When the Auburn football team was participating in its first full-pad practice last Saturday under a sun-kissed Alabama sky, some loud voices boomed throughout an empty Jordan-Hare Stadium:
"HURRY UP! PACE VERSUS DEFENSE! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING ON? HURRY UP!"
These were the voices of head coach Gus Malzahn and the Auburn coaching staff.
Along with the "It's a new day" mantra, the other phrase being thrown around the speaking circuit by Malzahn has been about Auburn "getting its edge back."
The key factor in the Tigers getting their edge back will revolve around one thing: exploiting the opponent with tempo.
The tempo is what will wear opponents down and give Auburn a leg up on the competition. When Auburn's opponent is worn down, and the Tigers continue at a torrid pace the opponent can't keep up with, it will create the edge that Malzahn is looking for.
In Malzahn's book, The Hurry-Up, No-Huddle: An Offensive Philosophy, speeding up and lengthening the game are the first two goals of the uptempo offense. The third goal is wearing down the opponent physically and mentally.
In the book, Malzahn writes that the key to being able to run at the desired tempo is to have the personnel in good enough shape to sustain the pace. After a few practices, Auburn isn't there.
"The big thing is we've just got to learn how to practice with the pace. The Xs and Os will come. We've just got to get our minds right and play fast," Malzahn said after practice last week. "We've got some work to do, but I know these guys will respond. We'll come out the next practice and be faster."
When Malzahn was Auburn's offensive coordinator from 2009 to 2011, the offense was very successful and ran at a pretty good pace.
One drive in Malzahn's tenure always stands out as a drive that shows what his offense is capable of.
It came in 2009 against Tennessee. It was obvious that the tempo gave Auburn the edge. Watch Auburn find the end zone on this drive and look at the impact the tempo has on Tennessee's defense.
As successful as it was, the Tigers never reached Malzahn's target of averaging 80 plays per game in a season. Auburn achieved the milestone on a few individual occasions, but Malzahn would like to go faster.
In 2009, Auburn averaged 70.3 plays per game. In 2010, it was 67.7. In his final year of 2011, the Tigers averaged 69 plays per game.
Now unbridled, expect that average to go up in 2013.
In his first season as a head coach at Arkansas State, the Red Wolves averaged 73 plays per game. That led to an average of 34.9 points per game.
Auburn averaged 18.7 points per game last fall, which is next to last in the Southeastern Conference. Auburn fans are thankful for Kentucky, who somehow managed to have a worse offense than the Tigers.
The offense that Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will implement in 2013 is designed to create a confused chaos among the defense. Along with the tempo, there are misdirections, motion and the physicality of a proven running attack.
Confusion leads to indecision, and that indecision among the defense will give Auburn yet another way to improve in 2013.
Call it an edge, a mean streak or whatever you would like. Either way, it has been missing from the Auburn football program over the last couple of years.
The new coaching staff is doing what it can to bring that necessary edge back by doing everything on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball at a very high tempo.
“Tempo is going to be a very big factor for us offensively and defensively," Malzahn said in his pre-spring press conference. "We're going to be a no-huddle team and that's a mentality. We're going to learn to play fast, practice fast and do everything fast. We think that will be a definite advantage.”
Going fast is the only speed that the "Gus Bus" knows.
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