The Auburn Tigers' most important piece of advice to digest before an impending BCS championship clash with Florida State should be "if it ain't broke, don't break it."
Indeed, the Tigers' rushing game, under the influence of Gus Malzhan, is one of the most efficient attacks in college football. Auburn has calculated a meticulous running style that's totaled the nation's largest output in rushing with 336 yards per game.
Coming off of a 545-yard rushing performance against Missouri, Auburn should in no way abandon the running game against a defense that's allowing 10.7 points per game. That little 10.7 stat stands as the best in the nation for those of you keeping track at home.
Still, Auburn's rushing attack behind the legs of Tre Mason, Nick Marshall, Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne has to be the focal point of the Tigers, especially going against a stingy Seminole defense.
If Auburn generates success running the football, like it has in most games this season, the Tigers will bring the SEC its eighth straight national championship.
But of course, nothing is as easy as it sounds in college football. While the running game will be the primary choice of attack by Malzahn and his staff, he has to intelligently set it up. That's easier for Malzahn than most.
Ask any defensive coordinator who's studied Auburn this season to reveal the secret to Auburn's offensive success and you'll likely get differing answers. Chalk that up to unpredictability.
It's nearly impossible to pick up a trend with this offense, as Malzahn calls from play-to-play, rather than series-to-series. What that illustrates is that Malzahn will always keep opposing teams guessing by altering play calls, never developing a distinct rhythm for defensive coordinators to catch.
That's why he's a brilliant play-caller, and that's why he's as good as it gets calling plays on the fly. Take a second and relive the Iron Bowl. No, not Chris Davis' unbelievable field-goal return for a touchdown, but look at the series that tied the ballgame.
It's 3rd-and-2 from the Auburn 40 with 1:42 to play. No surprise here. Auburn gives it to Mason, who broke the school record for rushing touchdowns in a single season.
Quickly back to the line of scrimmage, Marshall hands to Mason again for a minimum gain. The clock is winding down fast, and it seems Malzahn's inability to abandon the run might cost him an opportunity to tie the game. With 1:12 remaining, Mason receives the handoff again on second down, which falls short of a first down. By now, everyone has to be wondering what Malzahn could possibly be thinking.
Third down was much of the same. Marshall hands the ball to Mason, and this time Auburn gets a first down. However, only 47 seconds remain in the game with Auburn just inside Alabama's 40-yard line. The Tigers have to get a touchdown to win, remember? So why on earth did Malzahn not call a timeout and allow the clock to run down?
As we soon found out, Malzahn was setting up one particular play, as he was one step ahead of everyone. As you all remember, Marshall fakes the handoff on the next play, rolls to his left and throws to a wide-open Sammie Coates to tie the ballgame. It was the greatest series called ever by a play-caller.
Like the Iron Bowl, Malzahn has to be one step ahead of Florida State's defense in order to generate points in such a fashion only he can fabricate.
Get Sammie Coates Involved
Malzahn may have an obsession with running the football, but he's going to have to throw the ball around the yard a little bit in this one.
The Seminoles enter the national championship game with an impressive 117 rushing yards allowed per game statistic. What's more impressive, though, is the defense's ability to shut down passing games, limiting offenses to 152 passing yards per game. That's the best in the country.
Credit cornerback Lamarcus Joyner and safety Terrence Brooks for those gaudy stats. But even though the Seminoles possess one of the best secondaries in college football, Malzahn will have to keep Florida State from loading the box against his dynamic running game.
How can he do that? Well, Mr. Coates on the outside should garner the respect of the defense.
Coates has nearly triple the amount of yards the Tigers second leading receiver Ricardo Louis has. As often as the Tigers run it, Coates has produced a staggering 841 yards and seven touchdowns, simply because of the deep threat he is.
He's averaging 22.1 yards per catch, and if Malzahn wants to stay in front of Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, he should come up with more creative ways to get Coates the ball.
Abandoning his biggest deep threat could cost Malzahn his first championship as head coach. A betting man foresees Marshall looking Coates' way quite often.
Utilize the Talents of Robinson Therezie
Defensively, Auburn will have its hands full with Jameis Winston. We all know that. Heck, the homeless guy down the street could tell you that.
With dynamic receivers Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, the Auburn secondary will need tremendous help from the Tigers' athletically gifted front four. If Winston gets longer than three seconds to throw, Auburn will forfeit numerous big plays.
Luckily for the Tigers, Auburn may possess the most athletic defensive line in college football with Carl Lawson and Dee Ford developing quite a knack for getting in the quarterback's face. The two have combined for 24 quarterback hurries and 12.5 sacks this season.
Don't think Auburn fans aren't praying they can grab hold of Winston in the backfield. If the Tigers' front four dominate the line and throw Winston off his game, it will obviously bode well for Auburn, but that won't secure victory alone.
Auburn needs to be creative in the way it disrupts Winston and an offense that's produced 53 points per game, second behind Baylor in the nation (only .3 points separated the two).
There might not be a more natural player to scheme around than Robinson Therezie.
When you watch tape of Therezie, his instincts jump off the screen. He's known for his team-leading four interceptions, but he's a sure tackler and is almost always in perfect position to make tackles in run pursuit.
He's also a fantastic blitzer coming off of the edge, and it wouldn't come as a surprise to see Auburn use him to get to Winston on various occasions.
The Auburn defense will need its best showing of the season undoubtedly, but with the great effort up front and the utilization of Therezie in multiple situations, the Tigers can force enough stops to win a championship.
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