Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn offense has been somewhat of an enigma this season in its third year under offensive coordinator Al Borges. Coming out with two solid games against Washington State and Mississippi State to open the season and following with a hard-fought victory over LSU, things seemed to be coming together at just the right time for the Tigers to make a march towards Atlanta and the SEC Championship Game.
That's when things began to unravel a little at a time. With quarterback Brandon Cox banged up in the LSU win, the offense struggled to put things together against Buffalo before finally pulling out the victory. It wasn't the prettiest of games but they got the job done. The Tigers followed with a victory at South Carolina in which the offense scored on four of six possessions to get the win.
After the game Borges said that he felt like his offense improved and got better against the Gamecocks. Following the loss to Arkansas on Saturday Borges is singing a different tune. Shut out in the second half after scoring 10 points in the first 30 minutes, the Tigers couldn't get anything going and left Borges shaking his head about the play of the offense.
"It was exactly the way I assessed it after the game," Borges says. "We had a bunch of stuff that went wrong and led to poor play. If it wasn't a poor throw then it was bad pass protection. If it wasn't bad pass protection it was being held up too much on the line of scrimmage. It was an inability to finish blocks. It seemed like it was a different guy every time you turned around. That's what happens when you get beat like that. It's generally never one thing. Just like I thought it wasn't one thing.
"We need to get better every week," he adds. "That's the thing I look for. Regardless of what the team that you're playing you have to say to yourself after the game ‘hey, did we improve?' I felt after South Carolina that we improved and were a better team. With the plays we ran we averaged over seven-something a play. We threw the ball pretty efficiently. I do not feel like we got better after this last game and that's a little discouraging."
Auburn running back Kenny Irons is second in the SEC in rushing, averaging 102.8 yards per game.
For Auburn's offense things begin and end with the running game. That was thought to be a strength of the team coming into the season and so far this year it has been just above ordinary. Fourth in the SEC, averaging 154 yards per game behind the running of Kenny Irons, the Tigers had one of their worst days Saturday against the Hogs since Borges' arrival as they totaled just 60 yards on the ground. Borges says that the offense will do some things differently this week to try to improve the running game beginning with simplification.
"We're going to go back and try to hone our skills a little bit," Borges says. "Maybe we'll take a little bit of offense out and reduce our running game a little bit so we can get better at what we're doing. We did not run the ball the way we want to run the ball the last couple of weeks.
"We have had some openings in there, we're just not consistent enough with it," he adds. "I know if we give Kenny some room, if you give him enough room he's proven that if you give him 20 carries he's going to pop one. We're just not consistent enough with it."
This season the running game has been hurt by the loss of tight end Cole Bennett earlier in the year and most recently center Joe Cope's injury suffered against South Carolina. In his first career start replacing Cope against Arkansas, Borges says that Jason Bosley did a good job and did enough to warrant more playing time.
"Jason Bosley played pretty darn solid," Borges says. "He was even better maybe than we had even thought at the time. He had some transitional growing pains with the snap a couple of times but for the most part he was pretty good. He did a pretty good job for his first start. He wasn't lights out but I think in time he's going to get better and better and prove that he can handle that position."
Auburn will now try to improve its running game against the league's top run defense in the Florida Gators. Running the football is something on everyone's mind this week on the Tigers' offense and that could be a key late in the game against the Gators. In the Arkansas game Auburn struggled to run and in the second half got shut down by the Razorbacks. Borges says that's a cardinal sin for an offensive coordinator and this team is determined not to let it happen again.
"The most discouraging part of the whole thing is the second half," Borges says. "Nothing galls me more as a coordinator than to come out and score zero points in the second half. That makes us all look like we don't know what we're doing. We haven't been that way. We've been a good second half team but we never gathered enough inertia to where we got in sync in the second half. That hurt us."