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  1. 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.
  2. One of the keys to offensive success against the Gamecocks was the use of 2-backs by the Auburn offense. The cross-buck action places stress on opposing defenses, especially with Nick Marshall as a third option. Defenses are forced to cover both edges as well as the middle. Gus Malzahn was able to compliment the outside runs with the inside power plays, which prevented the Gamecock defense from selling out at the point of attack. Look for Auburn to continue utilizing 2-back sets moving forward. The play... On this play Auburn has a 2nd & 4 at the South Carolina 37-yard line. The Tigers come out in a 2-back set with Roc Thomas and Corey Grant. At the snap Grant will shoot out of the backfield as Nick Marshall fakes the inside give to Thomas. The DE plays the inside run, allowing Marshall to sprint to the corner. The Spur (Star) for Gamecocks is forced to play the slot-WR and the QB. Marshall gives a pass-look, forcing the Spur to lock onto the WR. Nick Marshall turns up field and cuts back to the middle of the field. He is able to speed down field for 37-yards and a touchdown. Note how Corey Grant was not accounted for after leaving the backfield. This could turn into a pass-option later down the road.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!