When you consider there have only been three Auburn offenses to average more than 450 yards per game during the course of a season, the likelihood of the 2011 Auburn offense doing it would seem remote. Of course, until Gus Malzahn arrived on the Plains, Auburn's offense, like many others in the SEC, in more years than had been conservative in nature. Malzahn's approach has not only rewritten the Auburn record book, it has also changed expectations and perceptions for the future.
Malzahn's first offense at Auburn averaged 431.8 yards and 33.3 points per game without the services of Cameron Newton. The addition of Newton during Auburn's national championship run clearly made the offense far more dynamic, but it was the manner in which Newton was deployed that made what Auburn was doing so successful.
Though the quarterback was the best offensive player in college football, that did not change Malzahn's approach to offense. It still came down to putting the best 11 players on the field and then providing them with the opportunities to make plays by catering to the strengths of his personnel.
Newton receives instruction from Malzahn during preseason practice last August.
The 2011 offense will undergo a major transformation in personnel, but the logic and method of implementing the players will remain the same. For the most part, the base elements of Malzahn's offense will be present, but his play selection will be determined on where he perceives Auburn's strengths to be.
The 2010 offense developed into a run-heavy attack once it was determined how dangerous Newton was running the football. The Tigers went from running the ball 60 percent of the time in 2009 to 69 percent in 2010. Based on the returning personnel at the skill positions and the influx of new faces, the 2011 offense will likely be more balanced in scheme.
Though Malzahn believes in having a strong running attack, the overall success of the offense will be in the hands of the pass offense. Auburn averaged 28 pass attempts per game in 2009 and only 21 in 2010, mainly because the run offense was so consistently productive. Because of that the Tigers found themselves in fewer passing situations.
Look for Auburn to return to the 28-30 attempts per game range in 2011, which means the passing will likely count for the majority of the team's total yardage output. Over the past two seasons Auburn has averaged 8.8 yards per pass attempt. If the Tigers can maintain the same average, the pass offense could account for 266-310 yards per game with 30-35 pass attempts per game.
Under Malzahn the pass offense has attempted at least 25 passes on 13 occasions, averaging 245.8 yards per game. In the five games the Tigers attempted at least 30 passes, Auburn averaged 281.6 yards per game. If the Tigers can average 245-250 yards passing per game in 2011, the combination of Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb should be the driving force for a run offense that averages at least 200 yards per game.
Michael Dyer rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season as a true freshman.
The 2009 pass offense went through a three-game drought against Arkansas, Kentucky and LSU in which the Tigers averaged only 103 yards per game, far off their season average of 220 yards per outing. Had the Tigers simply maintained their season average during the midseason slump, Auburn would have averaged 458 yards per game for the season in total offense. This is the very reason why the 2011 offense has a high probability of being even more successful than the 2009 group.
Odds are Auburn won't reach the 499 yards per game compiled in 2010. but 450 yards per game is not a stretch for a Malzahn offense balanced in scheme. As a collegiate offensive coordinator, he has done a splendid job with five different starting quarterbacks.
Auburn's next starting quarterback doesn't need to emulate Newton. He needs to play within his limits and to his strengths just as Newton did in 2010. As much credit was given to Newton for the success of the 2010 offense, he noted how fortunate he was to work with a great supporting cast and an innovative offensive coordinator. No matter who starts at quarterback in 2011, Malzahn will call his plays based on the strengths of his starter, increasing the probability for success.
During the 69 games Malzahn has been an offensive coordinator at the collegiate level, his pass offense completed at least 60 percent of its passes for at least 7.5 yards per attempt on 33 occasions. His offense averaged 528.4 yards and 45.1 points per game in those 33 contests. Of those games, 14 occurred while at Auburn in which the Tigers averaged 521.0 yards and 47.5 points per game.
Despite the loss of Newton plus wide receivers Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery, don't be surprised if the 2011 pass offense is utilized more often than the previous season. In reality, Auburn has a bigger challenge replacing Newton's rushing production, which accounted for 36.9 percent of the rushing totals, 48.7 percent of Auburn's rushing touchdowns and 45.0 percent of the first downs gained rushing.
Brandon Mosley is a returning starter at right tackle.
The personnel is there to establish a solid running game, but the pass offense will be called on more often than last season to sustain drives. This should not be looked upon as an act of desperation or a sign weakness, but simply as Malzahn taking advantage of his current personnel. With Auburn's triple-headed rushing attack in 2010, the Tigers were able to run to set up the run, which won't be the case in 2011. Auburn will need to become more balanced to run to set up the pass and to pass to set up the run.
The road to offensive success in 2010 doesn't have to be on the same path as 2011 and a touchdown is a touchdown no matter who scores it or how its scored. The media and prognosticators want to write off the 2011 Auburn offense, but Malzahn's history dictates otherwise.