Auburn’s offense is coming off an up-and-down performance in the win over Kansas State as the Tigers had just 359 yards of total offense in the 20-14 victory. While much of the consternation has been about the running game, the Tigers have to be able to take better advantage of opportunities in the passing game if the offense hopes to take off in 2014.
Even though Nick Marshall completed 17-31 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns, the numbers could have been much better if not for dropped passes, batted balls or missed throws. It was almost enough to cost the Tigers the game against the Wildcats, but the inability to take advantage of opportunities throwing the ball will surely be a problem down the road with seven ranked teams still on the schedule.
The first order of business for the Tigers will be to get the offense off to a good starts. While running the football successfully will help, teams are going to continue to stack the line of scrimmage and run blitz on first down until Auburn makes them pay. That’s the goal this week, to see Marshall and the Tigers take some shots on early downs to take advantage of an over-aggressive defense.
Last week Auburn threw just five passes on first down, something that needs to be doubled in the weeks ahead to make the defense play honest and allow the offense the room it needs to operate.
Spreading The Carries
Cameron Artis-Payne has been a workhorse for the Auburn offense in the first three games, already with 64 carries for 352 yards and four touchdowns. To put those numbers into perspective he has carried the ball on 44.7 percent of Auburn’s rushing attempts this year and has 45.4 percent of the yardage gained on the ground.
That was something Tre Mason developed into late last season, but right now the Tigers need to get redshirt freshman Peyton Barber and true freshman Roc Thomas involved in the offense. So far the two have combined for just 14 total carries and one touchdown in very little action, but that could change this weekend.
Auburn knows what it has got in Artis-Payne and fellow senior Corey Grant, but could find something new in the two young running backs. In addition to building much needed depth, adding them to the arsenal could be fun to watch when teams tire of tackling the older guys over and over again.
Sack It Up
So far Auburn’s defensive line has performed exceptionally well against the run as the Tigers are giving up just 86 yards per game, but putting consistent pressure on the quarterback has been a different story. Even though Auburn’s defense has eight sacks the first three games, just four of those have been from the defensive line.
Junior college transfer Davonte Lambert leads the way with two sacks with Gabe Wright and Montravius Adams adding one each. The two players who must step it up in that department are senior LaDarius Owens and sophomore Elijah Daniel.
After both played key roles for the Tigers last season they were thought to be the best options as a true pass rusher in Auburn’s scheme, but to this point that hasn’t been the case. Owens has just three total tackles and one quarterback hurry so far this year while Daniel has just two stops. He is tied for the team lead with three quarterback pressures, but so far the production hasn’t been there from either player. This weekend would be a good time to see that start to change.
Hang In ThereOne of the bright spots early in the 2014 season has been the play of kicker/punter Daniel Carlson. Connecting on four of five field goal attempts and a threat to have a touchback on every kickoff, he is a true weapon in the kicking department. While his punting numbers look strong, averaging 44.1 yards on nine attempts, they don’t tell the whole story for the redshirt freshman.
The net punting game is where the Tigers need some serious work, and Carlson in particular. Changing the field position just 35 yards per punt, Auburn has given up an average of almost a first down for every punt attempt. The opposition already has five punt returns for a total of 82 yards in three games. Compare that to last season when the Tigers had a net punting average of 40.5 yards and allowed just five punt returns all season for 35 total yards.
Not recruited by the Tigers to punt, Carlson has his moments, but it may be time to get someone else involved to take some of the load off the strong-legged kicker early in his career. While yardage is important, getting hang time to allow the coverage teams a chance to get down the field is just as important. Right now that’s not happening on a consistent basis for the Tigers.