Auburn, Ala.--Since Gus Malzahn first arrived at Auburn in 2009 one thing that was almost assured was that the Tigers would have a strong offensive attack. Even in 2011 when things didn’t go as planned the offense still had its moments.
That’s why the first three games have been such a mystery for this team after having so much preseason hype placed on them by media and fans alike.
Averaging just 329.3 yards per game (13th in the SEC) and 26.3 points (10th), Auburn is one of the worst offenses in the league at this point.
That was on display fully on Saturday when the Tigers managed just 260 total yards in a loss at LSU. With no facet of the game working well it was a game to forget for offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and company, but before that happens he said they’ve got to use it and learn from it before facing Mississippi State this Saturday.
“You know, it is what it is,” Lashlee said. “We got whipped (Saturday). I think everybody could see that -- in all facets and all areas of the game. We got our tail kicked. That happens. Give them credit, they whipped us.
“There are a lot of things we've got to spend time working on to get better and it's everybody, the whole collective offense. We've got a lot of work to do to get better and that's our charge to get ready for Saturday.”
While the play of Jeremy Johnson will get much of the blame for Auburn’s struggles to this point the lack of consistency on the ground has been just as disappointing. The first half is when Auburn usually sets the tone for a football game with the ground game setting up the pass, but to this point that hasn’t happened.
While Auburn’s running totals aren’t terrible, averaging 171.7 yards on the ground the first three weeks, when you look deeper you see the true measure of the running game. In the first half of games this season the Tigers are averaging just 54 yards rushing and had just 34 against LSU, something Lashlee said has to change.
“We still did some good things in the run game,” Lashlee said. “Again, we weren’t out there for a lot of plays. That’s on us, not sustaining drives. But we did some good things; we got some good movement at times in the run game.
“There was a couple of times we could have pass protected a little better but for the most part it was a solid performance but it wasn’t good enough to win, obviously.”
Much like they did in 2010, 2013 and 2014, Auburn’s coaches are still trying to find out exactly what they’ve got on offense and how to use it effectively within the framework of the offense. While it didn’t take long to figure out Cam Newton’s talents nor those of Nick Marshall, Lashlee said even though Johnson has been in the offense for three years it’s still different when it’s his offense because of how everything works together within an offense.
“I think we’re in an ongoing process of adapting to the guys we have,” Lashlee said. “It comes with the territory. Everyone wants to focus on the quarterback, obviously. I think everyone saw he didn’t play his best game yesterday and he knows there’s a lot of responsibility on him for that, but there’s 10 other guys on the field with him, and there’s a bunch of other guys on the sidelines and coaches, so we all have ownership in what happened yesterday and it’s on all of us to get it fixed—whatever that takes.”
Searching for the right things to do on offense and the right combination of players means indecision, something that is a killer for an offense. Indecision shows up even on the field with guys playing slower and thinking more, something Lashlee said has shown up time and time again this season.
“I don’t think guys are playing as fast as they would like to and reacting as fast as they would like to, and that just goes back to the whole thing of we got to evaluate everything,” Lashlee said. We’ve got to put guys in position and let them go play, and we’ve got to play better.
“We can sit here and diagnose it—but we didn’t play well, we got whipped, we got to play better this week. We all know that, and that’s what we’re going to do.”