Auburn's bread and butter has been using its multifaceted rushing attack to force defenses into mistakes. The Tigers win the numbers game at the line of scrimmage, they stress edge defenders with wide pressure and they block extremely well.
However, the reason Auburn continues to explode for big numbers on the ground is tied to one of the more underrated pieces of the system, quarterback Nick Marshall.
The nation knows about Tre Mason, the explosive running back. People watch the offensive linemen open up gaping holes and get to the second level to maul linebackers. Jay Prosch, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant all get props for their contributions.
But it is Nick Marshall who makes it all go.
The talk surrounding Nick Marshall is his limited skills as a passer. He's capable of hitting the short passes that are a major part of the offense, but he's struggled pushing the ball down the field. Averaging just 17.7 attempts per game, and only 11.5 attempts over the last six games, Marshall is a lot more akin to Keenan Reynolds of Navy than some of his other SEC sling-the-ball-around counterparts.
Unfortunately, for Marshall, that does not fit with the traditional view of the quarterback position, at least not for most people. A dearth of passing numbers indicates a lack of effective play and often an inability to read the defense, to many on the national level.
Yet, for Marshall and players of his ilk, everything they do is reads. Auburn's base systems of operation utilize the zone read, the inverted veer and mix in the jet sweep to create multiple options for success. Marshall does not have the luxury of walking up to the line and just handing it off. He does not have the luxury of eyeballing a receiver and deciding, pre-snap, where he's going to go down the field.
Instead, Marshall is tasked with deciding, after the snap, which of his two or three options is going to get the football. He has to read the defensive end off the snap for the jet sweep. Then he must watch interior defenders to decide whether to give or keep based upon how they position themselves.
That is a lot of reads that happen in rapid succession and, more importantly, happen in tight quarters with little margin for mistakes.
Auburn's Marshall does this as well or better than anyone in the nation. Marshall is the how and the why, as to why the Tigers have been so remarkably potent as an offense.
The offense is rooted in the run game, but it is no less complex than multifaceted passing attacks. Especially, when Gus Malzahn throws in the packaged play elements to expand the scope of the offense. With the added element of the pass, Marshall is working the give, the keep and the quick screen to the edge; again, three decisions made in an instant.
Auburn's bread and butter is forcing mistakes, and the mechanics behind that revolve around winning the numbers game and putting multiple stressors on the defense. The scheme makes perfect sense, but the reason it works like a machine is because it is conducted by a ball player with a great understanding of the reads.