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Xs and Os: Improvisation Can Be Your Friend

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Sometimes, things don't play out like they're supposed to but playmakers make plays anyway. (Splitting the offensive breakdown into two posts again. This is the first half).

Doug Pensinger

Auburn's offense kept shooting itself in the foot in the first half. After an opening drive touchdown, four of the next five possessions ended in punts after penalties. Otherwise, the offense was doing just fine against one of the best defenses in the country. Still, Ole Miss jumped to a 10 point lead early in the second half, so Auburn needed to get its act together quickly.

Fortunately, the Tigers didn't commit an offensive penalty in the second half and scored on the three straight possessions. In the first touchdown drive, improvisation by some of the team's best players helped the team pull within three.

Nick and Duke Scramble

After an incomplete pass and a loss of one yard on a toss to Corey Grant, Auburn needs a big play, so Gus Malzahn dials up Little Rock, the play that won the 2013 Georgia game, complete with the Statue of Liberty fake to the right and the fake hand off to the left. Those fakes slow the pass rush a bit as Sammie Coates runs a Dig route and D'haquille Williams runs a Post. Duke actually takes a step toward the corner which gets the safety out of position for the Post.

Unfortunately, a defensive tackles relentlessly fights his way through four offensive linemen and Nick Marshall is forced to escape the pocket. He barely evades the sack and starts to look down field again. Meanwhile, the safety that bit so hard on Duke's fake Corner route falls down trying to recover. Duke sees his quarterback looking for a target, finds a soft spot in the defense, and makes a 41 yard grab to flip the field. The play didn't work like it was supposed to, but Marshall and Williams made sure that didn't matter.

Duke Scramble

CAP Bounces Outside to the Field

On the very next play, Auburn runs Inside Zone with a bubble and Marshall gives to Cameron Artis-Payne. With no read, H-back Brandon Fulse effectively becomes a sixth offensive lineman. The line gets a good push with the combo blocks and reaches the second level, but the space is limited inside, so CAP continues to take the bye week adjustment to heart and bounces the run outside. Its here that we start to see what can make Artis-Payne a special player. He outruns the linebacker to the edge and then splits the safety running down and the nickel back covering the bubble route.

CAP Bounce1

Tre Mason spoiled us last year by squeezing through tight holes in the line and gaining 10 yards on what should have been only a three yard gain. CAP could have taken three yards up the middle here, too, but he was able to make a big play by taking it outside and making people miss.

CAP Bounces Outside to the Boundary

On the last play, Artis-Payne gained 11 yards by bouncing to the side with the bubble route. As the nickel back widened to take away the bubble, it opened a running lane for CAP to hit for a nice gain. On the very next play, CAP improvised again by bouncing the run outside, but this time to the boundary.

Auburn runs a true zone read with a bubble on this play. The backside defensive end is the first read and, if Marshall had kept the ball, the nickel back would have been the second read. Notice that the nickel back looks frozen in place as he tries to avoid what happened on the previous play. It doesn't affect this play, but I think it's funny.

Regardless, the reads dictate a give to CAP who follows his offensive line blocks to a gap between the right guard and tackle. But the middle linebacker and the slot defender to that side see the gap as well. I don't know if CAP is intentionally baiting the defense to react this way or not, but both defenders attack that void in the line to clog it back up and that's all that our running back needs.

He immediately bounces it outside and outruns the slot defender to the sideline. Chad Slade reaches that middle linebacker to slow down his pursuit and Sammie Coates makes a nice block on the corner back. If Marcus Davis gets more contact on the safety, CAP goes in for a touchdown on this play. I write something like that every week, but I'm not trying to call anyone out. I'm just noting that this offense is very potent and the Tigers could score from nearly anywhere on the field.

CAP Bounce2

The Tigers score two plays later as Nick Marshall keeps on an Inverted Veer. Down only by three halfway through the third quarter, there was still a lot of game left to be played, but some of Auburn's play makers showed that they could get this offense going even when things broke down.