The outcome of what may be Auburn’s last realistic shot at a conference win in 2012 will be determined by Auburn’s ability to run the ball against the Vanderbilt defense on Saturday.
It will also hinge on offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler not deviating from the run if the Tigers face an early deficit or if there are early struggles rushing the ball.
The Commodores come into this matchup with the 100th-ranked rushing defense in the country after seven games. The ‘Dores are allowing an average of 204 yards per game on the ground in 2012. Stopping the run is the clear weakness in the Vanderbilt defense.
The Commodores' pass defense is ranked seventh in the nation.
Scot Loeffler said last week before the game against Ole Miss that Auburn’s identity will be running the ball.
"We've got to make sure we definitely narrow down to exactly who we are – and who we are is this: We're going to run the football," Loeffler said. (via Charles Goldberg, AL.com)
According to the box score from last Saturday, it appears that he delivered on the promise. Auburn ran the ball 41 times and only attempted 18 passes.
In reality, the Auburn offense got away from what had worked so well when it scored 17 points in the second quarter. It felt that quick scores were needed to stay in the game once it got behind early in the third quarter.
Throwing incompletions on first down and sweeps to the outside that Onterio McCalebb could not turn upfield put Auburn in third-and-long situations. Auburn could never respond when it got away from the running identity it had promised.
Auburn's top running back Tre Mason received only five carries in the second half.
That should not happen this week, no matter what the score is. If Auburn resorts to throwing the ball on early downs, it will not turn out well against Vanderbilt's seventh-ranked passing defense.
Auburn does not do much well on offense, but it runs the ball the best.
Gene Chizik said that Auburn feels comfortable giving RB Tre Mason the ball twenty-plus times. "We feel good that Tre can get that thing 20 times or more," Chizik said. (via Charles Goldberg, AL.com).
If Auburn can have success running the ball, it will then open up the occasional play-action pass downfield for Clint Moseley, who was named starting QB on Thursday for the game against Vandy.
Last Saturday against Florida, Vanderbilt had an extremely hard time stopping the read-option against Florida. Let’s take a look at one of the Gators’ two touchdowns while running the read option.
The Gators line up in the pistol formation with the FB/H-Back to the left of the QB. Vanderbilt lines up in a 4-3 defense with a possible blitz coming from the Sam linebacker.
This is a read option to the right. Jeff Driskel is reading the Vanderbilt DE who is keyed on Mike Gillislee. Driskel makes the right decision to keep the ball as the DE crashes down..
Both the DE and LB crash on the run, leaving only the safety in the way of a Gator touchdown. That man is taken care of with the FB/H-Back having his eyes on the defender ready to block.
Easy score for the Gators.
Judging by Vanderbilt’s defense of the read option against Florida, Auburn’s freshmen QB Jonathan Wallace should be able to have some success in the Wildcat formation. The only play he has run this year out of the Wildcat formation is the read-option.
Let’s take a look at a read-option play that gained nine yards for Wallace and the Tigers against Ole Miss
Auburn lines up in the usual shotgun formation it runs with Wallace. Onterio McCalebb is lined up to the right and TE Phillip Lutzenkirchen is on the strong side.
Wallace reads the DE correctly, as he looks to McCalebb to get the ball. The offensive line and Lutzenkirchen are set up pretty good for blocking here.
The Ole Miss DE see Wallace is keeping the ball, but it is too late. The defender that Lutzenkirchen is blocking is attempting to get off of the block.
Lutzenkirchen’s man sheds the block and pursues Wallace. It looks like Wallace is going to be stopped for only a four or five yard gain.
Somehow, Wallace slips by the defender and gets an extra five yards. If Wallace could have kept his balance here, it would have been a bigger gain.
Look for Wallace to get plenty of opportunities in the run game on Saturday against the Commodores. It is only a matter of time before Loeffler allows Wallace to showcase his arm in the passing game.
Once that happens, the read-option should be even more successful for Wallace out of the Wildcat formation.
The Tigers have three capable running backs to share the burden of running the ball so many times. Auburn fans know what McCalebb and Mason can do.
Mike Blakley has shown a lot of potential, but he has a propensity to fumble the ball. Corey Grant may be ready to start receiving carries in the near future. He has been recovering from nagging injuries.
Whether it is Wallace or Moseley under center, Auburn must be stubborn and continue to run the ball despite what the score may be.
Exploiting the weakness in Vanderbilt's defense is the key to Auburn getting its first SEC victory of 2012.