Into Uncharted Territory?
Line, skill players, passing game, ball fakes. Will this offense break records?
(Photo by Acid Reign.)
War Eagle, everybody! This week, we’re going to take a look at the Auburn offense, and see if we can’t find a few strengths and weaknesses. I think everyone has high hopes this fall that Auburn will score unprecedented points. Is that thinking realistic against a difficult schedule?
Just looking at the past is a strong indicator. Coach Gus Malzhan has been involved in four past Auburn offenses, and two of those are the top two point-scoring teams in Auburn history. (2010 and 2013, at 41.2 and 39.5 points per game, respectively.) Malzhan’s 2009 offense ranks seventh all time, at 33.3 points per game.
The past 50 years or so, it has proven difficult for Auburn to sustain 30-point-per-game averages beyond 3 seasons. With Pat Sullivan and Terry Beasley back in the 1960s-1970s, Auburn posted two top ten finishes, at 33.6 and 35.5. Sully’s last season tailed off to 30.5, and Auburn had difficulty moving the ball after that for a decade. Pat Dye had one team break the 30-point barrier, the 1986 team at 32.9. Terry and Tommy Bowden had a four-year run from 1993-1996, posting 32.1, 32.6, 36.5 and 33.1 points per game, till falling off. Tommy Tuberville and Al Borges broke 30 twice, 32.1 in 2004, and 32.2 in 2005. Again, that proved impossible to sustain. The only other 30 point per game season in Auburn history was in 1920, when Mike Donahue’s squad posted 36.9.
This season, Auburn appears to have all of the pieces in place for a great run at a record, offensively. The Tigers return a plethora of top-notch players on offense, they keep the same scheme, and for the first time ever in college ball, Coach Malzhan has a returning starting quarterback. And while Auburn’s schedule is very tough this season, the teams on it haven’t displayed much of a knack for slowing the Malzhan offense down, when it is in synch. We got a preview in the SEC title game last fall of what a Big 12 defense might look like against the Auburn attack when it visits Kansas State. SEC powers Arkansas, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama have all been given fits by the Malzhan offense, in the past five seasons.
Unit capsules, after the jump!
Although the Tigers lose left tackle Greg Robinson to the first round of the NFL draft, four starters return on a road-grading offensive line. Sophomore Shon Coleman appears to be ready to shine in Robinson’s spot. Junior Patrick Miller may start at right tackle, but if he doesn’t, he’s a capable first man off the bench that can play on either side. Sophomore Avery Young will likely start at right tackle, but he can play right guard if Miller is in the lineup. The returning starting guards, sophomore Alex Kozan and fifth year senior Chad Slade started every game last season. Senior center Reese Dismukes is one of the best in the country, and his backup, junior Xavier Dampeer cleaned house on A-Day this year.
Tight End/H-Back looks to be in good shape with senior starters C. J. Uzomah and Brandon Fulse, but depth beyond that is spotty, and this is a position that requires a lot of physical play. Sophomore Gage Batten looks ready to play at H-Back, and Fulse has experience at tight end, and Auburn may just use a three-man rotation here. Sophomore Ricky Parks rejoined the team this spring, and can play either H-back or tight end, but coaches have been pretty tight-lipped on how he performed. Promising true freshman Chris Laye might be a factor, but I suspect that the coaches would like to redshirt him.
Wide receiver is easily the most improved position on the team in the past year. Towards the end of last season, Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis became a stalwart tandem, able to make plays with the ball in hand, and lay down devastating blocks otherwise. The pair will have a tough time keeping junior D’haquille Williams out of the starting lineup, though. Williams was a star on A-Day, showing great hands and making plays. A host of additional players provide depth, including senior Quan Bray, sophomore Tony Stevens, sophomore Marcus Davis, junior Melvin Ray, junior Jaylon Denson, and true freshman Stanton Truitt, who enrolled early and participated in spring drills.
Although the Tigers lost Heisman finalist Tre Mason to the NFL draft, the Tigers return talent in the backfield. I had figured that senior Cameron Artis-Payne would win the starting nod this spring, but senior Corey Grant refuses to go away quietly. Grant looked quite explosive on A-Day, and has showed an increased knack for running hard between the tackles. Redshirt freshman Peyton Barber had a great spring, but sprained an ankle on his first carry on A-Day. Auburn also brings in some talented freshman runners in August.
Senior quarterback Nick Marshall is the first returning starter coach Gus Malzhan has had to work with, since he moved up to college ball in 2006. From Marshall’s performance on A-Day, the coaches have worked on the passing game this spring. Marshall looks comfortable in the pocket, goes through his reads, and can make all of the throws. Add that to his great running skill, zone-read wizardry and ball-movement skills, and he shows all the makings of an All-SEC quarterback. The Tigers also have capable depth in sophomore Jeremy Johnson and junior Jonathan Wallace.