Jarrett Stidham (above) could help the Tigers create more big plays this season.
Last season the 128 FBS schools combined for 8,088 plays of 20 yards or more on offense. Of the those plays 67 percent came via the passing game, revealing how essential quarterback play is for any offense.
During the 2016 football season Auburn finished No. 65 nationally in generating plays of 20 yards or more at 4.8 per game, which was No. 10 in the Southeastern Conference. The national average was 4.9 last season with 19 teams averaging six or more per contest.
The 2016 Tigers totaled 63 plays of 20 yards or more with 52.4 percent produced by passes. Auburn produced 63.3 percent of its 20-yard plays from the passing game in 2015, exposing the drop-off the following year.
Gus Malzahn’s new offensive coordinator, Chip Lindsey, was hired to revamp the passing attack. “He is just going to add some bells and whistles and some flair to what we are doing,” the head coach said. “Our goal is to be more balanced and we needed that the last two years. We will work very hard in the spring to do that.”
Malzahn wants to maintain the success Auburn has enjoyed with its ground game, but expects Lindsey to improve the pass offense. Throughout the past decade Auburn has compiled a record of 60-7 when the Tigers have an efficiency rating of 130 or better and they are 22-41 when they don’t.
Looking back at Auburn’s last three championship teams, the 2004, 2010 and 2013 squads reached a pass rating of 130 or better during 34 of 41 games. Over the past two years Auburn has obtained the 130 rating in only 13 of 26 games. The Tigers have won nearly 90 percent of their games with a pass rating of 130, but maintaining this level of consistency has been the principle issue on offense.
Under Malzahn’s offense Auburn has reached the 130 rating during 61 percent of its games, posting a 13-23 record when the Tigers failed to reach that mark. Two foremost components of the efficiency rating are completion percentage and yards per attempt. Auburn’s achievement with intermediate passes will dictate its effectiveness. Being able to complete those 15-20 yard passes should open the offense once again, making the it more difficult to defend.
A statistical key for success will be the ratio of pass attempts for every completion of 15 yards or more. Over the past 10 seasons Auburn has won better than 82 percent of its games when the pass offense averages a 15-yard gain every five attempts or less.
When discussing his offensive approach, Lindsey said his concepts are simple. “The most important thing is to find a way to get the ball to your best players. We want to be a run, play-action offense. That is what we have always done... when you commit to that style of offense, try to get the ball to your playmakers and I think good things are going to happen.”
If Auburn is to increase its number of impact plays, it will require the passing game to become more explosive. The wide receiver position has accounted for nearly half of the explosive plays in Malzahn’s time at Auburn. Finding the right quarterback to distribute the football to the wide receivers will be high on the priority list.
Chip Lindsey is Auburn's offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.
Since 2010 teams ranked in the Top 20 of generating plays of 20 yards or more combined to win 72 percent of their games. More than half of those teams won at least 75 percent of their games. The three Auburn teams that finished in the Top 35 combined for a 34-7 mark while the remaining four teams combined for a record of 26-25.
During the past two seasons Auburn has suffered an 18 percent drop-off in pass attempts beyond 10 yards of the line of scrimmage compared to 2013 and 2014 combined. Injuries at the quarterback position are a primary reason for the decline in intermediate passes over the past two seasons and Sean White was the only quarterback Malzahn felt comfortable enough to push the football vertically. When you consider 72 percent of Auburn’s interceptions thrown since 2010 were beyond 10-yards of the line of scrimmage there has to be a level of trust in the quarterback.
“I think the most important thing is to give those guys a plan, give them a plan every play where they know where to go with the ball,” Lindsey said. “You have got to get the ball out of your hand and understand protection. Making sure they know where to go with the ball, that’s my job. I am excited about the opportunity to be here with these guys.”