During the 2003 season the Auburn Tiger offense struggled with making the "big" play. The Tiger offense generated a play of 30 yards or more every 37.6 plays. Coach Tommy Tuberville acquired the services of offensive coordinator Al Borges before the 2004 season and the ratio immediately improved to one every 22.6 plays, which was the best over the last 20 years.
With the departure of Jason Campbell, Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown, it dropped to one big play every 32.8 snaps in 2005. Last season the big play ratio continued to slide with one every 37.6 plays. The Auburn offense never overcame the losses of key wide receivers like Devin Aromashodu, Ben Obomanu and Anthony Mix and left tackle Marcus McNeill, and suffered injuries to several starters like Cole Bennett and Joe Cope. Finding the ability to make the big play in 2007 will be essential for Auburn to compete for a conference title.
2007 Offensive Weapons...
Brandon Cox, Quarterback: From 2001-2004 with Daniel Cobb and Campbell under center, the Auburn passing game averaged a big play every 15.6 pass attempts. Over the past two seasons, the average has dropped to one every 24.8 pass attempt with Cox as the starter. The passing game struggled last season due to the losses of the receivers, an inconsistent offensive line and injuries to Brandon Cox. Protecting and keeping Cox healthy in 2007 will be vital for Auburn to open up their offense.
Brad Lester, Tailback: Lester is the most proven "big play" threat on the Auburn roster. He likely won't be a 20-25 carry back but putting the ball into his hands at least 15 times per game will be important to increasing Auburn's ability to make the big play. Of his 156 offensive touches of the ball, six have been plays of 30 yards or more.
Lester has been a touchdown machine as a reserve, but he will be counted on to make plays on a consistent basis as the starter heading into August.
Rod Smith, Wide Receiver: Though still a walk-on, Smith has 32 receptions over the last two seasons. However, six of them have been of 30 yards or more. Surrounding Smith with a solid group of receivers will make him a legitimate threat as he heads into fall as the go-to guy for Cox, who will need to get better protection this season from the line.
Ben Tate, Running Back: Tate had 56 offensive touches as a true freshman in 2006 which included three runs of 30 yards or more. Even though the majority of his playing time came against weaker out of conference opponents, Tate possesses enough speed to get to the corner and the power to run off tackle.
Tristan Davis, Tailback: The Auburn coaching staff made the decision to move Davis back to offense from safety for the 2007 season and the rust chipped off quickly in the spring for the junior who has split time throughout his career at the two positions. Davis had three runs of 40 yards or more during his limited role on offense in 2005. It's highly unlikely Davis will see extensive playing time as an every down back, but he does give Auburn "big play" ability.
Carl Stewart, Fullback: It was obvious Stewart became more comfortable in his fullback role as the season went on after converting from tailback. He might not be blessed with blazing speed but he did have two plays of 30 yards or more last season despite having a limited number of opportunities.
There will be several new faces on the offensive side of the ball in 2007 with Mario Fannin being the most publicized, as well as receiving threats Tim Hawthorne and Chris Slaughter. The Tigers are once again are loaded at the running back position but the performance at the wide receiver position will dictate just how lethal the 2007 offense will be.
Hawthorne has the hands, size and speed to help immediately after a redshirt season in 2006.
Blasts from the Past...
With the theme of bringing back the big play, here are some of the top performances by Auburn skill players. Starting at the running back position, here are the top five individual performances against a quality opponent.
1954 vs. Miami: Joe Childress rushed for 164 yards and a touchdown to defeat the No. 9 Hurricanes 14-13. Childress also kicked both extra points during the contest, handing Miami its only loss of the season.
1983 vs. Alabama: Bo Jackson rushes for 256 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the No. 15 Crimson Tide. His two long touchdown runs were the difference in the game, the last one coming before a vicious rain storm.
1985 vs. Georgia Tech: Jackson rushed for 242 yards and the game-winning touchdown against a 9-2-1 Georgia Tech team. This also included his long touchdown run called by the late Jim Fyffe, Bye Bye Bo!
2000 vs. Georgia: Rudi Johnson rushed for 152 yards against the No. 14 Georgia Bulldogs, paving Auburn's way to a 29-26 overtime victory. The Tigers trailed by 10 points at halftime and the majority of Johnson's yardage came during the second half.
2002 vs. Penn State: Ronnie Brown rushed for 184 yards and two touchdowns against No. 10 Penn State in the Capital One Bowl. Brown scored the winning touchdown in the final minutes and out-shined his counter part, 2000-yard rusher Larry Johnson of Penn State.
Honorable mention: Joe Cribbs' 1978 performance against the No. 8 Georgia Bulldogs, rushing for 250 yards and two touchdowns... James Brooks' 1980 performance against the No. 19 Florida Gators, rushing for 163 yards on 33 carries... George Peoples' 155 yards rushing against No. 4 Alabama in 1981... Stacey Danley's 172 yards rushing against No. 15 Georgia in 1988... Carnell Williams' 167 yards and 2 touchdowns against No. 17 Georgia in 2001 and his 2003 game against No. 7 Tennessee when he rushed for 185 yards... Kenny Irons' 2005 game at No. 6 LSU when he called his 218-yard rushing performance on ESPN before the opening kickoff.
Top five performances at the wide receiver position:
1971 vs. Georgia: Terry Beasley caught only four passes that day but to the tune of 130 yards and two touchdowns, handing the Georgia Bulldogs their only loss of the season.
1980 vs. Georgia: Byron Franklin caught seven passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to the eventual national champion.
1989 vs. Pacific: Yes, it was against Pacific, but Alexander Wright's 263 yards and four touchdowns on just five receptions has never come close to being equaled, even against a lesser opponent. If I recall correctly, four of his five receptions were screen passes, meaning Wright did the majority of the work himself.
1995 vs. Arkansas: Willie Gosha truly became a workhorse on the road against Arkansas in 1995. The Tigers found themselves in a huge hole by halftime and passed the ball on almost every snap in the second half. Gosha caught an unbelievable 17 passes for 222 yards against the Razorbacks in what came close to being one of the best comebacks in Auburn history. However, the Tigers missed a field goal on the game's final play.
1999 vs. Georgia: It was Ronney Daniels' signature game as a wide receiver. He snagged nine passes for 249 yards and 2 touchdowns against the No. 16 Georgia Bulldogs. It was an awesome display of great hands and power after the catch.
Honorable mention: Terry Beasley against the Florida Gators in 1970, catching seven passes for 176 yards and three touchdowns... Freddy Weygand against Georgia Tech in 1984, five receptions for 160 yards and two touchdowns... Lawyer Tillman against Georgia in 1986, nine receptions for 150 yards and two touchdowns... Frank Sanders against a good Mississippi State squad in 1994, six receptions for 175 yards and two touchdowns... Karsten Bailey against Virginia in 1997, four receptions for 151 yards and two touchdowns... Andy Fuller against No. 1 Florida in 1994, seven receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown.
Top five passing performances:
1971 vs. Georgia: Pat Sullivan's 248 yards passing and four touchdowns against undefeated Georgia in Athens. His performance against the Bulldogs wrapped up the Heisman trophy for Sully.
1990 vs. Tennessee: Stan White rallied the Tigers against No. 5 Tennessee Volunteers after falling behind early. The redshirt freshman passed for 338 yards and three touchdowns in a 26-26 tie.
1994 vs. Florida: Patrick Nix completed 28 passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns against No. 1 Florida in Gainesville. This included the game winning touchdown pass to Frank Sanders with less than a minute left in the game.
1997 vs. LSU: Dameyune Craig passed for 342 yards and two touchdowns against No. 10 LSU in Death Valley. Auburn won the game 31-28 despite LSU rushing for well over 300 yards.
2004 vs. Tennessee: Jason Campbell was voted the MVP of the 2004 SEC Championship game after he passed for 374 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for another 57 yards against the Tennessee Volunteers.
Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis had no answer for Campbell in either contest in 2004. Campbell completed 43-58 for 626 and five touchdowns in two games against the Vols that season.
Honorable mention: Sullivan's 31-7 victory against No. 13 Georgia Tech in 1970, 312 yards and three touchdowns... Jeff Burger's 27-11 victory over No. 8 Georgia, completing 22 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns. Reggie Slack against No.2 Alabama, passing for 274 yards in a 30-20 Auburn victory. Ben Leard's 1999 victory over No. 16 Georgia, passing for 416 yards and four touchdowns.