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Xs and Os: Who Can Stop This Offense?

Simply put: Itself.

Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn's offense has been lights out in the last three games. Other than some red zone issues in Starkville, no defense has really stopped it since Kansas State. Unfortunately, the offense has been stopped from time to time, but it's not the opponents' doing. Instead, I believe Auburn is the only team that can stop Auburn's offense.

When asked about the fumble at the goal line, Rhett Lashlee said that they had already scored with that same exact play before, the Inside Zone Read with a linebacker read and a bubble screen. I counted three. Each time, Auburn's offensive line either dominated Texas A&M's defensive line or Nick Marshall used his deception and shiftiness to reach the end zone. The fourth time would have been another touchdown if not for a crucial mistake.

Zone Read Touchdown No.1

After losing a fumble on the very first offensive play, the Tigers score a touchdown on their next drive. They reach the two yard line and run the play Lashlee mentioned. At its heart, its a pretty conservative play. The first option is to just hand off to the running back and let the ball carrier plow into the scrum. That's exactly what happened on this play.

Zone Read TD1

In particular, watch the left side of the offensive line. Center Reese Dismukes handles his man well while guard Devonte Danzey and tackle Shon Coleman clobber the defensive tackle on their way to the second level. In this version of the zone read, H-back Brandon Fulse actually blocks the defensive end instead of leaving him to be read and he does a great job. He actually absorbs the rush of another defender as well. Nick Marshall reads the overhang defender (a linebacker or safety just outside the defensive end) and gives the ball to Cameron Artis-Payne. He runs through the hole opened by the offensive line and reaches the end zone with ease.

Zone Read Touchdown No.2

In the third quarter, Auburn gets inside the 10 yard line and runs this play twice in a row. The first time, Roc Thomas gains three yards up the middle. The Tigers hurry to the line and run the play again while the A&M defense tries to recover.

Zone Read TD2

This time Danzey can't hold off two defenders and the overhang defender rushes straight for the running back. This stops Thomas cold, but he doesn't have the ball. Nick Marshall reads that overhand defender and walks into the end zone untouched. The only player that can make a play, the slot defender, is chasing after the bubble screen.

Zone Read Touchdown No.3

In the fourth quarter, Auburn reaches the A&M six and runs the play yet again. This time, A&M is playing a little more off the line and,  more importantly, the slot defender is watching for the quarterback keep.

Zone Read TD3

Marshall reads the linebacker to his left and decides to keep it. The rest of the play is proof that Marshall is a dynamic player that makes this offense what it is. Similar to a big run against Ole Miss, he gets past the edge, starts down field and then cuts out again to dodge the tackler. From there, he outruns another defenders and gets a big block from C.J. Uzomah.

WARNING: Heartbreak ahead. If you don't read past this point, I understand.

Zone Read Fumble

Down by three and with little time on the clock, Auburn reaches the A&M two yet again. A&M does a decent job of clogging up the running lanes in the middle, though CAP probably would have been able to squeeze ahead for two yards. Instead, Marshall rides the mesh (when both the quarterback and the running back have the ball) too long and at an awkward angle. The Aggies have extra defenders outside to the right, so a QB run that direction probably wouldn't have resulted in much. It looks like Marshall sees an opening to the right of the center and he tries to pull it back from CAP too late.

Zone Read Fumble

Regardless, the ball hit the ground, and, though over-the-top images may show CAP on the ball, and Texas A&M players all but admit they didn't initially have the ball, it didn't stop the Aggies from gaining possession or their fans from making light of said images. (It's not like they would over-analyze one play near the end of a game, would they?)

So, Auburn was unstoppable with that one play until it stopped itself. In fact, out of Auburn's twelve offensive possessions, A&M only truly forced a punt once. (The only other punt was partially due to a penalty.)

This offense is a great offense. It just has to get out of its own way.