Junior guard Braden Smith (above) is having a strong year blocking for the Tigers.
Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn football Tigers worked out for more than two hours on Wednesday evening in helmets and shorts while installing the game plan for Saturday’s SEC road test vs. Ole Miss.
Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee said he is encouraged by what he saw from running back Kerryon Johnson, who was held out of action in the Arkansas game.
“It's huge,” Lashlee said of having him a part of this week’s game plan. “He was available for us last weekend, but by no means 100 percent. We were just fortunate with the way the game went we were able to get him some more rest.
“He has been able to practice every day this week and he is looking good,”Lashlee said of the sophomore, who has rushed for 538 yards and six touchdowns this season. “That just helps us solidify the depth in our backfield.”
The Auburn offense is coming into Saturday’s game on a roll after rushing for 543 yards vs. Arkansas, the most ever for any SEC team vs. another SEC in a regular season game. Lashlee noted the wide receivers played a major role in allowing that to happen.
“I think the real reason you saw the big spike in explosive runs, a lot of the credit goes to our guys on the perimeter,”?the coach said. “That was by far the best game our wideouts have blocked.
“The biggest thing to take away from that ball game is you have got a guy like Tony Stevens--he had zero catches and he's smiling and as happy as he's ever been on the sidelines. Marcus Davis zero catches. Kyle Davis zero catches. Darius Slayton zero catches. They didn't care. Usually those guys catch balls in a game.
Tony Stevens is a senior wide receiver.
“Tony had been having a couple of really good back-to-back games, but every game has its own personality and what's working and we were rolling, but the real reason we were getting a lot of 30, 40 and 50-yard runs and not a lot of 8, 10 and 12-yard runs was because those guys were doing a really good job of being physical and manning their guys up on the perimeter. That way when things bounced or split to the second level, our running backs were able to go the distance or make big plays.”
Another plus for the offense has been the effectiveness of the shifts prior to snapping the football.
“Pre-snap motion does a lot of things,” Lashlee said. “Obviously, it can help you gain a look or a schematic advantage that you want. It also gives the defense more to look at it, and they have to adjust on the fly when things are going fast. That's something that we try to do from time to time, and it just helps.
“When a defense can just sit and sink their heels in and know where everybody is, it's a lot easier to play defense, but when you can give them things and they have to adjust every now and they get out of position, and that helps you. That's why we do it.”
Lashlee said being able to play fast by limiting substitutions during drives has “absolutely”been a plus, according to the coordinator. “There are certain things guys do better than others, and there are still times you do those things in situations, but try to keep the same guys on the field. It may seem simpler, but we are able to play faster and we're able to execute at a higher level because things are simpler.
“A lot of times as coaches we try to make everything perfect,” he added. “Well, very rarely is it going to show up perfect on game day. That's probably one things that has helped.”
Lashlee said the Tigers have a good week of practice as they prepare for Ole Miss. “Today was a situational practice with a lot of red zone and third down work,”?he noted. “Yesterday was kind of a base day, which it usually is but you worry sometimes at this time of the year and this far from a game how into it they will be. I thought they were into it.
“You could tell the guys had good energy and pep in their step. We were focusing on what we were trying to do. Ole Miss is pretty good in those situations and Ole Miss is pretty good on third down defense. It was a critical day for us."
Auburn’s head coach, Gus Malzahn, had praise for offensive guard Braden Smith on Wednesday. Even though the Tigers rushed for 543 yards vs. Arkansas, Smith said there is still room for improvement on the offensive line. “There is always going to be that because you don’t want to ever get complacent,” the junior said. “There are always places you can improve on. You want to correct that and going into the next week get better and keep taking steps forward.”
Asked about the potential for the offense to continue to improve this season, Smith said, “It just depends on how hard we work for it. I don’t think there really is a limit. We can be as good as we want to be.”
Braden Smith has started all seven games this season at right guard.
Smith said the Tigers never doubted their potential to get the job done, even after a 1-2 start. “We knew we had the ability,” he said. “It was just kind of a rough start, rough patch. Things didn't look like they were going our way, but we always knew we had the capabilities to produce those type of results."
One major area of improvement for the offense has been to reduce the negative plays that were drive-stoppers early in the season. In last week’s 56-3 victory over Arkansas the Tigers did not have a single player tackled behind the line of scrimmage.
Smith attributes that to the offense becoming “assignment sound” as the season has progressed. “Communication is definitely a big part and making sure everybody is on track,” the guard said. “It goes with overall offensive execution.”
In other news and notes:
*Auburn leads the series vs. Ole Miss. The 15th-ranked Tigers have a 10-3 record in games played at Oxford and are 29-11 overall the vs. Rebels, who bring a 3-4 mark (1-3 SEC) into the contest after losing their previous two games.
*The Tigers have a four-game winning streak. In those contests they have scored on 27-47 possessions while opponents have scored on just 7-50 possessions.
*TV coverage of the Auburn at Ole Miss (6:15 p.m. CDT kickoff) is on the SEC Network. Brent Musburger will do the play-by-play with Jesse Palmer the analyst and Kaylee Hartung the sideline reporter.
*The Auburn radio network’s coverage featuring Rod Bramblett, Stan White, Ronnie Brown, Andy Burcham and Paul Ellen can be heard on Sirius Channel 83 and XM 190.
*Kamryn Pettway leads the SEC in rushing at 116.2 yards per game. As a team Ole Miss is rushing for just 150.1 yards per contest, which ranks ahead of only South Carolina among SEC teams.
*The Rebels have had problems stopping the run, too. They are allowing 226.9 yards per game on the ground, which ranks last in the SEC. Auburn is fifth in the league in rushing defense giving up 129.7 yards per outing.
*Ole Miss is second in the SEC in passing offense with 304.1 yards per game. Auburn ranks third in the league in pass defense at 198.3 yards allowed per game. Auburn ranks fourth in the league in pass efficiency defense (110.5 rating) and is No. 1 in pass efficiency offense (151.8). Ole Miss is third in pass efficiency offense (147.2) and eighth in pass efficiency defense (121.0).