Gus Malzahn's first season as the head coach of the Auburn Tigers has been nothing short of phenomenal.
The longtime high school coach in Arkansas took his scheme to college in 2006 with Arkansas and has enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top. A stop as the offensive coordinator at Tulsa (2007-2008), three years (2009-2011) as an offensive coordinator at Auburn, including a BCS National Championship in 2010, and one year as a head coach at Arkansas State (2012) laid the groundwork for Malzahn to take the next step.
That next step will be another BCS National Championship Game appearance, this time as the head coach of Auburn, when the Tigers take on Florida State on Jan. 6, 2014 in Pasadena.
Malzahn's system is a run-first, two-back power-spread attack that thrives on tempo. It's simple to diagnose but difficult to shut down.
But don't let the simplicity fool you. Malzahn mixes in all kinds of personnel groupings within his scheme to keep defenses honest and limit tendencies from coming across on game film. Since there are up to three options on any given play, Malzahn's scheme puts pressure on quarterback Nick Marshall to recognize and exploit a weak spot on any given play.
Beyond the standard offense, which puts enough stress on the opposition as is, there are wrinkles Malzahn employs to constantly keep the opposition on its toes.
The quick huddle has been a staple of the Malzahn offense at the college level and is the only time the Tigers will ever get into a huddle. The wide receivers flare out and make sure they're set before the rest of the team breaks the huddle and quickly snaps the ball.
It's just another wrinkle Malzahn uses to prevent defenses from recognizing where players are lining up. Auburn can run virtually its entire offense from it, including the read-option, jet sweep, combo plays that leave options for both and play-action passes.
Late in the first quarter of Auburn's 45-41 win over Texas A&M in October, Auburn was pinned deep and facing a 3rd-and-2 from its own 12-yard line. Malzahn took his time getting the play in, quarterback Nick Marshall broke the huddle quickly and the result was fullback Jay Prosch getting wide open on the wheel route for a 56-yard gain.
That play kept alive what turned out to be a 12-play, 96-yard touchdown drive that bled 6:17 off the clock.
Malzahn's quirkiness extends to extra points.
After the first touchdown of virtually every game, Malzahn calls "Batman"—a form of the swinging gate where the Tigers line up with three offensive linemen, one tight end and holder Ryan White lined up at quarterback. If the opponent's special teams unit isn't prepared, they'll run a two-point play off of it, which is exactly what happened after Auburn's first touchdown of the season.
In the video above, White takes off to the right and dives into the end zone to give Auburn an 8-7 lead on Washington State.
If the defense isn't prepared, why not try to get an easy point?
Kicker Cody Parkey is lined up as a wide receiver on the play, and if Malzahn and White don't get the look they want, they'll shift back into a standard kicking formation.
Malzahn is one of several coaches who tell the offensive line to freeze when it's apparent that a defender jumped offsides, but he's also taken it a step further and implemented that into his offense.
Instead of offensive linemen and a running back blocking briefly and peeling off on screen passes, he had the entire left side of his offensive set—including running back Tre Mason—freeze off the snap in the third quarter against Missouri before setting up a screen.
That pass gained eight yards but could easily have gone for a touchdown had an offensive lineman picked up one key block.
Everything Malzahn does is about creating confusion and options on every play so that all bases are covered and opportunities are taken advantage of.
Malzahn's system is effective, it's dominant and it's sometimes quirky.
Label it however you want. What you can't take away from him is that it works.
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