Photo by Jason Caldwell

Improving Auburn's Red Zone Offense A Priority for Football Tigers In Game Two

Comments from Auburn's offensive coordinator are featured plus other news and notes as the Tigers prepare for their second football game of the season.

Auburn, Ala.--Back on the field on Wednesday evening as the Tigers try to fix an offense that struggled in the season opener, the Auburn football team practiced for more than two hours preparing for Saturday night’s home game vs. Arkansas State.

“The first half was unacceptable for what we do here at Auburn,” Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee said after the Tigers worked out in shoulder pads, helmets and shorts. “We had five drives and four were three-and-out. That's not acceptable.”

At halftime the Tigers netted just one rushing yard and 38 total yards while trailing 10-3.

“The second half we had seven drives and six of them went into their territory because we were moving the ball, had a little more tempo going,” Lashlee said. “Three of them, though, we shot ourselves in the foot when we got down there close and had a chance to score some points. And, we got some good field position on a couple of those drives, too, because of our defense.”

Lashlee, who also coaches the quarterbacks, gave his assessment of the game one performances of Sean White, the starter, and backups John Franklin and Jeremy Johnson. 

“I think you take about four plays out and there were a lot of good things,” he said. “Obviously, we had three turnovers. Two of them were on fourth down. We missed the touchdown throw to Chandler (Chandler Cox)  on kind of a tight end delay play. Those were plays we would like to have back because they were all in the red zone.

“Really, in the second half we moved the ball well in between the 25s, but obviously we didn’t score any points and it cost us.”

Lashlee noted that settling for field goals in the red zone “cost us some games last year” and converting those scoring opportunities into touchdowns is a high priority this season.

The offensive coordinator said in the past the Tigers have been “pretty good” at not turning the ball over in the red zone. “That seems to be happening a little more,” he said. “We have got to be better with the ball. We have got to find ways to run it in and make plays in the passing game in tight windows and we are not doing that.”

After rotating three quarterbacks in the opener vs. Clemson, Lashlee said that Sean White is “absolutely” the number one guy for game two. “In the second half I think he was able to get in there and get in a little bit of a rhythm,”? the coach said.

“I saw what Sean does--he competed. Again, you take away his one throw to Chandler...That is one thing I thought overall with all the guys the accuracy was better. When we threw the ball there were not a lot of inaccurate throws. The one tight end throw, other than that I thought he played well.

“His little interception, it was fourth and goal, you have got to throw it,” Lashlee said. “He tried to force it in a tight window and they had pretty good coverage on the play. He fought hard. He competed to the end.”

Auburn, which dropped its opener 19-13 to Clemson, will practice again on Thursday in preparation for a visit from an Arkansas State team that lost its opener last Friday by a 31-10 score vs. Toledo.

Asked for an assessment of how White is playing after returning as the starter from 2015, Lashlee said, “It’s kind of early to say. He played 38 plays and I think he had two plays that he would have not have graded positively on. He did a lot of good things.

“I think the more he is able to play with the guys who are on the field and they get more on the same page and have a better rhythm together, he’ll get better and better. The one that thing for Sean that he has to be good at for us to be a good offense is, we’ve got to hit our deep-ball throws.

“On the one where he hit Kyle (Kyle Davis), the reason the ball was underthrown is that he kind of had to adjust in the pocket. He got hit a little bit so really it was a good job of him getting it there. And same thing on the one to Will Hastings, but when we have time to set our feet, we’ve got to be very efficient with those deep balls.”

Asked how the young players on offense have been dealing with a close loss, Lashlee said, “They have been fine. They are learning real quick that week-to-week in our league and what we’re doing, one play and six or seven points can make a huge difference in how you feel for a week.

“That’s okay because if they were disappointed and didn’t feel really bad Sunday and Monday then you probably have the wrong guys,” the coach added. “They have been good. They are still learning kind of what all is going on. They are following the lead of the older guys and again, the chemistry of the team I still think is strong. That is why I think this team is going to get better and be fine.”

While the offense struggled vs. Clemson, that wasn’t the case with the defense in Kevin Steele’s initial game as Auburn’s defensive coordinator. Sophomore linebacker Deshaun Davis points out that Steele believes in aggressive football and the Tigers played that way as the No. 2 ranked team in the country.

“I know Coach Steele has a lot of trust in our defense,” Davis said. “On the defensive side of the ball we have a great bond. All of us are really close, on the field and off the field. We have great connections.

“There was probably one time, it was a very crucial third down, and he played zero-man coverage and I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’ He blitzed everyone. He’s not going to make a scared call.

“We asked him on the field (Monday), how did it feel to sit in the (press) box and Coach T-Will (linebackers coach Travis Williams) was like, ‘He was calm every time he made a call. He never got angry or never got frustrated. He was just a calm guy.’”

Steele noted that he liked the communication he witnessed on opening night. Davis said that was important for what the defenders were trying to. “From practice we had two weeks to prepare for those guys,” the linebacker said. “We have been knowing the defense since the spring so everyone who really played has been in the defense since the spring.

“We were all on the same page, we all watch film a lot,” Davis added. “We come in even without the coaches sometimes and get in the film room and watch film so if it was a case of if it got too loud in the stadium, if they came in this formation, we were going to check this or were going to play this type of coverage. We didn’t even have to look around and make a check. We just had the communication. We were that type of unit so we knew what we were already going to play.”

In other news and notes:

*Kickoff for Saturday’s game is set for 6:30 p.m. CDT with TV coverage on the SEC Network. Brent Musburger will do the play by play with Jesse Palmer the analyst.

*The Auburn Network’s radio coverage can be heard on Sirius channel 83 and XM 191.

*Malzahn is the sixth Auburn coach to lead the Tigers vs. a team in which he was formerly head coach. The most recent one to do it before Malzahn was Tommy Tuberville, who was 7-3 as AU’s head coach vs. Ole Miss.

Terry Bowden was 1-0 vs. Samford, Pat Dye was 2-0 vs. East Carolina, Jack Meagher was 0-2 vs. Rice and Mike Harvey was 1-0 vs. Alabama.

*In his first chance to coach against Arkansas State, Malzahn’s 2013 Tigers won 38-9 vs. a team that came to Jordan-Hare Stadium with a nine-game winning streak. Auburn’s defense gave up 422 yards that day, but did not allow a touchdown. Nick Marshall passed for two touchdowns and while Cameron Artis-Payne ran for 102 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.

*Malzahn said the coaching staff has a better feel for what to expect from its players heading into game two than it did prior to the opener vs. Clemson. “The good thing is we played a very good opponent last week and it gave us some information on how our guys responded and how much better we feel they can get,” the head coach said on Wednesday.

*With his interception vs. Clemson, senior defensive back Josh Holsey is one of five current Tigers who have multiple college interceptions. Holsey has two. Carlton Davis, Tray Matthews and Marshall Taylor, the graduate transfer who could be making his AU debut this week, have three apiece. Rudy Ford has five.

*Saturday’s game will feature a reunion of the 1976 Auburn team and AU athletes who competed at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil will be honored.

More Football Notes & Discussion

Click Here to Order 2016 ITAT Auburn Football Guide

Get Inside The Auburn Tigers Magazine and Newsletters

Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories