Auburn Passing Game A Work In Progress

Auburn used the bye week to work on improving the passing game as the Tigers get ready to face Ole Miss on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Auburn, Ala.--Through four games of the 2013 football season the Auburn Tigers have been a productive offense in Gus Malzahn's first year back on the Plains.

Averaging 28.5 points and 439.5 yards per game, up from 17.5 and 297.8 averages through four games a season ago, Auburn's offense has taken a huge turn for the better under Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee.

Things have been far from perfect, however, as the offense has been hurt by sustained droughts and an erratic passing game from first-year starter Nick Marshall. Completing a respectable 58.3 percent of his passes for 809 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions, the junior college transfer has done enough to win three games, but has to take his game to another level as Auburn jumps into the meat of its schedule beginning this weekend with a huge game against Ole Miss.

With the ability to run the football, averaging 232.2 yards per game, Auburn can ride the legs of Tre Mason, Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne only so far. Because of that mindset Malzahn said the bye week was a big one for his team to be able to work out some of the kinks in the passing game before taking on the Rebels.

"I think we're able to run the football and that's where is starts for us," Malzahn said. "We're a run, play-action team. We need to get more consistent in the passing game and we know that. We felt like this week would be really good for us to go back to the basics of our timing passing game. Coach Lashlee and the staff have worked extremely hard on that."

Making the extra work even more important is the loss of junior wide receiver Jaylon Denson to a knee injury. Although he had just three receptions for 45 yards in four games, Denson was one of Auburn's most important receivers because of his work on the perimeter as a blocker. A physical player who could seal the edge, Lashlee said not having Denson is something the Tigers will have to overcome.

"Jaylon Denson is a big loss," Lashlee said. "He was playing great. He's good at all the dirty work. It's stuff that really doesn't show up in the stat sheet and makes our offense go. At the same time he makes big catches. He made a big catch on third down in a game this year. He made a big catch in the two-minute drive against Mississippi State. He's just a guy you can trust and he's a leader.He's one of our veteran guys so losing him hurts."

Something that could help the Tigers is the coming out party that freshman Tony Stevens had in the loss to LSU last week. Catching two passes for 21 yards, the Orlando native can add a receiving threat to the spot and join three bigger bodies in helping fill in for Denson moving forward.

"It's going to have to be a committee-type deal," Lashlee said. "Brandon Fulse, C.J. Uzomah, Melvin Ray, those are guys you look at to step up. I think the emergence of Tony Stevens and getting more playing time, that helps us. We're going to have to have more than one guy step up for us to replace him."

Auburn will get back to work Sunday evening in preparation for Saturday's western division showdown with Ole Miss. The game can be seen on ESPNU at 6 p.m. CDT. The Rebels dropped a 25-0 decision at Alabama on Saturday.


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