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Auburn Football X's and O's: Brandon Fulse's Big Day

There are lots of things I want to discuss about Auburn's offensive performance against South Carolina, but it will take a while to put it all together. So instead of waiting until later in the week to post, I'm splitting it up and posting them one at a time. This is Part 1.

Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Fulse had quite a game for an H-back. He caught his first touchdown pass of his career. He did a great job of knocking defenders out of the way in Auburn's multiple run game. And he had a big catch on the opening drive of the third quarter, the drive that gave Auburn its first lead and the upper hand for the rest of the game. He was wide open and Nick Marshall only had to float the ball in his vicinity to make a big play.

How did he get so wide open? How did Gus Malzahn know the play would work?

In his post game press conference, Malzahn was asked about Fulse's big game (at the 3:05 mark in the video below). "We caught him [Fulse] on a wheel route. and I think we hit Sammie [Coates] earlier and we saw that he came open. So we came back and checked that."

They came back and checked that. South Carolina didn't play a sound defense the first time the play was run in the first half. And when a defense over compensates to stop one thing, the Tiger offense is ready to make it pay.

First Half Dig-Wheel

The Post-Wheel or Dig-Wheel route combination was one of the passing concepts I explained in the preseason. The first read is the Post, or the Dig in this case (sort of a shallow Post). Play action complete with a pulling guard sucks the linebackers in and slows the pass rush. Sammie Coates gets inside leverage on the cornerback, so his inside-breaking route only further distances himself from the defender. The deep safety is playing very, very deep, so Marshall's first read, Coates, is open and he hits him in rhythm. As soon as his drop back is complete, the ball is out of his hands.

SammieDig

What Marshall didn't see was Brandon Fulse running down the sideline all by himself. Now Marshall shouldn't be expected to see that. It's the second read and the first was open, so I'm sure he didn't notice. But Auburn's offensive staff did. Two plays after this play, Marshall scored from 37 yards out to tie the game at 21 before halftime. On Auburn's next drive, the first of the second half, Malzahn went back to this play on the way to the go ahead score.

Second Half Dig-Wheel

This time, there is no play action. Cameron-Artis Payne stays back in protection and successfully fends off a defensive end, a great play by him that won't show up in the highlights. The linebackers stay back and watch Marshall's eyes and that deep safety comes up to cover Coates' route, so the Dig isn't open this time. Marshall has to step up into the pocket a couple steps and wait on the Wheel instead.

After leaving the backfield, Fulse flattened his route and looked back to the quarterback. These subtle moves convinced the cornerback originally covering Coates to chase after what he thought was going to be a quick out. It hard to see in the image below, but in the lower left corner, you can see Fulse turn down field and blow right by the corner to get wide open again for a gain of 24 yards.

Auburn marched down the field and scored eight plays later.

FulseWheel

For most of the season, I have been convinced that Jay Prosch was the biggest loss on this offense. It was such a luxury to have a future starting NFL fullback on the team. Brandon Fulse and C.J. Uzomah have done pretty well at the H-back position, but not with the effectiveness or consistency of Prosch. Uzomah has shown his worth elsewhere, proving to be a good receiver and blocker in space at the detached tight end position.

But Fulse doesn't really have another position. He's either an H-back or not on the field. Auburn has used a lot of four-receiver formations this year and part of that has to do with the deep receiving corps, but I think it was also a way to limit the running game's dependence on the H-back's blocking. But if Fulse can continue to make plays like he did against South Carolina, especially as a receiver, he could prove to be a very valuable piece of the offensive puzzle down the stretch.