With the recent offensive skilled players recruited over the past two seasons and comments made by the Auburn coaching staff, its clear Coach Tommy Tuberville is searching for more "firepower" on offense in 2007. During the 2006 season, the Auburn Tigers struggled on offense, forging its way to an 11-2 campaign with defense, special teams and a conservative offense.
As the 2007 Auburn Tigers enter spring practice, the coaching staff is already searching for answers to make the Auburn offense more dynamic in 2007. Coach Al Borges has already examined game film of opposing offenses within the conference, which were successful on offense. He will consult with offensive coordinator Norm Chow of the Tennessee Titans to pick up a few tips, which might point Auburn in the right direction on offense.
Of course, scheming is only part of the solution, leaving the task of finding "playmakers" on the current roster to finalize the final step in the process. Tristan Davis has been moved back to running back in an effort to have four running backs working through spring practice and to give Auburn more speed on the offensive side of the ball. As simple as it might sound, the Auburn Tigers need to feed the ball to players that can impact the game.
Find any dynamic offense and you will find a handful of players capable of making the "big" play. Last season, the Florida Gators and Arkansas Razorbacks made it to the SEC Championship game by taking advantage of its skilled players. With the rule changes regarding the game clock, big plays became even more important with fewer opportunities to score on offense. Auburn accomplished the same goal on offense during the 2004 and 2005 seasons, when they led the conference in total offense.
The more players on the offensive roster capable of making big plays, the more difficult it will be for the opposing defense. This was not the case for the Auburn Tigers in 2006. Kenny Irons, Brad Lester and Courtney Taylor were the established playmakers on offense coming into the 2006 season. Kenny Irons was limited for the majority of the season with injuries. Courtney Taylor was more of a possession receiver and Brad Lester had a limited number of touches on offense.
Here is the total number of Auburn players with at least three plays of 30-yards or more from 1999-2006.
1999: Markeith Cooper (3) and Ronney Daniels (11)
2000: Rudi Johnson (8), Tim Carter (3), Marcel Willis (3) and Ronney Daniels (3)
2001: Tim Carter (6), Carnell Williams (5), Casinious Moore (5) and Ronnie Brown (3)
2002: Ronnie Brown (6), Tre Smith (5), Carnell Williams (3), Robert Johnson (3), Carnell Williams (3) and Devin Aromashodu (3)
2003: Jeris McIntyre (7), Carnell Williams (4) and Brandon Jacobs (3)
2004: Courtney Taylor (8), Ronnie Brown (8), Devin Aromashodu (7), Cooper Wallace (4) and Carnell Williams (3)
2005: Devin Aromashodu (4), Kenny Irons (4), Brad Lester (3), Tre Smith (3) and Tristan Davis (3)
2006: Tre Smith (5), Brad Lester (3), Courtney Taylor (3) and Ben Tate (3)
Benjamin Tate is one of the players that is a definite big play threat for the Tigers.
The 2004 list of "playmakers" stands out the most with five players with at least three plays of 30-yards or more. What made them the most dynamic was the variety of positions the plays came from. Auburn had two receivers, two running backs and one tight end capable of making the big play. This doesn't include the combined twelve plays of 30-yards or more compiled by Ben Obomanu and Anthony Mix during their careers at Auburn.
Though the 2005 offense had five major "playmakers", four of the individuals came from the running back position, making the Auburn offense easier to defend. The 2004 offense had the ability to spread the opposing defense thin, taking advantage of multiple positions to make the "big" play. Once again, the 2006 offense suffered the same problem with three of the four major playmakers coming from the running back position.
Comparison and Averages…
Over the past twenty seasons (1987-2006), 21.4 percent of Auburn's total yardage on offense was the result of a play of 30-yards or more. The 2006 offense generated 19.6 percent of its offense from big plays, placing them at 12th over the last twenty years.
From 1987-2006, Auburn's average big play on offense was 43.4 yards. Last season, the Auburn Tigers average big play covered 40.8 yards, which was 19th over the last twenty seasons.
In terms of frequency, the Auburn Tigers have struck the big play on offense, every 37.2 plays over the last twenty seasons. The 2006 Auburn Tiger offense hit the big play, every 37.6 plays, which was 10th on the list.
During the last twenty seasons, the Auburn Tigers have averaged 1.84 "big" plays per game. Auburn's average this past season was 1.54 per game, placing them at 14th over the last twenty years.
The passing game has averaged one big play per every 21.9 pass attempts from 1987-2006. Last season, Auburn hit the big pass play on every 23.5 pass attempts, ranking Auburn at 11th in the passing game.
The running game at Auburn has averaged one big play every 72.4 plays from 1987-2006. The 2006 Auburn running game averaged one every 58.8 plays, placing them at 8th best over the last twenty seasons.
Tight end Tommy Trott is one of the threats at tight end for the Tigers this season.
Comparison and Averages under Tuberville…
The passing game under Coach Tuberville has averaged a big play every 19.1 pass attempts, which would rank the 2006 passing game (23.5) below average. The running game under Coach Tuberville has averaged one big play every 54.9 carries, which would rank the 2006 Auburn running game (58.8) below average.
Overall, the Auburn offense from 1999-2006 has averaged a big play every 31.5 plays, which would rank the overall production of the 2006 Auburn offense (37.6) below average. Over the last eight years, Auburn offenses have averaged 2.09 big plays per game on offense, once again ranking the 2006 Auburn offense (1.54) below average.
Injuries to key offensive players and an inconsistent offensive line were the main reasons for a drop in offensive production but Auburn did lack true offensive playmakers in 2006. Coach Al Borges has already proven what his offenses are capable of when fully loaded, so they key for 2007, is giving him more precision tools to work with.
Of the returning players on the projected 2007 roster, Lester and Rod Smith lead the team with six career plays of 30-yards or more and Carl Stewart is next with four plays. Tate and Tristan Davis both have three career big plays on offense but have seen limited action on the field. From this bunch, Lester will probably have the best opportunity of producing the big play in 2007 followed by Tate and Smith.
Rod Smith could be the wild card this season in terms of big plays. He had five this past season on just 26 receptions. Taylor posted his best season in 2004, playing along side of Aromashodu and Obomanu, which kept the tight coverage off of Taylor. If Tim Hawthorne and Terrell Zachery live up to their hype, they could do the same for Rod Smith, paving the path for more big plays.
The most watched Auburn player on offense in 2007 will be Mario Fannin. He enters spring practice at No. 3 on the running back depth chart but is expected to make a major impact this upcoming season. Coach Borges and Coach Eddie Gran have already commented on Fannin being a multiple position player. It's evident the offensive coaching staff will scheme to exploit his athletic ability.
Looking at the 2007 Auburn Tiger offensive roster, the potential of fielding an explosive offense appears to be bright. The running back position is loaded with Lester, Tate and Fannin. The wide receiver position appears to be in excellent shape with Rod Smith, Prechae Rodriquez, Montez Billings, Robert Dunn, Hawthorne and Zachery. If Rodriguez becomes more focused, he has the size to become a lethal possession wide out.
Because of issues on the offensive line, the tight ends were utilized more often in pass protection. Cole Bennett, Tommy Trott and Gabe McKenzie give Auburn a great trio of tight ends. During their careers, Robert Johnson and Cooper Wallace totaled 13 plays of 30-yards or more from the tight end position. Cole Bennett only has one career play of 30-yards or more but Tommy Trott could cause match up problems for opposing linebackers in the passing game. If the offensive line can perform at a consistent level in 2007, the tight ends could become more of a factor in creating the big play for the Auburn Tigers.
During the 2004 season, the Auburn offense generated a big play on offense for every time they went three and out (38/38). This was an outstanding ratio, which has not been matched over the past fourteen seasons at Auburn.
Three and Out to Big Play Ratio:
2004: 1.00 (38/38) 1995: 1.14 (33/29) 2002: 1.30 (39/30) 2005: 1.40 (35/25) 2001: 1.50 (42/28) 1993: 1.63 (39/24) 2006: 1.85 (37/20) 2003: 1.87 (43/23) 1996: 2.10 (42/20) 1997: 2.15 (56/26) 2000: 2.18 (48/22) 1994: 2.42 (46/19) 1999: 3.05 (58/19) 1998: 4.69 (61/13)
If the 2007 Auburn offense can generate a ratio of 1.50 or better in 2007, Auburn will be back in contention with the better offenses within the Southeastern conference. Anything below 2.00 and it could be a long season, especially with their road schedule.