If Auburn is successful on offense in 2013, it will likely be because of the Tigers' rushing attack. "We have to find a way to run the football," Malzahn says. "We are a run first, play-action team." That has been his blueprint for offensive success since his days coaching at the high school level, constructing his run offense around the old Wing-T formation. It's a running attack that has averaged 224.4 yards per game at 5.2 yards per rush over seven collegiate seasons.
Regardless of the style of offense found in the Southeastern Conference, running the football successfully remains a key to success. Since 2000 SEC teams have won 85 percent of their games when rushing for at least 175 yards. When teams rush for at least 150 yards they win at an 80 percent rate.
When Auburn's new head coach spoke of "getting our edge back," he was referring to the physical style of play Tiger fans have always been fond of over the years. "What I mean when I say get our edge back is toughness," Malzahn notes. "That blue-collar, hit you in the mouth type of football. We aren't completely back yet, but we are going to get there."
The core of that get-tougher approach on offense will be on the line where the Tigers return four starters with Reese Dismukes back at center, Chad Slade at guard with Greg Robinson and Patrick Miller at the tackle spots.
Reese Dismukes, a junior, has two seasons of collegiate starting experience at center for the Tigers.
New offensive line coach J.B. Grimes has been demanding, expecting his linemen to be consistent in technique and execution. "Last year it was kind of, you had your job, and it was more of however you felt like you could do it the best, that's the way you did it," Dismukes says. "This year there is no gray area. You know how he wants you to do the job, and how he wants you to get the job done."
The veteran offensive line coach is well-prepared for his latest assignment and knows what is expected from him, having worked with Malzahn and new Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee last season at Arkansas State.
"Gus is the contractor, I'm the sub-contractor," Grimes says. "Gus and Rhett are the two guys that are instrumental in detailing what they do with this offense. What they want me to do is get those five guys to blocking folks, and I can do that."
With more than 30 years of collegiate experience Grimes has the knowledge to field a productive offensive line. "I know how to block the inside zone, I know how to block the power, I know how to block the counter–I know how to block those plays," Grimes says. "And, I know the blocking schemes and I know how to teach guys to do that against every kind of front known to man."
During the past seven seasons, Malzahn's offense has averaged nearly 48 percent more yards rushing than the opponent normally allows. In nearly 80 percent of his games Malzahn's team has rushed for more yards than the opponent normally allowed, compiling a record of 61-13 in those matchups. This includes a record of 46-8 when rushing for more than 40 percent above the total the opponent allows.
Through 94 collegiate games Malzahn's opponent allowed an average of 151 yards rushing per game during the season while Malzahn's team averaged 224 yards on the ground. Against opponents who allowed less than 130 yards rushing per game, Malzahn's offense gained 53 percent more in rushing yardage.
Running backs Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant have to be excited about their prospects of being in an offense that features the ground game 61 percent of the time. Malzahn's offense has gained at least 190 yards rushing in two of every three games, leading to a 52-10 record when eclipsing the 190 mark.
Implementing the elements of power, speed and misdirection, his offense has resulted in a combined record of 45-7 when attempting at least 40 rushes during a game. During his four previous seasons in the Southeastern Conference, Malzahn's offense finished no lower than No. 4 in the conference in rushing yardage. During the last seven seasons the offense has generated 703 plays of 10 yards or more and 175 runs of 20 yards or more.
For the 2013 offense to reach its full potential, quarterback play will be essential, but the foundation will be centered around the success of the running game. Of the Tigers' 11 FBS opponents scheduled this season, four finished in the nation's Top 25 in rushing defense last year. Overall, the average rush defense ranking of the 11 FBS opponents was No. 49 during 2012, allowing 147 yards per game.
Should the 2013 Tigers hold true to their head coach's current rushing margins, this projects to 217 yards ground yards per game against FBS opponents. How successful Auburn's ground attack is in 2013 remains to be seen, but previous results tell us Malzahn believes in a strong running game and has a history that explains why he feels that way.