The Doc doesn’t claim to be a veterinarian. Mind you, the Doc doesn’t claim to be a doctor either, but one doesn’t need to be either to see that Auburn’s Spread Eagle is sickly.
After this week’s loss to the scholar-athletes of Vandy in front of a national television audience, it should be clear to anyone that something is wrong with the Spread Eagle.
Luckily, the Doc has the answer. The Spread Eagle seems to be suffering from Prematurus Nudilarus Expulsitium, a relatively rare injury that is sustained by birds who are pushed out of their nest before they are ready to fly.
The most obvious evidence of a case of Prematurus Nudilarus Expulsitium is paralysis and confusion in a once-healthy bird. Auburn’s offense certainly qualifies: Hardly flying, Auburn’s War Eagle has generally limped down the field, and at times it has been completely unable to move at all.
The passing game is barely averaging 160 yards a game, with five TDs through six games, as compared to six interceptions. More importantly, the Tigers’ offense is averaging a tepid 13 points a game, including a dismal three-point showing against an SEC punching bag in Mississippi State.
Confusion abounds as well. Receiver Rod Smith said it best.
"I don't know what we are," said senior receiver Rod Smith. "The spread? The old Auburn offense? Everybody's confused. I don't know what to say right now. I'm speechless. Everybody's hurting, speechless and confused."
As is often the case in juvenile injuries, the Spread Eagle’s Prematurus Nudilarus Expulsitium is ultimately attributable to its parents. In this case, the blame falls on head coach Tommy Tuberville and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin.
Most schoolchildren learn that a mother bird, upon deciding that her offspring are ready to leave the nest, will nudge the chicks out of the nest in order to force them to fly. Some schoolchildren may have wondered what would happen if the mother bird decided to push the chick out before it could fly.
Well, gravity is what happens, and the result isn’t pretty.
The Spread Eagle was clearly pushed out early. Rather than patiently phasing-in the spread as the personnel warranted, Tuberville and Franklin apparently simply installed the spread and prayed that the players could perform.
At any school this would be a bad idea, but at school that prides itself on defense and a smashmouth rushing attack, such an approach is ludicrous. No one should be shocked at what happens when a rhinoceros gets pushed out of a tree—it doesn’t fly, because that’s not what it was built to do.
Case in point: the Auburn receiving corps. In the traditional smashmouth Auburn offense, talented receivers were a blessing, not a necessity. Generally, one talented receiver could carry the burden, and the recruiting reflected that. Auburn has a great receiver in sophomore Mario Fannin, but the rest of the receiving corps has thus far been mediocre at best.
More importantly, the lifeblood of any spread offense is the quarterback, and Auburn just doesn’t seem to have the talent at that position to make the spread work. Neither Kodi Burns nor Chris Todd has stepped up for the Tigers, and as a result the offense hasn’t been able to move the ball.
It hasn’t helped that Tuberville and Franklin seem to be fighting over control of the team, with the disastrous quarterback rotation as their compromise.
The best treatment for Prematurus Nudilarus Expulsitium is preventative medicine. Tuberville and Franklin have got to find a way to build the offense around the players that they have, rather than trying to shoehorn the team into a system that just doesn’t fit.
The offense has to establish an identity. If smashmouth is what they do best, then the coaches should put the spread on the shelf until the players are in place to run it.
Additionally, the quarterback rotation has got to stop. The coaches need to figure out which quarterback is best at running the offense and put the other on the bench.
The problem has been that figuring out which is the best quarterback requires defining the job that is required of him—and since no one really knows what the offense is trying to do, it's still up in the air whether Todd’s arm or Burns’ legs would benefit the offense more.
Going back to the drawing board on an entire offensive scheme in the middle of the season is not going to be easy. Whether or not its early plummet from the nest will be fatal is still uncertain, but it’s obvious that the Spread Eagle is not yet ready to fly.
Check out last week's Diagnosis