Photo by Jason Caldwell

Auburn's Lack Of Imagination On First Down Has Become A Killer On Offense

Auburn's tendency to consistently run the football on first down plays has become a big problem for the Tigers on offense in 2015.

Peyton Barber (above) has been extremely busy this season running the football.

Too Conservative On First Down

Something that has been a trend under Gus Malzahn has turned into more of a pattern so far during the 2015 season and it’s not helping the Auburn offense improve its production. On Saturday against the Arkansas Razorbacks too many running calls on first down was one of the biggest reasons why the Tigers again struggled to consistently move the football.

Carrying the ball 52 times for just 162 yards on the day at Arkansas, an average of just 3.1 yards per carry, Auburn continues to run against a brick wall on early downs. Against the Razorbacks the Tigers ran on 21 of 23 first down plays until the final drive of regulation and ran on all eight first downs in overtime. Of those 29 runs on first down 16 went for three yards or less, meaning second and long situations for the offense to overcome.

Even if the throws don’t always work out on first down stretching the field vertically on early downs would at least make the safeties respect Sean White and the Auburn wide receivers and keep them from crowding the box for guys like Peyton Barber and Kerryon Johnson who too often are trying to dodge defenders at or behind the line of scrimmage.

With an aggressive defenses such as Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama ahead on the schedule, the Tigers must throw the ball and do it early to give this offense a chance to succeed. If not Barber is going to see his yards per carry average continue to drop.

To add to that thought it's time to get somebody else more involved in the running game if for no other reason than to give Barber a breather. His 37 carries in a grueling four overtime game was too much to ask, but it's something that we've come to expect this season. For the year Barber has 172 of Auburn's 313 running plays with the next highest total 33 carries by Roc Thomas. Barber needs to continue to be the man in the running game, but getting Thomas, Kerryon Johnson and possibly Jovon Robinson involved could be the fresh leg boost the offense needs.

Sean White Continues To Step Up

While his numbers won’t reflect it because of a large number of drops vs, Arkansas, White had one of the better days throwing the football by any Auburn quarterback in terms of giving his guys a chance to catch almost every pass he threw. Connecting on 19-32 for 254 yards in Fayetteville, White could have easily completed a hald dozen or more passes for 100-plus additional yards and had a monster day.

Even though it didn’t happen that way the redshirt freshman showed that he is the guy for the Tigers at the quarterback position at this stage of the season and there is no debating that topic. A leader and competitor, White gives this team the best chance to win and if not for struggles in the red zone against Mississippi State and the drops on Saturday he could easily be 4-0.

Hail To The Chief

It was good to see Gimel President step up and make plays for the defense against Arkansas. Finishing with four tackles and the only sack of the game for the Tigers, President looked to be more at home at the buck position and that’s good news for Muschamp’s defense.

With Carl Lawson’s return still in question and his effectiveness very much up in the air after so much time away from the game, Auburn needs all the help it can get rushing the passer beginning this Saturday against Ole Miss. A team that wants to spread it out with strong-armed quarterback Chad Kelly guiding the show, the Rebels will present a big challenge for an already struggling Auburn defense. If the Tigers can’t get pressure on Kelly it will be a long day at Jordan-Hare Stadium, something President may be able to help with on Saturday.

It’s Now Or Never

This season won’t be over with another Auburn loss this week, but any opportunity for a really good bowl game may be out the window if the Tigers lose game No. 4 to Ole Miss. Still with a trip to Texas A&M and home games against both Georgia and Alabama, Auburn still has other big challenges ahead.

The biggest issue right now is just bowl eligibility. With Idaho coming to Jordan-Hare Stadium on Nov. 21 the likelihood of a fifth win is all but certain at this point, but getting to six is a different story. With continued improvement on both sides of the ball this Auburn team can beat anyone left on the schedule, but as the Tigers have also shown they’re a threat to lose to anyone as well. That makes the home stretch of this season a true toss-up.

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