StatTiger: Upgrading Auburn's Offense

Stuart Carter (StatTiger) writes about the evolution of the Auburn offense under the guidance of coordinator Gus Malzahn.

Just as in the movie "Field of Dreams," Gene Chizik's coaching staff has lived by the adage, "If you build it, they will come."

In two seasons under Chizik the Auburn Tigers have compiled a 21-5 record, including a conference championship and a BCS national title.

Prior to Chizik's arrival as the head football coach, the majority of Auburn's most successful seasons were associated with great defense and a strong running game. Coach Chizik did not hesitate in hiring Gus Malzahn away from Tulsa in the hopes of revamping an Auburn offense which had been decaying over a three-year period prior to 2009.

Signing talented offensive linemen and running backs to Auburn was never difficult, but bringing in the other skill players was at times a different story. Under Chizik, Auburn has upgraded its offensive talent across the board, partly because of the success of Malzahn's offense.

Having been the defensive coordinator of an unbeaten Auburn team in 2004 and an unbeaten Texas team in 2005, Chizik saw the benefit of having a dynamic offense to go along with a strong defense. Improving the talent level is the first step, but development might be the most important step of them all.

Improving the talent level...

Build it and they will come--in Auburn's case this meant having a wide-open offense that most skill players would enjoy being a part of no matter what position they played. From 2002-2008 Auburn signed 71 offensive players. According to recruiting rankings, Auburn's average star rating of its offensive players signed from 2002-2008 was 2.93. It was broken down by ratings of 3.0 for quarterbacks, 2.83 for wide receivers, 2.89 for tight ends, 3.0 for running backs and 2.95 for offensive linemen.

Including Auburn's current verbal commitments for the 2012 class, the average star rating for offensive players recruited from 2009-2011 is 3.42. Under Chizik's staff it's broken down with average ratings of 4.0 for quarterbacks, 3.1 for wide receivers, 3.6 for tight ends, 3.57 for running backs and 3.36 for offensive linemen. There is no doubt Auburn has been more successful recruiting offensive talent over the last three years compared to the previous seven. Malzahn's offense has garnered national recognition and the recruits know it.

In seven recruiting classes from 2002-2008, Auburn signed 22 offensive players rated at four stars or better and three rated as five stars. Under Chizik, Auburn has already signed 18 players rated at 4-stars, including five rated at five stars. That's an increase from 30.9 percent of four-star talent from 2002-2008 to 45.0 percent from 2009-2011 and Auburn has just begun compiling its 2012 recruiting class. Though all the high profiled players won't translate to automatic success, it does increase the probability of having additional success because of the sheer numbers.

Coaching and Development...

During the 2009 season Malzahn's starting offense consisted of 11 players who were on the 2008 roster. Of those 11 starters in 2009 six of were starters the season before. Onterio McCalebb was the only major addition to the offense not present during the 2008 campaign.

Onterio McCalebb will be a junior for the Tigers this fall.

Malzahn and his assistant coaches took those 11 starters and improved them from 104th nationally in total offense in 2008 to 16th in 2009. The offense also improved from 110th in scoring offense in 2008 to 17th in 2009. Malzahn's offenses have been balanced, making it a welcome sight to any offensive skill player.

If you're a quarterback prospect, Malzahn's last four starting QBs have finished No. 2, No. 18, No. 2 and No. 4 in pass efficiency among FBS players.

If you are a running back prospect, Malzahn's leader at the position has averaged 1,370 rushing yards per season and his second leading rusher has averaged 705 yards per season.

If you are a receiver prospect, Malzahn's leading receiver has averaged 1,055 yards per season. This includes nine receivers in the last five seasons with over 40 receptions during a season. A banner year by Philip Lutzenkirchen should continue to make the tight end position intriguing for future prospects.

As a collegiate coordinator, Malzahn's offenses have averaged 233.6 yards per game on the ground and 251.8 yards passing. His offense is one of the most dynamic and balanced attacks in college football and he has consistently obtained the most from his personnel.

This level of productivity could only be obtained through coaching excellence and foremost attention to details and fundamentals. The precedent has been established; if you are talented and are willing to work hard, you will be successful in Malzahn's offense. His offense is reliant upon all the skill positions, which makes recruiting an easier task for the assistant coaches.

Why Auburn?

From 2000-2011 there have been 21 Auburn offensive players selected in the NFL Draft. This includes eight offensive linemen, six running backs, five receivers and two quarterbacks. For future recruits Auburn has a long history of putting players into the NFL, but it only happens to those willing to sacrifice and commit to being the best player they can be while at Auburn. The coaches can sell the success of individual accomplishments of former players as well as the success of current personnel.

Winning the BCS National Championship takes Auburn to the final level in competing for recruits. No longer is Auburn a team building to win a championship. Auburn is a program driven to win another. Auburn isn't for everyone, but for those who come to the university they have the opportunity to be just as successful as an individual in the country and the same is true about success for the team.

The 2011 Tigers will likely fail living up to the accomplishments of the 2010 squad, but that should be expected. Since 1970 the No. 1 team in the country has compiled a win percentage of .969 during its championship season dropping to .811 the following year. This means Auburn should lose two to three games in 2011, which would be the normal drop based on the previous national champions. Only six teams equaled their records from the year before and only three teams improved on their record. Since 1992 Auburn has been in position to win a conference title every 3.8 years and a national title every 6.3 years.

Auburn's recent success under Chizik has come with a focus centered on making the Tigers the best they can be and not worrying about what other programs are doing. When it comes to recruiting, the focus is on what Auburn has to offer and not how it compares to the competition. The coaches might not get everyone they want, but the players that do sign have the potential of making Auburn a better team. During Tuberville's last seven recruiting classes, Auburn signed 16 offensive players ranked in the national top 20 at their positions. Chizik's staff already has 15 and the trend indicates a lot more are coming Auburn's way in coming seasons.

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