Finding their identity

Auburn has traditionally attacked each game with what used to be a typical Southeastern Conference style of offense. Line things up and come at opponents with a pro-style offense, heavy doses of the run to eventually win the game.

With the recent success of backs from Cadillac Williams to Ronnie Brown, the Tigers have done quite well.


Yet with the introduction of Tony Franklin as offensive coordinator, who spent the last two seasons in that same role with Troy, things are changing in Auburn.


Welcome to the spread offense.


Auburn came out of the gates running in 2008 with a 34-0 win over Louisiana-Monroe.


No need to unveil Franklin's new offense that day, with junior Ben Tate running for 115 yards on 13 carries. Add in a defensive and special team's touchdown, and the offense didn't look much different than what SEC fans had grown accustomed to all these years.


When the Tigers hosted Southern Miss in week two, the passing attack was finally asked to step up and make the plays needed to put the Golden Eagles away.


The debate that had been going on since last spring over who would win the starting job, junior Chris Todd or sophomore Kodi Burns, was answered.


Todd, who was 21 of 31 for 248 yards, looked efficient from the first whistle as he led the way in putting the Tigers up 24-0 by the third quarter.


Burns, who started in the season opener, was listed as questionable for the game with a cut on his left leg. He appeared ready all game, but Franklin only sent the sophomore quarterback in four times, where he completed no passes on three attempts, throwing one interception. He later was called in during a goal line formation, a running play from the 1-yard line which Burns took in for a score.


With the new spread attack in place, some felt that the running would be done only by the backs.


Todd, who proved to be the better passer and incumbent to the departed Brandon Cox as the Tiger's lead signal caller, does not have the legs needed to be considered a threat out of the pocket, even in an offense that spreads the field like Franklin's.


No need, however, for the running backs were on par once again.


Tate carried the ball 15 times for 71 yards and a touchdown.


Brad Lester, who entered the season as the presumable go-to back for the Tigers, carried the ball 12 times for 45 yards.


Even Tristen Davis, the injury-plagued reserve running back, saw action when he took in a 13 yard run to put the Tigers up 14-0.


The attack seemed balanced, with Todd managing the aerial attack while the running backs made up the difference with touchdowns on the ground.


Entering SEC play last weekend, the Tigers took their show on the road for a date with Mississippi State in Starkville.


Lester, who is second on the team with 148 yards and touchdown, was injured after going head over heels on a run early in the third quarter. The senior suffered a sprained neck on the play. He returned to the sidelines after a trip to the hospital, but did not see the field.


Lester's practice this week has been minimal, though head coach Tommy Tuberville says team doctors, plus a specialist in Birmingham, have done multiple MRI’s and have cleared Lester to play.


Tate, who will presumably get the start this weekend, carried the ball 20 times for 92 yards in a game the Tigers won just 3-2 to up his team-leading total to 278 yards on the season.


Todd was efficient enough for the second game in a row but must improve according to Tuberville. He threw for over 100 yards yet recording neither a touchdown nor interception. On the year he is now 44 of 75 for 472 yards with one touchdown and one interception.


The quarterback run was never a threat, as Todd was held in check while Burns never saw the field.


"You've got to take what they give you and that's in any offense and they weren't going to give us a quarterback run," Tuberville said of the Bulldog defense. "They were going to take away the quarterback and force all the runs wide. This offense is geared for the quarterback to run the ball a few more times than what they have ran, but it goes back to how they're playing. You can't run the ball if it's not there, especially for a quarterback."


The main storyline however, outside of the low score, was the Tigers high number of penalties and turnovers.


A pair of fumbles and a number of false starts, not to mention a holding in the end zone that gave the Bulldogs their only two points, held the Tigers offense back enough to where no plan of offensive attack could ever be played out.


Auburn senior tackle Jason Bosley admits that many of the penalties came down to timing, where miscues remain in the new offensive calls Franklin has installed.


"Now we are trying to listen to the cadence [for the snap of the ball]," Bosley said. "You try to anticipate it. If it gets set off whatsoever, you are going to jump offside. We are going to have to work on that this week and we should be good."


With a new center, and Bosley's first year at the tackle position, the Tiger's offensive line is not as strong as it has been in years past.


Still, the game plan remains the same heading into the weekend.


"We're going to go in with Chris [Todd] being our starter," Tuberville said. "If Kodi gets in the game, it will be for reasons of game plan and what they're doing to us on defense."


Todd will not be able to sit long in the pocket against a defensive front as fast as LSU, so the run game will have to carry Auburn a long way in Saturday's face off.


"At times, we've looked good," Tuberville said. "The team that gave us more problems was Southern Miss by creating different running lanes that we weren't used to seeing. But that's going to happen with learning this offense. The running backs are going to have to be more elusive in terms of looking for holes that won't be there all the times."


Franklin's new offense will be put to its first true test when the Bayou Bengals visit the Plains this weekend.


Will Todd keep the aerial attack moving without turning the ball over?


And will the run continue to be the base of attack, despite the spread offense moving in at Auburn?


Those are questions that we will have the answers to Saturday night when the two top 10 teams square off in what should be another epic battle between LSU and Auburn.

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