Offensive Problems A Focus For Chizik

Auburn Coach Gene Chizik talks about the loss to LSU, the quarterback situation, and other offensive concerns.

Auburn, Ala.--When an offense struggles the way Auburn has the last three weeks the first person that comes under scrutiny is the quarterback. For the Tigers that is senior Chris Todd. After an impressive start to the season when he threw for 1,344 yards and 12 touchdowns with just one interception in the first five games, Todd has thrown for just 260 yards and no touchdowns the last three weeks with two interceptions.

That's the most obvious starting point for the struggles on offense, but Coach Gene Chizik said it's far from the only problems for the Tigers at the moment. Because of that he said on Sunday that Todd would still be the starting quarterback when Auburn faces Ole Miss this Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

"We're not going to make a change this week," Chizik said. "After going back and looking at it, obviously we would have loved for the offensive production as a whole to be better than it was. We're in the month of October and we knew it was going to be a tough month. We're going against much better competition than earlier in the year with some of the team's we've played. We've got to execute better. Chris had a lot of pressure on him last night.

"We still think Chris gives us the best chance to win. It's not that our offense has not done it, we have. We are against competition in this league that's at a higher level. We've got to continue to practice to produce at a higher level. That's not happening at this particular time. It's not every play, but right now we're not producing at a level for us to be able to win these tough football games. It's just that simple."

With concerns at how the entire offense is playing and not just at quarterback, Chizik said he and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn have talked about things on that side of the ball in recent weeks. One area that was not broached is about removing Todd as the starter though.

"We have talked in depth on exactly what we feel like are some things we need to look at offensively as a whole," Chizik said. "That's from offensive line to wideouts to wildcat, the whole gamut. It wasn't specifically related to one guy."

Another of the problems on offense has been the lack of a downfield passing game in recent weeks. Starting with the Tennessee game the duo of Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery have combined for 16 catches in four games for a grand total of 188 yards and one touchdown. In the first four games alone Adams had 20 receptions for 364 yards and five scores while Zachery had 11 for 276 and three touchdowns.

"That has been probably one of the biggest differences in the production of our offense to this point, that is the downfield passing game," Chizik said. "If you look at sheer numbers in our wins versus our losses you're looking at a passing game somewhere over 250 or 260 yards in the wins. It significantly drops off to 130 or 140 in the losses. There is a significant dropoff there. The numbers will tell you that in the last three or four weeks it's an area we need to improve on."

The question is how? With teams paying more attention to Adams and Zachery in recent weeks and playing more man coverage, Chizik said they'll have to look at moving some guys around to try to get more favorable matchups.

"Whatever we need to do," Chizik said. "Moving guys around to different positions. Getting the balls to other people. One of the things that has happened is there has been a good bit of press coverage on our guys and with a lot of these great athletes on some of these teams we're playing they've decided to do that. We've got to come up with some answers for a more productive downfield passing game the next few weeks to give us a chance to move the ball and get first downs. That's not happening near as much as it did when we won."

Another of the concerns on offense has been with the play and impact of freshman running back Onterio McCalebb. In the first four games he carried the ball 54 times for 365 yards and three touchdowns, but was banged up in game four against Ball State. Since that time the speedster has carried 47 times for just 109 yards and one touchdown.

With his speed and cutting ability hampered it has taken some steam away from the outside game for the Tigers and allowed linebackers and safeties to focus less on him and more on the rest of the field. It has also allowed teams to play much more man coverage on the perimeter and less zone, taking away the holes in the defense that Adams and Zachery were finding early in the season.

"We try to use him during the game some and he tries to make a cut, but it's tough on him," Chizik said. "Is that the answer to the downfield passing game? I don't necessarily think so, but it certainly gives you some options on the perimeter with how they're going to play their secondary. That's where it does matter. That's something that has taken a little bit away from what we do."

The Tigers return to action this Saturday against an Ole Miss team that played its best game of the season in a win over Arkansas. While there are some strategy things to get worked out not only on offense, but also defense, Chizik said the main thing his team has to do in order to get back on the winning track is put an end to the mistakes and play football.

"For our football team to move on they have to realize it's not getting any easier," Chizik said. "We have to make plays. We have to not turn the ball over. We have to get turnovers. If you just take the turnover margin in our wins, it was somewhere around plus eight. Take the turnover margin in our losses, minus five. You can take different things when you play in the month of October in all these SEC games that are 200 years old. If we don't do it we don't have a chance to win."

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