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Evaluating the Auburn Offense - 2004

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With no game this past weekend, Jonny Dent decided to go back in history and evaluate the offense of one of Auburn's greatest teams.

Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images

Since Auburn had a bye week, I thought I'd look some old film and look at what Auburn did offensively in the magical 2004 year. Join me in the nostalgia Tiger fans, or if you're a spring chicken that doesn't remember this season, then consider this part of your fan education.

What stood out about the 2004 team was the fact that it was maybe the best backfield in Auburn history. Jason Campbell had one of the best seasons ever as an Auburn quarterback in 2004 and the duo of Ronnie Brown & Cadillac Williams was an absolute embarrassment of  riches in terms of talent and versatility. While all three had been on the Plains together for a while, it took the creative play calling of Al Borges to realize their full potential.

Famously, Borges had Williams and Brown on the field a great deal, a fact that gets recalled a lot when disgruntled Auburn message board posters feel the current coaching staff isn't utilizing offensive talent as well as they should. Time has a nasty habit of clouding and even changing memories though, so I thought I'd look at the tape and see what Borges did with the dynamic RB duo and why it worked as well as it did. (My apologies for the quality of the screen shots; sadly my 2004 film is not as high quality as the current stuff).

The first thing worth mentioning is that it wasn't an every play thing. Fullback Jake Slaughter didn't just take the season off; he still played plenty. Plays with both Williams and Brown on the field made up a little less than half of all plays. Second is the fact that however versatile you remember Ronnie Brown being, you're not exaggerating it in your mind; he was an outstanding all-around player. Third is the fact that Borges was far more creative in how he lined these two up and what he got them to do than I remember. So let's look at the various ways Borges lined them up:

Regular or Offset I Formation

Brown played the role of fullback and I got a chuckle out of seeing him squatting with his hand in the dirt really embracing the role, but I shouldn't have, because his lead blocking was great. This look was pretty standard for Auburn on first down. Brown and the pulling guard made a more than effective spear head at the point of attack keeping Cadillac clean long enough for him to build up a good head of steam. Brown had the rare ability as a RB to take on SEC linebackers in blocking and win most of the time. They could run straight ahead with Brown as lead blocker no problem which was the important first step in having them both on the field. Example:

The still image doesn't do it justice because Brown takes on a linebacker perfectly placed in the hole and gives him no chance to touch Cadillac. Brown's effectiveness as a lead blocker though made him a great means of misdirection:

Right after the snap, Brown shows a run to the left B gap either as the FB dive or as lead blocker for Williams. Campbell however makes the quick pitch to Cadillac running the other way. Notice the DE looking in. With Cadillac's speed, he's already beat. Cadillac doesn't always have to get the ball when they're both on the field though:

Here, Campbell shows play action to Cadillac, looks downfield for a moment, and then hits Brown who has snuck into the flat. Notice the two linemen and a WR at the top of the screen starting to form his convoy. This play would go for big yardage.

Brown in the Slot

Brown lined up here a lot as well. It was great because it disguised his assignment. He's close enough in to lead block anywhere on the line, but teams knew about his great hands and had to respect him as a threat to run a route. On this play, he gets a great push on the outside linebacker who pushes up-field hard opening a giant hole for Williams:

Brown doesn't have to block just for Cadillac though. If the defense shifted the linebackers towards Brown as seen below, he could just as easily block for the WR on the reverse:

Or, as soon as defenses were tuned into Campbell as a passing threat only, Brown could block for the rare QB keep, which Campbell was more than capable of running:

So, reverses? QB keeper wrinkles? I expected 2004 to look different from current day. Oh well.

RBs to Both Sides

Auburn didn't show this look as often, but it was a nice passing down variant wherein both running backs could either go out or stay in and block. Defenses had to respect their routes or the threat of a RB screen enough that on this play they occupied enough defenders for Campbell to find an open receiver down the middle for a first down.

Cadillac in Motion

While Brown was the superior blocker, Cadillac had to return the favor now and again. And while he couldn't quite take on linebackers like Brown, he could take a cornerback easily enough. Here we see him motion out of the tailback position and do just that. Now Cole Bennett just has to keep David Pollack inside and Brown has enough room to do his thing.

And I'll leave you with everyone's favorite example of Ronnie Brown's versatility:

We all remember Brown's wheel route touchdown catch against Georgia to put the nail in the coffin. But what you may not remember is Cadillac's stellar cut block on a defensive end to give Campbell enough time to get Brown the ball:

Go crazy, Cadillac.

Surprisingly, these players and the coaching by Borges were even better than I remember them. I still think this was a unique situation and there's a reason teams don't put two true RBs on the field at the same time. That said, Pettway does have the size and experience to be a good lead blocker. So if Rhett put this film on over the bye week and got inspired, that wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. I'm not saying, I'm just saying...

Bonus

I was a senior for the 2004 season so I try to tell myself it wasn't that long ago even though I'm now in my 30's with a 9 to 5 job, a wife, a kid, a mortgage, and even the token Golden Retriever. But then something like this happens:

Yup, I'm officially old. War Eagle anyway.