One of the aspects Malzahn and his offensive coordinator, Rhett Lashlee, will strive to improve upon is Auburn's ability generate explosive plays in the passing game. Last season's offense generated 136 plays of 15 yards or more, but 60 percent came via the ground game.
There were too many times Auburn failed to exploit an opening in the opposing secondary. A lack of execution was normally the culprit, with an inaccurate pass, a poorly run route or a simple drop of a pass. Regardless of the reason for the blown opportunities, it's vital the Auburn offense becomes more efficient throwing the football this year.
Nick Marshall will be the SEC's highest rated passer returning this upcoming season, which has the Auburn coaching staff energized about the quarterback's future. "We're very excited about the spring with Nick," Malzahn said. "We got a lot of information throughout the season, and we'll really go back and build around his strengths even more.
"What he did in one year, not going through spring and not winning the job until two weeks before the season, was phenomenal," Malzahn added. "I don't know if there's ever been a situation similar to that."
Even though Auburn was No. 6 nationally in percentage of run plays, the pass offense did finish No. 24 in pass efficiency last season. Auburn's pass offense finished the season at No. 29 nationally in explosive play ratio, with a pass play of 15 yards or more every 5.3 attempts. These are very respectable numbers for a run-heavy offense, but not sufficient enough for Malzahn, who values the big-play ability of an offense. Under Malzahn the Auburn offense has averaged 3.9 points per explosive play with the 2013 offense averaging 4.1 points per impact play.
From 1992-2013 Auburn averaged 4.8 impact passing plays per game. The 2013 offense averaged 3.9, which was No. 22 among the past 22 Auburn offenses. Simply adding one more explosive pass play per game to last season would make a huge difference for the 2014 offense. Last year's offense might not have produced enough explosive pass plays, but it did average 31.6 yards per each explosive play. This was No. 1 among the last 22 Auburn offenses. If you were to add one additional explosive play for each game played last season, it would project Auburn to have the No. 1 pass efficiency offense rather than the No. 24 actual ranking.
The primary key for the 2014 offense will be the working relationship between Marshall and his receivers. "I think the big thing is just getting the timing down with him and his receivers," Malzahn said. "I really think that his upside is very high. He is a natural leader. His teammates have a lot of respect for him as well as the coaches."
Last season Auburn's corps of wide receivers generated an explosive play on 30.4 percent of the receptions. This was well below the average of 35.0 percent over the past 22 seasons of Auburn football and 15th best from 1992-2013.
Juco transfer D'haquille Williams, who is already on campus, is expected to make an immediate impact at wide receiver. "He has unbelievable skills," Malzahn said. "I got a chance to get to know him back in his high school days. I really think he will have a chance to be an impact player right off the bat."
D'haquille Williams was a standout last season at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
The immediate plan is to utilize Williams in multiple roles by moving him around on the field to create mismatches in coverage. Wide receiver coach Dameyune Craig likes his natural athletic ability, which is enhanced by Williams' physical strength and competitiveness. The potential of a Coates and Williams combination could be a lethal duet, but Auburn's needs additional insurance to improve the potency of the pass offense. Louis, Marcus Davis and Tony Stevens combined for 56 receptions last season of which 12 resulted in an explosive play.
A player who could be featured more heavily in the passing offense during his senior year is tight end C.J. Uzomah. He has only 18 career receptions, but 11 of them have resulted in an explosive play. During the past four seasons with Malzahn at Auburn, the tight end position has accounted for only 10 percent of the team's receptions while the wide receivers have caught 67 percent. Like D'haquille Williams, Uzomah can create mismatches in the opposing secondary, especially when teams elect to double cover Coates.
During the 2013 campaign Auburn averaged 20.3 pass attempts per game. It broke down to 24.3 during the first half of the season and dropped to 16.4 during the second half. Look for Auburn to average closer to 25 pass attempts per game this season with the intent of becoming more explosive and efficient in the passing game.
Malzahn's record is 25-3 at Auburn when his pass offense generates at least five explosive plays during a game and in those contests the Tigers are averaging 41 points per contest. This summer and spring will be pivotal for Marshall's continued growth with his receiving corps and for the Auburn offense to reach it's full potential.