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There wasn't very much to nitpick about when it came to the 2013 Auburn offense. The Tigers were No. 11 in total offense and No. 12 in scoring offense this past season, setting school records in total yardage and run-offense. They were not perfect but the Auburn running game was the driving force to Pasadena, California through Atlanta. If there were issues on offense, it primarily came in the pass-offense, with Nick Marshall growing into his position as the season progressed.

The numbers...

Auburn finished the season with the No. 1 ranked run-offense and the nation's No. 24 ranked pass-offense in terms of pass-efficiency.

  • No. 24 pass-efficiency offense but No. 6 in the Southeastern Conference.
  • No. 13 rated pass-offense (efficiency) on third-down.
  • No. 11 rated pass-offense in producing pass-plays of 25-yards or more.
  • No. 14 rated pass-offense in touchdown ratio.
  • No. 10 rated pass-efficiency offense during the 1st quarter.

The above rankings paints quite the picture of a very efficient pass-offense, capable of producing big-plays and extending drives. It's important to remember the NCAA efficiency formula is primarily based on completion percentage, yards per attempt and TD ratio. In reality, the efficiency rating doesn't always translate into actual production as the following example reveals.

Example #1: 15-20-1-200yds-1td (165.5 rating)

Example #2: 11-20-0-145yds-3tds (163.3 rating

In the above example, Quarterback #1 had a higher completion percentage and the better yards per attempt average. Quarterback #2 finished the game with 3 TD passes and 0 interceptions but had a lower efficiency rating than Quarterback #1, who had 1 TD pass and 1 pick. Which QB numbers would you want during a game?

The numbers from a productivity standpoint...

  • Even though Auburn had an efficiency rating of No. 24 nationally, the Tigers were No. 70 nationally in their ratio of first-downs produced by their pass-offense.
  • Even though Auburn had the No. 13 efficiency rated pass-offense on third-down, the Tigers were No. 77 in actually converting third-downs, throwing the football.
  • Auburn was No. 10 in pass-efficiency throwing the football during the first quarter but No. 33 throwing the football during the fourth quarter.
  • Auburn was No. 11 nationally in producing pass-plays of 25-yards or more but No. 29 in producing pass-plays of 15-yards or more.
  • The 2012 Auburn pass-offense produced 53 pass plays of 15-yards or more in 12 games. The 2013 pass-offense had only 54 in 14 games.
  • As good as the offensive line was paving a path for the ground-game, the Tigers were No. 54 nationally in sack-ratio allowed.

Looking at Auburn's pass-offense in terms of a "productivity" standpoint, reveals some of the concerns Auburn will face moving forward into 2014. Though I see the value of the efficiency rating, it's also important to focus on the actual productivity level. Sometimes they are one in the same but the above examples show this is not always the case. I tend to look at productivity translating to points and first downs.

Comparing only Auburn pass-offenses from 1992-2013, the 2013 pass-offense was No. 3 in producing pass-plays of 30-yards or more but No. 9 in producing pass-plays of 15-yards or more. Why is this a concern? The ratio of impact plays (15+) to big plays (30+) is 4 to 1 from 1992-2013. Because impact plays happen far more frequently, it's vital Auburn is more efficient in the intermediate range passing-game than the deep ball. From 1992-2013 an impact play (15+) has been worth 3.7 points. Big plays are great but the impact plays made in the intermediate passing game are the plays that extend drives.

The 2013 Auburn offense produced 83 scoring drives, scoring on 44.9 percent of their possessions last season. Of their 83 scoring drives, 74 percent of the plays from the scoring drives were run plays. Auburn was heavily reliant upon their running game in 2013 and for the most part, made the most of it. Imagine how explosive and how difficult it would be to defend the 2014 Auburn offense with a more prolific passing game.

Nick Marshall...

Enough cannot be said about Nick Marshall's progression this past season. This was his first season playing quarterback at this level and he did so without participating in spring practice. Adjusting to the speed of the game and a new offense, he led his team to a SEC Championship and was seconds from winning a national championship. He clearly was a better quarterback at the end of the year than he was, when he made his first start against Washington State. During the first 4 games of the season, he had an efficiency rating of 129.3, improving to 154.4 during the final 4 games of the season.

Marshall was a fearless leader and his teammates gravitated around him. His impressive efficiency rating during Auburn's last 4 games of the season against ranked opponents, is a clear indicator he hasn't reached the ceiling of his full potential. He will have a comfort zone entering the 2014 season he did not possess at the start of 2013 and 2014 will mark the first time Gus Malzahn had the same starting quarterback two years in a row.

  • Nick Marshall completed only 40.0 percent of his passes attempted beyond 5-yards of the line of scrimmage, which needs to improve in 2014. In comparison, Cam Newton completed 56.1 percent of his passes.
  • Nick Marshall produced a run-play of 10-yards or more every 4.3 attempts, better than Cam Newton's ratio of 1 every 5.3 attempts. The difference was Newton's ability to hit a pass-play of 15-yards or more every 4.3 attempts to Marshall's 1 every 5.3 attempts.
  • The 2013 pass-offense was the No. 3 most efficient pass-offense during the last 50 years of Auburn football.
  • The 2013 pass-offense was the No. 4 most efficient in conference play during the past 50 years of Auburn football.
  • Looking back over the past 30 years, Nick Marshall produced 4 of the top-20 most efficient pass performances against a top-10 ranked opponent. No other Auburn quarterback had more in one season.
  • Sammie Coates was Auburn's most frequented target this past year with 27.4 percent of the passes thrown in his direction and Ricardo Louis was No. 2 at 16.8 percent. Quan Bray and Marcus Davis were tied for No. 3 at 10.9 percent.

Auburn will likely have a strong running game again in 2014 and an improved pass-offense could produce record setting numbers once again. Nick Marshall needs to become more efficient and productive but the good news is the potential is there for it to actually transpire. Malzahn and Lashlee are extremely high on the senior to be with Marshall improving as the 2013 season progressed, despite the schedule becoming more challenging.

Despite the losses of 3 starters on the offense, Nick Marshall will have a great supporting cast in 2014. Four starters up front return as well as all of his receivers. The addition of D'haquille Williams to the receiving corps, gives Marshall another major playmaker in the pass-offense. Marcus Davis and Tony Stevens will also go through spring and summer workouts for the first time, which will allow them to develop physically and mentally.

Marshall having the spring, summer and fall sessions to improve before the 2014 season begins should be huge for the Auburn offense. Addressing his mechanics and improving his field recognition should push Marshall to reaching his full potential as the starting quarterback.

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