Even though the 2013 Auburn offense established a school record by averaging more than 500 yards per game, it could not equal the scoring ability of the 2010 team. Those 2010 Tigers smashed school scoring records by putting points on the scoreboard on 70 percent of their drives in seven games. This was an astounding accomplishment when you consider this had only been accomplished five times from 1992-2009 over the course of 219 games.
The 2013 offense was able to score on at least 70 percent of its possessions only once during the entire season. When it came to scoring the 2013 offense simply did not match up to the efficiency level of the 2010 Tigers.
Over the past 20 years two-thirds of Auburn's offensive touchdowns were scored when a play started inside an opponent's red zone (20-yard line). This means that the scoring outside the red zone will most likely separate good offenses from the great ones.
From 1970-2013 Auburn's offenses averaged 11 touchdowns scored from outside the red zone per season, making the 2010 team the only one to average at least two touchdowns per game outside the red zone. Coach Gus Malzahn's offenses have averaged 22 offensive touchdowns per season scored outside the red zone.
The ability to generate big plays on offense understandably will influence the number of touchdowns registered from outside the red zone. Throughout the past 25 years the 2010, 2013 and 2004 offenses had the best ratio of producing plays of 30 yards or more. Those three teams combined for a record of 39-2 and three conference championships.
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee realizes just how imperative big plays are to his team's success. "I think there is no question that we have athletes, we have just got to make sure we get them in the right spot and give them those chances to make those plays (explosive plays)," he said.
"It's too hard in any league, especially in the SEC, to drive 80 yards just dinking it down the field," Lashlee added. "You have got to have explosive plays if you want to score points."
Last season 35 of Auburn's 83 scoring drives were aided by a play of 30 yards or more.
Because nearly 60 percent of the touchdowns scored outside the red zone were pass plays, Lashlee will be working to improve Auburn's big-play ratio in the passing attack for 2014. The 2013 pass offense ranks third over the past 25 seasons behind the 2004 and 2010 teams. The 2004 Tigers averaged a pass play of at least 30 yards every 10.6 attempts. The 2010 Tigers had a ratio of 1 of every 11.4 attempts. The 2013 Auburn Tigers hit the big play every 13.3 attempts.
The 2010 team was No. 2 nationally in generating pass plays of 25 yards or longer and the 2013 offense finished at No. 12. The 2014 team returns personnel responsible for 24 of its 28 pass plays of 25 yards or more along with returning starting quarterback Nick Marshall. He ranked No. 10 nationally in generating 25-yard pass plays with one every 10 pass attempts.
Finding another big-play threat at wide receiver to join Sammie Coates will be a major goal for the Auburn coaching staff this season. Of AU's 24 touchdowns scored outside the red zone in 2013, Marshall was directly involved in 11. Coates was responsible for seven and Corey Grant was next with four.
Malzahn is counting on Marshall to elevate the offense in 2014. "I always say we are a quarterback-oriented offense," the coach said. "If our quarterback plays well, we play well, and if he doesn't, we don't. We put a lot of pressure on the guy as far as not just when the ball is snapped, but before the ball is snapped, after the ball is snapped and we rely on him a lot."
Last season teams at the FBS level averaged 14 offensive touchdowns scored outside the red zone. Auburn was No. 10 nationally with 24 at 1.8 per game, which was No. 3 in the Southeastern Conference. The Top 10 teams in the nation with the most touchdowns scored outside the red zone combined for a record of 104-28.
If Auburn is to make another championship run in 2014, the Tigers must maintain their ability to score outside the red zone. Auburn has a better probability of maximizing its offensive potential primarily with the success and consistency of the passing attack.