Auburn Football: What to Expect from Gus Malzahn in First Season as Tigers HC

Ian BergCorrespondent IDecember 20, 2012

Auburn Football: What to Expect from Gus Malzahn in First Season as Tigers HC

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    The return of Gus Malzahn to the Plains was not a surprise to those that follow the program closely. When Gene Chizik was fired, Malzahn was one of the first names that popped up in passing conversation. 

    Malzahn will attempt to temper expectations, but there will still be some that follow him to the head of the Tigers program in his first season.

    The Malzahn hire was a good one for Auburn according to Bleacher Report’s own Barrett Sallee, and many others have listed it as a good move. The familiarity with the current players, and the understanding of the program and its expectations were major positives for Auburn when it hired Malzahn. 

    Here are the six things to expect from Gus Malzahn’s first season in Auburn.  

Return to the Spread-Option Run

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    Auburn saw Cam Newton step into the Gus Malzahn spread-option offense and win a Heisman Trophy in one season. No one currently on roster is another Cam Newton, but there are players that have the skills to match well with Malzahn’s scheme. 

    The Auburn offense has always been centered on a ground game no matter the offensive set, and Malzahn will bring that back to the Plains. 

    In the one season under Scot Loeffler, the Tigers ran more than they passed, but they often opened drives with a pass that led to lost yards and a lot of three-and-outs. 

    The Tigers will focus their offensive attack around the run, and with the addition to JUCO running back Cameron Artis-Payne on Wednesday, the Tigers have a full backfield loaded with talent. 

1,000-Yard Rusher

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    Auburn was able to produce one 1,000-yard rusher in 2012 when Tre Mason took the final play of the season five yards to top the 1,000-yard mark. 

    The Tigers struggled to find even modest offensive production last year with Tre Mason being one of the few bright spots for the Auburn offense. He will continue to shine in 2013. 

    Mason headed into the offseason as the listed starter, but the competition will be fierce heading into spring football. Whether it is Mason, Mike Blakely, Corey Grant or Artis-Payne, at least one Tiger back will hit the mark this fall. 

4-2-5 Will Look Familiar

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    The Auburn defense has been notoriously bad in the past four years under Gene Chizik, helping guide the national title-winning coach out of town after the 2012 season. 

    Gus Malzahn hired his defensive coordinator before any other coach, bringing in veteran defensive mind Ellis Johnson in to run his 4-2-5 scheme. Auburn was running a base 4-3 defense prior to his arrival. 

    Even though the Tigers ran a base 4-3, they often put an additional defensive back on the field and ran the nickel defense. The Tigers lacked speed and effectiveness at linebacker, so adding a defensive back to the field helped fill a coverage void. 

    Johnson’s scheme is a base 4-2-5 which will look very similar to the nickel. The difference will be who steps on the field to fill out the fifth secondary spot. 

    Johnson employs hard-hitting safeties for his fifth secondary player, combining power and coverage skill to help stop the spread offense craze that has taken over college football. 

    The 4-2-5 puts more athletes in space for the defense which should breed positive results for the Tigers this fall.  

Gains in Offensive Production

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    Auburn was terrible on offense in 2012. The Tigers finished No. 112 in scoring offense and No. 115 in total offense. Those numbers were worse than the Tony Franklin disaster in 2008—Tommy Tuberville’s final year at Auburn. 

    In 2009 Gus Malzahn stepped into the offensive coordinator role for the Tigers and turned the program around immediately. The Tigers went from the No. 104 total offense and No. 110 scoring offense in 2008 to the No. 16 total and No. 17 scoring offense in Malzahn’s first season.

    Will the Tigers leap to the top of the offensive world again in just one year? 

    It’s possible, but just getting the Tigers to the Top 50 is a challenge. Expect noticeable growth from day one of the Malzahn tenure. 

Bowl Eligibility

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    Auburn finished the 2012 season with a 3-9 record and no hope of bowl eligibility. The Tigers had gone to three straight bowl games and won a national title, but the success fell apart this past year. 

    2013 will bring Auburn a bowl game. Malzahn will be able to get this team to at least three more wins despite the woes that plagued this team this year. 

    While the Tigers didn’t look like a six-win team this fall, they have the talent on roster to make a postseason run to finish the coming season.

    Don’t look for a BCS berth, but a lower-tiered bowl appearance will be in the cards for the Tigers next season. 

Personnel Matches Schemes

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    When Auburn shifted to a more pro-style offense last season, it was apparent there would be growing pains. The Tigers had recruited well, but the offense was built for the Gus Malzahn spread, not a pro-style approach. 

    Malzahn returns after just one year and walked into a program full of elite athletes tailored for his scheme. 

    Defensively the Tigers are speedy but don’t carry a lot of weight at linebacker. The 4-2-5 will fit nicely with this team, and the players will be familiar with that style of defense. 

    The Tigers are set for success in the coming year thanks to the personnel fits that are already on roster. The Tigers won’t go undefeated, but they will look like a totally different team come August.