Running Game Still A Key For Tigers

Auburn's ability to run the football early could help open things up offensively for the Tigers against Ole Miss.

Auburn, Ala.--While work on the passing game is essential for development on offense for the Auburn Tigers, when push comes to shove this weekend against the Ole Miss Rebels you can expect Coach Gus Malzahn to turn to the running game to get the job done.

Always a believer in a physical ground attack, Malzahn has done a good job so far of turning the 2013 Tigers into a better running team.

With Tre Mason the main man for Auburn and fellow juniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant also playing a big role in the offense, the Tigers have three solid weapons to choose from on Saturdays. Even though Mason is coming off a 26-carry outing in the loss to LSU, Malzahn said it will continue to be running back by committee for Auburn.

Cameron Artis-Payne is in his first season with the Tigers.

"We have three running backs we feel very good about," Malzahn said. "They are all pretty different and we utilize them at what we think their strengths are, but we are definitely happy with Tre, and we are happy with Cameron and Corey, too. Week to week we will just see what they are giving us and week to week it will be a little different."

Coming off a 1,000-yard season as a sophomore, Mason has come back better than ever in 2013. Carrying the ball 65 times for 338 yards (5.2 per carry) with four touchdowns, the speedster has continued to add more power to his game since arriving as a freshman. That showed up in Baton Rouge as Malzahn said it was an impressive performance against a physical team.

"He made some real hard yards," the head coach noted. "Coach (Tim) Horton is always talking about yards after contact, and I think close to half his yards were. I think that is important moving forward--breaking tackles and making people miss. He did a solid job of that against LSU."

Something Mason will have to shore up, however, is a problem of putting the ball on the ground. Both he and quarterback Nick Marshall have coughed it up a pair of times season and Malzahn and said the turnovers have to stop and it's something the Tigers have been working hard at correcting.

"We have to cure it," Malzahn said. "That was a big point of emphasis last week, ball security and protecting the ball. We can't afford to put the ball on the ground. We have to do a better job emphasizing it and coaching it. We've really turned up the heat in that area. It's an area that has to improve. It's been glaring. There have been balls on the ground that we actually got back so that was a big point of emphasis last week and will be a point of emphasis moving forward."

No matter which players carry the load this Saturday night for the Tigers, they will have their work cut out for them against an Ole Miss defense that has feasted on making plays behind the line of scrimmage. With 27 tackles for a loss in just four games, the Rebels can create plenty of problems, Auburn's coach pointed out.

"We are going to need to be able to run the football to be successful, but that definitely is a concern," the head coach noted. "They have had a lot of negative plays and that is something we have talked about and we are focusing on. That will definitely be a challenge."

Kickoff for Saturday night's game is set for 6 p.m. CDT and can be seen on ESPNU.

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