Offense Looking For Answers In Passing Game

Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges is looking for some answers as the Tigers prepare to face Florida this weekend.

Auburn, Ala.--Coming off one of his worst performances in the last two years when he completed 17 of 29 passes for 153 yards and one touchdown in a 27-10 loss to Arkansas, junior quarterback Brandon Cox and the Auburn offense are looking for ways to improve a passing game that has been anything but explosive this season.

Coach Al Borges says that Cox didn't play poorly and continues to be stingy with the ball, but that's not enough to win games now.

"He was steady," Borges says. "He's played better, I'll say that. He's still doing a pretty good job of keeping the ball away from the other team. That's the one thing, looking for positives, is that we've had very few turnovers. We got lucky on one. They should have intercepted one ball for sure. He's been pretty solid. He's standing in there when there is some pressure. He could play better. We could all play better."

Last season through six games Cox had thrown for 1,123 yards with nine touchdowns and six interceptions despite missing one game because of an illness. This season Cox is behind the pace with 1,017 yards and five touchdowns with only two interceptions. He has thrown 13 less passes than last year in one more game and is completing just a shade less than his average percentage from a year ago.

The difference in the numbers isn't a huge margin considering the new clock rules have taken plays away from the offense. So what exactly is the problem with the passing game? The answer comes in looking at the wide receiver position.

Through five games a year ago Auburn's top two receivers Ben Obomanu and Devin Aromashodu had combined for 33 catches and 556 yards. This time around Courtney Taylor and Rodgeriqus Smith have 37 catches for 564 yards.

Rodgeriqus Smith has the only two touchdown catches out of the wide receiver position this season. Last year four players had combined for eight TDs at the same point of the season.

The problem lies not with the talent or production at the top of the pecking order, it's the third, fourth and fifth receivers who aren't producing for the Tigers this season and that is making it tough for the offense to be productive in key situations.

In 2005 Taylor had 10 catches for 127 yards through six games as Auburn's third receiver while Anthony Mix had eight for 113 as the fourth man. Smith (six catches for 109 yards) and Prechae Rodriguez (six for 102) had also gotten involved at this point in the season.

Thought to be Auburn's number two receiver heading into the season, Rodriguez has just five catches for 50 yards. The disappointing thing for Auburn is that those numbers make him Auburn's third leading producer at the position. Next is Lee Guess with three catches for 29 yards with Montez Billings (two for 26) and Robert Dunn (two for 22) barely getting on the board.

So in essence after Taylor and Smith, the rest of Auburn's receivers this season have combined for the same yardage as Taylor's total from last year at this time. Because of that teams have loaded up to stop Taylor and allowed Smith to get his yards. The other receivers haven't become and threat and because of that defenses can spend less time worrying about them and focusing on stopping Auburn's run. Borges says that the offense has to find a way to get another receiver to step up and make some plays out of the slot position beginning this week.

"We need to get more out of that position," the offensive coordinator says. "We've got two guys that are busting their tails in Lee Guess and Robert Dunn. We need to get more productivity out of that position."

Because of these problems the offense has been struggling in third down situations. It has been because of problems on first down that the Tigers haven't put themselves into manageable situations on second and third down. Borges says that the Tigers have struggled to get drives going and put too much pressure on themselves to get the job done.

"It's a direct effect," Borges says. "I have said that since I've been here. If you're constantly battling second down and long situations you are playing behind the chains all the time and you're trying to get yourself into an operable third down because third and long they are going to come after you. That's what happened to us a few times. We got in too many bad down and distances.

"We had been able to recover from that the last couple of weeks, but that's going to catch up to you. It's just a matter of time so we've got to be able to run and when we do throw on early downs be able to get enough yards so that we're not dealing with a third and long."

This week Auburn will once again face a highly ranked defense as Florida comes into the contest leading the league in rushing yards allowed at fewer than 60 per contest. Because of that you would expect the Tigers will have to throw the ball early and often to keep the Gators from stacking the line to stop Kenny Irons. Borges says that this game is no different from any they've played this season in that regard except the athletes on the other side of the ball stand out when watching the tape.

"I am studying them now," Borges says. "I studied them in the offseason. They are very athletic as you would probably anticipate. They are not real fancy schematically, but what they do they do well. Every week is a challenge and this one is not going to be any different."

Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories