Passing Game To Get Extra Work This Week

Offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino talks about his group's performance against Ole Miss and the season ahead.

Auburn, Ala.--Second in the SEC in total offense averaging 403 yards per game despite being eighth in the league in passing, the Auburn Tigers enter this weekend's non-conference game against struggling Louisiana-Monroe looking to improve on throwing the football. Coordinator Bobby Petrino said he is far from satisfied with part of the offense.

"We need to get better in our passing game," Petrino said. "We need to execute that. We're going to work real hard at it this week in practice and in the game. Our protection had some breakdowns and our routes weren't as precise as they need to be. Jason (Campbell) actually threw the ball fairly accurately, but he did miss a couple of reads, which he can't do. That's a major emphasis for us this week is to get our passing game better and continue to run the ball. We're not going to go away from the run, we just have to improve the passing game."

Jason Campbell

While Ronnie Brown has dominated the competition since the first half of the Florida game, rushing for 482 yards and seven touchdowns, the passing game has been inconsistent for much of the season. Averaging just 190 yards through the air, the Tigers have been successful at times throwing the ball, but Petrino said they haven't gotten in a rhythm and part of that is his fault.

"I think he's thrown the ball well deep," Petrino said. "He has great arm strength. The timing was real good with him and Devin then the one with Lorenzo (Diamond) was right on the money. You couldn't really throw the ball better than that. We probably just need to give him more opportunities to throw it deep. Some of that is me.

"We get in the game and you're handing it to Ronnie and he's getting five, eight or nine yards a crack, you think that this would be a great time for a play-action pass and then you drop the ball and it's second and 10. We did that twice and then you tighten up and quit calling them and hand the ball off. We just need to open it up a little bit more and be more aggressive throwing the ball downfield."

A player who is perhaps the most unsung of heroes for Auburn this season on the offensive side of the ball is junior fullback Brandon Johnson. Giving himself up play after play to take on linebackers and defensive ends to clear a path for Brown, Johnson earned praise from Petrino for his play against Ole Miss.

Brandon Johnson

"I thought Brandon Johnson played very well," Petrino noted. "He had a big game for us. He had some big blocks. Actually on the touchdown throw he made a tremendous play just to allow Jason to get the ball off."

While questions abounded at quarterback and wide receiver, entering the season the biggest concern for the offense was on the line where seniors Kendall Simmons, Hart McGarry and Mike Pucillo departed leaving huge holes in both experience and leadership. With Ben Nowland and Monreko Crittenden stepping up to guide youngsters like Marcus McNeill and Troy Reddick, the unit has banded together to become the strength of the offense.

"I think they've made a tremendous amount of improvement," Petrino said of the offensive line. "They're still young. We still have some breakdowns and that's why we have some of the negative plays. They've improved tremendously all year long and kept getting better. They've been able to work pretty much together the last month even though we've had to rotate Troy Reddick in there and Marcus. It's basically been the six guys that have rotated since Taylor (Bourgeois) went down. They've gotten to know each other fairly well."

Something that Petrino and the offense are concerned about heading into the last three games is third down conversions. Just 5-14 Saturday against Ole Miss, he said that is something they have to get better at before playing Georgia and Alabama the final two games of the season. Despite leading the league, averaging 45.1 percent on third down conversions, Petrino said he hopes to see improvement beginning this week.

"I was probably more disappointed in our third down conversions Saturday than anything else," Petrino said. "That's something that we've tried to pride ourselves on and we were way down. Especially getting stopped on third-and-one."

Kickoff for the homecoming game against the Indians is scheduled for 1 p.m. and can be seen on pay-per-view only. Saturday is also Senior Day for the Tigers as Nowland will be honored along with seniors Marcel Willis, Daniel Cobb, Lorenzo Diamond, Ryan Hockett, Michael Owens and Marshall Thornton on offense. Defensively, Horace Willis, Roderick Hood, Rashaud Walker, Travaris Robinson, Mark Brown, Dante Booker, Michael Lindsey and Damon Duval will be honored before the game.

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