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  1. 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!
  2. Last season only 19.6% of Nick Marshall's pass attempts were in the intermediate range. This year it slightly increased to 21.0%. Last season 26.8% of Jeremy Johnson's pass attempts were in the intermediate range, increasing to 27.3% this season. Even though Nick Marshall did improve his passing this season, Auburn continued to lack the intermediate routes in their pass-offense. When Jeremy Johnson slides into the starting role in 2015, look for the Auburn pass-offense to be more lethal in terms of stretching the secondary throughout the entire field and not just on deep vertical routes. Johnson possesses the height, smooth delivery and the accurate arm to make every throw needed to challenge opposing secondaries. The play... During this play Auburn faces a 3rd &15 from their own 20-yard line. Auburn comes out in a 4-WR set and Georgia responds with their safeties in a cover-2. Ricardo Louis and Marcus Davis will run deep vertical routes to occupy the safeties. C.J. Uzomah will run a shallow crossing route to occupy the linebackers. Melvin Ray will run an intermediate square-in route underneath the two safeties and a LB that drops deep into coverage. Jeremy Johnson makes his pass attempt just as Melvin Ray breaks inside towards the middle of the field. The timing of the pass allows Ray to catch the pass in stride, picking up an additional 10-yards for a 25-yard gain and Auburn first down. Through 10 games Auburn has faced 11 third-down situations of 15-yards or more needed to convert. Auburn has thrown the ball only 5 times in those long situations and this play was the only conversion of the 11 attempts.
  3. 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.
  4. D'haquille Williams has been a key component of the Auburn pass-offense this season. Of his 37 receptions this season, 29 have resulted in a first down or touchdown for the Auburn offense. This also includes 18 impact plays. Of his 15 receptions on third-down, 13 have resulted in a first down or touchdown. Against Ole Miss Nick Marshall made 4 critical completions on third-down, totaling 107-yards of offense. Marshall prior to the last bye-week was completing only 51% of his third-down passes. Since the bye-week, Marshall has completed 64% of his third down passes the last two games. The play... The Auburn offense faces a 3rd down and 5 from the Rebel 20-yard line. The Auburn offense comes out in a 2-WR set with Duke Williams lined up on the wide-side of the field. Just before the snap Ricardo Louis motions into the backfield on the speed-sweep look. Nick Marshall will play-action with Louis after the snap to freeze the LB's. As Marshall drops to pass, he will look off his intended target (Williams), focusing on the TE coming off the line. Duke Williams will fake the post-route and cut back outside on the deep out-route. Because Williams makes a hard cut inside to sell the post-route the CB and safety both bite on the initial move inside. Once Williams breaks back outside, the CB is completely turned around and out of position. Nick Marshall floats his pass to the sideline, where Williams makes the reception. He initially juggled the reception but regained control before going out of bounds. Needing only 1 foot in bounds, Williams manages to get both feet down, which would have made it a reception at the next level.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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
  8. 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!
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. It is always good to see a senior step up during the season, especially when it is a player who is not a frequent starter. Quan Bray stepped up during Auburn's Homecoming game against La. Tech, accounting for 3 touchdowns during the game. Bray's performance was a catalyst to breaking open what was a close game. Through the first 3 games Auburn's receiving corps has not played to their full potential as a group, so it was great to see Quan Bray making explosive plays on a day they were much needed. The Play... On this play Auburn faces a 3rd & 10 from inside the Bulldog 38-yard line. Auburn comes out in a 4-WR set but only 3 of the 4 are eligible for a pass. Quan Bray and Ricardo Louis are lined up two-yards off the line, so they are considered to be in the backfield, thus eligible for a pass. D'haquille Williams is on the line and the last player on the end, so he too is eligible. Sammie Coates is the only player not eligible because of the alignment. At the snap Sammie Coates will fake the screen-look but the La. Tech defense did not bite. In image #1, you can see the Bulldog safety pointing out that Coates is not an eligible receiver (good recognition on his part). Nick Marshall carries out his pump-fake to Coates before resetting his feet and throwing to Quan Bray on a go-route. Though La. Tech did not fall for the "Coates" fake, the safety over top does commit to Duke Williams running a post-pattern. This leaves Quan Bray 1 on 1 with the corner. Bray works his way to the inside shoulder of the corner, giving him additional space to position for the eventual pass. Nick Marshall delivers a perfect pass, hitting Bray in stride. Bray does a great job of positioning his body to shield the corner away from incoming pass. Bray hauls in the pass for an Auburn touchdown. Pass-protection was stellar on the play, allowing Marshall to go through his fake and to reset his feet for the deep pass to Bray. * Auburn was 6 of 10 passing on third-down for 132-yards and 3 TD's
  12. Through 3 games Auburn has yet to reach its full potential in the passing game. D'haquille Williams has already recorded 9 impact plays from his 21 receptions but Ricardo Louis and Sammie Coates have combined for just 1 impact play. Ricardo Louis registered his first impact play against Kansas State, which ended up being an explosive play. Kansas State came into the game with a plan of taking away Auburn's run-offense, challenging the Tigers to beat them through the air. To Auburn's credit, they did make some critical passes in the game, which made part of the difference in the outcome of the game. In reality, Auburn could have won more comfortably had they connected on several other passing opportunities. This situation will arise again down the road and Auburn will need a more consistent response from their pass-offense. The Play... On this play Auburn has the ball at the Kansas State 40-yard line on a 1st &10. K-State has 7 in the box with a high probability of a run play on first down. Auburn comes out in a 3-WR set with the intent of running a play-action pass. At the snap, Nick Marshall play-actions with CAP and sets up deep into the pocket. Marshall looks deep but the deep route to Sammie Coates is covered. Marshall goes through his progression and resets his feet with Louis breaking on a deep out. Marshall delivers a high pass, which Louis makes a great effort to snag. This was a great play on the part of Marshall, who did not force the deep ball, checking down to a better option. He also made his delivery with pressure in his face. Louis comes down with the reception at the 24-yard line, spinning away from safety. Ricardo Louis cuts the play back inside avoiding two other defenders to the end zone for the score. Louis made a great play on the ball and utilized his football instincts to gain 24 more yards after the catch. These are the type of plays Auburn's receivers need to make. If Coates and Louis begin making plays, Auburn will be able to maintain their threat in running the football, while achieving offensive balance.
  13. Auburn is currently ranked No. 36 nationally with a 152.4 rating. No. 55 on first down with a 144.5 rating. (Auburn must improve on this ranking going into the meat of the schedule.) No. 117 nationally on first down, completing only 50% of passes. (This is really poor but can be addressed by more high-percentage passes than the vertical routes we have seen through the first 3 games.) No. 18 nationally on third-down with a rating of 168.8. No. 8 nationally in converting third-downs into first downs or TD's. (This is huge and more of a vital sign of success on third-down than efficiency rating.) Breaking it down by quarter: Auburn is No. 5 in pass-efficiency during the first quarter, No. 96 during the second quarter, No. 81 during the third and No. 20 during the fourth quarter. Auburn is No. 19 nationally in generating 15+ yard passes and No. 24 in generating 25+ yard plays. Too much attention placed on completion percentage in my opinion. Nick Marshall is never going to be a 65-70 percent passer. The key for Auburn is generating impact and explosive plays to go along with their powerful running game. Last season Nick Marshall completed only 28 percent of his passes beyond 20-yards of the line of scrimmage. The goal was to push it up to 40-45 percent in 2014. Through 3 games, it has dropped to 18 percent. This is an area Auburn must improve upon to get through their brutal schedule ahead. Take away the 3 dropped passes and Marshall is hitting at 45.4% D'haquille Williams has lived up to his hype. Of his 21 receptions, 15 have resulted in a first down or touchdown. He also has 9 impact plays and is on pace to be the best WR in the last 25-years, when it comes to impact plays. Ricardo Louis and Sammie Coates need to step up their production. They have been targeted a combined 23 times. They have caught 9 passes with only 1 play over 15-yards. Williams has been targeted 27 times, catching 21 of which 9 have been impact plays. C.J. Uzomah has been thrown to only 3 times this season. Utilizing the TE and RB's in the passing game would be a great solution when opponents sell out to defend the run. It would also give Marshall an opportunity to improve his completion percentage and confidence. Those swing passes to the backs is almost open on every play. One of the reasons for Marshall's low completion percentage this season is the number of vertical passes attempted. Last season 49.8% of his pass attempts were within 5-yards of the line of scrimmage. This season its only 28.6%. Last season the average distance of Auburn's pass-impact plays was 31.6 yards. This was the best average over the past 25 years of Auburn football. This season it has dropped to 25.6 yards. The OL has done a great job in pass-protection. Auburn's QB's have been sacked only 1 time this season during 76 pass attempts. Last season there were too many missed opportunities in long pass-plays because of dropped passes or accuracy issues. It appears that trend has carried over into 2014. Auburn has too much talent on the field to be missing out on those big-play opportunities. I'm referring to the wide open plays, when there is busted coverage and its a simple matter of completing the pass.
  14. Auburn is currently ranked No. 36 nationally with a 152.4 rating. No. 55 on first down with a 144.5 rating. (Auburn must improve on this ranking going into the meat of the schedule.) No. 117 nationally on first down, completing only 50% of passes. (This is really poor but can be addressed by more high-percentage passes than the vertical routes we have seen through the first 3 games.) No. 18 nationally on third-down with a rating of 168.8. No. 8 nationally in converting third-downs into first downs or TD's. (This is huge and more of a vital sign of success on third-down than efficiency rating.) Breaking it down by quarter: Auburn is No. 5 in pass-efficiency during the first quarter, No. 96 during the second quarter, No. 81 during the third and No. 20 during the fourth quarter. Auburn is No. 19 nationally in generating 15+ yard passes and No. 24 in generating 25+ yard plays. Too much attention placed on completion percentage in my opinion. Nick Marshall is never going to be a 65-70 percent passer. The key for Auburn is generating impact and explosive plays to go along with their powerful running game. Last season Nick Marshall completed only 28 percent of his passes beyond 20-yards of the line of scrimmage. The goal was to push it up to 40-45 percent in 2014. Through 3 games, it has dropped to 18 percent. This is an area Auburn must improve upon to get through their brutal schedule ahead. Take away the 3 dropped passes and Marshall is hitting at 45.4% D'haquille Williams has lived up to his hype. Of his 21 receptions, 15 have resulted in a first down or touchdown. He also has 9 impact plays and is on pace to be the best WR in the last 25-years, when it comes to impact plays. Ricardo Louis and Sammie Coates need to step up their production. They have been targeted a combined 23 times. They have caught 9 passes with only 1 play over 15-yards. Williams has been targeted 27 times, catching 21 of which 9 have been impact plays. C.J. Uzomah has been thrown to only 3 times this season. Utilizing the TE and RB's in the passing game would be a great solution when opponents sell out to defend the run. It would also give Marshall an opportunity to improve his completion percentage and confidence. Those swing passes to the backs is almost open on every play. One of the reasons for Marshall's low completion percentage this season is the number of vertical passes attempted. Last season 49.8% of his pass attempts were within 5-yards of the line of scrimmage. This season its only 28.6%. Last season the average distance of Auburn's pass-impact plays was 31.6 yards. This was the best average over the past 25 years of Auburn football. This season it has dropped to 25.6 yards. The OL has done a great job in pass-protection. Auburn's QB's have been sacked only 1 time this season during 76 pass attempts. Last season there were too many missed opportunities in long pass-plays because of dropped passes or accuracy issues. It appears that trend has carried over into 2014. Auburn has too much talent on the field to be missing out on those big-play opportunities. I'm referring to the wide open plays, when there is busted coverage and its a simple matter of completing the pass.
  15. One area Auburn needs drastic improvement upon is their pass-offense on first-down. Auburn is currently No. 117 nationally, completing only 50 percent of their passes on first-down. One of the reasons for the low percentage is the type of passes being thrown on first down. Auburn has thrown a higher number of vertical passes on first down this season, which has resulted in a low completion percentage. Note that Auburn has run fewer WR screens than we normally see in a Gus Malzahn pass-offense. Auburn is currently No. 45 nationally, averaging 6.52 yards per play on first down. We all know how vital first-down is, when it comes to Malzahn wanting to push the tempo. The Play... On this play Auburn faces a 3rd & 8 from their own 36-yard line. Auburn comes out in a tight formation with a 3-WR set. Because of the tight formation, Kansas State has 7 defenders inside the box. Corey Grant motions across the backfield before the snap. At the snap, Nick Marshall fakes the screen pass to Grant and fakes the end-around give to Ricardo Louis. Note how the LB's are focused on the movement and fake to Corey Grant. After the fake end-around to Louis, Ricardo Louis slips out of the backfield into the flat. Marshall has thrown deep from this formation and play but elects to check down to the swing -pass to Louis. Louis has 1 man to beat in the flat and he out-races the LB to the first down marker. Needing 8-yards, Ricardo Louis picks up 9-yards. Because of the multiple fakes, this isn't a play you want to run often because it is slow to develop. One way to counter the defensive fronts selling out to stop the run are screens and swing passes to stretch defenses horizontally. Players like Corey Grant and Ricardo Louis are exceptional in space and these type plays will improve the completion percentage.
  16. It certainly wasn't the result most Auburn supporters were hoping for but we should all be grateful Auburn left Manhattan, Kansas with a victory. Auburn's school record streaks of 200-yard rushing games and 30-point games came to end at the hands of the Kansas State defense. It was a Wildcat defense that was well coached, disciplined and quick to the point of attack. It took away the heart of the Auburn offense, which limited Auburn's explosive play ability. Fortunately for Auburn, the Tigers' defense came to play, holding Kansas State to under 300-yards of offense. If not for the first-half play of the Auburn defense, the Tigers would not have held their slim 10-7 lead at halftime. If we learned anything from tonight, it was a clear sign of how difficult it will be for Auburn to navigate through their schedule unblemished. With the way Auburn has run the ball during the last 16 games before the Kansas State game, we became spoiled from its production. This is the very reason why Gus Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee knew the importance of improving the pass-offense. Auburn will remain a strong running team but Kansas State won't likely be the last team to slow Auburn's rushing attack down before season's end. This means the pass-offense must strive for continued improvement or face the reality of losing. The play of the offensive line and blocking on the perimeter was very inconsistent against the Wildcats. Auburn's longest run of the night was a 17-yard gain by Nick Marshall and Cameron Artis-Payne took a massive beating between the tackles. Kansas State simply beat Auburn up front, when the Tigers were on offense. The good news was that Nick Marshall delivered, when he was needed the most. If not for 4-5 dropped passes, Marshall would have passed for over 300-yards and at least 3 TD's. It's good to know the players and coaches can learn from this reality check and still be undefeated. All in all, the defense took another big step forward as well as Nick Marshall but the offensive line are in for a gloomy film study this week. Inside the Numbers: Despite the average performance by the offense, Auburn has raised the bar over a 16-game run. Auburn's offense beginning in 1970 and 5 games into the 1971 season, averaged 446.8 yards per game and 34.8 PPG. Starting with the 6th game of the 1994 season, Auburn's offense averaged 461.8 YPG and 36.1 PPG over a 16-game period. Starting with the last game of the 2009 season on through the first game of 2011, Auburn averaged 486.3 YPG and 41.1 PPG. Beginning with the second game of the 2013 season on through the Kansas State game, Auburn averaged 504.4 YPG and 40.4 PPG. The last time Auburn held a team from a major conference to under 300-yards was the 2011 Florida game. Kansas State was held to only 78-yards on 30 first down snaps. The last time Auburn held a major opponent to under 3-yards per play on first down was the 2008 Mississippi State game. Nick Marshall had a QB rating of only 112.3 during the first-half, thanks to a couple of dropped passes. Marshall rebounded strong with a 159.9 rating during the second-half. Nick Marshall came into the game with a total of 4 third-down passes that resulted in a first-down. Against Kansas State, Marshall converted 7 third-down situations, throwing the football. Three games into the season, D'haquille Williams has been targeted 27 times, catching 21 passes. Sammie Coates has been thrown to 13 times, catching 3. Ricardo Louis has been targeted 10 times, hauling in 6 passes. Nick Marshall has completed on 43 percent of his passes on first down but has connected on 57 percent on third-down. After gaining only 60-yards during their first 5 possessions of the game, the Auburn offense gained 294-yards during their next 6 possessions. After going 2 of 7 on third-down during the first-half, Auburn was 8 of 11 during the second-half. Through 3 games into the 2013 season, the Auburn defense had allowed 6 plays of 30-yards or more. The 2014 defense has surrendered just 2. Only 24 of Auburn's 76 offensive snaps netted at least 5-yards. Lowest output of the season. K-State had 29 of 70 snaps that went for at least 5-yards. Auburn's defense has allowed 5.4 yards per play during the first-half and only 3.4 yards per play during the second-half. 52.2 percent of the plays defended by the Auburn defense has been held to 2-yards or less this season. Auburn had averaged at least 17 first down plays that netted at least 5-yards, prior to Kansas State. The Wildcats held Auburn to just 9 plays of 5-yards or more on first down. Last season through 3 games, only 7.9% of Auburn's possessions began on the opponent's side of the field. This season it has increased to 17.1 percent. One of the primary keys to victory was stopping Kansas State from scoring on the 3 possessions they took possession on the Auburn side of the field. Auburn is now 33-4 under Gus Malzahn's offense, when the Tigers score at least 2 times during their first 4 possessions of the game. This was not the case against Kansas State, making Auburn 12-8 under Malzahn, when scoring only once or less during their first 4 possessions. Last season Nick Marshall completed only 28.3 percent of his passes beyond 20-yards of the line of scrimmage. The key was to improve to 40-45 percent in 2014. Through 3 games, Marshall has hit only 18.2 percent. This has to improve or Auburn won't make it back to Atlanta much less the playoffs. Through 3 games Auburn has allowed 3.2 yards per rush during the first-half and 1.3 yards during the second-half. Of Auburn's 18 scoring drives this season, 65.7 percent of the plays have been on the ground. Auburn's front-7 (star included) was involved in only 42.4 percent of the tackles. This included only 9 stops by the D-line, which averaged 17 per game prior to Kansas State. Auburn has now scored 34 points from their opponent's turnovers and have surrendered zero points to the opponent from Auburn's turnovers. Final Word: It would be easy to write off this team's chances of winning a championship solely based on their performance against Kansas State. Though it's obvious there are areas Auburn needs to improve upon, most championship teams survives at least one of these type games during the season. I believe the game plan for this game were solid but execution was questionable in several critical areas. The offensive line struggled, there were too many dropped passes and special teams did not deliver like they normally do. Credit should also be given to the opposition for their performance and effort, which made Auburn's offense look mortal more than not. Auburn will have a couple of extra days and Louisiana Tech to work through before hosting LSU. The time spent before the LSU game will be critical to prepare for what will be an extremely physical game. The offense must find the ability to be more balanced, when their backs are against the wall but there are plenty of positive signs, the defense has continued to improve. Though Auburn won the tackle for loss battle against Kansas State (6 to 5), the Wildcats clearly held the edge in controlling the line of scrimmage. Auburn will not advance very far is this becomes the case, when they return to conference play. The secondary looks questionable at times but it is important to remember the youth movement in place and the lack of experience back there. A better push by the defensive line would help but until that happens, look for Ellis Johnson to mix in the blitz at critical times. Thus far, Auburn has been very productive in this area. The regular season is one-fourth through and Auburn is still in the mix for a special season. The Tigers will need to continue their march to improvement as the schedule becomes more challenging each week. Enjoy the good things accomplished in each game, rather than fretting over the negatives. Normally there are more positives than negatives but its human nature to focus on the negative. This is directed at us as fans and not the team and coaches. Let the players and coaches work out the kinks. War Eagle!
  17. Through 2 games into the season, the Auburn offense is one of the best in the nation, when it comes to Redzone offense. The Tigers have scored on 11 of 11 opportunities and more importantly, 10 of the 11 possessions have been touchdowns. Auburn was very efficient inside the redzone last season, scoring on 54 of 61 opportunities. This included a touchdown in 44 of the 54 scoring drives. The play... During this play Auburn faces a 3rd & goal from the San Jose State 4-yard line. The Tigers come out in their Wildcat set in an unbalanced line. Before the snap the ball, Corey Grant motions into the backfield on a Jet-sweep action. This freezes the defense because of the run-option with Grant. Ricardo Louis is lined up in the backfield (H-back) and will slide out of the backfield at the snap. Nick Marshall play-actions with Grant, making a half-roll to his right. The Spartans rush a LB off the edge but Marshall is able to loft a pass over his head to a wide open Ricardo Louis in the end zone. C. J. Uzomah is also a pass-option on the play, as he runs a crossing route deeper in the end zone. One of the reasons why Louis was wide open on the play is because Auburn "sugar huddles" before the play. This is where the OL comes to the line of scrimmage, while the skill players huddle. When the skill players exit the huddle, they race to their positions and immediately snap the ball. This will sometimes cause alignment issues for the opposing defense and limits the time for the defense to obtain a good presnap read. This is a tactic the Auburn offense has utilized quite a bit the past 2 seasons.
  18. Basically the Auburn-Arkansas game will come down to the Razorbacks ability to defend space and Auburn's ability to defend mass. We witnessed South Carolina struggle dearly last night. Defending 60 pass attempts, the Gameocks mustered up only 1 sack, 2 QB hurries and had only 2 passes defended. In contrast, A&M defended 40 pass attempts but came up with 3 sacks, 6 QB hurries, 4 passes broken up and 1 pick. Go back and watch A&M's QB and he rarely had to go through any progressions. His primary receiver was open on almost every pass play to the point he got away with starring down his primary target. At times last season we witnessed the Auburn defense struggle, defending mass. Hopefully the front-7 will be better defending the run and creating more situational plays. The way the Auburn offense is built in comparison to Arkansas, on paper it would appear Auburn has a smaller field to defend except for the times the Razorbacks throw vertically. On a dry field, I believe this heavily favors Auburn but a heavy rain could even those odds for Arkansas. With all the attention on Coates and Williams, when Auburn passes, I believe this could open up a huge opportunity for Ricardo Louis. He is a play that will touch the ball in the running game as well as the passing game. Enjoy the season folks and don't let one game define the season. We will have some ups and downs this season, so don't focus too much on the negatives. If Auburn stays fairly healthy, there will be far more ups than downs. War Eagle and beat those Pigs! Auburn 38, Arkansas 23
  19. A primary area to watch for in 2014, when it comes to the Auburn offense will be their ability to run inside and throw over the top (over the LB's). Late in the 2013 season, opposing teams began to defend the edge to defend the running game to limit the damage caused by the Auburn running game.The following numbers will explain why... Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne accounted for 408 carries last season. Nick Marshall, Corey Grant and Ricardo Louis accounted for 257carries. Mason and CAP accounted for a 10+ yard run every 6.1 carries, while Marshall, Grant and Louis did it every 3.5 attempts. Mason and CAP accounted for a 20+ yard run every 25.5 attempts, while Marshall, Grant and Louis did it every 11.7 carries. Mason and CAP accounted for a 30+ run every 58.3 attempts, while Marshall, Grant and Louis did it every 19.8 attempts. Auburn was more likely to pop a big run on the edge than between the tackles, which is why opposing defenses were more concerned about the edge, willing to take their chances inside. Tre Mason was a consistent and reliable performer running between the tackles last season with 45 percent of his carries netting at least 5-yards. Will Cameron Artis-Payne and Peyton Barber be able to be as productive in 2014? Auburn's ability to run inside and pass over the top, will prevent defenses from out-manning Auburn on the edge or make them pay for it, when they do.
  20. Finding a second receiver to step up in 2014 to team up with Sammie Coates will be one of the primary goals for the Auburn offense. The Tigers fielded one of the top offenses in the nation during their BCS Championship run but a consistent tandem at WR could take the offense to a higher level of performance. With Nick Marshall returning at quarterback, the Auburn offense already has dynamic potential but adding another play maker at WR would truly stretch opposing defenses to the max. From 1970-2013, there has only been 5 occasions, where Auburn had a tandem of WR's or a TE to total at least 40 receptions each during one season. 1971: Terry Beasley (55-846-12) & Dick Schmalz (44-647-7) 1994: Frank Sanders (58-910-7) & Thomas Bailey (41-550-2) 1997: Karsten Bailey (53-840-7) & Tyrone Goodson (48-906-5) 1998: Karsten Bailey (43-651-7) & Clifton Robinson (42-672-0) 2010: Darvin Adams (52-963-7) & Terrell Zachery (43-605-4) From 1970-2013, the current 14 members of the SEC were able to field a "tandem" of 40-reception WR's or TE's during a season on 107 occasions. This means it occurred only 17.3 percent of the time during that 44-year period. Here is the total number of times for each program... Missouri ................... 14 (2 times in the SEC) Florida ..................... 12 Georgia .................... 11 LSU ......................... 11 Tennessee ................ 9 Texas A&M ............... 9 (2 times in the SEC) Vanderbilt ................. 8 Kentucky .................. 7 Ole Miss ................... 7 Arkansas .................. 5 (All while in the SEC) Auburn ..................... 5 South Carolina .......... 5 (4 times in the SEC) Alabama .................. 2 Miss State ................ 2 Though tandems only occurred 17.3% of the time from 1970-2013, it has happened 53.6% of the time during the past 2 seasons. Offenses are obviously more balanced and wide open during the past decade than any other period of the Southeastern Conference. This is another reason why it has become imperative for Auburn to field their own reliable tandem to compete in the SEC. Producing such level of play will only open the doors for recruiting quality receivers. The talent is present for Auburn to field another consistent performer at WR to match up with Sammie Coates. Ricardo Louis is the most likely candidate among the returning WR's but D'haquille Williams is already drawing praise from his early production this spring. Jaylon Denson, Marcus Davis, Tony Stevens and Melvin Ray saw plenty of action last season along with Quan Bray. Dominic Walker is another big target to watch for after red shirting the 2013 season. Through 8 collegiate seasons, Gus Malzahn has fielded a "tandem" on 4 occasions but only once, while at Auburn. I expect Auburn to throw the football 25 times per game, up from their 20 attempts per game during 2013. Sammie Coates was targeted 78 times last season, followed by Ricardo Louis (48). Marcus Davis and Quan Bray were tied for No. 3, targeted 31 times each.
  21. 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.
  22. One of the many things I like about Gus Malzahn's offense is how he utilizes certain players as "role" players in his offense. Players like Onterio McCalebb, Corey Grant, Mario Fannin and Eric Smith would not have made a significant impact in more traditional styled offenses but Malzahn utilized their athletic abilities to provide an offensive role. Mario Fannin is an exception to the rule but when he was not the every down back under Malzahn, Gus still found a way of obtaining a productive role for him. Onterio McCalebb would have likely seen a limited role on offense under Tommy Tuberville and Corey Grant would have certainly collected dust on the Alabama bench under Nick Saban. Here are some interesting numbers compiled by the above mentioned backs along with Ricardo Louis and Terrell Zachery who were utilized in Malzahn's running game. During the 4 seasons under Gus Malzahn these 6 players combined for.... 3934-yards rushing 2757-yards receiving 6691-yards in total offense or 126.2 yards per game. During 53 games, the above 6 players accounted for 20.9% of the offensive snaps, 28.4% of the total yardage and 23.4% of the TD's scored on offense. They combined for 278 first downs, 51 TD's and 131 plays of 15-yards or more. When you consider an impact play is worth 3.7 points, these 6 players accounted for 485 points or 9.1 points per game. Of their 757 touches on offense, they averaged a first down every 2.7 plays and an impact play every 5.8 touches. They averaged 8.8 yards per touch, scoring a TD every 14.8 plays. The above numbers don't include the contributions made by players like Kodi Burns, Kiehl Frazier and others who have taken snaps as the wildcat QB. Though they will likely have a combined 10-15 touches against Florida State, Corey Grant and Ricardo Louis could play a major role in an Auburn victory.
  23. Cameron Artis-Payne has been a quality No. 2 RB in the Auburn offense this year, making the most of his 90 carries on the season. The junior-college transfer is currently averaging 6.8 yards per rush and 1/3 of his carries have resulted in a first-down or touchdown this season. He has produced 20 rushes of 10-yards or more and 6 for 20-yards or more. On this play Auburn has a 3rd & 3 at the Missouri 36-yard line. Cameron Artis-Payne checks in to spell Tre Mason. Auburn will run their read-option as Missouri counters with a run-blitz. At the snap Nick Marshall reads the DE, who is playing the perimeter, so Marshall makes the inside give to Artis-Payne. Greg Robinson and Alex Kozan folds the DT's inside, creating a huge running lane for CAP through the "C" gap. Artis-Payne bursts through the gaping hole, picking up 21-yards and an Auburn first down. On the next snap, CAP scores on a 15-yard TD run. Facing a 1st & 10 from the Mizzu 15-yard line, Auburn elects to run inside once again with Cameron Artis-Payne. It's virtually the same play but CAP runs through the "A" gap. Like the play before, the DE plays the outside keep by the quarterback, so Nick Marshall makes the inside give to Artis-Payne. With the LB playing over top, CAP elects to take the "A" gap behind Reese Dismukes. Ricardo Louis slides down from his slot position to pick up a LB, leaving CAP 1 on 1 with the safety. CAP makes an initial cut as if he is going to Ricardo's right shoulder and cuts back inside to Ricardo's left shoulder. The lateral movement pulls the safety out of position, giving CAP clear sailing to the Mizzu end zone for the score. Cameron Artis-Payne might not be as quick as Tre Mason but he has terrific lateral movement. For the season, Auburn has converted an amazing 69% of their 3rd downs of 6-yards or less, running the football. Florida State has allowed their opponent to convert 57% of their 3rd downs of 6-yards or less, running the football.
  24. Rarely this season have opponents been able to put 8 and 9 men in the box against the Auburn offense. The primary look for the Auburn offense is a 3-WR set, which is normally defended with 7 in the box and at least 1 safety playing deep because of the concern of giving up a deep pass to Sammie Coates or Ricardo Louis. Sammie Coates currently leads the nation in his ratio of pass-plays of 25-yards or more. When teams began to cheat both safeties up for run-support, Gus Malzahn would often go to a 4-WR look. This almost always resulted in a 7 on 6 match up inside the box, favoring Auburn. On this play Auburn is 2nd & 6 from their own 28-yard line. Auburn comes out in a 4-WR look with trips to the left. Missouri responds with only 6 inside the box. Auburn is still able to run the read-option with Nick Marshall and Tre Mason. At the snap, Nick Marshall reads the DE playing the perimeter option, so he makes the inside give to Tre Mason. The DE on the opposite side is also playing wide, which allows Greg Robinson to drive him further outside, opening up a huge running lane through the "B" gap for Tre Mason. This leaves a 4 on 4 match up with Auburn's remaining OL against Mizzu's interior line and 2 LB's. The LB's are late in response because of the read-option and the threat of Marshall keeping outside. The OL creases the remaining front-5, which allows Mason to pop into the secondary very quickly. Tre Mason darts for a 21-yard gain and an Auburn first down.
  25. For the season Auburn has run the ball 72.3 percent of the time and hopefully this will hold true against Florida State. Auburn has been efficient throwing the football when they want to but have struggled throwing when they have to. Nick Marshall has converted 20 of 68 third-down situations (29.4%), throwing the football this season. He has converted 15 of 32, running the football (46.8%). If Auburn finishes the game with more than 45 rush attempts, it's probably a good sign but if Marshall is called upon to throw the football more than 25 times, it's probably bad news for the Tigers. On this play Auburn faces a 3rd & goal from inside the Missouri 8-yard line. The Tigers come out in a wildcat set with an unbalanced line. The play will be a play-action pass with Marshall having 2 pass-options on the play. Ricardo Louis will run a pass pattern out in the flat from the backfield and Brandon Fulse will release off the line, running a crossing route into the end zone. At the snap Nick Marshall will play-action with Tre Mason, who is coming on a speed-sweep look. After the play-action, Marshall will roll to his right, where he will connect with Louis in the flat. Ricardo Louis hauls in the short pass and makes it to inside the 1-yard line. The play doesn't convert but it does set up a short 4th & goal, which Auburn converts on the following play for a touchdown. Auburn needs to establish the run so that Nick Marshall can throw the football, when Auburn chooses and not when the defense dictates a passing situation for the Tigers. Rhett Lashlee has valuable time to work with his starting quarterback and to work out some key passing -situations and plays for the game, when Auburn MUST throw the football. Auburn's primary game-plan will obviously be centered around the read-option but it doesn't change the fact that Marshall will be called up to convert critical 3rd down plays during the game.