Fast-break football

At Auburn the running game starts even before the play does.

New offensive coordinator Tony Franklin has installed a no-huddle offense in which the Tigers hustle onto the field and attempt to wear down opposing defenses with what amounts to fast-break football.

Tennessee will get an up-close look at this up-tempo style when the Vols visit Jordan-Hare Stadium for today's 2:30 (CST) kickoff.

"One of the things they do a little bit more at Auburn is with formations – personnel on and off the field, tempo," Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis said. "They try to make it more difficult for you to get calls and personnel in.

"They will change the tempo quite a bit. That's one of the things we're concerned with but I think we've got a good plan for getting our personnel on and off the field."

Franklin is widely recognized as the ultimate authority on The Spread offense. He sells his insights in a DVD/playbook/power point package at $2,995 a pop. Nearly 300 high school bought in and now run his version of The Spread. He also held well-attended coaching seminars throughout the country that spread the gospel of The Spread.

Is Franklin's scheme really THAT different?

"It's the same stuff," Vol secondary coach Larry Slade said. "You hear a lot about The Spread – at UAB, at Florida and all of that mix. His is similar but he does a lot more stuff in the running game than maybe some of those other guys. And he has the ability to throw the ball down the field."

Tennessee has faced Franklin's unique offensive system once before. That was in 2000, when he served as Hal Mumme's offensive coordinator at Kentucky. The Wildcats ran 84 plays to Tennessee's 54 and piled up 328 passing yards that day but still lost 59-20. Kentucky wound up ranking No. 2 nationally in passing and No. 11 in total offense that season.

Although Franklin still runs The Spread principles he installed at Kentucky, he has modified the system somewhat since his days in Lexington.

"Quite a bit," Chavis said. "Some of the passing game is the same. They love to get you in man-to-man and run crossing routes. They do a good job of that, and they run them at different levels. You get some vertical stretch in the middle of the field and you get some outside vertical stretch. Those things make you play disciplined when you're in zone and disciplined in man because of the chases you may get yourself in to all the way across the field.

"They've still got some two-back principles. They run a little bit of option with The Spread, make you play the whole field with all of the misdirection and option looks. It forces you to play a little more disciplined defense."

Although Franklin's version of The Spread is unlike the ones UAB and Florida threw at Tennessee in Games 2 and 3, Chavis believes the Vols are prepared for it.

"We spent a lot of time during the summer looking at Troy State and what he (Franklin) did there," the Vol coordinator said. "I think we've got a good grasp of what they want to do. It's a matter of whether we can keep them pinned in."

Like first-year Tennessee offensive coordinator Dave Clawson, Franklin's rookie season on the Auburn staff has been a bumpy ride. To date the Tigers rank 10th among the 12 SEC teams in scoring offense (21.2 points per game), eighth in passing offense (184.2 yards per game), seventh in rushing offense (171.0 yards per game) and seventh in total offense (355.2 yards per game).

After bottoming out in a 3-2 Game 3 defeat of Mississippi State, Franklin's Spread offense bounced back to give a reasonably good showing in a 26-21 Game 4 loss to LSU last weekend.

"I think they've gotten better the longer they've been in it," Chavis said. "Of course, they were playing good defenses both nights. It looks like their athletes felt more comfortable in the LSU game. The ability to throw the ball down the field loosened LSU up some, and that made it a little easier to run the football."

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