StatTiger: AU's Running Success No Surprise

Stuart Carter analyzes the numbers on Auburn's highly-productive running attack that led the Tigers to the SEC Championship and a date in the BCS national title game.

The Auburn football team's unprecedented turnaround this season has been centered around the nation's most prolific running game.

The Tigers enter the BCS National Championship Game against Florida State with the No. 1 ranked rushing offense, which has established multiple school records.

Auburn's 335.7 yards per game at 6.46 yards per rush and 46 rushing touchdowns are all school records. On first down alone, the 2013 Auburn offense has averaged 188.1 yards per game on the ground, better than 30 of the last 50 Auburn full game rushing averages.

The success this season should come to no surprise considering Coach Gus Malzahn's history of emphasizing his ground game. Compared to the past 25 years of Auburn football, Malzahn's offense has reached remarkable heights when it comes to the running attack.

During the last 308 Auburn games from 1989-2013 the Tigers have rushed for 300 or more yards in 28 games. Of those games 17 have come under Malzahn's watch (60.7 percent).

During the same time period Auburn has surpassed 250 yards rushing on 60 occasions with 26 of those 60 games (43.3 percent) occurring with the Tigers running Malzahn's offense.

The coach has fielded at least one 1,000-yard rusher in each of his eight collegiate seasons with a total of 11 from 2006-2013.

From 1989-2013 Auburn fielded 140 individual 100-yard performances and 40 have come under the guidance of Malzahn. That equates to an average of 4.5 individual 100-yard performances per season in 21 seasons without Malzahn and an average of 10 per season with Malzahn. During his 107 games as a collegiate coach, his offense has fielded a 100-yard rusher on 61 occasions.

The record-setting numbers compiled in 2013 were no fluke as Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee made a tactical decision to focus on the read-option after the LSU loss. The Tigers had a bye-week after their only loss of the season, giving the offensive coaches time to reevaluate what they were doing.

The decision to feature the read-option was a huge success and Auburn has not looked back since the LSU defeat. The Tigers averaged 232.7 yards per game at 5.09 yards per rush during the first four games of the season and 381.7 yards at 6.98 yards per carry over the last nine games.

"Our offense is very versatile," points out the SEC's leading rusher, Auburn junior Tre Mason. "There are so many different ways we can get players the ball using our other weapons, our receivers. We have a lot of talented running backs."

Malzahn has taken elements of the Wing-T and inverted veer offenses and combined those with a speedy delivery to keep opposing defenses on their heels. The coach sprinkles in motion, shifts and deception to force the defense into a guessing game, a game Auburn wins the majority of time.

"They're running the football as good as anyone in the country," Malzahn said of his team after winning the SEC Championship game. "They have something special, there's no doubt. It's hard to explain, and they work extremely well together. It's a thing of beauty to watch."

All-SEC center Reese Dismukes has helped open holes for running backs like Cameron Artis-Payne (50).

Mason, Nick Marshall, Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne receive most of the attention, but the offensive line is the foundation of Auburn's ground assault. Veteran assistant coach J.B. Grimes revamped the offensive front into a well-oiled unit this season.

Except for Alex Kozan, Grimes took the same offensive line from 2012 and molded it into one of the best in the country. It's a group that has allowed Auburn's three-headed monster at running back to be tackled for a loss only 15 times out of 426 combined carries. Last season Auburn's top three running backs were tackled for lost yardage 40 times on 298 carries. Grimes maintains Auburn had talent, but needed to become more fundamentally sound. "We had to progress in the fundamentals and techniques and the little things it takes to fit up and play good offensive line football.," he said. "Those are the things we've had to fix and, so far, these kids have bought in."

Conditioning, along with the attention to fundamentals and execution, are the driving forces behind the offensive line's success.

Florida State will be the fifth Top 20 run defense Auburn has faced off against this season. The Tigers have averaged 344 yards and 5.9 yards per rush against the previous highly-rated groups. "We have been doing this all year so why let one game stop us from what we do best?" Grant said. "We came in with that mentality, and it paid off."

Auburn has made the most of its running game this season, riding it to a conference championship and an opportunity to bring home another crystal ball when the Tigers take on the Seminoles on Jan. 6th in Pasadena.

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