Auburn, Ala.--Since Gus Malzahn first arrived on the Plains to coach Auburn’s offense in 2009 playing very fast has been the goal. While it has happened on and off in his five seasons with the Tigers, the tempo in 2014 hasn’t been anywhere close to what he and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee are looking for out of their offense.
That changed early in the win over South Carolina. Getting to the line of scrimmage quickly and getting a good surge when blocking for running plays, the tempo was the highest it has been this season and the results were a more physical style of play.
“We really wanted to play really fast and really physical, and we really wanted to push the issue early,” Lashlee said. “We felt like we could wear on them. We also felt like by doing that, our third-down situations would be more manageable, and they were. We were good enough efficiently when we threw the ball to hit the passes that we needed to keep the drives going and the tempo going.”
While the passing game was solid for the Tigers, completing 13-15 throws against the Gamecocks for 156 yards and a touchdown, it was the running game that set the table for the offense. That is the engine that has driven the Tigers under Malzahn and it showed up again on Saturday night, especially on first down.
In the movie Remember The Titans, Denzel Washington portrays legendary coach Herman Boone and has a quote about his offense that rings true about the Tigers. Talking about running the split-veer he says that he runs just six plays and “it’s like novocaine, just give it time and it always works.” That was the case for Auburn on Saturday night.
With an off-week to get back to the basics of the running game, Malzahn and the Tigers ran the ball 26 times on first down for an impressive 264 yards against the Gamecocks. That included a 75-yard touchdown run by Ricardo Louis and five more runs of more than 13 yards. More than half of the first down carries came in the first half as Auburn carried it 14 times, but of the first eight attempts only two went for more than five yards.
Much like body punches the running game started to wear down the Gamecocks and it showed up in a big way. On the next 18 first down carries Auburn gained more than five yards 13 times. That is a huge difference and allowed the Tigers to get into a rhythm and speed up the pace of play, something Lashlee said is the key to opening up the offensive attack.
Rhett Lashlee is in his second season as Auburn's offensive coordinator.
“If we only throw it 14 times and we run for 400 yards, great,” Lashlee said. “If we have got to throw it to win, great. Everybody is going to do their job, and they're not going to worry about where the ball goes or who it goes to. It's going to come to those guys when it needs to. We can be efficient in the passing game. We can be downhill and aggressive in the run game. We can get the ball on the perimeter. We worked hard on it for two weeks. Our guys bought in and practiced really hard and at a different level. The urgency was there.”
That urgency gave the Tigers not only the confidence they sorely needed on offense, but also the energy to finish blocks and runs. Those blocks came from the line, the wide receivers and even backs such as leading rusher Cameron Artis-Payne. Once again with the feel for how the offense is supposed to run, wide receiver Melvin Ray said the goal is to keep the tempo going this week and the rest of the season.
“Our tempo is our offense, that’s our edge,” Ray said. “That’s how we get out on people. That is really when we’re at our best, when we can get people thinking fast and just get the ball moving with one play to the next and have defenses off-balance. That’s when we’re really going and it’s hard to stop us.”