Will the Tigers Open Up the Offense?

Tommy Tuberville discusses Auburn's offensive game plan to keep things simple.

Auburn, Ala.--After some sluggish performances this year compared to last year when the Tigers led the SEC in scoring, the questions abound about the Auburn offense. Mostly, "why the struggle" and "where has the imagination gone?"

But a more important question is, "Is there actually reason to be concerned?"

Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville says no.

"We haven't been a big (multiple) formation team this year like we were last year," Tuberville explains. "We've kind of kept it simple and not made mistakes. Sooner or later we're going to have to come out of our shell a little bit. It might be this week, it might not, but we've been working on it."

The statistics say that Auburn is down this year on the offensive side of the football. Al Borges' offense averaged 420.7 yards per game in 2004 and 409.8 in 2005. This year the Tigers are averaging just 367 per contest. Scoring is also down by a couple of points.

However, the most important stat is the record, and Auburn is 4-0 despite a conservative approach offensively.

"You go back and look at the first two games, you're just trying to get your basics going," Tuberville says. "Then you get to LSU and we were going to (open it up), but we saw how our defense is going and we decided to leave it up to them and don't do anything you need to work on. Just do what's working. It wasn't working a whole lot, but it was working to where we could run the clock.

"This game (against Buffalo) we were going to open it up a little bit more and then Brandon (Cox) is beat up, he threw an interception and we said to heck with it. Sooner or later we're going to get all of our ducks in a row.

"We're going to be running team," he adds. "As good as our kicking game is, and we're not a rolling ball of butcher knives on defense but we're pretty good, and if you don't give up the big play we're going to win some games."

That attitude worked against LSU, but against teams like Florida and Georgia remaining on the schedule, seven points isn't likely to continue to win football games.

Cox is sixth in the SEC in passing efficiency behind Chris Leak, JaMarcus Russell, Erik Ainge, John Parker Wilson and Andre' Woodson.

Tuberville says that Auburn ran 20 different formations against Buffalo, down from an average of 30 to 35. Borges hasn't called many of his West Coast schemes that worked so well the last two years that helped Auburn lead the SEC in points per game. Many of the 20 formations against Buffalo were variations of the I-formation.

Another important number that has dropped this season is third-down conversions. Borges' offense finished second in the SEC in 2004 at 45.9 percent and first last season at 46.2 percent. The Tigers converted 4-7 against Buffalo, but are still seventh in the league at 40.4 percent.

"We've got to open it up a little more," Tuberville says. "We've got good receivers, we just haven't had to use them. The only game we might could have thrown a little more to try to help our running game was the LSU game. It was one of those where our defense was playing so well that we decided to run the clock, keep it on the ground and keep our offense on the field. First downs were as good as points.

"We've got a three-game stretch (against South Carolina, Arkansas and Florida) now with three very good conference teams that are going to force us to throw the ball more, and we can do that," Tuberville adds. "We've got a good quarterback and our offensive line is much improved. I think Brandon only threw the ball 10 times on Saturday. We haven't been forced into it. As we get into this game and the games on down the line we're going to be forced to get the ball down the field more."

Other than the play calling the biggest difference offensively from last season is the personnel at receiver. Courtney Taylor is undoubtedly a good football player and he leads the team in receiving with 18. The next best is Rodgeriqus Smith and Gabe McKenzie with six apiece.

That is another number that will need to change if the Tigers continue to make a run for the national championship.

"I think in certain situations that we've thrown the ball we've called plays to get it to Courtney," Tuberville notes. "Of course, Brandon has confidence in him, but we're going to have to use other guys. We have at times, but we haven't as much as we're going to need to be."

When the Tigers take the field on Thursday night for an SEC road game at South Carolina, one of the most closely watched aspects of the game will be to check out whether or not Tuberville and Borges show more of their offense.

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