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Film Study: The Tigers Keep the Spartans Guessing

Auburn ran from passing formations, passed from running formations, and, combined with the HUNH, moved the ball with ease against San Jose State.

Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

The Spartans didn't put up much of a fight against the Tigers' offense. The first quarter ended with the Auburn leading 14-7 and when halftime arrived, the score was a lopsided 38-10. Auburn scored on eight of its 14 possessions -- seven touchdowns and one field goal -- and many of the most successful drives featured some very effective disguise. When an offense can hide its intentions and give the defense only a few seconds to decipher those intentions, lots of points will be scored.

I asked for questions on Twitter again and I got some good responses. Are Marshall's incompletions on him or the receivers? Does Auburn really favor running to the left in critical situations? Is Jeremy Johnson not a legitimate running threat? I didn't get to answer those this time, but since Auburn has a bye this Saturday, I'll look try to answer these questions and look into some other things like that next week with the help of Football Study Hall's Charting Project.

Running from a passing formation

Video of the first drive starts at 6:08

Auburn's opening drive was clearly designed to see how San Jose State's defense would react to multiple looks. The first play was a Zone Read from the Diamond formation as Nick Marshall kept it outside with two blockers leading the way. The second was an Inverted Veer from a single back formation with Corey Grant taking the ball to the wide side of the field. For the third play, Auburn showed a stacked backfield and an in-line tight end, but Marshall threw an easy pass to Ricardo Louis.

On the fourth play, the Tigers lined up in yet another formation, one with four wide receivers (2x2). The running back motioned out of the backfield, the middle linebacker followed the motion and that left the middle of the defense wide open for a quarterback draw.


When Auburn runs a QB Draw up the middle, the guard to the 1-tech side steps back, the center takes out that 1-tech and the guard pulls around to lead block down field. But with no linebacker there, Marshall flew right by Avery Young and nearly scored from 50 yards out (TUCK THE BALL!!!). Just when the Spartans were expecting a pass play, Auburn ran it right up the middle. (Auburn ran this QB Draw again in the third quarter and Marshall made it to the end zone that time, but the video was FRL'd and, therefore, unusable.)

Passing from a running formation

Video of the second drive starts at 13:53

Last year, the Diamond formation was used exclusively as a running formation -- Inside Zone Read with two blockers arcing around for the quarterback keeper -- but Gus Malzahn opened the playbook in the second drive of the game. Coming out of the backfield, C.J. Uzomah joined Melvin Ray to the right on Hitch routes while Duke Williams took advantage of a wide open field to the left and ran a post-corner route. Nick Marshall kept his eyes down the middle of the field to hold the safety, Williams faked the post route, and then the two connected for 27 yards.



Out of the same formation, Auburn risked the life of every player on the field and snapped the ball with 33 seconds still on the play clock. It was another zone read, but C.J. Uzomah ran out of the backfield opposite of Brandon Fulse, just like he was running another passing route. This occupied two defenders and gave the simple run that much more room.


Two plays later, Auburn passed out of the formation again, using the Post/Wheel route combination. Uzomah beat his man, but the line let a pass rusher leak through and Marshall's throw was affected. The ball went to Uzomah's backside shoulder and he couldn't quite haul it in.


Auburn paced San Jose State for a few more plays, snapping the ball with as few as 10 seconds off the play clock, but the offense faced 3rd and Goal from the 4-yard-line, so it dialed up the quick huddle. When the huddle broke, Auburn had both offensive tackles to the right and Corey Grant ready to jet through the backfield, so San Jose State was surely expecting a run. Just before the snap, no one saw Ricardo Louis hiding behind Uzomah and as the play started nearly every defender had his eyes on Grant. Uzomah ran a shallow and Louis leaked out into the flat, both against the flow of the defense. They were both wide open and Marshall just hit the easier throw.


Run over and over with pace

Video of the third drive starts at 24:44

So clearly showing run or pass and actually doing the other is very effective as it gets defenders out of position. What if the offense doesn't disguise its intentions, but instead runs play after play at a hurried pace? That gets defenders out of position, too.

On the third drive, Auburn started with two jet sweeps, one to the right and one to the left, plus a zone read up the middle. Those three plays gained 37 yards in about 50 seconds of real time. As the Tigers were lining up for another play, two Spartan linemen were asking to be subbed out. Instead they got blown out of the way by Shon Coleman and Chad Slade as Auburn picked up an easy first down.


Four plays later, the Tigers reached the two-yard-line, hurried back to the line of scrimmage and started the next play with 28 seconds on the play clock. At least one San Jose State defender was trying to find his place in the formation. At the snap, Cameron Artis-Payne ran in his direction but he was in no position to make a play because Coleman was on top of him. CAP just barely reached the goal line, so a properly aligned defense might have made a stop, but the HUNH ensured the play was a success.