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Evalutaing the Auburn Offense - Ole Miss 2016

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A continuing look at Auburn's playbook

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a good thing my pieces are always about the offense, because I’d hate to have to detail the success the Rebels had throwing the ball last Saturday. Thankfully, Auburn was able to give as good as they got and racked up 40 points on the road. So let’s see what wrinkles Lashlee added this week:

Plays

Here we see a typical 2 back 3 receiver formation from Auburn, but one of those receivers is the hybrid Stanton Truitt. Sure enough, he motions into the backfield pre-snap and becomes a running back. Pettway becomes a blocker, a skill we all know he has and something I suggested Auburn use in my bye week piece. And we would see Pettway block several more times this game.

I like this play because it conceals the offense’s intentions until just before the snap and it allows Auburn to overload the play-side with blockers quickly. In true Malzahn fashion, it also makes full use of the skillsets of both Truitt and Pettway. Cox is being asked to cover a lot of ground which makes his block challenging which I think shows that the coaching stuff trusts him a whole lot more now than they did several weeks ago. The Ole Miss defenders actually got a pretty good push on this play, but despite that Truitt was still able to pick up the first down.

Next is Jalen Harris’ first play in at TE. With Harris, Johnson, & Cox all on the field, you can forgive the Ole Miss defense for thinking run. Instead, White uses play action with Johnson and then hits Slayton on a deep slant/post.

That outside linebacker is about as flat footed as you’ll ever see. He gives no thought to ever dropping into coverage so it’s easy for Slayton to get behind him. The other two routes spread the secondary across the field and Slayton is able to use his big body to shield the ball from his lone defender on an in-breaking route. It’s a very simple example of how the ground game and play action make White’s life so easy.

Next, Auburn’s at the goal line looking at third down. They have tried two inside zones up the middle to no avail so they bring in the jumbo package with Johnson in the wildcat for 3rd down.

Ryan Davis shows the jet sweep and White goes ahead of him presumably as lead blocker. Having failed twice up the middle, the defense may be expecting something wide and sure enough, a couple defenders widen with the jet sweep. The overhead shot shows you just how much they widened.

This is more than enough room for Auburn to run power right to the point where the defenders widened. Pick your poison, inside or outside? I do wonder if Johnson has the ability to hand it off for the jet sweep if no defenders widen, but I doubt it with White as lead blocker.

Next, can we talk about the old Carl Stewart wheel routes? 3 different Auburn head coaches having been making hay with that route for over 15 years. How does it continue to work so well?

On 3rd down Auburn shows the end around play action that usually always means the ball is going deep. As you can see from the shot above, the defense has already forgotten about Johnson. Linebacker #3 figures it out quickly enough, but he’s in no position to track Johnson down and Johnson is crazy wide open. Whatever the defensive answer to this is, I really would have expected opposing teams to implement it by now. But I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

Next, we haven’t seen Auburn backed up against its own goal line much this season but they found themselves there after a fourth down stop. Conventional wisdom says run it, get positive yards, don’t risk the safety or getting behind schedule this close to the goal line. Which is why I love this call:

Auburn comes in with an extra O-lineman which makes the defense expect run even more. You can see the safety at the top of the screen start to walk into the box pre-snap. This leaves Slayton in a one-on-one matchup with his corner and White throws a good jump-ball to the big man. I love that the staff is willing to take to take bold calculated risks like these. The players have to love it and it has to give them a shot of confidence. It’s even bolder considering the passing game had failed to connect several times to end the previous drive.

Next there’s more play action goodness. Auburn uses it’s pulling guard pass pro and a toss sweep play action to really sell the run:

Marcus Davis is also selling a block for the sweep as well so the second level of the defense writes him off. But when the toss is a fake, it’s too late and Davis is well behind his defenders. Good pass protection by Braden Smith in space against the DE. White has another easy throw to a wide-open receiver.

Now admit it, you died a little inside when you saw the single wing formation:

Instead they change formation and pull the old hopping ineligible receiver play and we get the moment we’ve all been waiting for: a throw to a TE. I thought it would take a bit longer, but I knew we’d do it eventually.

I joke about how ridiculous it is for a defense to be fooled by the hopping lineman, but at the same time, maybe the ridiculousness of it all is what occupies the deep safety’s eyes long enough to leave Harris open. I’m glad Lashlee is able to troll defenses like this, I just wish the fan base didn’t have to get trolled with the single wing.

Takeaways

Lashlee is doing exactly what he needs to do: keep it fresh. I discussed more plays here than I normally do and I could have done more. Granted, there were a few creative plays where Ole Miss stayed disciplined and made stops, but mostly, Lashlee was able to put defenders out of position all night. And the good part about it is all this misdirection is a compliment to the primary production of the run game, not the engine itself. Of all the plays that went for big gains, a little less than half of them were from our base running plays. The Auburn defense continues to evolve and execute. We should be able to keep things fairly conservative for the next couple games and then pull out all the stops offensively in Tuscaloosa.

Other Thoughts

  • Pettway is certainly a monster and he therefore deserves a proper nickname, and not just Bubba. (That’s a family thing where I come from; we call my brother-in-law Bubba.) I therefore humbly suggest "the Juggernaut" because once he gets his momentum going there’s no stopping him.

  • Inside zone has been Auburn’s bread and butter since Lashlee took over, but that may be starting to change. Guards were pulling all night and I counted more power/counter plays than inside zone plays this game for the first time.
  • I know the missed deep balls drive people crazy, but I don’t think it’s anything to worry about. We’re going to hit on a few of those going forward.
  • Auburn continues to use more tempo and leave the same personnel on the field. Substitutions were fairly rare and mostly came after unsuccessful plays when they did happen. What makes this possible is how we’re now able to do whatever we want out of each formation. Auburn has been able to throw out of jumbo sets and run out of 4 WR sets.
  • I for one am happy to welcome the TE pass back to Auburn. Now let’s see more crunch-time TE touchdowns a la the late great Lutzie.

WDE.