Last Saturday night the Tigers faced one of the top defensive units in the country in the Tennessee Volunteers. This Saturday, on the road in Fayetteville, Auburn won't face a top defense, but instead may be forced to score points in bunches because of Arkansas' powerful offense on the other side of the field.
In most years that would be a huge problem, but so far in 2009 it hasn't been the case at all. Through five games the Tigers are averaging 41.4 points and 512.8 yards of total offense per game. To put those numbers into perspective the 1995 Auburn offense holds the school record for scoring at 38.6 points per game while the 1970 Tigers averaged a school-record 485 yards per contest.
Last week Auburn torched the Tennessee defense for 459 yards, but had its lowest scoring output of the season with 26 points. Much of the reason for that was a struggle to finish in the red zone. That led to four Wes Byrum field goals and one miss from the junior kicker, something senior Tommy Trott said can't happen this week against Arkansas.
"Five field goals is just way too much, especially for how many yards we grinded out," Trott said. "We've got to get some of those balls in the end zone. We got to the two-yard line one time and had a couple of plays down there and wound up with just a field goal. We have to start turning those into touchdowns, especially if we want to be successful in the stretch we have coming soon."
While the touchdown barrage didn't come last week, so far this season Auburn has been pretty solid in the red zone. In 20 trips inside the 20-yard line, the Tigers have scored on 19 occasions with 14 of those touchdowns. Trott said much of the reason for the success has been the coaching of Gus Malzahn and the offensive staff and how things are set up in practice to prepare the team for the game.
"Every game we go into it with a set of red zone landmarks," Trott said. "You've heard the saying. ‘knowledge is power,' and it's the truth. A lot of times on the field we know what Coach Malzahn is going to call. When we get to the 12-yard line left hash we've repped it 20 times that week in practice so we know what's coming."
That practice time has been beneficial for the Tigers this season as the offense has been a well-oiled machine with very few penalties and glaring mistakes. Junior Mario Fannin said that's because of the preparation the offense puts in each week.
"It gives us great confidence being about to know our landmarks," Fannin said. "That's something Coach Malzahn harps on in practice, being able to know when we're on this yard line we're going to run this certain play. Basically that also comes from us watching film and knowing what the defense is going to do and knowing what scheme it's going to be. It's being more disciplined watching film."
That work has paid off handsomely as the Tigers are fifth in the nation in both scoring offense and total offense. Those are numbers an Auburn team hasn't flirted with in a long time, but it's something that Fannin said he expected when Malzahn was hired.
"Coach Malzahn is a guy that had a lot of goals set from the beginning," Fannin said. "One of those goals was to be the number one offense in the country. We're at a good pace to be that. It's just a matter of us executing plays more at the beginning and moving forward. We all bought in early before it happened and we're just working hard to reach those goals we set."
The biggest goal for the Auburn Tigers this season is making it to Atlanta for the SEC Championship. That was considered a pipe dream before the 2009 season started, but with each passing week it becomes more of a possibility with a win. This weekend the Tigers could take another step forward against Arkansas, but Trott said it's going to take a complete effort from the offense to come home 6-0.
"We're facing a good Arkansas team," Trott said. "Anytime you're facing a team that can score points you're going to have to answer. It's going to turn into scoring more points than they can. I know we've got a real good defense and they're going to give them all they can handle, but we're going to have to score points to save this game."
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