Auburn, Ala.--The personality of the 2007 Auburn offense is resemblant of the production--extremely lacking. The yardage production is unfavorable for winning football games and so are the number of points scored. Somehow, 11 games into the season, the offense is yet to find its identity--or is it image?
Tommy Tuberville seemingly lost his nickname, the Riverboat Gambler, in 2004 and 2005 as the Tigers ran zero special teams gimmicks, but that's because they didn't have to.
The offense was putting points on the board to the tune of 32.1 per game in 2004 and 32.2 in 2005. Instead of Tuberville reaching into his bag of tricks it was offensive coordinator Al Borges, and many of his gimmicks worked.
Auburn jumped up 7-0 quickly on Arkansas in 2004 when the Tigers ran a reverse that turned into a flea-flicker back to Jason Campbell, who found Devin Aromashodu wide open down field for a 67-yard touchdown. A few weeks later, Carnell Williams found Anthony Mix all alone in the Georgia secondary for a touchdown on a 29-yard halfback pass as the Tigers jumped up on the Bulldogs 14-0.
In 2005 in a scoreless game against Ole Miss in the second quarter, Courtney Taylor, a high school quarterback, ran a reverse, pulled up and threw to Aromashodu for a 28-yard TD. Following that play, the Tigers ran the reverse for a touchdown on the ground in the next three games against Kentucky, Georgia and Alabama.
Since 2005, however, the offensive gimmicks are few and far between. Borges' unit averaged 409.8 yards and 32.2 points in 2005. In the last two seasons the Tigers haven't reached both 409 yards and 32 points any single SEC game as the offense has been no "rolling ball of butcher knives."
"I think it could be a lot more aggressive," says tailback Ben Tate, "but the play calling, that's something...Coach Borges calls the plays. Every game I think you should go out there to win it, no matter what you've got to do--trick plays or what. I just feel like you should go out there trying to win every game."
The Tigers are down to just 332 yards per game, which is 10th in the conference, and 25 points per game, good for ninth. Could the play calling be more aggressive? "Definitely," Tate says. "It's not up for me to say, but I think we could be more aggressive. I can't control that. It's up to the coaches."
Borges has called for the fake reverse about a dozen times this season. He's called for the actual reverse only a handful of times. Unlike in 2004 and 2005 when Williams and Taylor got to throw a couple of passes, the quarterbacks are the only players who have thrown the ball this season.
Borges called for Carl Stewart to throw a halfback pass designed to Tommy Trott against South Florida, but it was snuffed out. Perhaps the Bulls' defense noticed on film that the only successful gimmick play run last season was Stewart throwing a two-point conversion pass from the exact same formation.
The head coach was willing to take the redshirt off Kodi Burns to add a new dimension to the offense, but the offensive coordinator has been reluctant to use him.
Another difference in the offense is Brandon Cox throwing down field. He did so successfully against LSU, Kentucky and Georgia in 2005, but anything to the deep corners the last two seasons has stayed in the playbook.
"I think we have the athletes," says leading receiver Rod Smith. "I think me and Montez (Billings) can make the deep-ball catches. It's just a matter of calling the plays and letting us go out there and get it done."
So why haven't those plays been called?
"I have no idea," Smith says. "Coach Borges calls the plays, and we run it."
This season a couple of reverses have worked, but the only time in 11 games Borges has taken off the training wheels for more than a couple of plays was in the first half against Vanderbilt. The Tigers jumped up 14-0 quickly as Borges ran bubble screens, counter tosses and a tight end screen over the middle.
Borges even used Kodi Burns on first downs against the Commodores to put the Tigers in favorable down and distances, which is why the head coach was willing to take the redshirt off the freshman. However, Burns' role in the offense has dwindled to nothing as he didn't even play against Georgia.
Tuberville has shown over the last couple of years that he's again willing to take a chance or two on special teams--the fake punt versus Washington State and the onside kick against South Carolina in 2006, and the "Globe of Death" kickoff return at LSU this season.
Auburn heads into the Iron Bowl after a 45-20 loss at Georgia where the offense gained just 216 yards. If the Tigers are to beat Alabama and win a bowl game, the head coach may have to earn his nickname back.