When Coach Al Borges arrived at Auburn for the 2004 season, he brought a history of offensive success the Tiger offense was in dire need of after a disappointing 2003 performance. Though Auburn has fielded individual offensive talent in the recent past, Borges had the ability to put it all together and improve the overall numbers. He spoke of "Jimmys and Joes" and scheming to create mismatches on the field by putting the football in the hands of his team's most talented players.
Opposing defensive coordinators have commented on how Auburn will motion its offense to create confusion for the opposing defense. Using a variation of formations, shifts and motion, Borges wants to keep the defense guessing where the ball is going and who will actually end up with the football. His offense is fun for the players, exciting for the fan base and can be a nightmare for opposing defenses.
Misdirection was the key to success during the first half of the 2005 Iron Bowl. Alabama possessed a very sound defense and was rarely caught out of position during the season, but Borges had them guessing with an assortment of misdirection plays.
With the loss of Jason Campbell, Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown, the 2005 offense was a huge question mark. Quarterback Brandon Cox had no starting experience and Auburn opened the season with no true starter at running back. As the season progressed, Cox gained more confidence and Kenny Irons developed into an All-SEC tailback. By the end of the regular season, Auburn had the top-ranked offense in the SEC and the future remains bright for the 2006 season.
Kenny Irons added a spark to the Auburn offense last fall.
Borges' formula for success is simple. It comes down to talent and calling the right play at the right time. Though there was a slight drop off in our overall offensive performance from 2004 to 2005, it wasn't by much.
2004: 420.7 yards per game/6.36 yards per play/ 16.5 plays per touchdown/45.8 percent 3rd down conversions
2005: 409.8 yards per game/6.00 yards per play/ 17.4 plays per touchdown/ 46.2 percent 3rd down conversions
During the 2004 campaign, Borges built his offense around Williams and Brown. The two backs combined for 2,543 yards and 22 touchdowns. With the focus on the running backs, Jason Campbell quietly put together one of the best seasons by any Auburn quarterback. In just one season, the offensive coordinator recognized the heart of the Tiger offense and milked it for all he could. If not for head coach Tommy Tuberville calling off the dogs in many outings, the 2004 offense would have broken just about every school record.
With the loss of three first-round NFL picks from the backfield, Borges had his work cut out for him in 2005. On paper, it was easy to see that the heart of the offense to start the season would be at wide receiver. Despite starting a new quarterback, the 2005 offense passed the ball 44 percent of the time in the first five games of the season compared to the 38 percent in 2004.
Once it was obvious that Kenny Irons was the "go to" back, Borges shifted back to his 2004 success formula, running the ball 62 percent of the time during the remainder of the regular season. In 2004, Borges had two senior running backs and he made sure to get the ball in their hands as often as he could. Auburn backs accounted for 29 percent of the team's receptions. The receivers accounted for 61 percent and the tight tends picked up the remaining 10 percent.
During the 2005 season, the focus of attack resulted in a redistribution of the ball. Auburn receivers accounted for 66 percent of the passes, the backs dropped down to 19 percent and the tight ends increased to 15 percent. Why is this so important? During the six-year period under Terry Bowden prior to Tuberville's arrival, the Auburn passing game was always the same in terms of the distribution of the ball. The wide receivers always caught the majority of the passes, followed by the backs and the tight ends were always dead last. Borges changed his focus of attack, playing to the strength of his personnel. Simply put, find your playmakers and get them the ball.
Carnell Williams joined 2004 teammates Ronnie Brown and Jason Campbell as first round NFL draft picks off the Auburn offense.
The 2004 offense had more "star" power than the 2005 offense and statistically was the better overall. With Campbell, Williams and Brown, how could you go wrong? However, despite the loss of the big three, the 2005 offense had a higher touchdown percentage in the red zone and possessed a higher third down conversion percentage during the season. Borges was clearly the difference in 2005 and one could argue that his coaching ability was more evident this past season than 2004. In 2004, he had to plug in the pieces, where in 2005 he had to define the pieces before he could plug them in.
Spring football is here and Borges is back to work. What can we expect in 2006? Like 2004, Borges will work with a returning starter at quarterback and at running back. Kenny Irons is clearly one of the top backs in the SEC and will be supported by Brad Lester (6.5 yards per carry) along with incoming freshman, Benjamin Tate. Cox didn't break any school records, but he did post a better QB rating (132.6) than the last 17 first-year starters at Auburn. With a full season under his belt, Cox now has the experience to go along with his knowledge of the offense.
Brandon Cox is back for the 2006 season as a redshirt junior.
A healthy Courtney Taylor will be vital to a very young receiving unit. Prechae Rodriquez is the top returning receiver behind Taylor and he showed signs of being a future star. Robert Dunn, Rodgerigus Smith, Montez Billings and James Swinton round out the returning receivers. Catching passes might be the least of Auburn's concerns, but the ability to block down field will be crucial. Devin Aromashodu, Ben Obomanu and Anthony Mix combined for 244 receptions, 3,656 yards and 34 touchdowns during their careers, but their ability to block cannot be measured on a stat sheet.
With the lack of experience at wide receiver, Borges will return his focus to the ground game and Irons. The combination of Irons and Lester resulted in 1,848 yards and 19 touchdowns despite the fact that Lester missed five games in 2005. Irons and Lester might not be in the same league as Williams and Brown, but their numbers come close. In 2003, Williams and Brown combined for 1,852 yards and 22 TDs. Under Borges they increased their offensive totals to 2,543 yards in 2004. If Irons and Lester can stay healthy, look for the duo to improve on their 1,848 yards in 2005.
Last season, the combination of Cox and Irons produced the second best QB-RB duo in school history and you can bet that Borges will try to build on it in 2006. Like 2004, Borges can focus more on play calling than finding the pieces to plug into his system. With Auburn's depth at running back and tight end, the wide receivers might not be as involved in the passing game as much as they were in 2005. Who knows what hidden star on offense will rise in 2006, but Borges has a track record identifying the player or players and taking advantage of their talents.