Sean White (above) is scheduled to make his second start for the Tigers on Saturday vs. San Jose State.
Auburn, Ala.--One of the areas that Auburn's offense needs to clean up in a big way is eliminating the tendencies that have been a big problem through four games. In particular that has been predictably running the football on first down, something Auburn’s offense is doing over 90 percent of the time so far this season.
That was apparent last weekend even as Auburn threw 11 passes out of 33 first down plays, but when you look into the numbers it tells the true story. Before resorting to throwing the football late in the game the Tigers ran the ball on 22 of the first 25 first down plays, allowing the defense to have a good idea of what was coming.
Even more telling is Auburn’s play-calling following the initial first down. When Gus Malzahn’s offense hits its stride the offense is moving fast and following up a first down with more and more physical runs. This season defenses appear ready for that from the Tigers.
Against Mississippi State last weekend, Auburn followed up an initial first down with a run on 17 occasions, totaling 57 yards. That included runs of 18, 12 and nine yards on three plays. That means on the other 14 runs Auburn gained a grand total of 18 yards with four going for negative yardage.
It’s nothing new for Auburn to run the ball more than pass on first down, but this season the results have been negative far too many times. That lack of execution is something Rhett Lashlee has caused the offense problems time and time again the first four games.
“We've been in more second-and-10, second-and-15s,” Lashlee said. “The other night we had two penalties, one to start a drive after a sudden-change turnover and the other one in tempo. You can't do that. It's unacceptable.
“It puts you behind the chains and now you're trying to catch up. And then it puts you, if you're not as good on first down, it puts you in situations. You want to make it third-and-manageable, but you also need explosive plays, so being in first-and-10, we have to be more productive.”
Something that could help Auburn’s success rate on first down is being able to find a lineup that can do multiple things, allowing the offense to exploit mismatches on the defensive side of the ball. Being able to keep the same players on the field and run different things keeps the defense from substituting and can let the offense run at a much quicker pace.
So far this season that’s not something this Auburn team had done very well, although Lashlee said the tempo was better last week against Mississippi State even with the almost constant substitutions.
Rhett Lashlee is in his third season as Auburn's offensive coordinator.
It's important, something we've looked at is simplifying some things,” Lashlee said of the need to avoid substitutions. “I think we've done that so far this week. One thing we did not do well at all the first three games was having a tempo.
“We had better tempo last game," he said. "Part of that was because we were staying on the field longer. We had almost 80 plays, we had more plays, we had more tempo, what we didn't do was finish drives, so it all goes hand in hand.”
Making some strides last week under the direction of first-game starter Sean White at quarterback, Auburn’s offense has to do a better job of putting points on the board. With plenty of issues to deal with the Tigers are still a work in process, but Malzahn said the positive is the group got better last week.
“We’re not playing very good offense right now,” Malzahn said. “That’s one of the problems we’re looking at that we need to correct and get better at, and we need to get into a rhythm. We’re looking at everything. When you’ve got new faces at a lot of different positions you don’t want to give too much so you can execute.
“We’re kind of trying to figure that all out," the head coach added. "I’ll say this, the positive the other night is that we actually got into some rhythm at times. We didn’t really have a lot of rhythm, the first game we did at times, but the next two we didn’t. Things are starting to clear up. I can definitely see us getting better.”