In the wake of a 2-3 Southeastern Conference start, and a near-total failure of the Auburn offense, many have called for sweeping changes in the Auburn program, and wholesale dismissals. Some folks believe that we should start a true freshman quarterback, others believe that a return to the power I is the way, despite a lack of blockers and injuries that plague most of our runners. Some fans believe that the season is over, and that the spread offense is dead, a passing fad in the image of such dinosaurs as the wishbone, and the run 'n' shoot. Esteemed blogger Brian Cook would beg to differ:
In short, nine of the top ten offenses in the Bowl Subdivision run variations on the Spread. So, perhaps Auburn simply doesn't have the personnel to make it go, particularly at the critical position, quarterback?
I think we DO HAVE at least one quarterback with the potential to run this offense, but we've done everything possible, since he arrived in August a year ago, to wreck his confidence. Naming Kodi Burns as the starter now, was the right a step in the right direction. He needs reps. He needs time. More than anything, he needs the support of his teammates, his coaches, and the Auburn fans.
Last fall, we threw Kodi in as a true freshman, in the 3rd game of the season, and told him to beat Mississippi State with maybe 3 plays. After a quarter, Bulldog coach Ellis Johnson figured out how simple it was, and shut him down. We installed a little more after getting “Croomed,” and started Burns against New Mexico State. Despite throwing a TD pass, he got the hook early, and Brandon Cox was back in as the starter. The critics started calling Burns the "happy feet" quarterback. He was shuffled in occasionally, always to take the snap and run. He was seldom given any chance to be successful, in 2007.
As the 2007 season wound down, Kodi's confidence was shattered. Tony Franklin replaced Al Borges, after the regular season, and installed a crash-course version of the spread. Kodi was largely tapped to run the read-option, during his reps, but did have the option occasionally, to just drop back and chuck it to whomever appeared to be open. Kodi did drill a bullet to Mario Fannin, to give us a third quarter lead. As I've posted before, Clemson totally botched their defensive game plan in the Peach Bowl, sticking the whole game with a run-stop package, designed to defeat I-formation power football. Coupled with the inaccuracy of Cullen Harper, Auburn won a dramatic victory on New Year's Eve, and most Auburn fans had visions of a dominant offense in 2008, to savor in the off-season.
Rather really get behind Burns as the heir apparent, Tony Franklin and the staff immediately made a scholarship available to the injured Chris Todd, a veteran signal-caller in the Franklin system. As it would turn out, Todd was never able to make the throws required outside, but due to failings in our own Auburn defense throughout camps and into this fall, the coaching staff believed that Todd was the superior master of the Franklin spread. Successful short passes against an inside zone that can't cover slot receivers and tight ends, convinced the offensive coaching staff that the future was with Todd. Kodi Burns got only passing consideration, despite burning it up at the end of spring drills, and having a strong fall camp.
Todd started with a modicum of success, against two rebuilding non-conference opponents; one Sun Belt, one Conference USA. Despite about a half-dozen or more throws into coverage in those two games, Todd had avoided the turnover with drops by opponent defenders. When Burns came in in the third quarter against USM, and threw an ugly pick, he was roundly condemned, and demoted for the foreseeable future to the second string, on a single bad pass. Todd was the man, despite showing limited arm strength, and a propensity to throw into coverage more than equal to Kodi Burns' problems. Burns would now get only a few reps in practice.
Against a respectable SEC defense in Starkville, the middle zone was taken away, and Todd struggled badly. The Bulldogs were going to MAKE Auburn beat them with throws outside, and it just wasn't going to happen. The offensive staff got a brief respite the next week, as they were able to dice up LSU's young defense to an extent, as inexperienced linebackers and safeties struggled for the purple and gold. Against Tennessee, and a decent John Chavis unit, things stalled again.
Against Vandy, the staff finally realized that we'd need some semblance of a running game, and we started strong. Again, though, Kodi Burns was brought in to run the QB draw on first down, and Vandy was easily able to see that. When Burns WAS allowed to throw, it was typically on 3rd and very long.
After Franklin was fired, Burns got the start against the Razorbacks, but the staff yanked him in favor of Chris Todd, after a successful field goal drive, and again after leading us to a double-digit lead in the third quarter. What does being yanked DO to a young man's confidence, after he's been successful? Ultimately, Burns was able to lead us down in the end, to have a chance to win. The coaches finally gave him a chance, and three throws went out of bounds, a turn of events that smacks of few reps, and no chemistry with his receivers. Wonder why?
Kodi needs to get the majority of the reps, this next week. Having Caudle and Trotter nipping at his heels and taking practice time away is NOT going to help the situation. We'll need a guy who's been under fire, when we travel to Morgantown next Thursday. We need Kodi Burns to be ready, not fearing for his job and an early hook. Can you imagine a quarterback with no prior college snaps, leading us the rest of the way? It's just not going to work!
In quite a few forums, the Auburn offensive assistants are under fire, and not without reason. Coach Nall, we can read the line calls from the TV, or the stands. That's got to change. Georgia and Florida run everything from the three point stance. Let's not tip 'em off anymore, whether it's going to be a run or a pass. The center's head also doesn't need to bob in the direction of the play, every time, either. Coach Knox, insist that your guys run their routes sharply, and actually look back for the ball. Coach Ensminger, no more short-side options on 3rd and long. Sometimes, we need to just line up in a power formation, and knock out a first down. We've abused our defense terribly, on the time of possession issue.
We can beat three of the next five, at least, if we fix some of these problems, and get behind Kodi Burns as our starting quarterback. Here's hoping we do!