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Who steps up with Emory Blake in 2012?

Last season the Auburn pass-offense was No. 8 in the Southeastern Conference, generating impact plays or plays of 15-yards or more. There were multiple reasons why the Auburn passing game struggled in 2011 and one of them was the overall performance of the wide receiver position. Entering spring practice in 2012, the wide receiver position was a concern and remains a concern with the conclusion of spring practice. Though the primary objective this spring was to install Scot Loeffler’s offense, comments by position coach Trooper Taylor indicated the wide receivers were not progressing as hoped. Besides Emory Blake, seven other scholarship wide receivers participated during spring practice and they were shuffled around, auditioning for three openings. If the 2012 Auburn pass-offense is to improve from last season, the Tigers must find another dependable receiver not named Emory Blake.

Possessing an “elite” receiver would help but consistency as a group is the winning formula the Auburn coaching staff is searching for. Since 1986, Auburn’s wide receivers as a group have averaged at least 15-yards per reception in 9 of 26 seasons. During the 9 seasons Auburn’s receivers averaged at least 15-yards per catch, the Tigers compiled a record of 95-15-2 (.857). During the remaining 17 seasons below 15-yards per reception, Auburn compiled a record of 126-76-3 (.622). Under Gus Malzahn, the majority of Auburn’s pass attempts were targeted in the short and long-range zones. Scot Loeffler will place a higher premium on the intermediate targeted area, which will involve the tight end position too. This should increase Auburn’s ability to generate more impact plays in the passing game. During the 2009 and 2010 campaigns, over 43 percent of the receptions made by the wide receivers were impact plays, which dropped to 35 percent in 2011.

Since 1992, Auburn has compiled a record of 90-17-2 (.835), when the offense generates 8 or more impact plays during a game. Since 2000, Auburn’s record is 60-9-0 (.869) with at least 8 impact plays. Because the pass-offense accounts for 66 percent of the impact plays, it’s easy to see why the production of Auburn’s receivers is critical towards the improvement of the offense. Though “impact” plays account for only 11 percent of the offensive snaps since 1992, it accounted for 51 percent of the total yardage gained. Since 1992, 35 percent of the receptions made by Auburn wide receivers have been impact plays. During that same time frame, 6 Auburn teams have exceeded 40 percent, compiling a record of 62-15-0 (.805). The remaining 14 Auburn teams combined for a 107-60-2 record (.639). Two of Gus Malzhan’s three pass-offenses at Auburn exceeded 40 percent but the 2011 offense did not.

Last season Auburn’s wide receivers averaged 13.7 yards per reception, 18th best over the past 25 seasons. Because Auburn lacked big-play ability in their passing game, Auburn threw a higher number of perimeter passes, which opposing defenses easily defended. The Tigers lack of a consistent intermediate threat, made life difficult for Auburn’s quarterbacks and receivers. If the 2012 A-Day game is indicative of what we can expect from the pass-offense, Coach Scot Loeffler will challenge the opposing secondary at every level. During the final scrimmage of the spring, Auburn ran many crossing and drag routes, attacking the secondary 10-15 yards down the field. Despite only 27 pass attempts, 6 of them produced impact plays, which equated to 43 percent of the receptions made by the wide receivers, resulting in an impact play. Added into the mix of intermediate passes during A-Day were square-in, comeback and slant routes.

During the 2011 season, Auburn targeted only 22 percent of their passes in the 11-19 yard range, completing 34.3 percent of those passes. Auburn’s intermediate passing game was not emphasized enough and when it was, it was inefficient. The injury to Emory Blake skewed the numbers but this is the primary reason why the Auburn coaching staff is searching for additional productivity from the entire unit. Temple’s wide receivers operating within Loeffler’s offense produced impact plays from 39 percent of their receptions, which did not include an additional 13 impact plays from their starting tight end. The change in offensive philosophy will hopefully bring out the most in Auburn’s wide receivers but it will be a unit, which will lack game day experience. Of the veteran receivers returning in 2012, Emory Blake has 10 more career receptions than the remaining unit combined.

Of the four veteran wide receivers, Travante Stallworth and DeAngelo Benton have the best career numbers. The two have combined for 29 career receptions, which produced 16 impact plays and 20 first downs. Stallworth has averaged 15.7 yards per reception and Benton has averaged 17.1 yards. Over 53 percent of their career receptions have resulted in an impact play. Trovon Reed and Quan Bray combined for 38 receptions in 2011 but most of their action was in the perimeter passing game. They combined for a paltry 6.8 yards per reception and 0 touchdowns. The four veteran receivers have a combined career average of 10.9 yards per reception, well below the national average of 13.4 yards per reception. Trooper Taylor is hoping Jaylon Denson and Sammie Coates will make the unit more competitive as they push for playing time in 2012. Incoming freshmen Jaquay Williams and Ricardo Louis will certainly get a strong look, when camp opens up in August.

Schemes can make a major difference in productivity, especially for a player like Trovon Reed. Of his 21 receptions during 2011, only 4 resulted in an impact play because he was primarily utilized on screen passes. During the 2012 A-Day game, Reed caught 3 passes and 2 resulted in an impact play as he was utilized in the intermediate passing game. Though schemes can certainly bring about a positive change for Auburn’s wide receivers, it will still come down to the consistency of the individual players. The base elements of the new offense have been installed but it’s up to the players to make it work. During spring practice Auburn coaches and players commented on the goal of being the No. 1 rushing team in the conference this season. In reality for this to happen, Auburn must improve their pass-offense and there will be times the Tigers will need to pass to set up the run.

War Eagle!

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