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  1. Over the years I have noticed a trend in many of the Auburn seasons that were special. Most of them were followed up by average or slightly above average seasons. Now there are numerous factors involved such as the loss of key starters, the loss of a large senior class or a quality senior class. A noticeable trend I picked up on was the number of close ball games during the special season. If there were at least 5 close games during the special season, the odds of a major fall off the following year increased. Check out the numbers... 1972 (10-1) The Tigers were 5-0 in games decided by 7-points that year. They went 6-6 the next year. 1983 (11-1) The Tigers were 5-0 in close games and went 9-4 the following year. 1997 (10-3) The Tigers were 4-1 in close games and went 3-8 the following year. 2006 (11-2) The Tigers were 5-0 in close games and went 9-4 the following year. 2010 (14-0) The Tigers were 6-0 in close games and went 8-5 the following year. 2013 (12-2) The Tigers were 5-1 in close games and are currently 8-3 this year. Of the six teams listed above, 4 of them lost their starting quarterback the following year. The above teams competed in 77 games with 32 being decided by 7-points or less (41.5%). The Tigers were 30-2 during the close games. The follow up teams combined for a record of 43-30 (.589). Now look at other 10-win seasons that did not involve as many close games... 1986 (10-2) 1-2 in close games and went 9-1-2 the following year. 1987 (9-1-2) 0-0-2 in close games and went 10-2 the following year. 1988 (10-2) 1-2 in close games and went 10-2 the following year. 1989 (10-2) 2-1 in close games and went 8-3-1 the following year. 1993 (11-0) 3-0 in close games and went 9-1-1 the following year. 2004 (13-0) 2-0 in close games and went 9-3 the following year. Only 16 close games combined out of 72 (22.2%) followed by a better follow up season. The follow up teams combined for a record of 55-12-4 (.803). As great as the 2010 and 2013 seasons were, these teams were not "complete" teams like the 2004 squad. The 2004 team was solid in every phase of the game, which cannot be said about 2010 and 2013. The 2010 and 2013 teams were talented enough to get by in many close games but paid the price the following seasons with the loss of several key starters. The 2004 team was more soundly built, which prevented them from being involved in too many close games. The carry over from this sound structure, gave them a better chance of competing the following year. There were personnel losses to overcome like any other year but the nucleus was present for the 2005 squad to be competitive. We witnessed this same process more extensively under Pat Dye. His run from 1982-1989 was an indicator of a sound program than a few isolated special seasons. I touched on this after the 2013 season was completed. Gus Malzahn and his staff did a great job of putting together a team that was very competitive but this isn't the same as building a competitive program. The 2013 team had enough key contributors across the board to allow them to be competitive that year. Take some of those contributors away the following year and what happens? Did Auburn find someone to replace Greg Robinson, Dee Ford, Tre Mason, Chris Davis and Jay Prosch? Cameron Artis-Payne was the closest. What about the kickers from 2013? Special teams really went south in 2014, which had something to do with the kicker and punter. To his credit, Daniel Carlson has been solid this season but punting has been a different story. Add to the mix, the loss of Carl Lawson and Alex Kozan before the 2014 season started and Auburn was facing key personnel obstacles. Building a program that allows you to replace actual "star" talent on the field and not just on recruiting paper is two different things. This takes more time, which is why we as fans should be patient in this regard. The 2013 team had enough front-line players to compete with anyone but the depth and supporting cast was a different story, which we can clearly see in 2014. I'm not advocating that Gus Malzahn has what it takes to build a sound "program" but in fairness, it is way too early to say that he cannot. After Pat Dye went 11-1 in 1983, he followed up with two 4-loss seasons, before he went on his 1986-1989 run. Malzahn deserves the same opportunity to build his program.
  2. Through 9 games Cameron Artis-Payne has 1190-yards rushing, exceeding the pace of Tre Mason's All-American season in 2013. Mason had 921-yards through 9 games in 2013 and both backs averaged 5.72 yards per rush up through 9 games. CAP averages a 10-yard run or better every 6.1 carries compared to Mason's ratio of 1 every 7.3 attempts. It will be difficult for CAP to close out the season as Mason did in 2013 but it doesn't change the fact CAP is on pace for a very special season of his own. He is currently on pace for a 1,700-yard plus season through 13 games. The senior running back has totaled 5,212 rushing yards during his collegiate career with 58 rushing touchdowns. His 1190-yards through 9 games is the third best mark by an Auburn player, through 9 games into the season. His 132.2 yards per game is behind Bo Jackson's 169.2 average in 1985 and Rudi Johnson's 137.6 yards per game in 2000. He is currently the No. 10 rusher in the country and No. 1 in the Southeastern Conference. He becomes stronger as the game progresses, averaging 5.26 yards per rush in the first quarter and 6.60 yards per carry during the fourth quarter. He has saved his best performances for conference play, averaging 149.8 yards against SEC defenses. While at Auburn he has 13 career games of 10-carries or more, averaging 115-yards per game during those 13 contests. He has led Auburn in rushing 12 times despite this being his only starting season. During those 12 games, CAP has averaged 126.5 yards per game on 6.15 yards per rush. His 126.5 average is the 4th best among Auburn RB's, who led Auburn in rushing at least 10 times during their career. He currently has 20 impact plays on the season, just 3 short of Tre Mason's 23 during the entire 2013 season. Cameron Artis-Payne has at least 4 games remaining in his collegiate career and will make the most of his remaining opportunities. It has been the story of his career, making the most of his opportunities. He had no major scholarship offers coming out of high school and elected to give up on football for one year after high school. He then enrolled into Junior College to give it one more try, working diligently to be recruited by Auburn as a JUCO player. I don't recall another RB in the SEC that was not offered a scholarship coming out of high school that would eventually lead the SEC in rushing, while becoming one of the top backs in the country. War CAP Eagle!
  3. Last season the Mississippi State defense held Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne to 47-yards on 16 combined carries. The strength of the MSU defense is found in their front-7 this season and it will be interesting to see how Auburn matches up with Bulldogs this Saturday. CAP enters the game averaging over 118-yards rushing per game and it will be a major challenge for Auburn to maintain this average against the No. 11 run-defense in the nation. Of the 24 combined carries by CAP, Mason and Grant last season, 14 were held to 3-yards or less against MSU. Corey Grant had the most success against MSU, rushing for 44-yards on 8 carries. Outside runs... During this play against LSU, Auburn faces a 2nd & 4 from their own 30-yard line. The Tigers come out in a 4-WR look with Brandon Fulse lined up wide. Just before the snap Fulse will shift into the backfield inside of Melvin Ray in the slot. Auburn's intent is to run a sweep with Cameron Artis-Payne towards the boundary side. At the snap Chad Slade (RG) will pull to his left, becoming a lead blocker for CAP, who takes the hand off from Nick Marshall. Brandon Fulse is responsible for sealing the DE as Melvin Ray is responsible for the OLB. This leaves Chad Slade with the boundary corner. CAP is able to turn the corner for a positive gain before being tackled by the OLB and CB. The play nets 10-yards and an Auburn first down. Swing pass... On this play Auburn audibles into a swing-pass with Cameron Artis-Payne. CAP was initially lined up to the right of Nick Marshall with Auburn in a 4-WR set (trips to the wide side). CAP shifts to Marshall's left just before the snap with the intent of clearing space for CAP behind the trio of WR's. At the snap Nick Marshall looks off his intended target in CAP as the WR's on top clear the flat. Marshall dumps a short pass off to CAP, leaving the RB with a 1 on 1 with a LB in open space. This is a huge advantage for Auburn as CAP is able to use his speed to get around the LB. Swinging wide with the pass, CAP avoids the initial tackle and motors up the field, picking up 15-yards and an Auburn first down. Should Auburn struggle running between the tackles (very likely), look for more sweeps involving pulling guards, when CAP is the featured back. Look for more perimeter runs with Corey Grant and the use of both backs in the passing game.
  4. Since 1990 a first down by the Auburn offense has been worth 1.43 points. Since Nick Marshall became the starting quarterback he has accounted for 75 first downs running the football alone. In basically 17 games, Nick Marshall has provided Auburn an extra 7-points per game from just his running ability. He established himself as a major component of the run-offense last season but he's become a better passer in 2014. His dynamic ability at the quarterback position has made the Auburn offense very difficult to defend. Last season Nick Marshall was responsible for an impact play (15+ yds) every 6.2 snaps. Not to far off the mark of 1 every 5.7 plays by Cam Newton during 2010. This season through 5 games, Marshall has a ratio of 1 every 5.1 plays, better than Newton's Heisman season. Last season Marshall was directly involved in 38.7% of Auburn's first downs and this season it has increased to 42.3%. No doubt he is the heart of the offense this season, where as Tre Mason was the heart of the offense in 2013. Against LSU, Gus Malzahn opened up the offense and Nick Marshall had one of the best games of his career. Of Auburn's amazing 16 impact plays against LSU, Marshall was involved in 11 of them. The play... On this play Auburn faces a 3rd & 9 from the LSU 29-yard line. On occasion you will hear Nick Marshall go with a hard count to make the opposing defense tip their hat to their pressure and coverage. This was the case on this play, resulting in an audible being called from the sideline. Auburn checks into a quarterback draw from a 4-WR look. At the snap Nick Marshall sets up like he is going to pass just before he takes off up the middle of the field. Cameron Artis-Payne releases out of the backfield into the flat to pull the lone LB at the second level. LSU has the other LB coming on a blitz. Just as Marshall approaches the LSU 20-yard line, he is faced with 2 defenders. He makes a hard cut to his right, faking out both tacklers. Once around the 2 would be tacklers, Marshall sprints towards the end zone taking one defender with him into the end zone for the score. The play was eerily similar to Cam Newton's Heisman moment run against LSU in 2010. Second time is the charm... Later against LSU, Auburn calls another quarterback-draw. This time around Auburn has a 1st & 10 from their own 40-yard line. Once again the Tigers come out in a 4-WR look. At the snap Nick Marshall drops as if to pass and Corey Grant releases out of the backfield just before Marshall takes off up the middle. This time around the MLB manages to recover, forcing Marshall to cut to his right towards the sideline. To Corey Grant's credit, he sets up to wall off the MLB pursuing Marshall from behind. Grant makes the key block that allows Marshall to get up the sideline for a 15-yard gain and an Auburn first down. Grant was not initially assigned to block on this play, acting as a decoy out of the backfield. By remaining active in the play, Grant makes a key block to assist on another impact play. Look for Nick Marshall to play a key role in Auburn's game-plan against Mississippi State. He will likely have more of a role getting out on the edge rather than attacking between the tackles as he did against LSU. Marshall had a great passing game against the Bulldogs last season and hopefully will provide an encore performance this Saturday.
  5. Through 3 games into the season, Cameron Artis-Payne has done a solid job of replacing Tre Mason. He has racked up 352-yards rushing, putting him on pace for a 1400-yard regular season. He is currently 2nd on the team in generating impact plays, behind D'haquille Williams. Kansas State limited CAP to just 63-yards rushing last Thursday night but he was still able to generate 2 impact plays in the passing game. The play... On this play Auburn faces a 2nd & 8 from their own 13-yard line. Auburn has a double-screen set up, featuring Cameron Artis-Payne. Before the snap, CAP is lined up over the slot position and will motion into the backfield. At the snap, CAP fans back out of the backfield as Sammie Coates sets up on the boundary side for a screen-pass look. Auburn's OL splits up with 3 setting up a wall for Coates side and 2 moving to wall up for CAP on the wide-side. Nick Marshall delivers the screen pass to Cameron Artis-Payne as Patrick Miller and Avery Young set up to block for CAP down field. Artis-Payne high-steps to avoid one tackle from behind and is able to split 2 additional defenders to gain 15-yards on the play. The play results in an Auburn first-down. Cameron Artis-Payne has 4 receptions on the season and 3 have resulted in an impact play for the Auburn offense. He has proven to be an extremely reliable pass-option and hopefully will be utilized more frequently in the passing game.
  6. One of the question marks about the 2014 Auburn offense before the season began was the replacement of Tre Mason. Because of his experience and production, Cameron Artis-Payne was the obvious choice to become Auburn's "every down" back. So far through 2 games, CAP has made the most of his opportunity. He currently is the No. 2 rusher in the conference, averaging 144.5 yards per game. Though his style is different from Tre Mason, Artis-Payne has his own strong attributes as a running back. He has great vision, terrific lateral movement and strength to be a consistent performer and one of Auburn's impact players on offense. The play... His 31-yard run against San Jose State was a great example of his abilities to be a major play-maker for the Auburn offense. During this play Auburn faces a 2nd &10 from the Spartan 32-yard line. Auburn will run a draw play with Cameron Artis-Payne. After taking the delayed hand off from Nick Marshall, CAP steps in towards the "B" gap. The step inside draws the OLB into the inside running lane. CAP bounces the play outside towards the side line and up the field. At the 20-yard line, CAP is met by the safety but he makes another hard cut, avoiding solid contact from the defender. He continues down the sideline, where he powers through 2 defenders inside the 5-yard line to make it to the 1-yard line. CAP scores on the touchdown on the very next snap. CAP has averaged 6.88 yards per rush during his first 2 games compared to the 5.93 averaged by Tre Mason during the first 2 games of the 2013 season.
  7. 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.
  8. During the Gus Malzahn era at Auburn (54 games), 20 games have been settled by 7-points or less (37 percent). Auburn is 16-4 in those close ball games. During the two SEC Championship seasons, 12 of Auburn's 28 games were settled by 7-points or less (43 percent). Auburn compiled an 11-1 record in those close games. Of all the plays executed on the field during the Malzahn era, 18.5 percent have been on special teams. Special teams have accounted for 31.6 snaps per game. These plays obviously become magnified during games settled by 7-points or less. During the past 3 seasons, Cody Parkey was 36 of 45 in FG's under 50-yards and 22 of 25 in FG's under 40-yards. During the past 3 seasons, 66 percent of Auburn's kickoffs resulted in a touch back (140 of 212). Auburn finished no lower than No. 3 in touch back percentage during that time period. During the 2012 season, 55.8 percent of the opponent's possessions began at their own 25 yard line or worse. During the 2013 season, that percentage increased to 72.4 percent. During Steven Clark's Auburn career, 76 of his 207 punts (36.7%) were downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Forcing the opponent into playing a longer field is vital. During the past 4 seasons, Auburn's opponent has scored on 25.7 percent of their possessions beginning at their own 20-yard line or worse. Scoring increased to 39.2 percent on the remaining possessions defended. From 1987-2008 (22 seasons), Auburn had a combined 1421 kick and punt returns. Of those 1421 returns, 9 resulted in touchdowns. From 2009-2013 (5 seasons), Auburn had a combined 366 kick and punt returns. Of those 366 returns, 9 resulted in touchdowns. The losses of Cody Parkey, Steven Clark, Tre Mason and Chris Davis on special teams could become an issue in 2014, especially early on in the season. Hopefully Auburn's explosive offense and improvement on defense will minimize the number of close games this upcoming season. On an average, 4-5 games per season have been settled by 7-points or less from 2000-2013. The 2004 season was an exception to the rule with only 2 close games during the season. This was the result of fielding a quality offense and defense that season.
  9. Last season Corey Grant had a limited role in the Auburn offense when it came to actual touches. Grant carried the ball just 66 times during the 2013 season and caught 4 passes. He played in all 14 games during the past season but was limited to 5 carries or less during 9 games. With the departure of Tre Mason, look for Grant's role in the offense to likely expand in 2014. Though he had less than 70 carries during 2013, Grant made the most of his opportunities. He averaged nearly 10-yards per rush and scored 6 rushing touchdowns. 14.8% of Tre Mason's rush attempts went for 10-yards or more. Cameron Artis-Payne produced 10+ yard rushes, 20.9% of the time. Corey Grant checked in at 34.8% with 23 of his 66 carries resulting in at least 10-yards. The Play... During the 2014 A-Day game, Corey Grant was limited to just 5 carries but once again made the most of his offensive touches. Grant finished the game with 128-yards rushing, including the above 54-yard run for a touchdown. The play is a speed-option, which quickly gets Grant on the edge and up the field. The play is a perfect display of his game-changing speed and his ability to get north & south very quickly. C.J. Uzomah and Brandon Fulse are key on the play, creating a running lane for Grant to explode down the side line. At one point, it appears the CB and safety on the wide side of the field had the angle to make the play on Grant but Grant's speed allowed him to split the final two defenders. Once Grant makes it to the secondary, there are very few defenders in the country that possess the speed to to catch him.
  10. With the personnel (OL and RB's) returning for 2014, Auburn should have the capability of fielding another top-10 run-offense. During Gus Malzahn's previous eight seasons at the collegiate level, five of his run-offenses finished in the nation's top-15 and 4 finished in the top-10. Though Rhett Lashlee and Gus Malzahn will strive for continued improvement in the pass-offense this season, it will not change Malzahn's approach to being a run-first offense. History Notes: Over the past 8 seasons, Malzahn's run-offense has averaged 236.4 yards rushing per game on 5.39 yards per attempt. The national average during that same time period is 162.9 yards per game on 4.30 yards per rush. Malzahn has a record of 43-7, with at least 45 rush attempts during a game. Malzahn is 55-8, when his offense runs the ball at least 60% of the time. Malzahn is 58-11, when rushing for at least 200-yards during a game. While at Auburn, Malzahn's run-offense has averaged 253.9 yards per game on 5.56 yards per attempt. During the same time period, the SEC averaged 175.9 yards per game on 4.57 yards per attempt. At Auburn, Malzahn is 26-4 with at least 45 rush attempts. Auburn is 30-7, when rushing the ball 60% of the time. Auburn is 33-6 with at least 200-yards rushing during a game. Record setting running game... Rating every run-offense in the SEC from 1960-2013, the 2010 Auburn run-offense finished at No. 8 over the past 54 years. The 2013 Auburn run-offense is the #2 run-offense during the past 5 decades. This rating was based on yards per game, yards per attempt and touchdown ratio. Malzahn's run-offense at Arkansas (2006) finished at No. 43 and his 2009 Auburn run-offense was No. 93 among the 598 teams compared. Rating the SEC run-offenses from 1992-2013, Malzahn's run-offenses finished at No. 1 in 2013, No. 2 in 2010, No. 10 in 2006, No. 30 in 2009 and No. 77 in 2011 among the 268 teams compared. The numbers compiled during the 2010 and 2013 seasons is a testament to having a dual-threat quarterback. It truly takes the run-offense to a different level. Efficiency of Malzahn's run-offense: 4782 carries over the past 8 seasons. 1323 first downs compiled. 853 run plays of at least 10-yards. 217 run plays of at least 20-yards. Over the past 8 seasons, 28% of Malzahn's running plays resulted in a first down. The national average during the same time period was 23%. Of the 4782 carries, 18% resulted in a 10-yard gain or better. The national average is 13%. His run-offense generated a 20-yard gain or better 5% of the time, while the national average was 3.5%. During the 2013 Auburn's run-offense produced a first down, 31.4% of the time, a run-play of at least 10-yards 20.2% of the time and a run-play of at least 20-yards, 5.8% of the time. Even with the departure of Tre Mason, Auburn has personnel returning who combined for an average of 194.1 yards per game during 2013. The addition of Peyton Barber and Racean Thomas, should help offset the loss of Mason. Auburn might not possess the No. 1 run-offense by the end of the 2014 season but a top-5 finish would not be a stretch and a top-10 finish is likely a given barring any major injuries.
  11. Yesterday, Coach Rhett Lashlee commented on the intent of improving Nick Marshall’s completion percentage for this upcoming season. He also stressed the importance of making additional plays vertically in the pass-offense. Though vertical passes are low percentage attempts, it remains necessary to make the offense more difficult to defend. With this in mind, I decided to breakdown Auburn’s history of generating explosive plays under Gus Malzahn. Total Number of offensive plays resulting in 15-yards or more (explosive plays): 2009: (120) 35.0% were runs 2010: (144) 50.7% run 2011: (87) 40.2% run 2013: (136) 60.3% run Note the increase in explosive plays generated from the run-offense during the 2010 and 2013 seasons. This is indicative of the value of having a dual-threat quarterback. The run-offense becomes more dynamic and we also witness an increase in overall explosive plays. Breakdown of explosive plays by position: 2009: WR-56, HB-15, RB-46, QB-3 2010: WR-60, HB-4, RB-45, QB-35 2011: WR-38, HB-6, RB-37, QB-6 2013: WR-47, HB-8, RB-53, QB-28 HB includes the plays made by the TE and FB positions. The plays accumulated from the QB position are run plays and plays the QB caught a pass. The above data clearly reveals the majority of explosive plays will come from the WR and RB positions in Malzahn’s offense. Once again, the following data reveals the difference of having a mobile quarterback. Percentage of explosive plays generated from the WR and RB positions combined: 2009: 85.0% 2010: 72.9% 2011: 86.2% 2013: 73.5% Note the difference in the seasons with Cam Newton (2010) and Nick Marshall (2013). The WR and RB positions are the key but Nick Marshall gives Auburn another huge weapon to account for in 2014, just as Cam Newton did during 2010. Gus Malzahn’s history of explosive plays: Gus Malzahn’s offense has generated 1035 explosive plays during 8 collegiate seasons or 9.5 per game. The goal is to reach 8 during a game. Malzahn’s offense has reached the goal of at least 8 during a game 66.9% of the time, compiling a record of 63-10, when doing so. Auburn is 37-4 under Gus Malzahn with at least 8 explosive plays during a game. An explosive play under Gus Malzahn is basically worth 3.9 points per play over a period of 8 seasons. When his offense reaches at least 8 explosive plays during a game, his offense averages 42.5 PPG and when they fail to reach the goal, his offense averaged 24.8 PPG. Looking towards the 2014 season: Auburn must replace Tre Mason, who accounted for 23 explosive plays during the 2013 season. The great news is that Cameron Artis-Payne had 12 despite having a far limited role than Mason in the offense. The same can be said about Corey Grant, who produced 15 explosive plays during the 2013 season. The addition of Peyton Barber and Racean Thomas to the RB position should provide Auburn with plenty of options at the RB position to generate explosive plays in 2014. Nick Marshall compiled 25 explosive plays last season with 24 via the ground. Marshall’s presence in the backfield will once again make the 2014 Auburn offense difficult to defend, especially when it comes to defending Auburn’s run-offense. While Mason averaged an explosive play every 14.3 touches, Artis Payne averaged 1 every 7.7 snaps and Grant had an even better ratio of 1 every 4.7 plays. Nick Marshall checked in at 1 every 6.9 (Doesn't include passing numbers). The key to the Auburn’s explosive potential will come at the WR position or in the passing game in general. Sammie Coates is basically a sure thing with 20 explosive plays last season. Coates is an established play maker, who simply needs to be more consistent. For Auburn to reach it’s full offensive potential will require at least 1 other WR to become a “consistent” play maker to compliment Coates. Ricardo Louis (10) and Marcus Davis (5) are the next two top WR’s in terms of generating explosive plays during 2013. Ricardo Louis is the most likely candidate from the returning players on the roster but Auburn added some additional insurance with the signing of D’haquille Williams. Malzahn and Lashlee are extremely high on Williams and what he can bring to the offense this season. It will also be interesting to see if Jaylon Denson, Melvin Ray and Tony Stevens can expand their role in the pass-offense. Senior Quan Bray has one last opportunity to earn additional playing time. The hidden gem of all the play makers available for 2014 just might be C.J. Uzomah, who had 6 explosive plays last season despite having very few passes thrown his way last season (11 receptions). He clearly has shown he can be a major “mismatch” issue for opposing defenses but Malzahn has never shown a willingness to make the TE a focal point in his pass-offense. This might have been something he wanted to change in 2013 had it not been for Uzomah being injured. Though I don’t expect them to be an “every game” threat, Brandon Fulse and Ricky Parks could provide Auburn with a surprise element in a few isolated games. What makes Gus Malzahn’s offense so special is his objective of building his offense around his available talent. Each season is a little different from the previous, primarily because of personnel changes. Combine this quality with the up-tempo element, deception and a dual-threat quarterback and you have the perfect formula for fielding a very explosive offense. As Rhett Lashlee has pointed out in the past, it is difficult to consistently sustain long drives in the SEC. This is the very reason why explosive plays are more vital now than ever. Every offense has a few play makers but the more you can field simultaneously, the better. This is the very reason why you don’t have to touch the ball 20 times during a game to make a major impact in Malzahn's offense. A player like Onterio McCalebb or Corey Grant can make a huge difference simply by being on the field. They might only have 7-10 touches during the course of a game but opposing defenses must account for them every time they are on the field. This threat creates opportunities for other skill players on the field.
  12. Based on an efficiency rating, I ranked Auburn's top running backs since the 1970's. The rating formula consists of yards per game, yards per carry, TD ratio and strength of schedule. I selected 17 running backs for the comparison... Joe Cribbs, James Brooks, Lionel James, Bo Jackson, Brent Fullwood, James Joseph, Stacey Danley, James Bostic, Stephen Davis, Rudi Johnson, Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown, Kenny Irons, Ben Tate, Onterio McCalebb, Michael Dyer and Tre Mason. All the running backs listed above were compared through 8 different categories and I've list the top-5 from each category. Category #1 (Career Totals) Bo Jackson ............ 142.5 rating Tre Mason ............. 134.7 Michael Dyer ......... 129.9 Rudi Johnson ......... 129.3 Brent Fullwood ...... 127.7 Bo Jackson had the best TD ratio. Brent Fullwood had the best yards per carry. Rudi Johnson possessed the best yards per game as well as the highest number of carries per game. Tre Mason faced the most difficult strength of schedule. Category #2 (100-yd games) Tre Mason ............. 163.1 rating Lionel James .......... 155.1 Bo Jackson ............ 153.0 Brent Fullwood ...... 150.8 Michael Dyer ......... 149.9 Brent Fullwood had the best yards per rush during his 100-yard games. Tre Mason had the best yardage per game. Onterio McCalebb had the best TD ratio. Rudi Johnson had the most carries per game and Tre Mason faced the most difficult strength of schedule. Category #3 (Top-11 games of career) Bo Jackson ............. 172.5 rating Tre Mason .............. 163.3 Brent Fullwood ....... 153.1 Stephen Davis ........ 146.5 Michael Dyer .......... 146.4 Brent Fullwood had the highest yards per rush during his top-11 games as well as the best TD ratio. Bo Jackson had the best yards per game. Rudi Johnson had the highest average of attempts per game. Tre Mason faced the most difficult strength of schedule during his top-11 career games. Category #4 (Top-20 games of career) Bo Jackson ............. 157.7 rating Tre Mason .............. 152.2 Brent Fullwood ....... 141.6 Joe Cribbs .............. 138.8 James Brooks ......... 136.4 Brent Fullwood possessed the top average per rush during his top-20 career games. Bo Jackson held the best yardage per game average. Ronnie Brown had the best TD ratio. Rudi Johnson had the most carries per game (13 games). Tre Mason once again faced the most difficult strength of schedule during his top-20 career games. Category #5 (Games with at least 20 carries) Bo Jackson ................ 163.1 rating Ronnie Brown ............ 157.1 Tre Mason ................. 156.5 Brent Fullwood .......... 151.5 Stephen Davis ........... 144.8 Lionel James had the best yards per rush average. Bo Jackson had the best yards per game average. Tre Mason had the best TD ratio and the most difficult strength of schedule. Rudi Johnson had the highest average of carries per game. Category #6 (Conference games only) Bo Jackson ................. 141.1 rating Tre Mason .................. 136.9 James Brooks ............. 130.8 Brent Fullwood ........... 129.9 Michael Dyer .............. 128.4 Brent Fullwood had the best average per rush against SEC competition. Rudi Johnson had the best yardage per game and most carries per game. Carnell Williams had the best TD ratio and Onterio McCalebb faced the most difficult strength of schedule. Category #7 (Games vs. FBS opponents with a winning record) Bo Jackson .................. 151.6 rating Tre Mason ................... 145.9 Joe Cribbs ................... 140.7 Michael Dyer ............... 140.0 Stephen Davis ............. 139.8 Bo Jackson had the best yards per rush average, yards per game average and TD ratio against quality competition. Rudi Johnson had the highest average number of carries per game and James Bostic faced the most difficult strength of schedule. Category #8 ( Games vs. Opponents with win pct of at least .750) Tre Mason ................... 165.7 rating Bo Jackson .................. 159.7 Joe Cribbs ................... 156.1 Kenny Irons ................ 151.1 Stephen Davis ............. 148.2 Onterio McCalebb had the best yards per rush average. Kenny Irons had the best yardage per game average and highest average number of rushes per game average. Brent Fullwood had the best TD ratio. Tre Mason faced the most difficult strength of schedule. Final Notes and Thoughts... Rudi Johnson ran for 100-yards in 76.9 percent of his games. Bo Jackson was second at 56.1 percent. Rudi Johnson had at least 20 carries in 76.9 percent of his games. Kenny Irons was second at 56.5 percent. 70.7% of the opponents faced by Bo Jackson, finished with a winning record. 33.3% of the opponents faced by Ronnie Brown, finished with a win pct of at least 75 percent. I've always felt that Brent Fullwood was the second best running back at Auburn behind Bo Jackson but the above comparison makes a strong argument for Tre Mason. Of the 16 backs Mason was compared to, he finished at No. 6 in yards per rush. He was No. 10 in yards per game primarily because he was No. 12 in attempts per game. Mason possessed the second best TD ratio despite facing the most difficult strength of schedule. Stephen Davis was limited by Coach Terry Bowden during his senior year or he would have posted better numbers. Davis would have likely compiled better career numbers under Pat Dye, Tommy Tuberville and Gus Malzahn. Can you imagine the numbers Bo Jackson would have tallied playing in Gus Malzahn's offense? Both Brent Fullwood and Ronnie Brown were limited during their careers, playing behind Bo Jackson and Carnell Williams. The combination of Joe Cribbs and James Brooks is one of the best in the history of college football. There was only 19 duets of RB's to both rush for over 1000-yards in the same season under 12 games (1970-2013). Of those 19 duets, the combination of Brooks & Cribbs had the 3rd best yards per rush average (6.41). Carnell Williams would likely hold every career rushing records at Auburn had he not been injured during 2001 and 2002. Of course Bo Jackson might have held every NCAA record had he played in the I-formation all 4 years and was not injured during the 1984 season.
  13. During the couple of weeks leading up to the BCS National Championship Game, I pondered what would hurt the most; losing in a blowout or losing in the final minutes of the game. After the loss to Florida State, there is no doubt either option would have stung like the dickens but losing this heart breaker vanished any thoughts by the national media, Auburn did not belong in the championship game. Though it won't make the loss any less difficult to tolerate, I do believe it's important to remember this notion moving forward. Over the past 20 years of Auburn football, we have witnessed championship caliber teams but not a championship caliber program. The closest Auburn has been recently to a championship caliber program was 2004-2006, when Auburn compiled a record of 33-5. As much as this defeat stings right now, the future Auburn teams still have an opportunity to build a championship program. Auburn fell short of winning the national championship this season but they remain conference champions. Auburn hasn't compiled back-to-back 10-win seasons since 1988 and 1989. The 2014 Auburn Tigers have a great opportunity to equal this feat. Before this season began, there were two primary goals I wanted to see happen. I wanted Auburn to be a better team at the end of the season than they were at the beginning. Secondly, I wanted the coaches to obtain the most of their players and I firmly believe Malzahn's staff accomplished this as well. The fall is always greater, when the level of success is high, which in the end is what the 2013 Auburn Tigers experienced. I rarely believe in moral victories but I believe Coach Malzahn's ultimate goal is to build a championship caliber program and not just a championship team. Inside the Numbers... For those pointing out the faults of Nick Marshall as Auburn's starting quarterback, I believe "perspective" is needed. Over the past 30 seasons, Auburn has faced 75 opponents ranked in the nation's top-10 at the time of the game. Nick Marshall holds 4 of the top-16 performances based on quarterback-efficiency rating. Of the 35 top-5 teams faced during the same time period, Nick Marshall holds 3 of the top-6 performances. This includes the 6th best performance with his game against Florida State. I'm not advocating Nick Marshall is an All-American or even All-conference but he's clearly better than some have given him credit for. Nick Marshall's season rating of 143.2 is the 5th best passing rating by an Auburn quarterback with at least 160 pass attempts from 1947-2013. Not too bad for a first-year starter without the benefit of a spring camp. Auburn's 449-yards against Florida State is the 2nd most yardage gained by an Auburn offense from 1981-2013 against a defense that finished the season ranked in the top-10 of total defense. The 2013 Alabama game is the 6th best performance during the same time period. Tre Mason's 1816-yards rushing and 23 rushing TD's are new Auburn single season records. His 317 carries for the season is the second most carries by an Auburn running back. The 2013 Auburn offense established a new school record, averaging 501.4 yards per game over the course of an entire season. The Auburn defense held Florida State to nearly 26 percent below their season average for yards gained per game. The last time Auburn held a team that averaged at least 400-yards per game with 10-wins or more to less than 25 percent below their season average was Alabama in 2009. The Auburn offense converted 10 of 15 third-downs during the 1st, 2nd and 4th quarters but went 0 for 3 during the third-period. Auburn was 7 of 11 during third-downs of 6-yards or less but 3 of 7 during 7-yards or more needed to convert. The majority of Nick Marshall's 27 pass attempts came on third-down against FSU (12). Marshall did manage to convert 5 third-downs passing and 2 more, running the football. Auburn averaged a respectful 5.44 yards per play on first down against the Seminoles but if you subtract the 50-yard TD pass to Melvin Ray, the Tigers averaged only 4.09 yards per play on first down. This was why Auburn ended up passing on third-down so often (12 times). Auburn out gained FSU 232 to 156-yards during the first half and the Seminoles out gained the Tigers 229 to 217-yards during the second half. For the fourth time this season, Cassanova McKinzy led Auburn in tackles. He really played well during the championship game. Final Thoughts... If someone told me before the game, Auburn would finish the game with Tre Mason rushing for 195-yards, Nick Marshall having a higher pass-rating than Jameis Winston and Auburn's defense holding FSU to under 400-yards and 3 offensive touchdowns, I would have assumed it was a winning effort. Though these goals were met against the Seminoles, Auburn came up short on the scoreboard. The final outcome revealed just how important special teams can be, especially in a tight ball game. At this level of competition, the room for error narrows tremendously. In the end Auburn played like it had in so many victories this season. The offense generated nearly 450-yards, 25 first downs and 31 points against one of the top defenses in the country. The Auburn defense made critical stops and Auburn's punting game was superb. Like most other games, teams will make mistakes but against top-level competition, Auburn made enough mistakes to cost them an opportunity to win a second BCS National Title. A couple of weeks ago, I posted some thoughts on appreciating this team for all of their wonderful accomplishments this season. I mentioned how this particular team was truly special and how I would miss watching them play after January 6th. Those words I posted ring louder today as I reflect back on this season. Yes, this loss hurts really bad for the Auburn family but I am deeply saddened I won't ever see this group of young men play again as a "team". I do look forward to future Auburn teams but this is a bitter pill to swallow because there is not another day for this particular team to redeem itself. Losing the national championship game will hurt for a while but this team will always be the 2013 SEC Champions. Like Georgia did in 2012, the 2013 Auburn Tigers finished 12-2 on the season. The primary difference is that Auburn finished the season as conference champions and Georgia won their bowl game. This season was still the greatest 1-year turnaround and many Auburn fans will fondly remember this season as one of those special seasons. Though the 2013 Auburn Tigers won't have another an opportunity for redemption, the 2014 team can still carry on their legacy. The foundation is now in place to build upon the accomplishments of 2013. The potential for the follow up season to 2013 is far better than it was after the 2010 season. The 2011 team lost over 25 seniors and major contributors from a BCS Championship season. The reality is the 2014 team will likely be a better team than the 2013 but like the 2013 team, they will have to work hard to reach for the stars. The 2013 Auburn team laid out the blue print for success for the 2014 Auburn team. It's not a matter of whether or not Auburn will win another national championship but when. Winning consistently is the key to gaining an advantage in preseason rankings, recruiting and media perception. The media will remember how Auburn closed out the 2013 season against 3 consecutive top-5 teams, winning 2 of them and losing one with only seconds remaining in the game. Gus Malzahn and his staff pushed the 2013 Auburn Tigers into the history books, nearly winning a national championship. They fell short this season but created a grand opportunity for future Auburn teams to reach the summit. It all begins during winter workouts and I look forward to seeing the next addition. War Eagle! (Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
  14. With 1621-yards rushing coming into the BCSNC Game, Tre Mason is obviously a key factor for the Auburn offense. There have been bigger, stronger and faster running backs to play at Auburn but Tre Mason has produced the 2nd best rushing season by an Auburn RB. What makes Mason so special is that he obtains the most of his attributes as a RB. He can run with power, quickness and has enough speed to create separation. Perhaps his best quality as a RB is his field vision and decision making. He is rarely tackled for a loss because he hits the gap as soon as it opens. Like Kenny Irons, he is one of Auburn's best "north & south" runners. On this play against Arkansas, Auburn will run Tre Mason inside from the 8-yard line. The Razorbacks have 8 in the box but Mason's great vision and decision making leads to an Auburn score. When Mason receives the hand off from Nick Marshall, he initially targets the "A" gap on the right side of Reese Dismukes. The Razorback MLB attacks this gap and Mason makes a cut to his left to attack the "B" gap between Alex Kozan and Greg Robinson. One lateral step to his left and Mason is quickly through a smaller gap but quick enough to exploit it for an Auburn touchdown. From the end zone.... From this view you can see the play develop better and how Mason's vision and reaction resulted in a positive play for the Tigers. This is a play that Mason has perfected this season because he can also bounce the play outside the tackles if the defense is caught up in traffic. On this occasion, the perimeters are covered, which requires Mason to attack between the tackles. Tre Mason wastes very little time moving east & west. He is quick to locate his point of attack and reacts to obtain the most from every carry. A 3-4 yard run on first down is better than another RB wasting time laterally to find a better space to run, resulting in a loss. This type of play by Mason will be essential against Florida State, keeping the Tigers in 3rd & short most the night.
  15. Auburn's offensive line has not received the attention they deserve through the media but opposing coaches have certainly taken notice. You don't lead the nation in rushing from a BCS conference without having solid OL play. Coach J.B. Grimes has done a stellar job, focusing on the details and mechanics of his pupils. It started in the conditioning program and took shape once actual practice began. Raising the performance level of each individual player set the foundation for a "unit" that has improved as the season progressed. Auburn has been fortunate to avoid any major injuries up front, which has resulted in one of the best OL's in the nation. On this play Auburn has a 1st & 10 at the Missouri 13-yard line. The Tigers come out in their Wildcat set with an unbalanced line. Note that both tackles are on the right side of the formation. At the snap Nick Marshall will fake the speed-sweep to Quan Bray as Alex Kozan pulls to his right. As Nick Marshall makes the inside give to Tre Mason, Auburn now has 4 OL to the right of Reese Dismukes, overloading the left side of the Missouri defense. In frames #2 & #3, you can see Alex Kozan chipping the DE first and moving on to crush the MLB. Reese Dismukes is rerouting the DT outside away from the point of attack. Chad Slade initially doubles on the other DT and releases to the 2nd level to engage the OLB. In frame #3, Avery Young and Greg Robinson folds the left side of the Missouri line inside, creating a running lane for Tre Mason. Tre Mason now has the safety 1 on 1, cutting inside the safety on his way to the end zone. Mason breaks the tackle and powers his way into the end zone for the score. Despite Missouri having 8 in the box to start the play, Auburn still manages to overload the left side of the line to power their way in for the score.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. If Auburn is going to capture their second BCS National Championship, it will require the type of offensive production the Tigers had against Missouri in the SECCG. Tre Mason set conference records with 304-yards rushing and 46 attempts against Mizzu. The Associated Press SEC Offensive Player of the Year will be a key component, when Auburn clashes with the Seminoles. Tre Mason will enter the National Championship Game as the leading rusher in the Southeastern Conference and first-team All-SEC. On this play Auburn faces a 1st & 10 from their own 21-yard line. Auburn runs their buck-sweep to the right, pulling both guards to create a running lane on the edge for Tre Mason. Before the snap Ricardo Louis will orbit-motion over the backfield, forcing the Missouri defense to respect the possible end-around option. Jay Prosch seals the DE as Chad Slade and Alex Kozan pull right to create an alley for Tre Mason to run through. Not only must the Mizzu defense respect Louis on the end-around, they must also keep their eyes on Nick Marshall. The motions and multiple running options slows the reaction time of the Missouri defense, resulting in a 52-yard run that would set up an Auburn touchdown. The extra time before the BCSNCG, will allow FSU much needing time to prepare for the Auburn offense but consistency and execution is the key reason why Auburn has been so successful running the football this season. Regardless of how much tape FSU reviews, it will still come down to player assignment and execution.
  19. Upon Further Review of the Southeastern Conference Championship During Auburn's last 4 conference games, the key to success in the running game has been success on 1st and 3rd downs. The Tigers have averaged 7.8 yards per play on first-down during their last 4 games, often not requiring a third-down conversion during a given possession. When it has been required, nearly half of Auburn's third-down situations have been of 4-yards or less. Auburn is 18 of 26, when facing third & 4 or less (69.2%) and only 6 of 27, when facing 5-yards or more (22.2%). Auburn entered the SECCG, gaining the most rushing yardage on first down in the country. They added an additional 323-yards against Missouri. How impressive is the Auburn running attack? The 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers averaged 385-yards per game on the ground during the last 9 games of their National Championship season. Auburn has averaged 381-yards during their last 9 games. The Auburn offense has totaled 43 plays of 30-yards or more this season, showing great balance. The Tigers have 22 on the ground and 21 through the air. During Auburn's last 4 games, 88 of their 145 snaps on first-down have gone for at least 5-yards and only 9 have gone for a loss. The Auburn offense has totaled 127 plays of 15-yards or more this season. The Tigers have 3570-yards worth of impact plays this season, averaging 28.1 yards per play. Ricardo Louis has 208-yards rushing on 18 carries this, providing the Tigers with another dangerous perimeter runner. Perhaps the key stats from the game were Auburn's 49 points scored inside the red zone to Missouri's 18 and Auburn converting 50% of their third-downs to Mizzu's 16.7%. Nick Marshall currently has a passer rating of 151.3 on third-down, including 5 TD passes to just 1 interception. During the last 9 games the Auburn offense has compiled 52 touchdown drives. Those 52 drives have consisted of 249 run plays and 71 pass plays. Despite having a season high, 10 penalties and 2 turnovers, Auburn still managed to score on 9 of their 15 possessions not counting the 2 possessions Auburn knelt to expire each half. Auburn's offense has gone "3 & out" only 19 percent of the time this season. It's only 13 percent during the last 8 games. Last season it was 33 percent for the season. Of Auburn's 51 scores inside the red zone, 42 have been touchdowns (82.3%). This includes 19 of 22 during the last 5 games (86.4%). During the last 8 games, the Auburn offense has converted 50% of their third-downs, while the opponent has converted 32 percent. During the first 5 games of the season the Auburn offense averaged 31.9 yards per possession, scoring a TD every 23.6 snaps. During the last 8 games Auburn has averaged 42.7 yards per possession, scoring a TD every 11.8 snaps. Tre Mason has been an absolute beast during the last 8 games of the season. He has averaged 151-yards rushing per game on 6.1 yards per carry along with 17 rushing TD's. For the season he is No. 3 nationally in rushing TD's. He is No. 4 nationally in rushing yardage gained on first-down. Inside the red zone, Mason is No. 1 in rushing yardage and No. 2 rushing TD's. During the post game, Coach Gus Malzahn stated this team has improved week by week and the above numbers support his statement. During the last 9 games of the season Auburn has averaged 381.7 yards rushing per game and 45.3 points per game. With an opportunistic defense that becomes stout inside the red zone, Auburn has more than enough ability to compete for another BCS National Championship against Florida State. War Eagle!
  20. SECCG - Missouri Post game Numbers & Thoughts Auburn captured their 8th SEC Championship and their 3rd during the past 10 seasons. The 3 SEC titles from 2004-2010, is the most by any SEC team. It was a close game but made much closer because of Auburn miscues during the first half. Once again Auburn was able to run against another solid defense against the run and they did so in record setting fashion. If Tre Mason isn't at least invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony, it will be a complete travesty. Mason now has 1621-yards rushing and 22 rushing TD's after the SECCG and Mark Ingram had 1542-yards and 15 rushing touchdowns the year he actually won the Heisman (2009). News broke early on Coach Gus Malzahn's new contract and Auburn's first-year coach celebrated with a 17-point victory in the SEC Championship game. His offense set SEC records with points scored, total yardage gained and rushing yardage gained. Nick Marshall had a solid game minus the fumbles, rushing for over 100-yards and having a pass-efficiency rating over 200-points. The 2013 Auburn run-offense is now the best in school history with 1 more game left to play. The 2010 run-offense had 3989-yards and 41 TD's and the 2013 version already has 4366-yards and 46 TD's. For those that doubted the focus of the this team coming into the championship game, they became betting fools. So much was made of the emotional win over Alabama and the possible let down the week after. Go back to 2010 and Auburn's emotional win over Alabama, followed by a 56-17 victory the next week against South Carolina in the conference championship. This coach staff has done an exceptional job preparing this team week after week and there should have been no doubt about the focus of the coaches and Auburn players. Regardless of how the season plays out from this point on, Auburn will always be 2013 Southeastern Conference Champions. Inside the Numbers: The Auburn offense gained 404-yards on first down, minus the kneel downs to expire both halves. By rushing for over 100-yards, Nick Marshall has now rushed for over 1000-yards on the season, needing 78 coming into the game for 1000-yards. During the last 7 games, Nick Marshall has compiled a pass-rating of 166.8, while rushing for 105-yards per game on 7.2 yards per rush. Auburn now has 4 players with over 600-yards rushing this season. Auburn set a school record with 15 individual 100-yd rushing performances this season. Since featuring the Read-option (Ole Miss game), Tre Mason and Nick Marshall have averaged 257.2 yards rushing per game on 6.3 yards per rush and 27 rushing TD's during their last 8 games together. Cassanova McKinzy led Auburn with 10 tackles on the game. For the 7th time this season, the Auburn defense held their opponent scoreless during the final period. The 2010 Auburn scoring machine was held scoreless in only 7 of 56 regulation periods. The 2013 Auburn team has been held scoreless in only 3 of 52 regulation quarters. Auburn has played over 400 games from 1981-2013. The 2013 Auburn offense became the first Auburn team during that time period to score at least 14 points in every quarter against a BCS opponent during a game. The only other time this feat was accomplished was against Ball State in 2005. Auburn is now 82-5-0, when scoring at least 14 points during the first-quarter from 1981-2013. Auburn has only been outscored during the first quarter in 2 of 13 games this season and only 2 times during the fourth quarter. Start strong and finish strong has been a signature element of this team. Auburn has averaged 381.7 yards rushing during their last 9 games. Auburn's 74 rush attempts during the game was the second most in school history. If Auburn can rush the ball at least 50 times in their bowl game, it will tie the school record for the third-most during a season with 9 such games. Auburn's 545-yards rushing is the second most in school history and the most against a BCS opponent and the most in conference play. Gus Malzahn's offense at Auburn now holds 3 of the top-4 rushing performances (school history) in conference play. The 2013 Auburn team became only the 4th team in school history to play two top-5 teams back-to-back from 1951-2013 and the only Auburn team to defeat both opponents. Auburn is now 5-1 on the season against teams ranked at the time of the game, averaging 38.7 PPG. Final Word... There are only 15 seniors on this Auburn team and many of them had a major influence on Auburn's championship season. The defensive line possessed seniors, Nosa Eguae, Dee Ford, Kenneth Carter and Craig Sanders. The defense was rounded out by seniors, Ryan Smith, Ryan White, Chris Davis and Jake Holland. Special teams was led by Cody Parkey and Steven Clark, who were exceptional this season. Jay Prosch was the only scholarship offensive player and he has been a major component of Auburn's smash-mouth offense. As Dee Ford pointed out after the game, the seniors began their Auburn journey with a SEC Championship and it ended it with another. This miraculous turnaround is the best during the modern era of college football, lifting the 2013 Auburn Tigers to perhaps the most special team in school history. They were not perfect in the win-loss column but they certainly were perfect in striving to be. The coaches and players rallied around one another during the spring and never looked back, regardless of what the fan base and media might have thought. They are finally gaining the respect of the national media and it is certainly well deserved. These young men will have a month to celebrate this conference championship but you can bet they will be prepared for their final game of the season. With Michigan State's victory over Ohio State, Auburn will face Florida State in the BCS National Championship game. For the next month, we will hear how great Florida State is and how Auburn won't have a chance for a victory. We have heard this same song all year long but it has consistently fell upon deaf ears, when it comes to Auburn's football team. This team is confident and will give the Seminoles everything they can handle and then some. This Auburn team has thrived on being down-played all season, electing to turn all the negative comments into motivation. Enjoy the ride folks and rest easy knowing there is one more fantastic finish to come! War Eagle!
  21. Auburn's ability to run the ball at a dynamic level this season is the primary reason why the Tigers are headed to Atlanta for the SECCG with an 11-1 record. Since featuring the read-option, Auburn has crafted this element of their offense, averaging over 360-yards rushing per game since the Ole Miss game. The Tigers continued paving their way against Alabama's stern defense, rushing for nearly 300-yards. It is this vaunted rushing-attack that will make Auburn a favorite to defeat Missouri this coming Saturday. On this play Auburn faces a 3rd & 2 from the Alabama 45-yard line. Auburn will run the read-option with the jet-sweep option. Before the snap Ricardo Louis will motion into the backfield on the speed-sweep look. At the snap Nick Marshall will fake the give to Louis, which will pull the OLB outside towards Louis. Nick Marshall fakes the inside give to Tre Mason, which pulls the ILB inside to defend between the tackles. After pulling the ball away from Mason, Nick Marshall sprints outside and up the field for a 45-yard touchdown run. From the backfield.... From this view of the same play, you can see how the boundary safety also reacts to the speed-sweep option to Ricardo Louis. The Louis and Mason options separates the defense, creating a running lane for Nick Marshall. During the Iron Bowl, Auburn converted 10 of 12 short yardage situations running the football, which allowed the Tigers to rack up 22 first downs on the day.
  22. Lost in all the excitement of the game-winning touchdown by Chris Davis was Auburn's 2-minute drive to tie the game at 28 all. The game tying drive was polished off with a perfectly executed triple-option pass play by the Auburn offense. This is the very type of play Auburn will need against Missouri this Saturday in Atlanta. On this play Auburn has the ball 1st & 10 at the Alabama 39-yard line. This play was set up with 6 consecutive run plays on the drive, which featured Auburn's up-tempo pace to fatigue the Alabama defense. The run plays had the Alabama defense scrambling to defend the read-option, setting up the play-action pass to Sammie Coates. At the snap, the OLB crashes down to defend the inside run because Tre Mason had just carried the ball all 6 times on the drive. Nick Marshall pulls the ball out and bounces outside on the perimeter. Marshall now sets up the pass by initially running with the football in his left arm. Both the CB and safety covering Sammie Coates bite on the outside perimeter run-option by Nick Marshall, leaving Coates uncovered down field. At the last second, Marshall switches the ball to his right hand and makes the throw to Coates. Sammie Coates hauls in the pass and sprints the remaining 25-yards for the game-tying touchdown. The Auburn pass-offense enters the SECCG ranked No. 12 nationally in their ratio of pass-plays of 25-yards or more. Auburn should be able to run the ball against Missouri but it will still be essential for Nick Marshall to make plays in the passing game for Auburn to win this Saturday.
  23. Upon Further Review - Alabama Game Auburn's opponent has converted only 10 of 65 third-down situations of 10-yards or more needed to convert. The Auburn offense has converted 39 of 52 third-down situations (75 percent) of 4-yards or less, running the football. During their last 7 combined games, Tre Mason and Nick Marshall have rushed for 24 touchdowns. Auburn's defense has allowed 30 plays of 30-yards or more through 12 games. 24 has come through the air and 6 on the ground. Last season the Auburn offense generated 18 plays of 30-yards or more. This season through 12 games, the offense has totaled 38 such plays. 31 of Auburn's 68 snaps went for at least 5-yards and 33 of Alabama's 64 snaps resulted in at least 5-yards. During the first-half, 38.9% of Alabama's plays were held to 2-yards or less. During the second-half, 53.6% were held to 2-yards or less. 18 of Auburn's 31 first-down plays netted at least 5-yards against Alabama. Auburn's average score this season is 36-22. My average predicted score this season is 36-23. Last season the Auburn offense generated 77 plays of 15-yards or more. This season they have 112 through 12 games. Auburn's top-5 most targeted receivers this season are Sammie Coates (61), Ricardo Louis (43), Marcus Davis (29), Quan Bray (28) and C.J. Uzomah (17). Alabama started 3 possessions on the Auburn side of the field but the Tiger defense surrendered a total of 7 points. This was one of the primary keys to the Auburn victory. Since losing to LSU, Nick Marshall has compiled a pass-rating of 151.8 during his last 7 starts. This also includes 774-yards rushing and 10 rushing TD's. During this same time period, Marshall as a passer rating of 207.7, when throwing the intermediate to long range passes. Tre Mason's 164-yards rushing against Alabama was the key element in Auburn's offensive success. Of his 29 carries, 14 went for at least 5-yards. Mason has now logged 192 carries in conference play this season with only 4 resulting in a loss. During Auburn's 69 scoring drives this season, 61 have involved at least 1 play of 15-yards or more. Auburn had 4 impact plays during their 4 scoring drives against Alabama. Auburn was 10 of 12 rushing the football in short-yardage situations against Alabama, picking up a whopping 115-yards on those 12 carries. During their last 6 conference games, Auburn is 36 of 41 rushing the ball in short yardage situations. Auburn's defensive front-7 was responsible for 40.6% of the team's tackles, the lowest output of the season. After giving of 6 of 12 third-down conversions against Georgia, Auburn's defense held Alabama to 4 of 13 on third-down. During the first 4 games of the season the Auburn offense scored a TD every 24.1 snaps. During the last 8 games that ratio has improved to 1 every 12.7 snaps. The 2011 and 2012 Auburn teams combined for 18 touchdown plays of 30-yards or more. The 2013 Auburn team has 20 such touchdown plays. The 2013 Auburn offense leads the nation in rushing the first half and is No. 4 nationally in rushing yardage gained during the fourth period. Tre Mason is the No. 7 running back in the nation in first-down runs gained on third-down. Tre Mason leads the nation in rushing-yardage gained inside the red zone and is No. 3 nationally in rushing touchdowns inside the red zone. Sammie Coates moved back to No. 1 nationally in yards per reception, averaging 23.3 yards per catch. Auburn's defense improved to No. 10 nationally in red zone touchdown percentage. One of the keys to victory over No. 1 ranked Alabama was Auburn's success on defense in terms of yards to point ratio. Though Alabama gained 495-yards in total offense, they only scored 28 points for a ratio of 17.7 yards per point. Auburn's defense is currently No. 12 nationally in allowing only 1 point per 18.4 yards allowed. It should be noted the Missouri defense is currently No. 8. War Eagle!
  24. Once again Auburn's coaching staff had the team prepared to play, which kept them in position to win in the end. Alabama might have entered the game with the more talented roster but Malzahn's staff out-coached Saban's staff and Auburn's players never showed an ounce of quit. They bought into the new coaching staff with every victory providing more and more confidence as the season progressed. All we heard for the past 2 weeks was how great the Alabama run-defense was but very little about Auburn's running attack. In the end, Alabama could stop the Auburn run-offense and Nick Marshall finished the game with a pass-efficiency rating of 160.9. Though the defense struggled at times, they did manage four "3 & out" series along with a loss on down series. Alabama made it to the Auburn red zone 6 times but came away with only 3 scoring drives, which was a key to victory. After surrendered 21 points during the first half, the Auburn defense held Alabama to only 7 points during the second-half. It was another case of a "team" victory for the Auburn Tigers as all three phases of the game, came up with critical plays during the game. Auburn now moves to 11-1 on the season, which should put to rest all the garbage of the 2010 season being all about Cameron Newton. Any victory over Alabama is sweet but this game meant so much more. Auburn took down the No. 1 ranked team in the country, which means Malzahn has returned Auburn to the nation's elite status. The key will be if Auburn can maintain this level of success over an extensive period of time. Auburn might not be the best team in the country but this team can certainly play with anyone in the country right now. The mark of as good team is it's ability to improve as the season progresses and this has certainly been the case for the 2013 Auburn Tigers. Inside the Numbers ... Auburn has been held scoreless in only 3 of 48 quarters this season and only 1 time during the last 34 quarters. Tre Mason is now averaging 123.1 yards rushing per game in conference play. Tre Mason is now 2 rushing TD's away from tying the school record for rushing TD's. He has established the new record (18) among Auburn running backs. Nick Marshall needs 78-yards rushing to eclipse the 1000-yard mark for the season. Auburn is currently averaging 286.3 yards rushing in conference play. Chris Davis finished the game with 10 tackles along with the game-winning touchdown. Auburn's 296-yards rushing is the most rushing yardage allowed by the Alabama defense against a conference opponent from 2008-2013. The 2013 offense has totaled 3821-yards rushing and 39 TD's through 12 games, exceeding the 3497-yards and 38 TD's by the 2010 Auburn offense through the regular season. One of the keys for the game was whether or not Auburn could run the ball on first-down vs. Alabama's defense. Auburn averaged 6.04 yards per rush on first-down, which set up manageable third-down situations for the Auburn offense. Take away Alabama's 6 impact plays on offense and they finished with 239-yards on their remaining 58 snaps. Nick Marshall finished the game 11 of 12 passing within 10-yards of the line of scrimmage for 97-yards and 2 TD's. Since Auburn began to emphasize the read-option against Ole Miss, Nick Marshall and Tre Mason have combined for 236.1 yards rushing during the last 7 games they have played together. Auburn is now 13-3 vs. Alabama, when they run the ball at least 40 times since 1981. Auburn is now 34-2, the last 36 times they have won 2 out of the 3 phases of the game in terms of offense, defense and special teams. Nick Marshall is currently averaging 231.7 yards per game in total-offense. Auburn is now 4-1 on the season vs. opponents ranked at the time the Tigers played them. Auburn has only 1 scoreless period during the second-half, while the defense has totaled 8 scoreless periods against their opponent. With Gus Malzahn on the Auburn staff, the Tigers are now 16-3 in games decided by 7-points or less. This includes an 8-1 record against ranked opponents. During the 3 previous meetings against Alabama, Auburn rushed for a combined 278-yards. The Tigers racked up 296-yards against the No. 4 rated run-defense. Final Word... During my preview for the game, I noted the number of snaps Auburn and Alabama had taken, while trailing on the scoreboard this season. The Tigers entered the game with 212 snaps and Alabama had only 19. I thought this would become crucial should the game become tight. Though Alabama had experience playing in big games the last few years, Auburn this season had faced more adversity than Alabama and were used to playing under the gun. As they have done all season, they consistently kept themselves in position to make plays late to come out victorious. With Missouri defeating Texas A&M, the match up is set for the Southeastern Conference Championship. It has been a major turn around for both participants but the dream season will come to end for one of the two teams this coming Saturday. Auburn has the better run-offense and Missouri has the better defense, so it should be a very good game. Neither team was expected to win their divisions and now they have a grand opportunity to win a conference championship. The Auburn coaching staff now faces the task of keeping the player's emotions in check with only 1 week to prepare for the conference championship. The team has been focused for each game but it would have been nice to have that extra week to celebrate the win over Alabama. Make no mistake about it, Missouri has fielded a very good team this season. They are far more balanced on offense than Auburn and have performed far better on defense. It will take another stellar performance by Auburn to win their third SEC Championship game. War Eagle!
  25. During the last 2 games, Auburn has expanded the offensive roles of Ricardo Louis and Corey Grant, which I believe to be preparation for the showdown with Alabama. The majority of the explosive plays made this season have been through Nick Marshall, Tre Mason and Sammie Coates. By expanding the roles of Grant and Louis, the offense becomes even more difficult to defend. The two have combined for 97 offensive touches, averaging 10.5 yards per play. They have combined for 31 explosive plays and 42 first downs. On this play the Auburn offense faces a 2nd & 8 from the UGA 48-yard line. Auburn will run the speed-sweep option with Ricardo Louis. The key to success is the outstanding block by Jay Prosch on the OLB, which allows Louis to take the edge and head up field. Tre Mason does a solid job as a lead blocker, extending the distance of the play. The play picks up 32-yards and a first down to the UGA 16-yard line. Back in 2009 Terrell Zachery scored on a 67-yard end-around play against Alabama. Ricardo Louis has the same kind of potential to create big plays in this offense. Alabama will likely scheme to take Sammie Coates out of the picture, which means Ricardo Louis will have opportunities to make plays. The magic number on offense is 8 "impact" or explosive plays during a game. During the last 5 meetings against Alabama, Auburn has totaled only 18 such plays, with 14 coming under Gus Malzahn. If Auburn can generate 4 such plays from Grant and Louis and 4-5 from Marshall, Mason and Coates, they should be in good shape on offense.
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