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Something to consider... Gus Malzahn is now 20-5 as a HFC at Auburn, the same record held by Steve Spurrier during his first 25 games at UF. Both were considered offensive guru's. Malzahn now has three 14-pt losses or worse (LSU, MSU and UGA). Spurrier had five 15-pt losses or worse during his first 25 games, playing with better overall talent against a lesser strength of schedule. Eventually, Spurrier realized a better defense was needed to win a MNC and his offense wasn't going to be enough. I'm quite sure Malzahn realizes this at this point and will make the needed changes. We should give CGM the time to make the adjustments to his staff.
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!
The Auburn Tigers dominated the Spartans, 59-13 to move to 2-0 on the season. The Tigers were 31-point favorites over San Jose State and easily covered the spread despite having issues in their vertical passing game. The defense played very well except for 2 big plays allowed during the game as the front-7 had a solid game against the Spartans. The good news is that Auburn came out of the game without any major injuries with 12 days to prepare for their first road game of the season. Auburn's front-7 played much better this week and it was good to see Kris Frost rebound from a shaky performance against the Razorbacks. Auburn's pass defense had a solid performance minus the 75-yard touchdown surrendered early in the game. San Jose State attempted 32 passes against the Tigers. Auburn recorded 4 sacks, 3 picks and 11 quarterback hurries. Quan Bray is off to a great start this season, averaging 28.7 yards per return through 2 games. Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant continued to play well for the second week in a row, establishing themselves as a great 1-2 punch from the RB position. Dating back to last season, the duo has combined for 1722-yards rushing on 219 carries for 17 touchdowns. This includes a whopping average of 7.86 yards per rush. Inside the Numbers: Auburn had 10 tackles for loss, while allowing only 2. Auburn struggled with their vertical pass-offense, completing only 3 of 10 passes past 10-yards of the line of scrimmage for 59-yards. The Auburn pass-offense was 3 of 9 passing on first down for 26-yards. Their 57.6 rating on first down was the 25th worst passing performance on first down in Auburn's last 273 games. During Steve Spurrier's first 56 games at Florida, his offense averaged 451.6 yards per game on 6.07 yards per play, while scoring 35.3 PPG. Gus Malzahn's first 56 games at Auburn has netted 448.3 yards per game on 6.52 yards per play and 35.7 PPG. Auburn targeted 8 different players in the passing game with D'haquille Williams leading the way, 5 times for 3 receptions. Through 2 games the Auburn has converted 100% of their third-downs during the first quarter, 50% during the second, 60% during the third and 71.4% during the fourth quarter. Auburn converted 7 of 8 third-down situations running the football against the Spartans. Last week the Auburn defense failed to force any third and 10+ situations. This week against San Jose State, they forced 7 such situations, only allowing 1 conversion. Auburn's third-down defense generated 2 picks and 3 sacks tonight. Auburn's 3 interceptions against the Spartans was only the 5th time in the last 89 games, Auburn has picked 3 or more passes in one game. Gus Malzahn has now fielded (43) 100-yard rushers during his 56 games at Auburn. Through 2 games, 51.0% of Auburn's offensive snaps has resulted in 5-yards or more and the opponent had been held to 33.6%. Through 2 games the Auburn defense has allowed 6.12 yards per play during the first half and only 3.13 yards during the second half. Through 2 games the Auburn defense has held their opponent to 2-yards or less on 43.8% of their first-half snaps and 60.9% during the second-half. Cameron Artis-Payne has 289-yards on 42 carries for 4 TD's through 2 games (6.9 YPC) Tre Mason had 172-yards on 29 carries for 2 TD's through 2 games in 2013 (5.9 YPC). Earlier this week I expressed the need for Auburn's offense to have more opportunities to play on a short field. The Tigers had only 4 possessions beginning on the opponent's side of the field during their last 71 possessions prior to San Jose State. Auburn's offense was given 3 possessions beginning on the Spartan's side of the field and they cashed all three opportunities into touchdown drives. 37 of the 62 combined carries by Corey Grant and Cameron-Artis Payne have netted at least 5-yards (59.6%). Last season Grant and Tre Mason hit at 53.3% through 2 games into the season. Through 2 games Auburn's defense has allowed 4.35 yards per rush during the first-half and only 1.00 yards during the second-half. Of Auburn's 14 scoring drives this season, 67.6% of the plays have been on the ground. Last season it was 74.0% for the entire season. Last week against Arkansas, Auburn was 2 of 4 running the ball with only 2-yards needed to convert. This week against San Jose State, Auburn was 10 of 11. Last week Auburn's front-7 totaled 25 tackles. This week they recorded 44. Through 2 games Auburn has turned the ball over 3 times, resulting in zero points. Auburn's defense has forced 5 turnovers, resulting in 28 points for the Tigers. Final Words: Though it was disappointing to see the pass-offense struggle, it is way too early to panic at this point. Auburn's run-offense appears to be as strong as last season. Last season through 2 games the pass-offense had a pass-rating of 128.6. This season it has improved to 166.3 through 2 games. Sammie Coates being out of the lineup, likely set the pass-offense back against San Jose State. There is no doubt there is plenty of room for improvement but Auburn remains one of the most difficult offenses to defend in the country. Once Auburn built a substantial lead against the Spartans, the team lost a little focus but that is to be expected when competing against a lesser opponent. The coaching staff will take full advantage of the extra prep-time to have the team ready for Kansas State in 12 days. Gus Malzahn has raised the fan's expectations of offense to a higher level. 400-yard and 30-point games are not enough, nor is 200-yards rushing. Through 56 games, his offense has averaged 256.7 yards rushing and 448.3 yards per game. This includes a pass-rating of 150.0 and 35.7 PPG. How wonderful it is to be spoiled. The coaching staff is attempting to take the same approach they did last season, when it comes to taking it one game at a time with the goal of becoming better each week. The challenge becomes more difficult as the wins roll in and the opponent places a target on Auburn's back. We as fans and supporters of Auburn University might be wise to take the same approach. Enjoy each game and try not to stress over the little things. The team is still playing well overall and the coaches continue to obtain the most of their existing personnel. War Eagle and Beat Kansas State!
I found the following data interesting... 1980-1989: During the decade before Steve Spurrier arrived at Florida, SEC teams averaged 183.6 yards rushing per game with 38% of the teams averaging over 200-yards rushing for the season. 1990-1992: During the first 3 years with Spurrier at Florida, rushing averages dipped to 175.6 yards per game with 34.3% of the SEC teams averaging over 200-yards rushing per game during the season. 1993-1995: Six years into the Spurrier era at UF and SEC teams are averaging 162.9 yards rushing per game with only 13.9% of the teams averaging over 200-yards rushing per game. 1996-2000: During the final 5 years with Spurrier at UF, rushing averages dropped to 139.2 yards per game with only 5% of the teams averaging over 200-yards rushing per game. The offensive game had evolved on it's own but Spurrier clearly made a major impact on the conference in not only style of play but recruiting. Teams quickly went from 3-yards and a cloud of dust to opening up their offenses. His high scoring offenses forced opponents out of their run-offenses. Speedy and athletic back 7's on defense became more important to compete with Spurrier's offense and others who elected to pass more often. 2001-2003: During the first 3 years with Spurrier gone from the SEC, rushing averages increased to 158.8 yards per game with 13.9% of the teams averaging over 200-yards rushing per game. 2007-2009: SEC teams averaged 163.8 yards rushing per game with 22.2% averaging more than 200-yards rushing per game. How much of an impact has Gus Malzahn had on the league? IMO, he has made a slight impact but not to the degree of Spurrier at this point. From 2009-2013, SEC teams are now averaging 175.9 yards rushing per game with 25% averaging over 200-yards rushing per game. Even Coach Spurrier has adjusted his style of offense since returning to the league at South Carolina. He wanted to throw the ball his first couple of years at USCe but quickly adjusted his offense to a more ball-control styled offense. The Ole Ball Coach is winning with a running game and defense. Spurrier's teams at UF averaged 142.0 yards rushing per game on 34 attempts per game. During his first 5 years at USCe, Spurrier's teams averaged 114.0 yards rushing on 32 attempts per game. During his last 4 seasons at USCe, his run-offense has averaged 170.5 yards per game on 40 attempts per game. Last season was the Year of the Quarterback in the SEC, which could change to the Year of the Running back in 2014. Six of the top SEC quarterbacks are gone from last season, which could open up the running lanes this upcoming year. Teams will likely be more dependent upon their running games, while breaking in a new starter at QB. The game has evolved too much for the SEC to start running the ball 45 times per game as they did during the decade of the 80's. We are seeing great quarterback play and development in the conference, like we've never seen before. For this reason teams will keep their offenses wide open or balanced but I do believe coaches are seeing the value of the running game again as well as the need to defend it. It will be interesting to see how much Malzahn will influence the style of play as the years pass on. Edit Note: Spuirrier was at UF from 1990-2001, but it doesn't change the above data by much.