Following a game four loss at LSU, Auburn had a bye week to work on getting better on both sides of the ball. That wasn't just about the players becoming more comfortable with the schemes, it was also about the coaching staff tailoring what they were doing to match the talent.
That was especially the case on offense with quarterback Nick Marshall. Not able to go through spring practice while still finishing classes at Garden City Community College, Marshall hit the ground running in the fall and it was a learning process for both the quarterback as well as his coaches. Tinkering each of the first four weeks to get the right combination of running and passing for the offense, Gus Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee made changes during the off week and the results have been phenomenal.
"That's exactly what we did during that week," Malzahn said. "That first off week was more about us and it gave us a chance to catch our breath because we still were learning about our players. Not only from a physical standpoint, but as a team--how we handle situations. We evaluate our personnel and we got a plan for the rest of the year.
"Offensively, we felt like we needed to run some more read zone and defensively we ended up playing quite of man-to-man defense," added Malzahn, who has won two SEC Coach of the Year awards as well as the Home Depot National Coach of the Year honor.
It was on the offensive side of the ball where the results were dramatically different with Marshall and running back Tre Mason the biggest beneficiaries of the adjustments made by the staff. Putting more emphasis on running the true zone read and making Marshall a big-time running threat, Auburn's offense has exploded the last nine games.
Marshall runs for big yardage against Tennessee
Totaling just 486 yards on the ground in the first four games combined with only four scores, Mason and Marshall have been at the center of Auburn's attack since the Ole Miss game and it has meant big things for the Tigers. Against the Rebels, Marshall ran for 140 yards and two scores while Mason added 77 and a touchdown. That was just the beginning.
Following an easy win over Western Carolina when Marshall sat out to rest a sore knee, the duo was at it again versus Texas A&M with a combined 278 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Using Mason and Marshall just 16 times for 133 yards against Florida Atlantic proved to be a smart move by Malzahn and his staff because they were getting ready to shoulder the lead for the Tigers down the stretch.
Not to be outdone, Mason ran for 564 yards and nine touchdowns during that four game stretch as well.
That means in four games the two combined for 1,025 yards and 14 touchdowns alone. That was just setting the stage for what was to come against Missouri in the SEC Championship Game.
Doing his usual damage on the ground with 101 yards and a score on 16 carries, Marshall took a backseat to Mason in the Georgia Dome. Setting an SEC Championship Game record with 46 carries for 304 yards and four touchdowns, Mason carried the Tigers to a 59-42 win and a berth in the BCS National Championship Game.
To put just the last five weeks into perspective for the Auburn offense, Mason and Marshall have rushed for a combined 1,430 yards and 19 touchdowns. That is more than 15 teams have totaled this entire season.
All-SEC junior center Reese Dismukes and the rest of the offensive line have put together an outstanding season for the 12-1 Tigers.
It's not just in the running game where Auburn has thrived however, but also in the passing game. While the overall yardage numbers have decreased with less passes thrown, Marshall has become a much more dangerous passer because he's making less mistakes. That has led to more scoring on offense.
In the first four games of the season the junior college transfer completed 60-103 (58 percent) passes for 809 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions. In his eight games since the bye week Marshall has completed 68-109 (62 percent) for 950 yards and eight touchdowns with only one interception.
Those results, both running and passing, have added up to one of the best offensive runs in school history. Since falling to LSU 35-21, Auburn has scored at least 30 points in the last nine games and more than 40 in six of those contests. That's good news for a program that has won 88 consecutive games when scoring at least 30 points dating back to 1996.