Explosive plays lead to short drives that often end in touchdowns, something offensive coaches covet.
Last season Auburn's offense had very few explosive plays or touchdowns, making it a long season for the Tigers as they struggled to sustain lengthy drives. In 12 games last year Auburn's offense produced just 77 plays of 15 yards or more. That's a far cry from the 107 Malzahn and Lashlee had last season at Arkansas State.
In his last season as Auburn's offensive coordinator, Malzahn's offense finished the season with just 87 plays of 15 or more yards, but when you look closer you see a pattern that evolved in 2011. In the first four games of the season the Tigers made 31 explosive plays before the brakes were put on the offense by former head coach Gene Chizik, who's theory was that would help his team's struggling defense.
With Cam Newton at the helm in 2010, Auburn's offense produced 144 explosive plays. That was up from 120 in 2009, Malzahn's first season at Auburn. Malzahn's offense has been proven to produce big plays and it's something Lashlee notes the Tigers focus on every day in practice.
"That's one of our goals in every game," the offensive coordinator said. "We want explosive plays. The first scrimmage this year when we had the quarterbacks go live, we had a couple but by no means to our standard. The second scrimmage, that was the biggest positive I thought, we had explosive plays. We made explosive plays in the passing game and we had a lot of explosive plays in the run game.
"I think there's no question that we have athletes, we've just got to make sure we get them in the right spot and give them those chances to make those plays," he added. "It's too hard in any league, especially in the SEC, to drive 80 yards just dinking it down the field. You've got to have explosive plays if you want to score points."
Wide receiver Sammie Coates is one of Auburn's best options for a big play
One of the ways Auburn's offense hopes to get more big plays is by wearing out a defense with tempo. It's something that Gus Malzahn has as a staple of his system and Lashlee said the actual speed will depend on how the game is going and what they feel like is best for the offense at that time.
"We have one tempo and we're going to go as fast as we can," Lashlee said. "There are times that we'll slow it down like anyone would or check and do things. That will be a game plan by game plan basis. I do know this, we want our guys to play extremely fast all the time. They know one speed and the only time they slow down is if we slow them down. That's the way it's been since I've played for Coach, we're going to play fast."
That tempo starts in practice every day as the goal is to get off as many plays as possible. That serves a couple of purposes for the offense as it not only allows those players to get more comfortable with the speed of the game, but also gives them more reps to feel more comfortable with all aspects of the plan. Lashlee said that the tempo is just another part of the offense, but it's who they are every day and what they want to be.
"Our whole philosophy is we want to make practice almost unrealistic, harder than a game, faster than a game," Lashlee said. "We want quarterbacks, wideouts, people are thinking and having to make decisions quicker than they would in a game and they're more tired than they ever would be in a game.
"I told our offense the other day, you run a scrimmage and we're going right back on the field because we're playing ourselves," he pointed out. "Normally in a game you're running six, eight, 10 plays and then you go sit on the bench while the special teams and defense play for a little bit. You catch your breath. That's our philosophy, to make it extremely hard. Sometimes it's unrealistic but on game day it will slow down."