If you've been an Auburn fan for more than a couple years, you had to be shaking your head in disbelief in the fourth quarter of the Arkansas game. Was Auburn seriously scoring 65 points in an SEC game?
Sure, special teams and defense helped out on a few scores, but Auburn only punted TWICE the entire game and didn't turn the ball over. They scored seven offensive touchdowns and three field goals.
Kudos to you if you ever expected an Auburn team to do that in a big, top-15 SEC matchup...
The hiring of Gus Malzahn provided some hope that Auburn's offense could rise from the disappointments of 2006 to 2008. After all, his offense helped Arkansas defeat No. 2 Auburn in 2006 with a freshman quarterback on the road.
But the spread had just failed with Tony Franklin. Fans wondered if this guy's scheme could really be that much better.
It absolutely fits Auburn better. Gus Malzahn emphasizes the run to set up the pass—a pace of play that wears out the defense (see video in this article) and consistently refers to his offense as a downhill-running offense. However, fans remained skeptical.
Auburn's coaches began recruiting to the new offense, but developed the players already on the Plains to become different weapons. The ones who bought in to the new system (Darvin Adams, Terrell Zachary, Ben Tate and the entire offensive line) soared.
Gene Chizik let Malzahn have full control of the offense—something Houston Nutt was unwilling to do at Arkansas—and positive results came quickly. Chris Todd set a school record for touchdown passes in 2009 and offensive numbers were up across the board.
But the doubters still remained, even into this season. The offense didn't perform that well against the top SEC defenses. They didn't perform nearly as well against the top teams. Fans wondered if Malzahn's fancy offense would ever work against ranked teams in the SEC. It seems like it's moving in that direction.
The offensive personnel have bought into being a physical, running football team. Auburn continues to lead the league in rushing with Mario Fannin, Onterio McCalebb, Michael Dyer and, of course, Cam Newton pounding out 284 yards per game on the ground behind a senior-heavy offensive line.
Coach Malzahn has shown his ability to adjust to game situations. He ran the clock down patiently in the second half at Mississippi State. He engineered second-half comebacks against Clemson and South Carolina. He called a game-winning 19-play drive that melted the clock in Lexington, and kept the Arkansas defense off balance for the entire game last week.
He has solidified himself as one of the top offensive minds and offensive coordinators in the country.
Obviously, having personnel like Cam Newton helps, but to be as effective as Auburn has been, there has to be someone leading the players and putting them in positions to make plays.
Gus Malzahn is that leader, and deserves much of the credit. Some people still refer to his scheme as a "high school offense" because of his roots in Arkansas high school football.
No matter what you call it or what you think about it, Malzahn has brought an explosive, fast-paced offense to Auburn in a short period of time. And it's the type of offense people never thought Auburn would be successful in.
Of course, there's always another challenge around the corner. His offense faces their toughest test of the season this week against LSU, and gets another chance to prove that the offense can work against the big boys in this league.