Auburn's head coach, Tommy Tuberville, replaced offensive coordinator Al Borges in December with Troy University's Franklin, who will also handle the duties as Auburn's quarterback coach.
Troy averaged 452.8 yards per game for the 2007 season compared to 327.8 yards for the Tigers. The Trojans rushed for 182.6 yards per contest and passed for 270.2. Auburn averages 154.2 on the ground and 173.7 passing.
"I have no doubt, none whatsoever, what Tony Franklin did at Troy will work at Auburn," McKnight says. "I know there have been some naysayers who have said, ‘Well, it's the SEC and physical football and everything.' It doesn't have anything to do with that. This is not a gimmicky, aerial circus, sling it all around the lot, fundamentally unsound offense at all. It is just basically a logical approach to moving the football as efficiently as possible."
Franklin joined the Tigers just before Auburn began bowl practices in preparation for a New Year's Eve showdown at the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta vs. Clemson. How much of Franklin's spread offense and how much of AU's West Coast Offense system installed by Borges will be run in the bowl is something that adds some extra intrigue to the SEC vs. ACC matchup.
"The number one thing you will notice is tempo and pace," McKnight says of Franklin's system. "Everything is faster, and I mean everything--from the plays from the sidelines, to the players getting to the line of scrimmage, to the receivers lining up and going in motion. They practice offense faster. They play faster. The tempo is faster. The entire machinery of running an offense is just faster."
McKnight says the offense is run so quickly that when Auburn has the ball that Stan White, who is the color analyst for The Auburn Network, won't have much time to analyze between play by play man Rod Bramblett's calls of the game. The Trojans led the nation in number of offensive snaps per game with 81.
"There will be no huddles," McKnight points out. "I have covered every snap Tony has coached in the last two years and I haven't seen the first huddle from Troy. It is an offense that is predicated on getting the ball, as he put it, to the people who deserve to have the football--in space, to your playmakers, in sequence where they can do something with it."
Troy was effective running the system with Omar Haugabook at quarterback, who challenged defenses with his arm and feet. The QB was a major threat to run the ball in short yardage situations.
"That is probably the best reason why he believes in having a dual-threat quarterback who can run and who can throw it," McKnight says. "That is was what was really efficient to Troy, not only short yardage situations but also in the red zone, inside the 20, Troy was blessed with a quarterback, Omar Haugabook, who was a very efficient passer, but was also 215, 220 pounds who was threat to run it. That is the way Troy would handle short yardage situations.
"Troy went for it a lot on fourth down. There were several short passes, but mostly it is the running threat from the quarterback that made the defenses honest. In reality, it kind of added an extra blocker out there. The defense has 11 guys. On offense, if you have a quarterback handing it to a running back, basically you have got nine guys, excluding the quarterback and running back, who are blocking. With a short yardage situation with a quarterback running threat out of the spread, you have got 10 guys blocking 11. All the quarterback has to do, if everybody else does their job, is make one guy miss.
"I think this offense, just knowing what I know about Auburn, and seeing everything I have seen from Tony Franklin, in short-yardage situations and red zone situations, I think this is a perfect offense for Kodi Burns," McKnight says. "Quarterback delays, quarterback sneaks in short yardage, quarterback sweeps--Omar scored two touchdowns against Georgia in Athens on quarterback sweeps. The short yardage is very efficient if you have got the right guy calling the signals at quarterback."
Haugabook ran the ball 155 times and averaged 4.1 yards per carry and scored 11 rushing touchdowns. He completed 291-475 passes for 2,975 yards with 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 11 games.
"When he came to Troy, he was a kind of a run-first guy," McKnight says of Haugabook, who was an All-State QB from Belle Glade, Fla., who spent his first two seasons in college at Dodge City, Kan., Junior College. "His main assets were toughness, competitiveness. He was very athletic, but he was not the most polished passer in the world."
Haugabook was able to come to campus at Troy in time for spring drills to get a head start on his junior season. "He came in already pretty much knowing the offense, but his decision-making sometimes was a bit faulty," McKnight notes. "What Tony Franklin did for Omar more than anything else, besides his own God-given abilities, was teach him how to slow the game down. It sounds just totally diametrically opposed to what I was just talking about, about speeding the game up, but I am talking about mentally.
"It is an offense where if you have five wide receivers, if you have an empty backfield, you have got to be able to check down from your outside receivers to your inside receivers or to maybe a back out of the backfield. You have got to be able to check down and you have got to be able to do it relatively quickly. That is what he was able to show Omar--look at your keys, know what you want to do, know your checkdowns, know where everybody is supposed to be.
"A lot of times it can be blur, but the more you know the offense, the more you are comfortable with what Tony is asking you to do, and that just comes through repetition, then the more efficient you are going to be in the offense and don't be afraid to make a mistake. More than anything else, he showed Omar don't be afraid to make a mistake. Don't be afraid to stick your nose in there when you have got to and take advantage of whatever it is that the defense is going to allow you to take."
McKnight notes that Franklin called the plays from the press box his first season at Troy and moved to the sideline for the 2007 season. Franklin says he will work from the sideline at Auburn.
"It is an interesting system, and it is a system he has installed in high schools and for other clients throughout the country for the last several years," McKnight points out. "When he first got here, he had these large, flip card signs. They looked like traffic signs with flip cards on PVC pipe with numbers, with colors. He would be up in the press box and he would get on the headphones and have GAs (graduate assistants) that would flip the signs and the players would look at, for instance, in sequence a color and four numbers. That color would signify something on their wrist bands and every player on the field has a wrist band. That would signal, for instance, the set. Then your next four numbers would signify what the play is depending on what position you would played. That is how that would work.
Tony Franklin is shown at Auburn's bowl practice.
"It is all very orchestrated, the kids on the sidelines, the GAs, would flip the signs, hold them up and the players would go off that and the play would take maybe seven seconds from press box to the sidelines. Well, you think, ‘Well, can the defensive coordinator for the opposition grab one of those wristbands or try to be able to tape the sequence and be able to figure out what the plays are?' Not necessarily, because every series you have a different color key for what you are doing?'
"Now, as it evolved, he would end up there down on the sidelines where you will see him down there with a little note card with a little clipboard and he will be making notations. This past year he called the plays himself and just shuttled them into offense there. I think what he will do at Auburn, particularly in practice, is use that sign system and the color key system. Basically, it is all the same thing. Everybody has a grid on a little, laminated card that is on a wrist band. The offensive linemen will take the time and they will look down and see what to do. The quarterback and the wide receivers likewise.
"One of the things the fans will also see, several times during games, the offense will go to the line of scrimmage and everybody stand, wait for a couple of seconds and then look to the sideline," McKnight adds. "All 11 look to the sideline all at once. What they are doing there is looking over the defense, looking over the personnel they have got, looking over the grouping they have got--where they are situated--and then calling a play. It all sounds like it has a great potential for chaos, but it has worked seamlessly for two years at Troy and to great effect."
McKnight says Franklin's spread system is an offense that Auburn's players should be able to learn relatively quickly. "It is an easy system," he notes. "It is all divided and compartmentalized. The wide receivers pay attention to what the wide receivers have to do. The quarterbacks pay attention to all of it. Because it is so organized it is all built upon several different levels it is easy to learn, and it is easy to run."
McKnight says that one of the reasons the system worked well at Troy is because of Franklin's skills. "A lot of it has to do with his ability to teach," he says. "He is an excellent teacher, a very intelligent guy. I don't think it is going to be difficult at all for anybody to pick up."
Auburn's coaches and players note that fans could see both new plays from Franklin's offense and plays the Tigers ran during the regular season when the Tigers play Clemson on New Year's Eve at the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. from the Georgia Dome with TV coverage on ESPN.