StatTiger: Big Plays A Big Deal for Malzahn

Stuart Carter writes the importance of "impact plays" to Auburn's success as a football team.

Duke Williams (above) is expected to be a key player for the 2015 Tigers/


From 1992-2014 the Auburn football team’s offense has produced 2,138 impact plays of 15 or more yards. These dynamic plays are a strong indicator of the explosiveness of an offense, which has reached a crescendo for the Tigers on teams coached by Gus Malzahn.

Without Malzahn running the offense the Tigers averaged seven impact plays per game, which is one every 9.3 snaps. Under Malzahn’s guidance the offense has averaged 9.2 impact plays per game, one every 7.5 snaps.

The ability to generate explosive plays is a major key to success, a statement supported by Auburn’s 108-24-2 record from 1992-2014 with at least eight impact plays a game. Under Malzahn’s guidance Auburn is 42-7 with at least eight impact plays during a game.

Of those 2,138 impact plays from the Auburn offense over the past 23 seasons, 86 percent have come from the wide receiver and running back positions. The wide receivers have accounted for 48 percent of them. With the early departure of Sammie Coates, the Tigers must find others to make up for the loss of explosiveness at the position. The return of seniors Duke Williams and Ricardo Louis is a good start, but look for some new faces to become consistent playmakers at the wideout spots.

Top 5 Auburn Wide Receivers (impact plays) from 1992-2014:

Tyrone Goodson .............. 74
Courtney Taylor ............... 61
Emory Blake ..................... 58
Darvin Adams ................... 52
Frank Sanders ................... 49
Karsten Bailey .................. 49

Had Darvin Adams returned for his senior year, he would have likely been Auburn’s top playmaker in terms of generating impact plays since 1992. During his two seasons under Malzahn, Adams caught 112 passes and 90 of them resulted in a first down or touchdown. The leader in the category, Tyrone Goodson, is perhaps one of the most underrated receivers to suit up for the Tigers.

Despite missing three games, Duke Williams produced 21 impact plays during 2014 season. If he can remain healthy in 2015, Williams has a grand opportunity of contributing 30 or more big plays as a receiver this year.

Top 5 Running Backs (impact plays) from 1992-2014:

Stephen Davis .............. 59
Onterio McCalebb ....... 57
Carnell Williams .......... 55
Ben Tate ....................... 52
Ronnie Brown .............. 52

Despite not being a full-time starter, Onterio McCalebb is No. 2 among Auburn's running backs in this category since 1992. It is a strong testament to his speed and Malzahn’s ability to maximize his role players within the offense. Mario Fannin was No. 6 on the list with 44 impact plays, another role player under Malzahn. Cameron Artis-Payne finished with 38, Tre Mason had 36 and Michael Dyer had 34 impact plays.

Top 5 Tight Ends (impact plays) from 1992-2014:

Cooper Wallace ........... 21
Robert Johnson ............ 19
C.J. Uzomah ................. 16
Philip Lutzenkirchen .... 16
Andy Fuller .................. 12

The tight end position has a limited role in the passing game of Malzahn’s offense, but becomes a dependable target inside the opposing red zone. Though C.J. Uzomah caught only 29 career passes, 16 resulted in an impact play. The H-back position will become more reliant upon fullbacks this season with a limited number of scholarship tight ends available in 2015.

Top 4 Quarterbacks (impact plays) from 1992-2014:

Nick Marshall .......... 45
Cam Newton ............ 32
Dameyune Craig ...... 21
Jason Campbell ........ 16

The impact plays produced by the quarterbacks involve run plays and pass receptions only. Cam Newton's Heisman season included 32 such plays, leaving no doubt he would have topped the list had he returned for his senior season.

Malzahn redesigned his offense to fit the physical attributes of Nick Marshall, which opens the discussion of what kind of numbers Dameyune Craig could have produced under Malzahn. Since joining the collegiate ranks, Malzahn has adjusted his offense every season, structuring it around his starting quarterback.

With Jeremy Johnson expected to be the starter this season the offense will feature a slight transformation to focus on Johnson’s strengths. Starting Johnson will likely result in a higher number of pass attempts, which should create opportunities for the receiving corps to make plays.

Jeremy Johnson will be a junior this season.

Last season Coates, Quan Bray and Uzomah accounted for 30 impact plays in the passing game. Auburn returns five scholarship receivers who registered at least one impact play during 2014, combining for a total of 34. Newcomer Jason Smith could end up being one of the playmakers at the wide receiver position.

The running back position, including fullbacks, has accounted for 45 impact plays per season in Malzahn's Auburn offense. Roc Thomas, Peyton Barber and Jovon Robinson are competing to be the guy who makes the most big plays this fall. Last season Auburn running backs accounted for 35 impact plays. Thomas is the only returning back who registered an impact play during 2014. Fullbacks Chandler Cox and Kamryn Pettway will likely secure the majority of their explosive plays in the passing game.

Of the 128 impact plays generated by the 2014 offense, the Tigers must replace personnel responsible for 67 percent of their explosive plays. One of the priorities this year will be finding the right combination of talent capable of maintaining Malzahn's explosive offense.


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