10 Bold Predictions for Gus Malzahn's First Season as Auburn's Head Coach
Gus Malzahn was named the Auburn Tigers head coach on Tuesday, and within two days he had his offensive and defensive coordinators named. Malzahn moves at warp speed and the climb back to relevance for Auburn will be just as fast.
The new Auburn era will not be short on high expectations with a fast turnaround expected on the Plains. Malzahn brings his offensive prowess to the sideline, and he hired one of the most knowledgeable and seasoned defensive minds in the game.
The Tigers were a 3-9 finisher this past season, but with a roster full of former Malzahn players and a drive to return to the top, Auburn has the recipe to bring back a bowl trophy in 2013. Here are 10 bold predictions for Malzahn’s inaugural season as the Tigers' head coach.
85 Plays a Game
The Tigers were a fast-paced offense under Malzahn during his first three years with the program, but the offense was adapted all three years and was never ran as fast as planned.
In the first season, the Tigers were adapting to a lack of personnel, so a number of times the offense was slowed down to adjust for the lack of bodies to handle the reps. In Malzahn’s second season, Cam Newton took over the field and pace was never a concern.
In 2011, the Tigers slowed down the offense—rendering many play calls ineffective as a result—in an attempt to help the struggling defense. It didn’t help and the offense struggled.
In Malzahn’s first two seasons the Tigers broke records. Auburn will be running full speed for the first time this year under Malzahn. The Tigers will run at least 85 plays in the 2013 season, turning the offense from “painful to watch” into “hard to keep up with” by the end of the year.
High Efficiency Quarterback Play
Gus Malzahn has been a quarterback reformer in every year he has coached at the collegiate level. In 2006, he helped turn a freshman into an 8-0 starter at Arkansas. The following two seasons, his quarterbacks were among the nation’s best in efficiency and total offense.
In 2009, Malzahn took a broken down Chris Todd and helped him become a record-setter. Cam Newton won the Heisman, and this season Ryan Alpin was a top 20 quarterback for Arkansas State.
Even in the Tigers' terrible 2011 season, the quarterback play was serviceable.
This year Malzahn will bring his system and coaches to Auburn to complete a transition. The Tigers tried to start the transition in 2009, but now Malzahn will have it his way. His quarterback will excel and Auburn will once again have a potent offense.
The Malzahn offense is built for high efficiency completions and play action. The Tigers will be breaking records once again.
Tre Mason Rushes for 1,500
Tre Mason did the unexpected in the Iron Bowl this year when he gained 82 yards against Alabama, pushing him to 1,002 total rushing yards on the season.
Mason has continued the tradition of 1,000-yard rushers for Auburn becoming the third back to do in the past four years. Ben Tate hit 1,000 in 2009, Dyer did it in 2010 and 2011, and now Mason hit the mark in 2012.
This coming season, Mason will be playing in a downhill running offense that favors speedy and physical running backs.
This offense is going to pump out yards, and keeping it on the ground is a large part of the process. Expect the Tigers to lead the country on the ground again with Mason guiding the attack.
Top 25 Scoring Offense
The Auburn offense was dreadful in 2012. The Tigers finished the year No. 112 passing and scoring offense and the No. 115 total offense in the country.
Just three years prior, the Tigers were No. 21 total and the No. 20 scoring offense in the country.
That was Malzahn’s first year in Auburn with Chris Todd leading the team.
Everyone knows what the Tigers did in 2010. In 2011 the Tigers were bad. They finished No. 104 in total offense, No. 82 in scoring and No. 38 in rushing offense.
There were a number of issues in 2011, but they weren’t because the offense suddenly didn’t work. In no way is Malzahn completely removed from responsibility, but he is not worthy of even half of the blame that came from that season.
The Tigers scored more points in Malzahn’s tenure than ever before in Auburn history. In 2009, the Tigers scored 32 points a game. In 2010, it was 42 and in 2011, 24. The low of 24 was the same average during the 2007 nine-win season.
Malzahn knows how to score points, and he will find ways to do it at Auburn again this coming year. Auburn will average somewhere in the mid-30s by season’s end.
Top 10 Rushing Offense
The Tigers struggled to find an offensive identity last season, almost forcing the pass during the opening downs and denying the ground game that the team is built for.
Despite the denial, the Tigers finished the year averaging 148.42 yards per game and had Tre Mason rush for 1,000 yards on the season. Onterio McCalebb was also able to break a few all-purpose yards records by season's end.
Still, the Tigers were No. 78 in the country on the ground, and even during the terrible 2011 season they were the No. 38 team averaging 174.75 yards a game on the ground. The Tigers need a quick fix and with Malzahn they will get it.
The tools are in the shed, they just need to be put together.
The Tigers return one of the most experienced lines in the country in 2013, and they bring back two experienced backs in Tre Mason and Mike Blakely. Add in a JUCO or powerful freshman and the Tigers have a dangerous backfield next season.
Anything short of a top-20 effort would be a disappointment. There is a great shot that the Tigers could finish in the top 10 in rushing if Mason can stay healthy and carry for 20 or more a game.
The Tigers Learn to Tackle
One of the biggest issues in the past few seasons has been tackling for the Tigers. They have been totally inept at bringing down opposing offenses with regularity.
Tackling is one of the basics when it comes to football, but because it is so basic it can be ignored. After three years it still is amazing that it was ignored but Ellis Johnson—the new Auburn defensive coordinator—will not let it continue.
The 4-2-5 defense that Johnson runs made South Carolina famous under Steve Spurrier, and his scheme will bring the same type of resurgence to the Plains.
Johnson is known to be a stickler for details, and tackling is a detail. The problems that Auburn has with pursuit angles and proper tackling form will be gone by summer workouts.
Winning Record in Conference
The Tigers were winless in the SEC for the first time since 1980 this season. Prior to that it was the 1950s.
Auburn is not a team that goes winless in conference, and it is not a team that traditionally finishes the year without a winning record in the SEC. The 2013 season will be no different as the Tigers return to the winner's circle once again.
The Malzahn offense will cause fits once again when it returns to the field, and the Auburn defense will be fast attacking and able to tackle. The Tigers may not be the best team on the field every week, but they will be competitive and win their fair share of ballgames in the conference.
A Win Comes From Amen Corner
One of the most bold predictions to come from this top 10 is a win that comes from Amen Corner.
Traditionally, Amen Corner referred to Auburn’s ending three games against Florida, Georgia and Alabama. Since the Florida game has been pushed into the Eastern game rotation, Georgia and Alabama are now the Amen Corner that remains.
The Tigers have been slaughtered for two seasons in those games, but this coming year will bring a wave of change.
Auburn has to fight to win one of these games. The Tigers can’t continue to be the kicking dog of Georgia and Alabama. After the beatings that have come in the last two years, a win against just one of these opponents would bring the Tigers' program back to life.
A win to finish the season would put the Tigers in a solid bowl and likely breed at least an eight-win season.
Tigers win Eight or More
Auburn has a big leap if it wants to win eight games this season, but it is a reachable goal for this team.
This is the same team that is fielding three Top 10 recruiting classes and some of the top-line talent in the country. Auburn has put together a large chunk of talent that has been underdeveloped at its positions.
This staff will need to step in and help find the perfect position fits for their new players. The Tigers offense will fit the personnel easily, and the defense is a surprisingly good fit as well.
Once Auburn settles into its schemes, it will become dangerous week to week. Finishing with eight or more wins would be a big challenge, but it is a very attainable achievement for Malzahn’s first season on the Plains.
Auburn Goes Bowling
The Tigers had gone to three consecutive bowl games under Gene Chizik until this season.
Auburn has a rich tradition of postseason play, with very few teams missing the mark in recent history. This year was an unexpected miss, but it should be a one-year run as Malzahn will return the Tigers to a bowl next year.
In one year as the head coach at Arkansas State Malzahn had one a conference title and was headed to a bowl game as a nine-win head coach. He is taking over a team that lost nine games, but has the talent to win nine as well.
This team has all the ingredients to hit the bowl season in 2013, and with the new leadership and direction, this team will.