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StatTiger

Notes on Malzahn's offensive "pace"

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Gus Malzahn's "pace" offense at Auburn was never designed to be like Oregon, where the pace is constant. Malzahn's pace stems from success on early downs with the goal of achieving the initial first down. Once the initial first down is obtained, Malzahn normally motions for the offense to throttle up the offense. This pace rarely came last season with nearly 60% of Auburn's offensive possessions ending with only one first down gained or less. So what were the issues that prevented pace during the 2015 season?

* Auburn has won 80% of their games from 1992-2015, when averaging at least 6-yards per play on first down.

 

Auburn's primary rusher and success on first down:

2009 Ben Tate ........................... 5.63 YPC

2010 Michael Dyer ...................... 6.15 YPC

2011 Michael Dyer ...................... 5.65 YPC

2013 Tre Mason ......................... 5.95 YPC

2014 Cameron Artis-Payne .......... 5.58 YPC

2015 Peyton Barber .................... 4.07 YPC

2015 Jovon Robinson .................. 5.70 YPC

Every primary running back in Gus Malzahn's offense averaged at least 5.6 yards per rush on first down except for Peyton Barber, who averaged 4.1 yards per rush on first down. During the seven games Barber was the primary rusher, the Auburn offense averaged 4.73 yards per play on first down. During the last 6 games of the season with Robinson as the primary rusher, the Auburn offense averaged 6.14 yards per first down snap. As much as Auburn runs the ball on first down, the primary rusher must be consistent to establish "pace".

Quarterback change:

Jeremy Johnson's unexpected collapse to start the season was a major set back for the Auburn offense. After three games, the Auburn offense averaged only 4.78 yards per play on first down and Johnson was benched. Sean White was thrown into the fire, which meant the coaches adjusting the offensive game plan to allow White the time to grow into the starting role. Just as White was beginning to find his rhythm as the starter, he suffered a knee injury against Arkansas. He hobbled through the Ole Miss game and was finally benched due to his knee and foot injuries. This meant the return of Jeremy Johnson, who started the final 4 games of the regular season. The offense went into a more conservative approach with Johnson's return to prevent the turnovers which plagued Johnson's first 3 starts of the season. 

Quarterback and Running back combination:

Auburn never had the opportunity to combine their best "first down" combination of QB-RB in 2015. Jovon Robinson and Sean White teamed up only once as the starters during the regular season (Ole Miss) and Sean White was nowhere close to being healthy. Despite his health issues, Auburn did average 6.8 yards per play on first down against the Rebels. During the first 3 games of the regular season, Auburn averaged 6.5 yards per pass attempt on first down with Johnson as the starting QB. During Sean White's 5 starts during the regular season, Auburn averaged 11.1 yards per pass attempt on first down. (Sean White was No. 8 nationally in producing 1st downs, throwing on first down during 2015.) When Jeremy Johnson returned to start the last 4 games of the regular season, the Tigers averaged 6.7 yards per pass attempt on first down. Had Sean White and Jovon Robinson started the season and remained healthy, the 2015 Auburn offense would have likely grown into a more consistent entity, thriving from their success on first down. When Auburn does throw on first down, they must possess the ability to attack vertically for the offense to reach it's full potential.

Substitution:

One of the keys to running a "pace" offense is limited substitution. Having the same eleven players on the field the majority of time requires having skill players who can function in multiple roles. This was not the case in 2015, where Auburn did not have a true TE and was playing two freshman FB's. Added to the disaster was the poor performance on first down, which required more substitution to make up for the 4.7 yards averaged on first down. Auburn gained 3-yards or less, 51.2% of the time during 2015, which forced the play calling on the remaining downs to be even more accurate and efficient. The more substitution involved, the less identity the offense possessed. Auburn's lack of offensive identity limited the team's performance on first down and in the ability to generate explosive plays.

How important is the passing game?

During Malzahn's 10 seasons coaching offense at the collegiate level, he is 11-11 in games his offense generated at least 200-yards rushing but were held to a passer rating of less than 130. This includes a record of 9-8 while at Auburn.

During games his offense was held to under 200-yards rushing but had a passer rating of at least 130, Malzahn is 24-5, including a 9-2 record while at Auburn.

Combine at least 150 rushing with a passer rating of 130 or better and Malzahn is 68-8, including a 39-4 record while at Auburn.

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StatTiger,

Thanks and great info as usual.  I had high hopes for Jeremy, but unless he has made huge strides to overcome last year's problem, this does seem to indicate that a healthy White and Robinson in the game together should give us great opportunity to game the yardage on first down via run or pass that this offense needs. I know many are hoping for JFIII to come in and save the game, but I think him at wildcat will be great but the steady will SW and JR.

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8 minutes ago, GBAU83 said:

StatTiger,

Thanks and great info as usual.  I had high hopes for Jeremy, but unless he has made huge strides to overcome last year's problem, this does seem to indicate that a healthy White and Robinson in the game together should give us great opportunity to game the yardage on first down via run or pass that this offense needs. I know many are hoping for JFIII to come in and save the game, but I think him at wildcat will be great but the steady will SW and JR.

If JFIII can prove to be an efficient passer then I am all for him starting. Some people don't grasp the passing element Nick Marshall brought to the Auburn offense. During his first 5 starts he had a passer rating of 126.6, slightly below average. During his final 7 starts of 2013, his passer rating shot up to 159.6 during the major stretch run of the schedule. This made him the 12th most efficient passer in the country to close out the second half of the 2013 season. During Marshall's final 20 starts at Auburn, he amassed a passer rating of 156.9, which is an amazing statistical achievement. During the past ten seasons, teams in the SEC that rushed for 140-199 yards with a pass rating of at least 130, won 89% of their games.

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When Malzhan's group isn't executing correctly, it affects most everything.  I do hope his decision to move back towards a hands on OC approach as opposed to what he was doing last season makes an impact. 

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Stat I was just talking about that in your other thread you posted before about offensive identity.  

I also knew Barber was a good short yardage back but left a lot to be desired for an every down back, however he did will us to wins in a couple games last year so I thank him for that but over all he had the worst feet and vision at running back that we have had in a long time. 

Edited by corchjay

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24 minutes ago, StatTiger said:

If JFIII can prove to be an efficient passer then I am all for him starting. Some people don't grasp the passing element Nick Marshall brought to the Auburn offense. During his first 5 starts he had a passer rating of 126.6, slightly below average. During his final 7 starts of 2013, his passer rating shot up to 159.6 during the major stretch run of the schedule. This made him the 12th most efficient passer in the country to close out the second half of the 2013 season. During Marshall's final 20 starts at Auburn, he amassed a passer rating of 156.9, which is an amazing statistical achievement. During the past ten seasons, teams in the SEC that rushed for 140-199 yards with a pass rating of at least 130, won 89% of their games.

Stat, do you think some of the lower rating for Marshall in the first few games was the coaching staff wasn't sure what his stronger throws were and his adjusting to major college football speed as well?  

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6 minutes ago, corchjay said:

Stat, do you think some of the lower rating for Marshall in the first few games was the coaching staff wasn't sure what his stronger throws were and his adjusting to major college football speed as well?  

I think the higher rating was because of how lethal the running game was during that last half of the season. He was able to hit the D when they were loading up for the run. 

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Is some of the problems on 1st down production a byproduct of predictability? The ypc is lower but white qb effiency was high looks like the d is loading up to stop the run because everyone knows it's coming. Something else I noticed from last year was 7 out of 12 games I found the speed sweep was the 1st play of the game. 

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45 minutes ago, johnnyAU said:

I think the higher rating was because of how lethal the running game was during that last half of the season. He was able to hit the D when they were loading up for the run. 

No doubt the success of the run-offense helped in 2013 but Marshall became even more efficient during 2014 despite the run offense dropping off 22% from 2013.

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In 2014, Nick had Sammie, Duke and Uzomah, along with hot and cold Louis and the newcomer Davis.  The best thing to me about Marshall, other than his elite speed, was his calmness in the pocket. He was cooler than the other side of the pillow. (Nod to Stuart Scott)

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5 minutes ago, johnnyAU said:

In 2014, Nick had Sammie, Duke and Uzomah, along with hot and cold Louis and the newcomer Davis.  The best thing to me about Marshall, other than his elite speed, was his calmness in the pocket. He was cooler than the other side of the pillow. (Nod to Stuart Scott)

Marshall lives for that competitive moment on the field and court. In HS, he carried his basketball team to a championship by scoring 50 points in the championship game. He was the same way on the football field too. He was indeed calm in the pocket and his demeanor on the sideline was no different whether he threw a TD or a pick. He just wanted the next opportunity to compete if his last play was a failure. From all accounts, JFIII is very competitive by nature and is doing everything possible to be the best player he can be, Hopefully his strong work ethic will payoff on the field.

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^NM is right up there with JFF and Mariota for the title of most under-rated recruit ever.

Edited by AUwent

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17 hours ago, jacksrc said:

Is some of the problems on 1st down production a byproduct of predictability? The ypc is lower but white qb effiency was high looks like the d is loading up to stop the run because everyone knows it's coming. Something else I noticed from last year was 7 out of 12 games I found the speed sweep was the 1st play of the game. 

There is no way this can be ignored.  The predicable play calling that has gotten to the point were it's boneheaded and stubborn is frustrating to watch.  Poor red zone execution is another head scratcher as well.  

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WOW! Well done Stat!

I think the DEEP pass threat is also what made Marshal so successful. I don't know if JF3 has that tools to do that or the players around him to make that possible, but I hope so!

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Malzahn's offensive ranking in 1st down offense from 2007-2015:

2007 Tulsa: 8th

2008 Tulsa: 7th

2009 Auburn: 60th

2010 Auburn: 12th

2011 Auburn: 92nd

2012 Ark State: 21st

2013 Auburn: 11th

2014 Auburn: 41st

2015 Auburn: 101st

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Great Stat, thanks. This offense is so often pigeonholed & oversimplified by media. Goes without saying that other speed O's lack Gus Malzahn (& disciples') specific game time input/talent(s) but Gusball assumes college defenses - unlike pros - do not have enough defenders across the board that are fast, fit and SAVVY enough to stop its variety WHEN INSERTED AT THE RIGHT TIME by Gus et al. The play by play judgment of Art Briles et al is not Malzahn/Lashlee's - for better or worse. That's a HUGE subjectivity that defies objective analysis and that the press can't nail down. Like any O, Gusball assumes players execute and true, there are some situations where Gus & the Gusettes upping tempo is more likely to happen than others, but this O is heavily dependent on our SPECIFIC coach(es) observing the SPECIFIC situation in the game at hand.    

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59 minutes ago, StatTiger said:

Malzahn's offensive ranking in 1st down offense from 2007-2015:

2007 Tulsa: 8th

2008 Tulsa: 7th

2009 Auburn: 60th

2010 Auburn: 12th

2011 Auburn: 92nd

2012 Ark State: 21st

2013 Auburn: 11th

2014 Auburn: 41st

2015 Auburn: 101st

Looks as if he usually follows a bad year with a good one.Lets hope that trend continues.

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21 hours ago, StatTiger said:

2015 Auburn: 101st

When you stubbornly run the same play over and over and over again every first down you can expect the opponent to put up road blocks to stop it.

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That bit about the need for effective passing looks spot on, and I suspect it's the #1 issue. Auburn likes to throw deep, and that opens up all kinds of lanes for running. But when they load up and we can't speed up, you get last year.

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