changes direction to avoid potential tackler Demetruce McNeal. McNeal grabs at Swope's legs but his momentum carries him away from an already accelerating Swope, who heads straight for the end zone and dives for six.
Swope finds himself open because the effectiveness of the run fake. All of Auburn's linebackers come up toward Malena and Swope is able to run his crossing route without any resistance from a defender. This play gives the Aggies a 21-0 first-quarter lead and makes it abundantly clear that the Aggies won't be stopped on this night, scoring for the third time in three drives.
Situation: Texas A&M ball, third-and-8 at the Auburn 34 (13:54 left in second quarter)
Score: Texas A&M 21, Auburn 0
Result: 34-yard touchdown run by Christine Michael.
Breakdown: This play illustrates how confident the coaches were in the running game and how effective it was against the Tigers.
Offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury often says, "We're going to take what the defense gives us." What the defense gives is dictated by how many defenders are in the box near the line of scrimmage. The Aggies always look for favorable matchups in this area, so if there are five defenders in the box, the chances of a run play are high.
On this play, there are six defenders in the box -- four down linemen and two linebackers. However, two linebackers, Jake Holland and Daren Bates, are on the edges, lined up outside each defensive end and there's no middle linebacker or defender immediately behind the defensive linemen. A seventh defender moves into the box right before the snap, safety Jermaine Whitehead, after Manziel appears to adjust the play at the line of scrimmage.
The matchup becomes favorable because with third-and-8 it's a passing down, so the two linebackers are likely rushing upfield. The play becomes a run for the Aggies and it's executed to virtual perfection. The handoff to Michael is quick and he darts left then cuts back right into an open lane as the offensive line meets the four down linemen. The two linebackers are essentially taken out of the play because they've rushed upfield and because of the speed with which Michael hits the hole, going north and south. The safety who comes up to support, Whitehead, is eliminated when center Patrick Lewis gets to the second level in a hurry and neutralizes him. The result is a lot of space for Michael and he turns on the jets, outrunning Bates, who tries to catch him from behind, and the Aggies take a four-touchdown lead.
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