Auburn, Ala.--Rarely does someone get good at something without first working to improve their craft. It takes repetition after repetition before something can be done and done well. For the Auburn passing game that has been much of the problem early in the season. Despite working time and time again during practices, when the game starts the offense turns to the running game to get the job done.
Thus far that has been fine for the Tigers. Surviving a defensive struggle against LSU thanks to the running game and a stifling defense, Auburn now begins a stretch of three consecutive SEC games that will be tough to survive without the help of an improved passing game.
That's because teams that face Auburn understand where the offense is coming from. When you face the Tigers you know that the first order of business is to stop the running of senior Kenny Irons. Because of that teams stack the line of scrimmage hoping to keep Irons in check. That makes for a long night if you can't throw the football with consistency down the field. Offensive coordinator Al Borges says that things have to change for the offense beginning this week against South Carolina.
"You can't allow people to play eight men on the line of scrimmage with consistency because it's going to get harder and harder to run the ball," Borges says. "Then when you get in your one-back you can't let them play with seven men on the line of scrimmage without having the ability to take the ball down the field and take some chunks out of the defense."
Cox checks to a different play against the LSU Tigers two weeks ago.
Through four games of play Cox has played well for the Tigers, completing 61 percent of his passes for 684 yards, but it hasn't been the firepower in the passing game that many expected from the junior quarterback. Much of the reason for that has been Auburn's tendency to run the football. In 2006 Auburn has attempted just 54 passes while running the ball 154 times. While the yardage evens out at with 737 on the ground and 731 through the air, the lack of pass attempts has hurt Auburn's rhythm in the passing game making it tough to show improvement.
"That's a huge part of it," Borges says. "If a quarterback can get a few completions under his belt he starts feeling his oats a little bit. We really haven't had a game like that. Mississippi State was a little bit like that. We're working our tails off on it and I have probably over killed it a little bit. In two-a-days we worked so hard on running the football and that's probably part of the reason we're a little behind. I think as we do it more our receivers become more familiar with our quarterback, by that I mean guys other than Courtney who has played with him a lot, I think you'll see us get better and better at it."
The one player Auburn hasn't had a problem finding in the passing game is senior Courtney Taylor. With exactly a third of Auburn's receptions this season Taylor is easily the go-to guy for the Tigers. For an offense that it is a positive because it inspires confidence during crunch times.
By the same token it's a negative as well because defenses will begin to double Taylor in key situations and make another Auburn receiver make a play. Borges says that has to be addressed in the coming weeks but Taylor will always be a guy the Tigers gameplan for because he's the best they've got.
"It's by design, a lot of it," Borges says. "We know who our best receiver is and we're making sure we put him in situations where he can catch passes. The other thing is that we can't completely count on him always being the guy. We have a situation where we keep the pressure off him by our other receivers contributing enough so that they know we will throw the ball to them. It's going to get tougher and tougher for Courtney to catch that many passes."