Sean White is shown in action (above) on a QB keeper.
Auburn, Ala.--Gus Malzahn has always talked about playing ahead of the chains to give his offense third down and short yardage situations, but so far that hasn’t happened nearly enough to start the 2016 season. Currently last (128th) in the FBS rankings in negative plays allowed with 32 in three games, the Auburn Tigers are allowing 10.67 tackles for losses per game so far this year.
To put that into perspective this Auburn offense is allowing more than one more per game than the next two worst in the country in this category with South Alabama and East Carolina both giving up 9.33 per game.
Auburn’s average of more than 10 per game is double what the Tigers allowed a season ago despite the struggles that offense had to score points.
“That's really the number one focus from the offensive staff standpoint is the negative plays, getting behind the chains,” Malzahn said. “A lot of that Saturday was on the mesh charge and we've got to do a better job of adjusting quicker. First game there was a few of that same type of situations. Our offensive line, just looking at it from Saturday, we're improving. We're going to have to play well this week. I'm not going to blame all of that on the offensive line.”
The mesh charge that Malzahn is referring to was most evident on the first play of the game when speedy defensive end Myles Garrett was allowed a free release off the line of scrimmage with Braden Smith’s job to pick him up from the opposite side of the line as a pulling guard, something that is just about impossible to pull off. With his quickness Garrett easily got to Sean White and blew up the play fake before it had time to work.
“We hadn’t seen any of that until this year, other than Jacksonville State last year,” Malzahn said. “We just have to make better adjustments. With defensive guys, when something works, they are all going to do it so it’s basically just charging the mesh of the running back and quarterback. If you take out the four negative plays, you feel better about the performance and you feel better about the outcome of the game.”
Unfortunately for the Tigers that wasn’t the only time Auburn tried to work against an unblocked Garrett. It happened later in the game on a fourth and three with quarterback John Franklin attempting to run the zone read keeper to the right. The quarterback is supposed to read the defensive end, but Garrett never slowed and forced Franklin to run to his left where he was stopped short of the first down.
Saying that it was a “missed call” on fourth down and not a missed block by any particular player, Malzahn said it’s on the coaches to make adjustments during the game and that didn’t happen.
"What you do is you're gathering information in the first quarter,” he said. “You're trying to just figure out is that one side? Is that one play? You're gathering information."
Something else that hasn’t helped with the negative plays is that the coaches haven’t allowed Sean White to open up the offense to best fit his skills at the position. That has led to predictable situations and more often than not long yardage to get on third down, an average of nine yards per attempt against the Aggies. More comfortable throwing the football and using the middle of the field, White was relegated to throwing short out routes for just about the entire game against Texas A&M. Completing six throws on first downs with two more turning into sacks in the first three quarters, White's total yardage for those six plays was 18 with 15 of that coming on a screen to Ryan Davis.
That’s something that has to change said Malzahn in order for the offense to reach its full capability.
“I really think explosive plays have more to do with opportunities,” the coach said of what they need to do on offense. “We have to give our guys more opportunities for the explosive plays to develop, specifically throwing the ball down the field. Each game is a little different as far as what you are playing against and your own personnel. Bottom line, we have to give our guys more opportunities.”