Though Cameron Newton played a major role in Auburn's offensive success, the combination of Michael Dyer, Onterio McCalebb and Mario Fannin proved to be one of the best trios of running backs in the history of the program. During the 2010 season Auburn's trio of running backs averaged 6.80 yards per carry, the best average at Auburn over the past four decades.
Mike Dyer was a key player in Auburn's run to the BCS Championship.
This was remarkable when you consider it was better than the 1983 combination of Bo Jackson, Lionel James and Tommie Agee. It exceeded the 1985 combination of Jackson, Brent Fullwood and Agee.
It also surpassed the average of James Brooks, Joe Cribbs and George Peoples in 1979 and the 1993 trio of James Bostic, Stephen Davis and Tony Richardson.
Though the presence of Newton factored into the success of Auburn's running backs, it's important to remember the 2009 combination of Ben Tate, Onterio McCalebb and Mario Fannin was 11th best over the past four decades.
The 2009 trio of Tate, McCalebb and Fannin produced a better rushing average than the 2003 trio of Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown and Brandon Jacobs. It was also better than the 2004 trio of Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown and Carl Stewart as well as the 2005 combination of Kenny Irons, Brad Lester and Tre Smith.
Carnell Williams is shown running for the Tigers vs. Arkansas.
This is testament to the success of Gus Malzahn's offense with and without the services of Newton. From 1970-2010 there have only been three trios of running backs in which each averaged at least 5.5 yards per rush and the combination of Dyer, McCalebb and Fannin was one of them. Fortunately for the Tigers, Dyer and McCalebb return for the 2011 football season.
In no way should Dyer and McCalebb's rushing averages be construed to mean they are better running backs than Jackson or Fullwood, but their success shouldn't be written off as the result of Newton being in the same backfield either. Williams and Brown provided Auburn with many memories, including 107 plays of 15 yards or more and 30 plays of 30 yards or more from 1,357 offensive touches.
The combination of Dyer and McCalebb has already produced 45 plays of 15 yards or more and 13 plays of 30 yards from 396 offensive touches. This equates to an impact play every 8.8 plays compared to Williams and Brown's ratio of 1 every 12.7 plays. It also means a big play every 30.5 plays to a ratio of 1 every 45.2 plays by Williams and Brown.
Look for Dyer to be primed for more of a workload in 2011 compared to the guarded progression he received in 2010 and for McCalebb to develop into something more than just a complement to Dyer.
McCalebb was less than two carries per game away from rushing for 1,000 yards in 2010, giving Auburn a realistic prospect of having two 1,000-yard rushers again in 2011. We witnessed the maturation of McCalebb in 2010 as he became more natural and fluid running the football, producing impact plays at an impressive rate.
McCalebb rushed for 542 yards on just 70 carries against conference opponents and in the bowl game. He scored six rushing touchdowns off those 70 carries while averaging 7.7 yards per rush. McCalebb also caught seven passes for 86 yards and an additional touchdown. His role in the offense should expand in 2011, not just as a runner, but also as a legitimate pass receiving option.
Last season Dyer was brought along slowly, but he still managed to surpass Jackson's record for rushing yardage by a freshman. Though he appeared in all 14 games, Dyer had fewer than 10 carries in six games. In his remaining eight games, he rushed for 811 yards on 138 carries, averaging nearly six yards per rush.
During the first half of the season Dyer averaged 5.3 yards per rush and 6.6 yards per carry during the second half of the season. This was a strong indicator his comfort zone grew during the season despite facing more challenging opponents during the second half of the season.
Dyer's average per carry by quarter was also a strong indicator he became more productive as the games progressed. Dyer averaged 3.9 yards per carry in the first quarter, 5.2 yards in the second quarter, 6.6 yards in the third quarter and 7.1 yards in the final period.
Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is in his third season at Auburn.
The 2011 offense probably won't be as explosive as the 2010 version, but Dyer and McCalebb will provide Malzahn with a strong foundation to build his third Auburn offense. A Heisman-winning quarterback and veteran line must be replaced, but it won't stop the offensive coordinator from taking advantage of the talent available to him in 2011.
The offense will continue to be a fluid motion of moving parts, taking advantage of misdirection and open space, which should highlight the athletic abilities of Dyer and McCalebb. Malzahn won't ask his duo of running backs to carry the 2011 offense, but to simply be a component within his dynamic approach to football. This offense was designed to create explosive plays, which will bring out the best of Auburn's two top running backs.