Auburn Football: 11 Things the Tigers Do Very Well
The majority of preseason discussion is led by “what can a team improve on from the year ago?” or “in what ways can teams fill the void that is sure to be left by impact players?” At Auburn, there are plenty of questions as the summer workout session begins and plenty of holes left to be filled.
As there are numerous discussions made on these topics? Let’s take a look at what Auburn does do well. What 11 things do the Tigers bring to the table that will separate them from the competition this season? Some of the strengths are obvious while others are hidden in planning and game strategy.
One thing is for certain, 2011 will bring its fair share of ups and downs, but Auburn can look to what it does best when the down times do come. Auburn is a talented but young group that has to focus on its strengths intensely and grow its biggest weakness, experience, as fast as possible.
Rate of Play
Anyone that has viewed an Auburn football game on television the past two seasons has noticed Coach Gus Malzahn flailing his arms like airplane propeller’s on the sideline. He is apparently screaming something like “faster…faster…faster!!!”
The guy is intense, and that intensity rubs off onto his players when they are on the field. Speed is the most dominant feature of his offensive system. The goal is to get a defense to play on its heels and feel out of position.
For Auburn to maintain a high level of play and wear down the defense effectively, they must find the perfect mix of personnel to minimize substitutions. The first few games this season will surely have some growing pains as the Tigers replace quite a few playmakers.
If the Tigers can find the right mix of players and play calls, the Auburn offense can be extremely potent down the stretch. If the month of October hits and Auburn is not galloping at Malzahn warp speed, they will be in trouble.
The speed of the offense keeps the defense on its heels, but the motion and shifts that Auburn uses can lead to a ton of confusion even for the most veteran of defenses. It is never that Auburn calls extreme plays; it’s that Auburn uses confusion and execution to win.
By keeping slot receivers and speed backs in motion always adds a third element to every play from the Malzahn offense. Essentially, almost every play can be a triple option or a play action. What motion does as well is lull a defense to sleep.
If a defense sees a player cross the field 40 times in a game and never touch the ball, they lose play recognition, and that’s what Auburn counts on. The motion sets cause misalignments for the defensive fronts as well which leads to a schematic advantage for Auburn.
The Tigers are fielding one of the most dangerous duos in the country this season when Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb step on the field. When you add slot receivers like Trovon Reed and Travante Stallworth to the mix, defensive coordinators will begin to cringe.
Auburn has a depth problem at the true halfback position, but the good news is they have plenty of options. The slot receiver position is loaded with speed and talent and incoming freshman Quan Bray is likely to shake up things with his speed.
Don’t misunderstand my spread the love theory, Dyer will be the feature back, and McCalebb will likely have his first 1,000 yard season. However, having options out of multiple positions will help ease the pressure and it will gather some of the defensive focus, relieving stress on Dyer.
With so many options out of the backfield, Auburn will have another impact rushing attack this fall. The offensive line has a lack of experience, but talent is not an issue. Expect Grimes to have his line ready and Luper to have the backs ready as the rushing load will shift to the backs this season.
An obvious strength for the defense in 2011 will be the pass rush. The defensive ends have the chance to be some of the most talented in the country if the interior line can plug the middle. Nosa Eguae is the returning starter and leader for the defensive line. Look for Eguae to have a standout year this season.
Dee Ford and Corey Lemonier are two others that earned playing time a year ago and will like to expand on their experience and statistics this season. Rising stars are Craig Sanders and Joel Bonomolo. Sanders was a stud on special teams a year ago as a head hunter for the kickoff team.
Bonomolo was injured in the preseason for 2010 and took a redshirt. He has come on strong this spring and will look to earn a steady rotational role this season. Both Sanders and Bonomolo are gym rats and will ride their work ethics to stardom in the future.
Nick Fairley was the face of one of the hardest noised defensive line that Auburn has witnessed in years. Tracy Rocker brought a philosophy that led to physical play and earned the Auburn defensive line a rough and tough reputation.
No matter your opinion on the individuals and their style of play, no one can argue their results. The problem that Auburn faces this coming season is that the defense has to replace three starters on the line and two three year starters at linebacker.
The good news for Auburn is that the talent level is not going to drop off but the experience level will. Auburn will need guys like Daren Bates at the linebacker position and Nosa Eguae at the line position to take the lead this season and help the young Tigers to make the right decisions.
One of the many reasons that Malzahn appears every bit of offensive genius is his ability to win most matchup battles. With the motion sets and staggered line sets, Malzahn does the best he can to outsmart the defense and ensure that the offense has the upper hand with its blocking schemes and outside threats.
Nothing that Auburn does on offense is not thoroughly planned and rigidly executed. Matchup creation is huge for the blocking schemes for the Tigers. Going into this season, a focus on blocking is a no brainer with the new line shake up.
Look for the blocking schemes to simplify early in the season but for slot receivers and h-backs to play a pivotal role in the run blocking. As the season progresses the blocking schemes should return to business as usual and free up more playmakers downfield as the line matures.
Playmakers Finds Space
Another plus to the offense that Auburn runs is the ability to get speed into space. Two games in a row last season saw Onterio McCalebb take a toss play around the edge and into the end zone. With the speed that is in the slot this coming season it will be another priority to use those guys against linebackers in the middle of the field.
How defenses play the speed matchups on the inside will determine how successful opponents will be against the Tigers offense this season. With multiple options for the Tigers, there will be numerous opportunities a game for Auburn to find players open in space.
Auburn uses play speed on offense to confuse a defense and keep players out of position, but it also must ensure that its own players are in their proper position and executing their duties. One position that focuses on execution is the wide receiver position.
Wide receivers at Auburn must have a strong ability to block and a tenacious attitude to hold their own against defenders. Basic execution like blocking helps ensure that players will execute in their routes as well.
On the defensive side of the ball, players at the defensive back positions and the linebacker positions must ensure that they are in proper position and in the right gaps on blitz plays. A lot of responsibility is in the hands of the young Jake Holland this coming season. His ability to make reads and execute earned him playing time a year ago, but the weight is totally on his shoulders in 2011.
There must be a carry over this season, and his decisions and execution have to be better. Daren Bates will help provide leadership as well and Neiko Thorpe moving to the safety position will help the defense play in position consistently.
On Field Hustle
Auburn may not have been the most talented team on the grass a year ago, but they were the team with the most hustle. The difference always seemed to be the no quit attitude and the hustle and desire to never give up.
One of the most premier plays that will forever be a signal of the triumphant 24-point comeback victory will be Antoine Carter chasing Mark Ingram from behind. The play itself did not cause Auburn to gain any points, but it stopped a drive that could have been the final nail in the coffin.
Another play that comes to mind is in the national championship game where Demtruce McNeal chased down Oregon’s Jeff Maehl from behind to stop a long touchdown. Auburn has to keep with tradition and continue to make hustle plays occur as they have been the difference in the past and will surely be game changers in the future.
The Tigers do not rely on outrageous plays to cause a spark very often, but when they are called they are quite the show to watch. A year ago, Cameron Newton made one of the best catches, yes catches, of the season in the corner of the end zone at Ole Miss.
When the play calls have to get creative they do. When the basics are working, Auburn stays basic. One of the mistakes that many coaches make is trying to force play calling either conservatively or aggressively. You have to make calls that are natural.
With this being the longest tenure yet for Malzahn in a collegiate program however, the future is sure to bring some interesting sets and play calls. Look for Auburn to get extremely creative with the Wildcat position in 2011.
Auburn has found itself in the elite ranks the past few seasons in recruiting. During the Tuberville years, Auburn had some respectable classes and found itself consistently in the top 20, but a top 5 finish was never a possibility.
Enter Gene Chizik and Co. and Auburn finds itself in the top 5 two seasons in a row. This is an obvious strength for the Tigers as the need to fill the scholarship slots for the Tigers is a must as the cupboard was left empty after the departure of Tuberville.
Finding talented players that fit the Auburn system on and off the field has recently been a focus and how the Tigers recruit going forward will determine their place in the national elite. So far this season, elite 11 quarterback Zeke Pike has commited to the Tigers as has 4-star Cassanova McKinzy.
Darrion Hutcherson and Michael Flint fill out Auburn’s current commit list but with Big Cat weekend only six days away look for the class to expand quickly. Auburn has to keep the steam from the national title fueling its drive to get the best players in the nation.