Auburn, Ala.--Through two games of the 2014 season the Auburn Tigers looked like an offense that had picked up where it left off on the way to winning the SEC Championship and 12 wins a year ago. Averaging 330 yards with Cameron Artis-Payne putting up strong numbers, everything was going great for Coach Gus Malzahn and Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee. Then came Kansas State.
Struggling to get untracked on the ground, the Tigers were held to just 128 yards on 45 carries, an average of 2.8 yards per rush. While the offense did enough late in the game to get the job done, Lashlee said it’s not a fun game to go back and watch and this week is about getting the ship righted once again.
“I'm not concerned from a standpoint of we can't fix things,” Lashlee said. “Everything that we saw on film is correctable, it's just not characteristic of our guys. Going all the way back to last year and even this year, we haven't had a game where we felt like we did a lot of uncharacteristic things.”
Correcting mistakes for the Auburn Tigers meant going back to the basics this week in practice. While throwing the ball more on early downs is one way to move the football against eight and nine men in the box, sooner or later you’ve got to be able to line up and run the ball. That is something Malzahn’s team was able to do last season and it is the goal for this year’s team as well.
It all starts with execution.
“We're not sounding any big alarm or anything,” Malzahn said. “I still think we executed some plays at a very high rate, but the difference is expectations are different this year.
"We have to be a team that gets better every week, and we've got to see that improvement in the little things," he pointed out. "Any time that everything is not clicking perfect, the better opponent that you have, the better personnel they have, it exposes things.
“And I think that's what happens. It was really good for us. After the game when I said this was a good learning experience that we got a chance to win a game with, that's what I meant. We're not too far away so I don't want you to think that we're trying to reinvent the wheel. It's just a matter of us getting better at what we do and being perfect.”
Even with the off-night the Tigers are still one of the top offensive teams in the country, currently 20th in the country in rushing, 34th in total offense and tied for 23rd in scoring offense.
Currently 20th in the country and averaging 117.3 yards per game on the ground, senior Cameron Artis-Payne has been steady for the Tigers. Against Kansas State he was bottled up and has yet to break the big run, a staple of Auburn’s offense. Lashlee said he saw some good things from Artis-Payne against Kansas State and the problems on the ground were not from him.
“He made some good runs, some third-and-short runs,” Lashlee said. “Third-and-one and two, we still converted, largely because of him. There wasn't a lot there.
"Credit goes to them, they tackled very well," Lashlee said in praise of the Wildcats. "They didn't have a lot of guys out of position. They had guys where they needed to be and they made plays, but at the same time there are a lot of things we could have executed better that would have given us a better chance to have better running lanes and make more yards, running and passing.”
Corey Grant leads the Tigers in yards per carry at 7.8 this season.
Every year brings a different feel to a football team, even with as many veterans as Auburn has back in 2014. That is the case so far with the Tigers as the coaches try to get a read on what this team does best and how they need to call plays in the future. Lashlee said while that is true, sooner or later it comes down to making a play and knocking guys off the ball up front, and that’s what this Auburn offense needs right now.
“There are always concerns when you feel like you’ve got veteran guys--I’m not just talking about the O-line--you expect certain things,” Lashlee said. “The other night we didn’t get it in a lot of areas. I’m concerned just because I want us to be perfect every time out and we weren’t. I have got a lot of confidence in those players and J.B. (Grimes) and, really, every other positions. I don’t have any major concerns. I think we’ll get it right.”
Check out postgame video with Artis-Payne following win over K-State