Auburn Football: Offense Must Show Strides for Tigers to Be Competitive in SEC

Ryan RudnanskySenior Writer IMay 7, 2013

AUBURN, AL - APRIL 20:  Auburn head football coach Gus Malzahn addresses the crowd during the Auburn Oaks at Toomer's Corner Celebration on April 20, 2013 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

When you win three games in a season, it doesn't matter what you did in the past.

That's where Auburn finds itself after going 3-9 (0-6 SEC) last season following a championship campaign.

Gus Malzahn's return to the Tigers has certainly inspired some hope among the Auburn faithful. As offensive coordinator of the Tigers in 2010, Auburn averaged 6.1 yards per carry, which ranked second in the country and first in the SEC. Cam Newton was on the team then, but Auburn also ranked 11th in the nation in yards per carry without Newton in 2009.

Offense will be key for the Tigers if they expect to rebound from a disastrous 2012 season. Last season, they ranked 114th in the country in points per game (18.7). That included ranking 79th in yards per carry and 58th in yards per pass attempt, via CFBStats.com. Tigers quarterbacks tossed eight touchdowns to 15 interceptions.

Junior running back Tre Mason will need to have a stellar season, for one. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry last season, but frankly didn't get the ball enough (171 carries for 1,002 yards). It's likely that he will receive a much bigger workload this season, especially with sophomore Mike Blakely transferring during the offseason.

His ankle injury early in the spring likely won't hurt his chances of starting, even with the solid work from Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant. Brandon Marcello of Al.com noted on Monday that Malzahn "didn't feel all that bothered with Mason standing on the sidelines with an ankle injury." 

But the work of Artis-Payne and Grant is worth noting. Artis-Payne, a junior college transfer, displayed the strength, speed and hands during the A-Day game to be an asset out of the backfield. He had a 42-yard reception that raised eyebrows. Grant had his second consecutive strong spring.

The quarterback situation is the biggest item of concern, though. Junior Kiehl Frazier and sophomore Jonathan Wallace have been competing for the starting spot this spring. Malzahn told WarEagleExtra.com that it was a "dead heat" between the two quarterbacks this spring.

You would have to think Frazier would ultimately land under center, given his familiarity with the system and the fact that Malzahn heavily recruited him in 2011. As Travis Haney of ESPN.com noted, Malzahn could develop Frazier like he did Chris Todd back in 2009. 

In short, the Tigers do have a talented backfield and if Malzahn can bring out Frazier's potential, it could be a surprising bounce-back campaign for Auburn.

 

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