Who would have thunk that Spread 2.0 could be so much fun? Especially for rushing enthusiasts such as myself? After struggling through last year under Tony Franklin's version (who might not have been as crazy as we thought) and Tubs' micro-management (hey, he just wanted to run the ball some more) early results are in and Malzahn's version seems to be working. Why? Simple: It doesn't ignore the run. It features it. It's on full display, just like it heckled the president during a joint session of Congress, but without Nancy Pelosi staring it down.
How much so? Well, like Jay mentioned yesterday, Ben Tate is ranked #6 in the country thus far and Onterio McCalebb is ranked #8. Overall, Auburn is currently 2nd in the nation in rushing, just behind Air Force and ahead of even Georgia Tech at this point. We keep this up and we may snatch a conference or national rushing title quicker than Kanye West does a VMA microphone from a teenage girl.
Granted, it is VERY early, and we have seven more conference games to go, but we are in such a better position than we were last year. Not one Auburn fan will beg to differ. Our bandwagon is filling up faster than a Greyhound heading to the Washington, DC Tea Party. Call it the Gus Bus. Our running game was miserable last year and here are some of the differences that I've noticed between the two:
Fewer qualified tailbacks to hand off to: Last year, with a full house of Tate, Fannin, Lester, Smith and even Tristan Davis, (not to mention Burns) the coaching staff almost seemed like they were feeling guilty about all the guys getting the requisite amount of carries, and consequently, no one ever got any momentum or rhythm. With the new staff moving Fannin to mostly outside the backfield, and with Smith suspended for the first game, the improbable pairing of bowling ball Tate and speedster McCalebb seems to be the best combination of torque and horsepower we've seen since Cadillac and Ronnie. Tubs always had a reluctance to feature both of those guys at the same time, like there was something selfish about having two backs rush for over 100 yards in a game. Now we've done it two games in a row--something that an Auburn team has never done before (can you believe that?) We could have had THREE last Saturday, had they given Mario Fannin a few more reps at tailback during the waning moments.
Less of the lone set back trickery: With only one back behind the QB, and only one hand-off attempt, the odds are pretty good that the opposing defense are going to figure out where the ball is--and quick. The half-ass shotgun that we ran under Franklin last year with a lone setback didn't fool anyone. ESPECIALLY if Chris Todd was back there. He was no more threat to run than Brad Pitt is for mayor of New Orleans. At least when Kodi Burns was QB he kept you guessing a bit, but with Todd, even my mother knew he was handing it off, and she was watching Matlock reruns. But we have a new and improved Chris Todd, who even though it was his arm that was surgically repaired, is definitely more light of foot. Hell, he's even running options now and running a keeper now and then. Dancing with the Stars a possibility after a run at the NFL?
Reduced clueless meerkat swivels looking over at the sidelines for the play: Everybody hated this about the offense last year. I thought it was cute for about the 1st quarter of the Chicken Bowl the year before against Clemson, but I'd had enough by the time the clock struck midnight and 2008 rolled around. I guess it's the natural by-product of not actually huddling up. Everyone has to look somewhere, kind of like everyone stares up at the floor indicator in an elevator. But couldn't just one guy do it and commmunicate it to the rest? Okay, that would be like a huddle, too, so I guess we're back where we started. Anyway, we do it far less than we used to, which makes watching it on TV more bearable. I think this stunt unnecessarily tires the offensive line, having to crank all 300+ pounds of pads and perspiration around 90 degrees to get the play. I swear! They didn't block as well last year as they have this year, and hear me out: I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I believe that we walked on the moon, in the single bullet theory and the government's explanation of Roswell, but I also believe that the meerkat maneuver hexes our lineman something terrible. Let them keep their heads down in the trenches where they belong.
Is this new vaunted rushing attack put together by Gus Malzahn and Curtis Luper going to keep banging in the SEC, or will we change it up a bit later in the season? I tell you this. We as fans, knowing that we were facing a shotgun marrying us to the spread for the foreseeable future, couldn't have dreamed of a better version of it that honors the rushing tradition of our institution and gives us an offense that legitimately has a chance to score every time they touch the ball. Tailback U, baby! Looks like it's back! We'll check back on this topic in a few weeks!