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  1. Depending on pending injuries or weather, I would expect the Auburn offense to play well against Wisconsin. Gus Malzahn has coached in 10 combined Bowl games and Conference Championships at the collegiate level. During those 10 games, his offense averaged 498.6 YPG and 39.9 PPG. His teams went 7-3 during those 10 outings. This includes 6 games at Auburn, where his offense averaged 518.8 YPG and 41.5 PPG. This includes a 5-1 mark at Auburn. Auburn will check in with Nick Marshall at QB, CAP at RB, along with Sammie Coates, Duke Williams and Quan Bray at WR. All five players will likely be playing their last game as an Auburn Tiger, motivated to put on a show one last time, wearing the orange and blue. This doesn't include the services of Chad Slade, Reese Dismukes, CJ Uzomah, Brandon Fulse and Corey Grant, who will also want to go out with a bang. During the last 26 games, the Auburn offense has averaged 496-yards and 38 PPG, along with 296-yards rushing per game. This also includes 80 offensive plays of 30+ yards and 253 plays of 15+ yards.
  2. Post Season Numbers & Thoughts: During the first 7 games of the season the Auburn defense allowed 5.88 yards per play during the first-half and 4.21 yards per play during the second-half. During the final 6 games of the season, the Auburn defense allowed 5.97 yards per play during the first-half and 6.76 yards per play during the second-half. During the first 7 games of the season, 49.0% of the snaps defended by the Auburn defense during the first-half, went for 2-yards or less. It increased to 55.6% during the second half of games. During the last 6 games of the season, 43.7% of the snaps defended by the Auburn defense during the first-half, went for 2-yards or less. It decreased to 42.9% during the second half. The top-5 play-makers on offense this season based on impact-plays were: Cameron Artis Payne (26), Duke Williams (22), Nick Marshall (20), Sammie Coates (14) and Quan Bray (12). Injuries to Williams and Coates took away from Auburn's explosiveness this season. During the first 6 games of the season, Nick Marshall averaged 82.0 yards rushing per game on 6.6 yards per attempt. During the final 7 games of the season, Marshall averaged only 43.7 yards per rush on 3.9 yards per carry. The read-option was nowhere close to last season. During the final 7 games of the 2013 season, Marshall & Mason averaged 257.6 YPG on 6.09 YPC. During the final 7 games of 2014, Marshall & CAP combined for 179.3 YPG on 4.92 YPC. Ricardo Louis is a player to watch for in 2015. With the departure of Sammie Coates, Auburn will need him to become a consistent playmaker. During the first 6 games of the season, Louis had 15 offensive touches for 118-yards. During the final 7 games of the season, Louis had 22 offensive touches for 353-yards. Of his 9 impact plays on the season, 7 came during the second-half of the season. Duke Williams was No. 12 nationally in generating pass-receptions of 15-yards or more and Sammie Coates was No. 21. The Auburn offense simply wasn't the same without both healthy and on the field together. During Auburn's 8 victories this season, the Tigers compiled a pass-rating of 157.1 on first-down and only 117.2 during their 5 defeats. From 1992-2014 Auburn has compiled a pass-rating of 136.0 on first-down and was only 134.9 in 2014. Of Auburn's 332 passes on the season, only 96 (28.6%) came on first down, which was dead last nationally. The national average was 37.9%, which means Nick Marshall was forced to throw more often when the opponent wanted him to, rather than when Malzahn wanted him to throw. I expect that percentage to change drastically with Jeremy Johnson at quarterback. In terms of the game day report cards, the Auburn offense had a passing grade in 11 of 13 games, the defense 6 in 13 games and special teams, 7 of 13 games. Last season the offense had a passing grade in 12 of 14 games, the defense 7 of 14 games and special teams 13 of 14 games. Overall the offense improved to 74.9% from 74.6% in 2013. The defense dropped to 47.7% from 49.3% in 2013 and special teams took the biggest dive to 53.4% from 71.7% in 2013. During the last 3 games of the season Auburn allowed 3.93 yards per rush during the first-half and 7.58 yards per attempt during the second-half. How vital are impact plays? During Auburn's 73 scoring drives this season, 63 involved at least 1 play of 15-yards or more during the possession. Last season the Auburn defense registered 32 sacks and 13 interceptions. This season despite only 20 sacks, Auburn intercepted 22 passes. One can only imagine how many picks Auburn could have totaled in 2014 with a more consistent pass-rush. During the first 5 games of the season, the Auburn defense forced a "3 & out", 45 percent of the time. During the final 8 games of the season, it dropped to only 18 percent. During the first 5 games of the season, the Auburn defense allowed 24-yards per possession and a TD every 37.2 snaps. During the final 8 games of the season, the defense allowed 36-yards per possession and a TD every 16.6 snaps defended. During the first 7 games of the season, Auburn scored 75 points from their opponent's turnovers. During the final 6 games of the season, Auburn scored only 24 points off of turnovers. Rarely does a player find immediate success after making a position change at the collegiate level. Johnathan "Rudy" Ford moved to safety this season, finishing the year as Auburn's leading tackler with 93 stops. He also had 2.5 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions and 1 forced-fumble. Look for him to continue to grow into his position under Will Muschamp. Rudy Ford was No. 14 in the SEC with 7.15 tackles per game. Cassanova McKinzy was No. 16 and Kris Frost was No. 17. McKinzy was also No. 14 in the SEC with 11 tackles for loss. Fifteen SEC defensive linemen had more tackles for loss than Auburn's leader, Montravius Adams (8). Cameron Artis-Payne had some major shoes to fill, replacing Tre Mason. The senior RB, responded with an All-SEC season, leading the conference in rushing and No. 2 in rushing TD's. CAP's 123.7 yards per game was the 5th best average in school history. Cameron Artis-Payne was No. 15 nationally in yards per game. Quarterback Nick Marshall improved his passer-rating from 143.2 in 2013 to 150.8. His 150.8 rating is the 4th highest rated performance among the 37 Auburn quarterbacks to attempt at least 150 passes during a season. His TD ratio of 1 every 14.6 attempts was 5th best in school history. Marshall was No. 33 in pass-efficiency during 2013, improving to No. 15 his senior year. The Auburn offense finished No. 13 in run-offense and No. 9 in pass-efficiency offense. The Tigers were No. 17 in total-offense and No. 26 in scoring-offense. Based on yards per game, yards per play, points per game, TD ratio and strength of schedule, the 2014 Auburn offense is No. 3 among the past 60 Auburn offensive units. The 2010 offense was No. 1 with a 213.5 rating, the 2013 offense was No. 2 with a 209.9 rating and the 2014 unit had a rating of 199.6. From 1970-2014, Auburn has compiled a record of 204-6-0, when scoring at least 30 points during regulation. Four of the 6 losses have come during the past 2 seasons. From 2009-2014 (79 games), Auburn has allowed 26 PPG, 398.3 YPG and 163.2 yards rushing per game. Of those 79 games, it includes 26 losses, where Auburn allowed 36 PPG, 446.5 YPG and 222.6 yards rushing per game. The second installment of Will Muschamp's defense cannot start soon enough. The 2014 season marks the 12th time Auburn has closed a season with only 1 win during their last 5 games of the season since 1950. The Auburn coaching staff has their work cut out for them as Auburn followed up the previous 11 seasons with a win percentage of .622 the following year. Looking at only FBS competition, Auburn's 2014 schedule ended up being the 6th most difficult in school history, minus the result of the "Auburn" game. 10 of Auburn's 13 opponents this season (76.9%) were FBS programs that finished the season with a winning record. It was the 3rd highest percentage of winning opponents faced during a season from 1950-2014. The 1983 team holds the highest percentage (83.3%). So what happened to the 2014 Auburn defense? During the first 5 games of the season, Auburn faced opponents that averaged 402.0 YPG, averaging 30.4 PPG. The Auburn defense held them to 24% below their yardage average and 53% below their scoring average. During their last 7 FBS games, Auburn faced offenses that averaged 463.3 YPG, while scoring 35.1 PPG. Auburn allowed those 7 teams to gain 5.5% more yardage than their average, while scoring 7.7% more than the opponent's average. In a nutshell, the competition was better during the second-half of the season, but Auburn's production percentages should not have collapsed as much as it did. Time to move onto 2015 and Happy New Year!
  3. The Wisconsin defense has been very solid all year up until the B10 Championship. Despite their major beat down at the hands of the Buckeyes, the Badger defense is still No. 4 in total-defense. Some of their success on defense has to do with the caliber of offenses Wisconsin faced but they did hold their opponent to 23 percent below their yardage average for the season. One area Auburn should be able to exploit is the Badger pass-defense. The Wisconsin pass-defense is No. 108 nationally allowing big pass-plays (25+) every 12.4 pass attempts. The Auburn pass-offense is No. 7 nationally in generating big pass-plays every 9.7 pass attempts. The play... Against Alabama, Auburn faced a very good defense that was exceptional against the run. Gus Malzahn's plan of attack was to challenge the UAT secondary deep, which often played man-coverage. The plan was solid and the Auburn offense did a very good job executing the game plan. Nick Marshall was 6 of 9, throwing the ball deep for 272-yards and 2 touchdowns. On this play Auburn faces a 2nd & 12 from the UAT 34-yd line. Auburn comes out in a 4-WR with Sammie Coates and Duke Williams split on the boundary side. Nick Marshall will play-action with Cameron Artis-Payne, while reading the boundary safety. Coates and Williams break off the line, running vertical routes. Williams will cut inside on a deep square-in, while Coates runs a fly-route. The boundary safety commits to Williams over the middle, leaving Coates 1 on 1 with the corner. Marshall delivers a perfectly thrown ball that Coates is able to haul in for the touchdown. Play #2: This is basically the same play, though circumstances are different. Auburn faces a 2nd & 3 from their own 32-yard line with under 1:30 remaining in the first-half. Once again Auburn comes out in a 4-WR set with Coates and Williams aligned to the boundary side. At the snap, the two WR's run vertical routes with the boundary safety committing to the deep pass over the middle (Williams). Once again, Sammie Coates has the corner beat 1 on 1 and Marshall hangs a deep ball that Coates is able to run under for the touchdown.
  4. Post game Numbers & Thoughts: Prior to the 2014 Iron Bowl, Auburn had passed for a combined 446-yards during their last 4 meetings against the Tide. Nick Marshall passed for 456-yards last night. Prior to last night Alabama had allowed only 2.6 trips per game inside their red zone. Auburn had 8 trips last night but only scored 2 TD's. Alabama was No. 7 nationally in TD percentage allowed inside the RZ. Though Auburn had opportunities to score more points, their 27 points scored inside the RZ, far exceeded the 12.0 PPG Alabama had allowed inside the RZ prior to last night's game. The 630-yards gained against Alabama last night was the 4th most yards gained by an Auburn offense in conference play. It was the most ever gained against Alabama by Auburn and the most yardage gained by an Auburn offense against a team ranked No. 1. Auburn is now 32-2 since 1960, when gaining at least 500-yards against a conference opponent during regulation. Both losses came this season. Auburn has averaged 502-yards and 37 PPG in conference play during 17 games as Gus Malzahn as the head coach. Despite the record-setting offensive production, Auburn is 12-5 in those games, primarily because the defense has surrendered an average of 453-yards and 31 PPG. During the previous 17 conference games before Malzahn became head coach, Auburn averaged 287-yards and 17 PPG on offense, while the defense allowed 417-yards and 31 PPG. Cameron Artis-Payne has 1482-yards rushing on the season, fighting for every inch he could muster last night against Alabama. He finished the game with 77-yards on 25 carries. I have watched 36 Iron Bowls during my lifetime and I've never witnessed an Auburn offense attack an Alabama defense the way I saw last night. During the 7 previous Iron Bowls (2007-2013) with Nick Saban as the head coach, Auburn's offense had a combined total of 8 plays of 30-yards or more combined. The most impact plays during any of those games was 7. Last night Auburn had 11 impact plays of which 6 went for over 30-yards. During Auburn's last 6 conference games, the opponent has averaged 483-yards and 39 PPG, scoring a TD every 14 plays defended. Since 1992 Auburn is 92-2, when the offense scores on at least 42 percent of their offensive possessions. The two losses both occurred this season. Sammie Coates 206-yards in receiving was 5th best in school history and the most receiving yardage an Auburn player has ever recorded against Alabama. Since 1986 Auburn has faced 30 opponents ranked in the top-5. Nick Marshall has produced the top-4 passing performances based on efficiency-rating during those games. During the last 7 games the Auburn offense had a passing-grade 5 times, special teams 3 times and defense 1 time. With Gus Malzahn directing the Auburn offense, the Tigers have averaged 435-yards and 32 PPG during 42 conference games. The defense during that same time period has allowed 409-yards and 29 PPG. Prior to last night, the most yardage gained by an Auburn offense against a top-10 defense was 451-yards. Auburn shattered that mark with 630-yards. Auburn is now 10-3 against top-10 defenses, when gaining at least 350-yards per game since 1981 and 2 of those losses have come during the past 2 seasons. Of Duke Williams 45 receptions on the year, 37 have resulted in an Auburn first down or touchdown. Sammie Coates has 30 receptions on the year and 25 have resulted in a first down or touchdown. Alabama came into the game with the No. 5 rated defense (total-defense), allowing 283 yards per game. Auburn's 620-yards was nearly 123 percent more yardage than Alabama had allowed per game. The Crimson Tide has now dropped to No. 11 in total-defense. Prior to last night Auburn had never lost to Alabama after generating at least 350-yards in offense (10-0). Despite gaining over 600-yards, Auburn still lost by 11 points. Auburn is now 111-1 from 1951-2014, when scoring 40 points or more during regulation. I thought the entire team played with passion and desire last night. There was no indication a "team" going through the motions and no sign of quit. Some will say they saw some players quit last night but I disagree. There is a big difference between quitting and a player working through frustration. Last night I saw an offense confident in their game plan, working hard to execute it to the best of their ability. They believed in their game plan and coaches and became stronger after every successful play. I saw a defense that played hard and with passion early on but often looked lost and confused. It is difficult to play with confidence and passion, when you're lost. Speaking of a lack of confidence and being confused. During the first 30 snaps on defense, Auburn allowed 196-yards and 20 points. Had they maintained that pace for the remainder of the game, Auburn would have won. During the next 30 snaps defended, Auburn allowed 345-yards and 35 points. During the first half Auburn's defense allowed 6 impact plays for 105-yards. During the second-half, they surrendered 8 impact plays for 260-yards. It was a perfect example of a house of cards crumbling to the table, once the foundation had been breached. War Eagle!
  5. Last night was a clear example of a team that has lost its focus primarily because of how the season has played out. It is much easier to dig down deep physically and mentally, when you have major goals to play for like 2013. This isn't the case this late into the 2014 season and it shows. This is not an excuse for the poor performance last night but this clearly isn't a motivated "team". There are some players who continue to play hard but not enough to make the difference. When Gus Malzahn arrived after the 2012 season, his biggest challenge would be teaching the players how to win again. The challenge now for the coaching staff is demanding the players to play hard all the time, no matter the opponent and record. The second challenge is more difficult than the first. Speaking of players who have not mailed in their performance. Cameron Artis-Payne is a baller and brings his lunchbox to every game. He is not a thriller or speedster but he is a player you want to go to battle with. He ran hard last night just as he has against better competition. Through 11-games, his totals are the 6th best rushing performance by an Auburn player based on yards per game, yards per rush and TD ratio. He has been Auburn's most consistent offensive player this season. What has happened to Corey Grant? His first 20 carries of the season (1st 2 games) produced 14 runs of 5-yards, 7 of 10-yards or more and 3 of 15 yards or more. He was never tackled for a loss and had only 4 carries of 2-yards or less.The remainder of the season he has only 31 carries. Of those 31 attempts, 13 went for 5+, 5 for 10+ and only 2 for 15+. Of his last 31 carries, 14 have gone for 2-yards or less and 6 went for a loss. I believe this is why we have seen less of him running the football. This is also why we have seen more of Ricardo Louis and Quan Bray on the perimeter runs. During the first 9 games of the season, 46.4% of Auburn's offensive snaps resulted in at least 5-yards. During the past 2 games, it has dipped down to 41.7%. Gus Malzahn's offense is built around success on first down. The HUNH aspect doesn't come into play until the first 1st down is made during a possession. Last season through 11 games, 29% of Auburn's first down plays netted 2-yards or less. This season it is 40% through 11 games. Who are the impact players on offense this season? CAP (22), Duke Williams (19), Nick Marshall (18), Sammie Coates (10) and Quan Bray (8). Last year through 11 games it was Marshall (21), Tre Mason (14), Sammie Coates (13), Corey Grant (13) and CAP (10). Last season through 11 games the Auburn offense scored 11 touchdowns on 17 possessions (64.7%) beginning on the opponent's side of the field. This season it is only 6 from 16 possessions (37.5%). In terms of the weekly "report card " features, this is how this year's team compares to last year's through 11 games. 2014 offense (74.5%) slightly up from 73.2% in 2013. This year's defense (52.7%) slightly down from last year's 55.5%. This year's special teams (55.4%) significantly down from last year's 71.4%. In terms of recent trends, the offense has a report card percentage of 55.6% during the last 3 games. The defense is 42.2% and special teams is 50.0%. Last season the Auburn run-offense converted 86.0% of their short-yardage situations of 2-yards or less to convert. This season it is down to 78.4%. During the first 7 games of the season Auburn averaged 10.7 PPG from their opponent's turnovers, while allowing the opponent to score 4.0 PPG from Auburn's turnovers. During the last 4 games, Auburn has scored zero points from their forced turnovers, while allowing 5.2 PPG from their miscues. That is basically an 11-point swing per game. In terms of penalty yardage per game, Auburn is currently No. 114 nationally compared to No. 30 last year. Auburn has surrendered 31 first downs on penalties alone or 2.8 per game. From 2004-2013, Auburn allowed an average of 21 per season or 1.6 per game. The 2013 and 2014 offense both produced 106 impact plays through 11 games. The difference is the 2013 offense had a combined 67 turnovers and penalties, while the 2014 offense has 93, offsetting their offensive production. During the first 5 games of the season the Auburn offense went "3 & out" only 16.1% of the time, while the defense forced a "3 & out", 45.0% of the time. During the last 6 games the offense is hitting at 23.2% and the defense has fallen to 20.0%. As any football season progress teams either improve or regress. Last season's team progressed as the season moved forward and this year's team has retreated. There are many valid reasons for the lack of production. Talent, depth, coaching, preparation, strength of schedule and senior leadership. After the Iron Bowl and headed into bowl preparation, the coaching staff needs to seriously look at themselves as well as the players coming back next season. It will be interesting to see just how much fight this team has left for the Iron Bowl and how the coaching staff schemes to give their players the best opportunity to compete. War Eagle!
  6. Through 10 games Cameron Artis-Payne has 1,276-yards rushing, averaging 5.59 yards per rush. Through the same number of games last season, Tre Mason had 1,038-yards on 5.73 yards per attempt. CAP has 22 plays of 15-yards or more this season compared to Mason's 13 through the same number of games. Against the Georgia Bulldogs Cameron Artis-Payne was held to just 86-yards rushing, though the senior RB had a 28-yard run called back on a holding penalty. CAP has been the most consistent performer on offense this season and currently leads the conference in rushing with two games remaining in the regular season. The play... During a moment of HUNH mode, Auburn runs their buck-sweep with a 1st & 10 at the Georgia 26-yard line. At the snap Devonte Danzey and Chad Slade pull to their right as Ricardo Louis crack-backs on the ILB to help seal the edge. CAP takes the inside hand off from Nick Marshall, sweeping right behind his pulling guards. CAP allows his guards to open up a hole before he accelerates down the sideline. In frame #4, CAP dips his left shoulder to make himself a smaller target before he breaks towards the sideline. The play results in a 26-yard touchdown, the tenth of the season for the senior running back.
  7. Through 9 games Cameron Artis-Payne has 1190-yards rushing, exceeding the pace of Tre Mason's All-American season in 2013. Mason had 921-yards through 9 games in 2013 and both backs averaged 5.72 yards per rush up through 9 games. CAP averages a 10-yard run or better every 6.1 carries compared to Mason's ratio of 1 every 7.3 attempts. It will be difficult for CAP to close out the season as Mason did in 2013 but it doesn't change the fact CAP is on pace for a very special season of his own. He is currently on pace for a 1,700-yard plus season through 13 games. The senior running back has totaled 5,212 rushing yards during his collegiate career with 58 rushing touchdowns. His 1190-yards through 9 games is the third best mark by an Auburn player, through 9 games into the season. His 132.2 yards per game is behind Bo Jackson's 169.2 average in 1985 and Rudi Johnson's 137.6 yards per game in 2000. He is currently the No. 10 rusher in the country and No. 1 in the Southeastern Conference. He becomes stronger as the game progresses, averaging 5.26 yards per rush in the first quarter and 6.60 yards per carry during the fourth quarter. He has saved his best performances for conference play, averaging 149.8 yards against SEC defenses. While at Auburn he has 13 career games of 10-carries or more, averaging 115-yards per game during those 13 contests. He has led Auburn in rushing 12 times despite this being his only starting season. During those 12 games, CAP has averaged 126.5 yards per game on 6.15 yards per rush. His 126.5 average is the 4th best among Auburn RB's, who led Auburn in rushing at least 10 times during their career. He currently has 20 impact plays on the season, just 3 short of Tre Mason's 23 during the entire 2013 season. Cameron Artis-Payne has at least 4 games remaining in his collegiate career and will make the most of his remaining opportunities. It has been the story of his career, making the most of his opportunities. He had no major scholarship offers coming out of high school and elected to give up on football for one year after high school. He then enrolled into Junior College to give it one more try, working diligently to be recruited by Auburn as a JUCO player. I don't recall another RB in the SEC that was not offered a scholarship coming out of high school that would eventually lead the SEC in rushing, while becoming one of the top backs in the country. War CAP Eagle!
  8. During Ole Miss Clipbit #1, we witnessed Malzahn adding options to plays previously called. Sticking with this theme, we will see a play Nick Marshall has gashed opponents with by running the football. This time around he utilizes a third option and makes a pass from the same play, rather than running the football. Of the adjustments made during the bye-week after the MSU loss, Nick Marshall appears to have benefited the most, closely followed by Cameron Artis-Payne. Prior to the final bye-week, Marshall had completed 55% of his passes for 7.4 yards per attempt. He has a QB rating of 138.4 during the first 6 games. During the last 2 games, Marshall has completed 75% of his passes for 10.9 yards per attempt. This has resulted in a QB rating of 188.6, making him one of the most efficient passers in the country. The play... During this play the Auburn offense has the ball at the Ole Miss 46-yard line (1st & 10). Once again Malzahn utilizes cross-buck action with Ricardo Louis coming in motion into the backfield for the speed-sweep look. Marshall will fake the sweep to the wide side and turn to Roc Thomas on the give to the boundary side. Marshall fakes the inside give to Thomas and darts to the perimeter. Previously the slot-WR would move laterally to pull the defender outside, creating a wide running lane for Marshall on the edge. Ole Miss has seen this on tape and elects to defend the edge and Nick Marshall. This opens up the third-option on this play, which is the pass to Quan Bray. Once 4 defenders commit to Marshall, the quarterback makes the pass to Quan Bray. Quan Bray hauls in the pass and heads down field for a gain of 20-yards and an Auburn first down. This play is beginning to become Auburn's base play on offense because it has so many options. There are 3 run-options off this play and multiple pass-options. Before the Bye-week, Nick Marshall was directly involved in an impact play, every 5.39 touches, better than Cam Newton's ratio during 2010 of 1 every 5.69. Since the recent bye-week, Marshall is hitting at 1 every 3.61 plays.
  9. Auburn's 508-yards in total offense was the most yardage gained by an Auburn offense against a top-10 defense from 1981-2014. Despite a turnover, dropped TD pass and 13 penalties, Auburn was able to overcome adversity, to record a 35-31 victory over the 4th ranked Ole Miss Rebels. One of the keys to success on offense were the numerous plays Auburn called, which were secondary-options from previously called plays against South Carolina. Gus Malzahn counted on the Rebel defense to be familiar with the offensive game plan Auburn executed against the Gamecocks. Auburn showed similar formations and personnel groupings but elected to go with a different play to catch the Rebels off guard. The following play is one of those plays Auburn changed up the actual delivery. The play... On this play the Auburn offense faces a 2nd & 8 from their own 43-yard line. Auburn comes out in a 3-WR set with the H-Back in the backfield with Cameron Artis-Payne. Before the snap Ricardo Louis motions into the backfield on a speed-sweep look from right to left. Last week against the Gamecocks, Auburn executed the actual speed-sweep with Ricardo Louis. The play was successful as Louis recorded 102-yards rushing on 3 rush attempts. The play is designed to utilize Cameron Artis-Payne as a lead blocker for Louis. At the snap Nick Marshall play-actions with Ricardo Louis and rolls to his right. CAP slides out of the backfield to sell the speed-sweep look. As Marshall rolls to his right, Duke Williams runs a shallow crossing-route from his slot-WR position. Marshall looks off his intended target (Duke Williams), which pulls the defenders over top towards the WR running a route closer to the sideline. When the defenders over top clear the middle, Nick Marshall delivers his pass to Duke Williams, who hauls in the pass for a 12-yard gain and an Auburn first down. Auburn scored a touchdown, five players later, giving the Tigers a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter. The majority of plays Malzahn designs possesses a secondary option to be run at a later time. This allows Auburn to exploit opposing defenses from selling out to defend a previous play from the same formation.
  10. One of the first things taught to young football players is never give up on the play. Not the kind of effort that allows you to stomp on an opposing player down the field but the kind of effort that allows you to make a fumble (Kris Frost) and the recovery (Cassanova McKinzy). Twenty-two games into the Gus Malzahn era, we have seen a team that never stops fighting, which is reflection of the coaching staff. There were plenty of mistakes made by the Auburn players but their effort kept them in the game and allowed them to come out victorious at the final whistle. It is this kind of effort that keeps the Tigers in the championship race, which will be needed with 2 major road games remaining. Nick Marshall's best attribute as a player resurfaced once again as he is never too high or too low, when it comes to his composure on the field. After throwing a horrible pick, Marshall was 11 of 16 for 199-yards and 2 TD passes. Of Auburn's 9 impact plays, Nick Marshall was directly involved in 7 as he continues to be the heart of the offense and why the coaching staff believes he is the best option. Cameron Artis-Payne registered another great game and is 26-yards away from rushing for 1000-yards, which he should easily accomplish in game #9 against the Aggies. The defense was actually in position to make plays but failed to do so with poor tackling and poor pursuit angles. The defensive line clearly played much better this week, when it came to rushing the passer. Texas A&M struggled against Louisiana-Monroe and their starting quarterback is suspended for this Saturday's game. Though the Aggie defense is not playing well, it will be vital for the coaching staff to keep the players focused this week. The Ole Miss win was a terrific road victory but Auburn can not afford to overlook the Aggies, who will likely be a major underdog against the Tigers. The defense has struggled for three consecutive games and tackling must be cleaned up or witness the opponent look better than they should. Inside the Numbers... Ole Miss became the 126th time Auburn has faced a top-10 opponent since 1961. Nick Marshall's quarterback rating of 186.1 was the 3rd best performance during that time span. Auburn extended their 200-yard rushing games streak against SEC teams to 13, a school record. Gus Malzahn is now 14-0 as a head coach, when his team scores first at Auburn. Auburn finished the game with a 200-yard passer, 100-yard rusher (RB) and a 100-yard receiver against the Rebels. It is the 6th time Auburn has accomplished this feat in their last 19 games. Prior to the last 19 games, Auburn did it 6 times in a span of 122 games. Kris Frost had another solid game, recording 9 tackles, 1 forced-fumble and was involved in a sack. Cameron Artis-Payne has totaled 974-yards through 8 games, compared to Tre Mason's 753-yards through 8 games into 2013. CAP is currently averaging 5.5 yards per rush to Mason's 5.8. After going 1 of 6 on third-downs during the first-half, Auburn was 5 of 7 during the second-half. The 4th quarter continues to be the Auburn's best quarter on defense. Opponents continue to struggle converting third-downs during the final quarter, converting 25.8 percent on the season. Last week against the Gamecocks, the Auburn defense allowed 3 of 6 third-down conversions with at least 10-yards needed to convert. The Rebels were 0 for 4. With 631-yards rushing, Nick Marshall is still on pace for a 1000-yard season in 13 games. Last season through 8 games, Nick Marshall had completed 59% of his passes for 7 TD's and 4 interceptions. This season he has completed 60% of his passes for 13 TD's and 4 interceptions. He also has nearly 100 more rushing yards than last season. In 13 games against FBS opponents with a winning record, Nick Marshall has averaged 284.3 yards per game, scoring a combined 34 touchdowns. The Auburn offense has generated 20 plays of 30-yards or more down from the 29 recorded during the first 8 games of the 2013 season. In terms of consistency, 48.5% of Auburn's offensive snaps netted at least 5-yards and Ole Miss hit at 47.2%. Ole Miss averaged 6.06 yards per play during the first-half and 7.49 yards during the second-half. Take away both team's impact plays on offense and Auburn averaged 4.37 yards on 59 snaps and Ole Miss averaged 2.34 yards per play on 59 snaps. During the first 5 games of the season, 48.5% of Auburn's first-down plays netted 3-yards or less and 44.2% went for at least 5-yards. During the last 3 games, 45.5% have gone for 3-yards or less, while 48.5% has gone for 5-yards or more. 43.1% of the Rebels offensive snaps went for 2-yards or less. This was a season low for the Auburn defense. The previous low was 46.8% against Mississippi State. Last season Nick Marshall was directly involved in 48.5% of Auburn's impact plays (15+). This season it has increased to 60.7%. Auburn has totaled 36 run plays of 15-yards or more and 48 through the air. Last season through 8 games, the Auburn offense scored on 38.5% of their possessions starting on their side of the field. This season it is up to 42.4%. Coming into the game Auburn had forced 17 fumbles but recovered only 3. Against the Rebels, Auburn was 2 of 2 and they were critical. Auburn's average penalty distance this season is 10.3 yards, while the opponent is 7.8 yards. Final Word: With 2/3 of the regular season in the books, it appears the offense will have to carry the defense for the second consecutive season. Much like last season, the defense has risen in critical moments of the game but the big plays allowed remains a concern. Run-defense and interceptions have improved this season but Auburn continues to give up too many yards and points. Fortunately for the Tigers, the offense is playing well enough to win a championship but the odds are slim with special teams not carrying their weight. Punt-return offense has improved this season but punting and kick-return offense has taken a step backwards. Auburn will likely be favored in 3 of their 4 remaining games and a 4-0 regular season finish will certainly lock the Tigers into the first 4-team playoffs. It appears the offense has made a similar improvement as the 2013 offense did, during their final bye-week. Since the bye-week the Auburn offense has averaged 529-yards and 39 PPG but the defense has surrendered an average of 513-yards and 33 PPG. Ellis Johnson will likely address some breakdowns in coverage as well as poor tackling and pursuit angles against the Rebels. During the Gus Malzahn era (22 games), Auburn is 19-3 despite facing 11 ranked opponents. His offense has averaged 500-yards and 39 PPG but the defense has allowed 405-yards and 24 PPG. The Auburn run-offense has averaged 310-yards per game, the driving force of the most prolific era of offensive football at Auburn. Just how dominating would Auburn appear with a consistent defense during the past 22 games? The defense has improved in many areas this season but the big plays and first-down defense continues to be an issue. Hopefully the defense will continue to improve to increase Auburn's chances of making it to the final-4. War Eagle!
  11. Auburn's red zone performance this Saturday night just might be the biggest key of the game. Auburn obviously needs to be able to establish the run and protect the football but red zone offense and defense will likely dictate the outcome of the game against the Rebels. During Auburn's 5 games at home, the Tigers have scored 20 TD's from 22 red zone trips (91%). During their 2 road games, Auburn has scored 3 TD's from 9 trips to the red zone (33%). Basically the same average number of trips to the red zone playing at home and on the road but a huge difference in TD percentage. Overall Auburn is No. 9 nationally in red zone TD pct. They are No. 4 nationally playing at home and No. 119, playing on the road. The play... On this play Auburn has a 1st & goal from the Gamecock 8-yard line. Auburn shifts to a 2-back set before the snap to run their read-option with cross-buck action. At the snap Corey Grant will shoot to the left and Nick Marshall will fake the give to Cameron Artis-Payne to the right. The OLB plays the give to CAP, so Marshall keeps to sprint to his left. Once again the "spur" is faced with a 1 on 2 situation, with the slot-WR and Marshall coming to the edge. Nick Marshall fakes the pass-look to the slot-WR to keep the Spur committed to the receiver. Marshall follows behind Corey Grant, darting to the inside for an 8-yard touchdown run. Through 7 games Auburn is No. 11 nationally in yards per rush (5.96) inside the red zone. It breaks down to No. 7 nationally at home, averaging 6.6 yards per rush and No. 57 nationally on the road with a 4.09 average inside the red zone. The game likely comes down to Auburn's ability to run the football, protecting the football and red zone production. IMO, red zone production will be the biggest key because I believe Auburn will be able to run on the Rebels.
  12. Three keys for the Auburn offense vs. Ole Miss will be the ability to run inside the tackles, score touchdowns inside the red zone and to take care of the football. The Rebel defense is built on speed, which should make it challenging to run outside on Ole Miss. LSU found their primary run-success, running between their tackles. Auburn's offensive line will need to play one of their more physical games of the season to establish their running game. When the Tigers transition into the red zone, they must score touchdowns rather than settling for field goals like they did against Mississippi State. The Tigers will need Cameron Artis-Payne and Nick Marshall to be able to consistently run well inside the tackles. This will only happen if the Auburn OL is very physical against the Rebels. The play... On this play Auburn has the ball at the Gamecock 4-yard line, facing a 2nd & goal. The Tigers come out in their inverted-veer look, with the intent of running their inside read-option. It is also known as the dash-read because it involves both the QB and RB running the read-option in the same direction. At the snap Chad Slade (RG) will pull to his left and Brandon Fulse will become the lead blocker inside. Nick Marshall extends the mesh-point with Corey Grant to the left, which freezes the defense. Shon Coleman and Brandon Fulse will advance to the second-level to take out the LB's as Chad Slade kicks out the unblocked DE. In frame #4, Reese Dismukes and Avery Young wall off the DL, driving the DT and DE outside as Devonte Danzey drives the other DT down to the ground. Nick Marshall has a gaping hole to score an easy 4-yard touchdown. The Auburn OL did an exceptional job on this play and this is the type of execution that will be required to have success running the football against Ole Miss.
  13. Ricardo Louis has recently struggled at times in the passing game but his speed is something Gus Malzahn wants to utilize. He only caught 1 pass against the Gamecocks for 7-yards but the Tigers utilized him in the running game and he gained 102-yards on just 3 carries. Two of his 3 runs resulted in impact plays as he was 1 of 9 different players involved in an impact play against South Carolina. The Play... On this play Auburn has a 1st & 10 from their own 25-yard line. Auburn will run their speed-sweep with Ricardo Louis. During the past few games, Corey Grant has been taken away on the perimeter. This was due to failing to set the edge and the tendency for Corey Grant to be utilized in this manner. Just before the snap, Louis comes in motion into the backfield. Because Nick Marshall has already rushed for 68-yards on 8 carries for 2 TD's at this point, the Gamecock defense must respect the possible inside run by Marshall. The brief hesitation by the defense is long enough for Louis to take the inside hand off, moving quickly towards the edge. Brandon Fulse and Sammie Coates set the edge by taking out the OLB and boundary safety. Cameron Artis-Payne now becomes the lead blocker on the play and will take out the CB. Louis turns the corner and sprints down field for a 75-yard touchdown. Auburn has 9 different players that have registered at least 3 impact plays through 7 games. Last year at this time Auburn only had 6 such players. The top-3 play-makers through 3 games: Duke Williams ................... 17 Cameron Artis-Payne ........ 16 Nick Marshall ..................... 15 Last season through 7 games: Nick Marshall ........................ 12 Tre Mason ............................. 9 Sammie Coates ...................... 8 Corey Grant ........................... 8
  14. I expected the game might be close at halftime with Auburn pulling away during the second-half, via their run-offense. With basically 3 weeks to prepare for the Auburn defense, I thought we would see some new wrinkles by the Gamecock offense but I did not expect Steve Spurrier to give his team every possible chance to make it a ball game. He took some major risks, when it came to the six fourth-down calls and onside-kick but it almost paid off for what he himself, stated would have been his biggest victory of coaching career. When South Carolina gambled on their first fourth-down play at their own 33-yard line, he made it clear his offense was going to let it all hang out. Auburn was expected to be able to run on the Gamecock defense, which is why they were nearly a 3-touchdown favorite to win the game. Spurrier minus a defense, basically gave his team every chance to win tonight, which is all can you ask of any great football coach. If not for their struggles inside the red zone and three turnovers, the Gamecocks would have been victorious in carrying out Spurrier's plan of attack against Auburn. Steve Spurrier deserves every word of praise he has received during his coaching career but has been far more likeable during his tenure at South Carolina than Florida. His teams have always been competitive but he was won more with coaching at South Carolina than he did at Florida. The Auburn offense carried the team tonight, which had the same kind of feel we witnessed during the 2013 season. The run-offense looked unstoppable against the Gamecocks and the defense made critical plays in situational play. This was the formula for success last season, especially during the big games. Not sure what Ellis Johnson can do at this point to establish a better pass-rush but rushing only three certainly is not the answering. There were times Johnson dialed up a late defender (4th rusher) just before the snap but their were 5-6 times during the game, Auburn only came with 3 pass-rushers period. This cannot be the case moving forward, especially against Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Alabama. Inside the Numbers: Cameron Artis-Payne had perhaps his best game of the season. He was quick to the hole and extremely physical, when it was needed the most. He now increases his rushing totals to 831-yards on the season, which could translate to a 1500-yard season in 13-games. Nick Marshall did a great job checking down to his shorter routes this week, taking what the defense was willing to give. He finished the night, 12 of 14 for 139-yards to go along with his 89-yards rushing and 4 touchdowns combined. Ricardo Louis is a big and fast, north and south offensive player. He has been inconsistent as a pass-catcher but I thought Malzahn did a great job of making his presence known this week. If not for the speed-sweeps this week, Louis would have been an afterthought on offense with 1 reception for 7-yards. By utilizing him in the perimeter run-offense, Louis finished with 102-yards rushing 3 carries, making a major impact in the outcome of the game. Opposing teams have taken away the Grant speed-sweeps so Malzahn brought it back with a change in personnel groupings. Kris Frost had a huge game against South Carolina. He finished the game with 14 stops of which 11 were solo tackles. The last time an Auburn LB had at least 11 solo tackles in a game was Travis Williams (2004) vs. Ole Miss. Eight different Auburn Tigers were involved in an impact play against the Gamecocks. This is amazing considering Auburn had only 8 offensive possessions during the game. The 8 offensive possessions was the fewest number of possessions by an Auburn offense during their last 278 games (1992-2014). Auburn has now extended their streak of 200-yard rushing games in conference play to 12 consecutive games (school record, previously 8-games). During Auburn's current school record of 12 consecutive 200-yard rushing games in the SEC, the Tigers have averaged 328.5 yards per game. What has possessing a mobile QB meant to the Auburn run-offense under Gus Malzahn? The 2010, 2013 and 2014 Auburn run offense has now averaged 317.7 yards rushing in 21 SEC games. Coming into tonight's game, South Carolina had allow their FBS opponents to rush for 6.3% more yardage than their opponent's season average. The Auburn run-offense rushed for 133.5% more than what the Gamecocks had allowed on an average this season. South Carolina averaged 7.63 yards per play during the first-half and 5.25 yards during the second-half. It was the sixth time out of 7 games the Auburn defense allowed fewer yards per play during the second-half, compared to the first-half. Of the 35 snaps defended by the Auburn defense during the first-half, 48.6% went for 2-yards or less. During the second-half, it was 54.9% of the 51 snaps defended. It was the 6th time out of 7 games, the Auburn defense held their opponent to higher percentage of 2-yard plays or less during the second-half. Auburn had 10 QB hurries, while allowing 3 and 7 tackles for loss to the 4 allowed. Last season Auburn had 13 interceptions from 493 passes defended (37.9). This season they have equaled their interception total in just 7 games, with 13 picks from 250 passes defended (1 every 19.2 attempts). I can only image what it might be with a better pass-rush. Last season through 7 games the Auburn offense generated 66 impact plays. This season they have 75. Brandon Fulse came into the Gamecock game with 4 career receptions for 25-yards and 0 TD's. Fulse recorded his first TD of his career and his fist impact-play of his career. Against Mississippi State, Auburn was 11 of 20 passing within 10-yards of the line of scrimmage for 102-yards. Against the Gamecocks, Auburn went 10 of 10 for 105-yards. Since 1992 Auburn is now 139-10-1, when scoring on at least 33% of their offensive possessions. This includes a record of 41-3 under Gus Malzahn. Auburn has now scored 75-points from their forced-turnovers, while allowing 28 from their own miscues. During the first 2 conference games of the season, Auburn was 4 of 8 in situations of 2-yards or less needed to convert. During the last 2 conference games, Auburn is 10 of 13. Final Thoughts... It would be easy to be concerned about Auburn's remaining games based on the Tigers defensive performance against the Gamecocks. Before going into a full blown panic attack, consider the outcome of games through 8 weeks into the season. We saw South Carolina demolished by Texas A&M, yet the Gamecocks gave Georgia their only loss thus far. Alabama came close to losing to Arkansas but defeated Texas A&M by 59-points the following week. Auburn crushed LSU, 41-7 yet the Bengal-Tigers defeated Ole Miss, Auburn's next opponent. Auburn defeated Arkansas by 24, who lost in overtime to A&M. Though the Aggies blew out the Gamecocks, Auburn held on for dear-life to get past South Carolina. There is no way to accurately predict the outcome of any conference game based on the outcome of previous games. Despite their poor defensive performance against the Gamecocks, Auburn remains in position to reach all their preseason team-goals. The defense will certainly need to play much better next Saturday against Ole Miss but every team in the Southeastern Conference has shown some form of weakness this season, including undefeated Mississippi State. I do believe Ellis Johnson has explored every possible option to improve the DL, which means Auburn will need to make plays inside the red zone, while continuing their trend to forcing turnovers. The run-defense and secondary appear to be the strength of the defense but the lack of pass-rush is likely to catch up with the Tigers again. Hopefully the Auburn defense can continue to perform better as the game progresses. Regardless of Auburn's deficiencies this season, Auburn can still run their remaining schedule by making plays at critical moments of the game. What Auburn can not afford is the self-inflicted wounds we have seen, regarding turnovers. The match ups between Auburn and Ole Miss projects a close game, likely to be low-scoring. Turnovers and miscues can turn any close game into a blowout. Auburn's offense appears to have taken a step-forward from the bye-week but the same cannot be said about the defense. Though I suspect Auburn's defense is better than how they performed against the Gamecocks, they simply cannot afford to allow Bo Wallace to throw the football without any pressure. Auburn faced a South Carolina team, willing to let it all hang out because the Gamecocks had their backs to the wall. Ole Miss losing to LSU has forced the Rebels into a must-win situation and they are a much more physical and talented team on defense. Auburn and Ole Miss can not afford another conference loss or face possible elimination in the conference race to Atlanta. The time has come for the Auburn coaches and players to take a page out of the Steve Spurrier book and play like there is no tomorrow, with minimum wiggle room to win a championship. War Eagle!
  15. Some fans keep commenting on Auburn needing to find an offensive identity, which is puzzling to comprehend. Auburn through 6 games is No. 21 nationally averaging 487-yards per game and No. 15, in scoring-offense, averaging 39 PPG. A team that is struggling to find it's offensive identity looks like Florida or Vanderbilt. They certainly don't look like a team that averages over 480-yards per game and nearly 40 PPG. To put things in perspective, consider the following. From 1990-2013, only 13 of 288 SEC teams (4.5%) finished the season averaging over 480-yards per game. The Auburn run-offense, though not at the level of 2013 is still very good. AU has surpassed 200+ yards rushing in 5 of 6 games. Auburn can still run the football and people must realize 2013 was an exception to the rule. Since 1960, only 38 of 598 SEC teams averaged more than 260-yards rushing per game (6.3%). From 1990-2013, only 3 of 288 SEC teams (1%) averaged more than 260-yards rushing per game and only 1 averaged more than 300 (Auburn 2013). Auburn is currently averaging 277.3 yards rushing in conference play, No. 1 in the SEC. Of the 302 SEC teams from 1990-2014, Auburn's current average of 262-yards rushing per game is the 6th best average during that time frame. Yes, Auburn isn't running the football like 2013 but it is far from being broke. Only 5 other teams have done it better than the 2014 Auburn Tigers among 302 SEC teams. The media talks about the powerful Arkansas running game currently averaging 256.9 yards per game but fail to mention only 163.2 yards per game in conference play. Is everything perfect through 6 games? Nope but the coaches and players know this. Hopefully they were able to take advantage of this recent bye-week to make some fine adjustments on offense. There has been plenty of self-scouting and evaluation to become more consistent moving forward. I associate the words, "lack of identity" with being lost. Auburn isn't lost offensively. Are they having consistency issues stemming from poor execution? You bet. The coaching staff came into this season wanting to generate more explosive plays in the pass-offense. They knew duplicating last year's rushing numbers was virtually impossible with the departures AU suffered in personnel loss. I believe the coaching staff wants to address a few issues of consistency, when it comes to execution but that is a far cry from lacking an offensive identity. Nothing has changed from a schematic point of view, when it comes to offensive goals. Malzahn wants to run the football (be physical) and have a vertical passing offense to compliment the running game. Most of the breakdowns suffered on offense through 6 games has more to do with execution than player personnel. The Tigers are striving to be more physical up front and are having to deal with losing a starting guard (Alex Kozan) before the season began along with the early departure of Greg Robinson. The recent in jury to Patrick Miller resulted in another OL shuffle. This is why Braden Smith is now getting a look at the guard position. The coaches want more explosiveness at the RB position, so Roc Thomas will likely have an expanded role. This doesn't mean that Cameron Artis-Payne has been a failure. He is far from it, currently ranked No. 20 nationally in rushing. He is also on pace for a 1400+ yard season within a 13-game season. I cannot wait to see what Roc Thomas physically looks like next year with an off-season conditioning program under his belt. He certainly has the burst Tre Mason possessed. Ricardo Louis was not performing consistently so Quan Bray is getting more reps. I've heard comments that Gus Malzahn is too loyal or stubborn to make personnel changes. The examples I just listed is proof otherwise and there have been other changes during the first-half of the season. We have seen various rotations of the bigger WR's (Ray and Denson) and TE's to improve setting the edge and perimeter blocking. As for the quarterback position, I have no doubt the coaches will give Jeremy Johnson a shot if THEY feel Nick Marshall is not delivering at the level they want. Until that moment happens, I'm going to believe the coaches still have full confidence in their starting quarterback. Through 6 games into 2014, Nick Marshall has a better TD-INT ratio than 2013. It was 6-4 last year and 10-3 this year. His ratio of impact plays in the passing-game is better in 2014 than 2013. Last season only 31% of his third-down passes resulted in a first down and this year it is 44%. With the same number of rush attempts through 6 games, Marshall is also gaining more yards per rush than 2013. Auburn's pass-offense through 6 games is currently No. 14 nationally in generating 1st downs or touchdowns and No. 24 in pass-efficiency. The only significant drop in his passing numbers has come on first-down. Marshall is completing 62% this season compared to 67% through 6 games into 2013. I'm looking forward to see how Auburn responds this Saturday night against the Gamecocks. Last season the offense continued to improve after their bye-week, following the LSU defeat. Hopefully, we will see similar results this season.
  16. With Duke Williams being the primary target 30.5% of the time in the passing game, opposing defenses are now shifting and adjusting their coverages to match up with Williams. This should create opportunities for the other Auburn receivers in the pass-offense. Because Sammie Coates has been slowed by an early-season knee injury, Auburn's coaches have been pushing for other players to step up. One of those options has been Quan Bray. During the last couple of games, Quan Bray has been more involved in the offense and he is currently on pace to have his best season as an Auburn wide-receiver. The play... During this play Auburn has a 1st & 10 from their own 20-yard line. The Tigers are set to run a play-action pass from a 4-WR set. Before the snap Nick Marshall knows the safeties are in a cover-2 with Duke Williams in the slot. At the snap Marshall play-actions with Cameron Artis-Payne. As Marshall drops to pass he see's the LB dropping short to cover Williams underneath and the safety over top. This leaves Quan Bray 1 on 1 with the field corner, playing 7-yards off the line. Quan Bray will run a down & out pattern as Nick Marshall looks off his intended target. After looking Bray off, Marshall will quickly reset his feet and hips, firing a bullet out to Bray. The pass is thrown just as Bray is coming out of his break, allowing the senior wide-out to haul in the pass without the defender right on top of him. The play results in a 12-yard gain and another Auburn first-down. It should be noted that Williams ran a short dig route underneath the OLB and he was also open on a shorter route than Bray. These are the types of passes Auburn needs to run more of on 1st down, which would help bring up Marshall's 62% completion rate on 1st down.
  17. One of the reasons for Nick Marshall's drop in completion percentage this season is the lack of short to intermediate pass attempts through 6 games. Last season through Marshall's first 6 games, he attempted 17.4% of his passes beyond 20-yards of the line of scrimmage. This season it is 22.3%. Last season through his first 6 games, 35.7% of his pass attempts were beyond 10-yards of the line of scrimmage. This season it is 43.1%. Though his ratio of impact pass-plays has improved from last season, Auburn has missed out on opportunities to extend drives by attempting deep passes on third-down rather than targeting areas closer to the sticks. Hopefully this is something Auburn's coaches will research and address during the bye-week. The play... On this play Auburn has the ball at their own 41-yard line with a 1st & 10. The Tigers come out in a 4-WR with the intent of running a play-action pass, with Nick Marshall on a half-roll from the pocket. Duke Williams is lined up in the slot on the wide-side of the field with the safety play 11-yards off the line of scrimmage. At the snap Nick Marshall will play-action with Cameron Artis-Payne, making a slight roll to his right. With the safety playing so far off Williams, Duke Williams will run a short button-hook to the 44-yard line. Nick Marshall delivers his pass over an oncoming pass-rusher to Williams, who spins up field. The safety attempts to recover the distance to make a play on Williams but Williams cuts inside of the safety to continue up field. Williams races down field for a 32-yard gain and an Auburn first down. The short route takes advantage of the loose coverage and the roll-out by Marshall gives him a clear line of sight to his target. Last season through his first 6 games, Marshall completed 67.1% of his passes on first-down. This season it has dropped to 62.5%, primarily because of the increase in vertical passes. Last season Marshall closed out the last 6 games, completing 80.8% of his passes on first-down. Nick Marshall will need to make this kind of improvement to close out the second-half of the season if Auburn is to make another serious run for another championship.
  18. With half the regular season in the books, Auburn is currently No. 15 in rushing and No. 4 in the conference. Hoping to add some additional spark to the offense and Auburn's 262-yards rushing per game, Gus Malzahn gave Roc Thomas his first meaningful snaps of the season against Mississippi State. Auburn suffered their first loss of the season but Thomas had 42-yards on 6 carries during his limited role in the Auburn game plan for the Bulldogs. The true freshman currently has 19 carries on the season, averaging 5.68 yards per rush. Despite his limited action, he has converted this 19 carries into 7 first downs and 5 runs of 10-yards or more. The play... During this play Auburn faces a 2nd & 3 from the MSU 29-yard line. Auburn will run their counter play and the key to the play will be how the MLB tracks the Auburn backfield and the block by Duke Williams on the edge. At the snap Nick Marshall will make the inside give to Roc Thomas. The MLB freezes to make sure Marshall doesn't keep and to make sure it is not an inside run by the RB. Roc Thomas initially sells the inside run before bouncing the play outside. Duke Williams makes a crackback block on the OLB, sealing him inside of Thomas, running to the edge. Thomas sprints into the secondary, where he fakes going inside the secondary, before spinning outside towards the sideline. The play nets 18-yards and an Auburn first down. At 5-10, 193 pounds, Thomas might not be physically ready for a full workload as the primary rusher but he can provide Auburn with a compliment to Cameron Artis-Payne. Malzahn is hoping that Thomas can provide the extra burst to give Auburn a home-run threat at the primary RB position. The bye-week will give Thomas and the Auburn coaches time to prep Thomas for extended play against South Carolina.
  19. Coming into the Mississippi State game, Auburn was 3-18 since 1981, when trailing by 14 or more points after the 1st quarter and 6-29-1, when trailing by at least 10. This made the 21-0 deficit after the 1st quarter almost impossible to recover. Gus Malzahn stressed the importance of starting off the game productively, which Auburn failed to do. After the first 4 possessions, Auburn had 85-yards of total offense and zero points. MSU had 142-yards and 21 points. For the remainder of the game Auburn gained 356-yards and 23 points to MSU's 327-yards and 17 points. Because of the two early turnovers, Auburn trailed on the scoreboard, 14-0 after only 2 offensive snaps. Once again it was a hole that was virtually impossible to overcome, especially against a very good team like Mississippi State. One of the key stats I mentioned during the MSU preview was the number of snaps both teams had taken, trailing on the scoreboard. Auburn had taken only 9 during their first 5 combined games and MSU had taken a total of 25 during their first 5 games. I thought the team that could handle diversity the best would win. Auburn simply dug themselves an early hole just as they did against LSU in 2013. The final score and the poor start gave the impression Auburn was dominated during the game. The actual numbers state otherwise. There was certainly early domination during the first period on the part of MSU but the final three periods was slightly in favor of the visiting Tigers. Of course that is why coaches stress playing a 4-quarter game and you are what you make of the game. Had Mississippi State self-destructed in the same fashion Auburn did during the first quarter, it was unlikely they could have overcame the same deficit. To their credit, they built a 21-0 lead and did what they had to do to secure the victory. Inside the Numbers: MSU was 7 of 9 on third-downs during the first-half and 1 of 8 during the second-half. 46.2% of Auburn's offensive snaps netted 5-yards or better and Mississippi State hit at 43.0%. After gaining 316-yards on 44 plays during the first-half (7.18 YPP), MSU was held to 153-yards on 35 snaps during the second-half (4.37 YPP). For the season Auburn allows 5.6 yards per play during the first-half and only 3.9 yards during the second-half. 43.6% of Auburn's snaps held to 2-yards or less and 46.8% of MSU's snaps held to 2-yards or less. Nick Marshall entered the MSU game with only 23 pass attempts on first-down through 4.5 games. He had 17 against MSU. MSU averaged 6.1 yards per rush during the first-half and 4.1 yards during the second-half. For the second game in a row, Auburn's front-7 accounted for more than 60% of the team's tackles. During the previous 4 games, it was no higher than 58%. Mississippi State recorded 3 sacks on Nick Marshall, equaling the total number of sacks Auburn had allowed in their previous 5 games. For the 4th time this season, Auburn was held to less than 6-yards per play on first-down. That equals the total number of times it happened to the Auburn offense during the entire 2013 season. Nick Marshall was only 10 of 17 throwing the football on first-down against the Bulldogs after completing 100% during his previous 2 games. Since 1961 Auburn's average pass-rating against a top-5 ranked opponent is 101.5. Auburn had a rating of 106.2 against No. 3 MSU. This was the 25th best passing performance from the 59 previous games against top-5 teams. Take away the hideous PI call on Sammie Coates and Auburn's rating was 121.9. Under Gus Malzahn the average pass-rating at Auburn vs. top-5 teams is 120.2. The two key factors in the outcome of the game was the scoring off turnovers and red zone production. MSU scored 21 points off of Auburn's turnovers and scored 31 points inside the Auburn red zone. Auburn scored 13 points off of turnovers and only 20 points inside the red zone. Prior to the Mississippi State game, Auburn had compiled a record of 72-7-1 since 1961, when they had over 200 rushing and 200-yards passing in the same game. The average score in the previous 80 games was 42-17. Auburn is now 9-18-0 (.333) since 1992 with 4 or more turnovers during a game. Another key to this game I previously outlined during the MSU preview was first-down production. The team that was more productive in the last 22 meetings, went 19-3. Saturday's game now makes it 20-3 in the last 23 meetings. Coming into the MSU game Auburn's average distance required to convert a 3rd-down was 6.2 yards. It was 8.0 against the Bulldogs. MSU on the other hand, faced an average distance of 5.4 yards against Auburn. Through 6 games into the 2013 season, Auburn's offense generated 54 impact plays. This season the offense has totaled 64 through 6 games. It was 55.6% run last season through 6 games and 59.4% pass this season. Auburn's top-3 play-makers through the mid-season mark are Duke Williams (17), Cameron Artis-Payne (13) and Nick Marshall (12) based on plays of 15-yards or more. Corey Grant, Melvin Ray and Sammie Coates are tied for 4th with four each. Nick Marshall has been directly involved in 38 of Auburn's 64 impact plays. Through 6 games into 2013, Tre Mason averaged 5.59 yards per rush and CAP is at 5.27 yards. CAP had a higher pct of impact runs with 7.1% to Mason's 5.4%. Mason had a higher pct of 5-yd runs at 42.4% to CAP's 38.9%. Mason had a higher pct of 10-yard runs at 15.2% to CAP's 13.5%. Racean Thomas had his first meaningful snaps this season with 42-yards on 6 carries. He also recorded his first impact-play with an 18-yard run. It appears Gus might be ready to give the true-freshman more a role in the offense. Final Thoughts... The loss to Mississippi State is disappointing but not devastating in terms of Auburn’s future. Last year after a similar loss to LSU on the road, the team bounced back after a bye-week and everything fell into place to have an extremely rewarding season. Though MSU clearly has an easier path to maintain their momentum, there are 2 teams remaining on their schedule that could derail their season late. They will likely be favored in every game but one but crazier things have happened in this wonderful game. As disappointing as the beginning of the game was, I was pleased to see the team never stopped battling. They overcame a 21-0 deficit to close the game to 28-20 and were in position to make it a one-score game again until they threw their final pick inside the MSU red zone. There are some issues about this team that need to be addressed but adjustments and changes won’t mean anything if you have don’t have perseverance. Auburn has a much-needed bye-week to clear their heads to focus on the second-half of the regular season. If they don’t improve, they could likely drop 1-2 more games. If they do improve, they can defeat everyone remaining on their schedule. I said before this season started, this could be a better overall team than the 2013 version but their schedule might be their primary downfall. Despite the 15-point loss to Mississippi State, Auburn still remains as one of the better teams in the country. I have not seen anyone playing better overall football than the teams I’ve observed within the Southeastern Conference. I told Mark Murphy before the LSU game, I was more concerned about Mississippi State than LSU. Now I have no doubt just how good this Mississippi State can be. The Bulldogs were the better team on Saturday but I reserve the right to not say they are the better team until all the games have been played. LSU was the better team the night they took Auburn by 14-points last season but that clearly was not the case by the end of the season. I do believe they have a good chance of going 12-0 with only Ole Miss in position to take them down. Though I believe they are a better team than Alabama, all it takes is one bad quarter to give Alabama a shot at the upset. With all that being said, I do believe the Bulldogs should be the No. 1 ranked team for now. I do have faith in the Auburn coaches and players to bounce back from this loss. Except for the first quarter, I thought Auburn played better on the road against Mississippi State than Kansas State. This is based on MSU being a much better overall team than Kansas State and the fact Auburn had to overcome such a major deficit. The bye-week gives us fans a week to gripe and moan about what needs to be fixed and then it is game-week for South Carolina. We as fans have the right to be upset, angry and disappointed, simply because we are all entitled to our opinions. We have one week to get it out of our system folks and prepare to support our team as they begin the second-half of the regular season. The remaining schedule indicates a bumpy road but this team has far more positives than negatives to navigate through it. War Eagle!
  20. Last season the Mississippi State defense held Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne to 47-yards on 16 combined carries. The strength of the MSU defense is found in their front-7 this season and it will be interesting to see how Auburn matches up with Bulldogs this Saturday. CAP enters the game averaging over 118-yards rushing per game and it will be a major challenge for Auburn to maintain this average against the No. 11 run-defense in the nation. Of the 24 combined carries by CAP, Mason and Grant last season, 14 were held to 3-yards or less against MSU. Corey Grant had the most success against MSU, rushing for 44-yards on 8 carries. Outside runs... During this play against LSU, Auburn faces a 2nd & 4 from their own 30-yard line. The Tigers come out in a 4-WR look with Brandon Fulse lined up wide. Just before the snap Fulse will shift into the backfield inside of Melvin Ray in the slot. Auburn's intent is to run a sweep with Cameron Artis-Payne towards the boundary side. At the snap Chad Slade (RG) will pull to his left, becoming a lead blocker for CAP, who takes the hand off from Nick Marshall. Brandon Fulse is responsible for sealing the DE as Melvin Ray is responsible for the OLB. This leaves Chad Slade with the boundary corner. CAP is able to turn the corner for a positive gain before being tackled by the OLB and CB. The play nets 10-yards and an Auburn first down. Swing pass... On this play Auburn audibles into a swing-pass with Cameron Artis-Payne. CAP was initially lined up to the right of Nick Marshall with Auburn in a 4-WR set (trips to the wide side). CAP shifts to Marshall's left just before the snap with the intent of clearing space for CAP behind the trio of WR's. At the snap Nick Marshall looks off his intended target in CAP as the WR's on top clear the flat. Marshall dumps a short pass off to CAP, leaving the RB with a 1 on 1 with a LB in open space. This is a huge advantage for Auburn as CAP is able to use his speed to get around the LB. Swinging wide with the pass, CAP avoids the initial tackle and motors up the field, picking up 15-yards and an Auburn first down. Should Auburn struggle running between the tackles (very likely), look for more sweeps involving pulling guards, when CAP is the featured back. Look for more perimeter runs with Corey Grant and the use of both backs in the passing game.
  21. Since 1990 a first down by the Auburn offense has been worth 1.43 points. Since Nick Marshall became the starting quarterback he has accounted for 75 first downs running the football alone. In basically 17 games, Nick Marshall has provided Auburn an extra 7-points per game from just his running ability. He established himself as a major component of the run-offense last season but he's become a better passer in 2014. His dynamic ability at the quarterback position has made the Auburn offense very difficult to defend. Last season Nick Marshall was responsible for an impact play (15+ yds) every 6.2 snaps. Not to far off the mark of 1 every 5.7 plays by Cam Newton during 2010. This season through 5 games, Marshall has a ratio of 1 every 5.1 plays, better than Newton's Heisman season. Last season Marshall was directly involved in 38.7% of Auburn's first downs and this season it has increased to 42.3%. No doubt he is the heart of the offense this season, where as Tre Mason was the heart of the offense in 2013. Against LSU, Gus Malzahn opened up the offense and Nick Marshall had one of the best games of his career. Of Auburn's amazing 16 impact plays against LSU, Marshall was involved in 11 of them. The play... On this play Auburn faces a 3rd & 9 from the LSU 29-yard line. On occasion you will hear Nick Marshall go with a hard count to make the opposing defense tip their hat to their pressure and coverage. This was the case on this play, resulting in an audible being called from the sideline. Auburn checks into a quarterback draw from a 4-WR look. At the snap Nick Marshall sets up like he is going to pass just before he takes off up the middle of the field. Cameron Artis-Payne releases out of the backfield into the flat to pull the lone LB at the second level. LSU has the other LB coming on a blitz. Just as Marshall approaches the LSU 20-yard line, he is faced with 2 defenders. He makes a hard cut to his right, faking out both tacklers. Once around the 2 would be tacklers, Marshall sprints towards the end zone taking one defender with him into the end zone for the score. The play was eerily similar to Cam Newton's Heisman moment run against LSU in 2010. Second time is the charm... Later against LSU, Auburn calls another quarterback-draw. This time around Auburn has a 1st & 10 from their own 40-yard line. Once again the Tigers come out in a 4-WR look. At the snap Nick Marshall drops as if to pass and Corey Grant releases out of the backfield just before Marshall takes off up the middle. This time around the MLB manages to recover, forcing Marshall to cut to his right towards the sideline. To Corey Grant's credit, he sets up to wall off the MLB pursuing Marshall from behind. Grant makes the key block that allows Marshall to get up the sideline for a 15-yard gain and an Auburn first down. Grant was not initially assigned to block on this play, acting as a decoy out of the backfield. By remaining active in the play, Grant makes a key block to assist on another impact play. Look for Nick Marshall to play a key role in Auburn's game-plan against Mississippi State. He will likely have more of a role getting out on the edge rather than attacking between the tackles as he did against LSU. Marshall had a great passing game against the Bulldogs last season and hopefully will provide an encore performance this Saturday.
  22. If Auburn is to leave Starkville, Mississippi with a victory this Saturday, Sammie Coates will likely play a major role on offense. Off to a slow start this season, Coates had not made his presence known on the field until the LSU game, when he made 4 impact plays during a 41-7 Auburn victory. Hopefully as his knee becomes 100%, he will continue to make big plays in the Auburn pass-offense. Last season the Auburn pass-offense generating 54 impact plays (15+ yards). This season they are on pace for 87 in the same number of games. Play #1... On this play Auburn faces a 2nd & 19 from their own 44-yard line. Auburn comes out in a 4-WR set with "trips" to the wide side of the field. Sammie Coates is singled on the boundary side. At the snap Coates must work through press-coverage by the CB. He stiff-arms the CB coming off the line and works to the CB's inside shoulder as he runs a fly-route. Nick Marshall has a great pocket to work within, allowing him to wait on Coates to get down field. Marshall has time to step into his deep throw as he launches a deep ball to Coates. Sammie Coates is able to haul in the deep ball between two defenders, powering his way into the LSU end zone for the score. This play was very similar to the two deep passes Coates caught against LSU, during Auburn's 35-21 loss to the Bengal-Tigers. Play #2... Through the first 3 games Sammie Coates had failed to register a single play of 15-yards or more. Against LSU, he came up with 4. During this play Auburn faces a 3rd & 6 from midfield, coming out in another 4-WR set. The Tigers have 2 double-stacks at WR before the snap. Sammie Coates and Marcus Davis are stacked at the bottom of the formation, with Quan Bray and Duke Williams stacked at the top. At the snap Sammie Coates runs a square-in route as Marcus Davis runs a short stop and out underneath. Cameron Artis-Payne releases out of the backfield, which pulls the 2 LB's underneath Coate's square-in over the middle. Nick Marshall zips his pass over the LB's and underneath the safety covering Coates. Sammie Coates hauls in the pass and picks up 21-yards on the play for an Auburn first down. Nick Marshall had his best passing performance of the 2014 season and Sammie Coates played a major role in Marshall's success. Though Auburn hasn't been able to run the football at the record-breaking pace of last season, this year's offense could become more explosive and balanced with this kind of performance in the passing game.
  23. A few weeks ago, we saw Ricardo Louis score on a short TD pass inside the red zone vs. San Jose State. The play came from a wildcat formation (unbalanced line) with Ricardo Louis lined up in the backfield. He released out in the flat and was open for an easy TD pass from Nick Marshall. Against LSU, Auburn ran the same play but C.J. Uzomah scored this time from a different position. Like most of Malzahn's plays, we often see different options available and this play is no different. The play... On this play Auburn is at the LSU 9-yard line. The Tigers will come out in their wildcat set, which includes an unbalanced line. Before the snap Cameron Artis-Payne will come in motion from his right to the left on the jet-sweep option. Ricardo Louis is once again lined up in the backfield behind C.J. Uzomah (TE). At the snap Nick Marshall will fake the sweep to CAP and roll to his right. Ricardo Louis will release out into the right flat but LSU recognizes this play and Louis is immediately covered by more than 1 defender. During Marshall's roll out, C.J. Uzomah releases off the line, running a shallow crossing route in the back of the end zone. Uzomah is left uncovered and Marshall makes the throw to his TE rather than Louis. The play results in an easy score once again but to a different option. For future reference, focus on frames 2 & 3 and Cameron Artis-Payne not being picked up after he exits the backfield on the backside. This will likely be the next option utilized in this same play and formation.
  24. Though Auburn is not running the ball at the same level they did during 2013, it still has been a very productive aspect of the offense. One play Auburn is becoming better at with more reps is the inside trap play. It is a very basic run-play found in almost every offensive playbook because it can be run from basically every offensive formation. The offensive line is not required to move or transition in wide spaces, allowing them to focus on their strength and leverage to make the play work. For the RB's, it is a quick hitting play, which can often turn into a big gainer between the tackles. The play... On this play the Auburn offense has the ball at the LSU 45-yard line with a 1st &10. At the snap, Devonte Danzey pulls to his right but is basically shifting one gap over. The play is run as if it is a read-option but is a straight up run play for the RB. The read-option look actually keeps the SLB out of position on this play, allowing Cameron Artis-Payne to explode through the hole. CAP takes the inside hand off and shoots through the hole behind Danzey. After shooting past the SLB, CAP faces off with the safety. CAP makes a sharp cut outside, avoiding the tackle by the safety. He then heads down the sideline until he is tackled from behind. The play results in a 34-yard gain and an Auburn first down. The drive is later completed with a touchdown. View from the backfield.... Here is backfield view of the same play. C.J. Uzomah is responsible for the DE as Devonte Danzey pulls to take on the MLB. Avery Young advances to the second level, taking out the OLB. The SLB is caught out of position, anticipating the keep by the quarterback. This allows CAP to shoot through the gaping hole into the LSU secondary. CAP is at his best in open space because of his great lateral movement. He is able to cut outside of the oncoming safety and down the sideline for the big gain. This is the kind of play that can pick up valuable rushing yardage against the Mississippi State defense this Saturday.
  25. We often see Gus Malzahn overload the point of attack in the running game to obtain an edge in numbers. Auburn will pull both guards on the buck-sweep to out number defenders on the edge. In this case Gus Malzahn overloads the perimeter to set up a pass to Cameron Artis-Payne. Once again the design of the play is to out number the defenders at the point of attack. The play... On this play Auburn faces a 2nd & 10 from their own 33-yard line. Auburn comes out in a tight formation with Sammie Coates as the only receiver lined up wide. At the snap Cameron Artis-Payne slips out of the backfield as Nick Marshall fakes the give to Corey Grant, who fakes the sweep to the left. Sammie Coates will run a deep vertical route pulling the CB and safety over top with him down field. This clears the sideline for Cameron Artis-Payne running a short wheel-route near the sideline. Corey Grant also releases out into the flat and is picked up by the OLB. Marshall technically has a 3-route read stacked over one another. Because the CB and safety double up on Coates, it leaves the OLB responsible for both backs releasing out of the backfield on the same side. CAP runs a deeper route than Grant. If the OLB picks up CAP, Grant is wide open for the check down. It was a nicely designed play, which resulted in a 19-yard gain and an Auburn first-down.