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One Move in 2007 & How it Affected Auburn for Years to Come, Pt. I - The Justification

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A Man, a Hawaiian Shirt, a Gulf Coast Offense, and a Domino Effect

And the Chizik jacket-shirt before the jacket-shirt

As if 2007 wasn’t already a wild enough year for Auburn and nation as a whole (detailed here), the Tigers decided that enough was enough. They got rid of the man many felt was responsible for nothing but positives on the Plains. Al Borges had led the resurgence of Auburn’s offense in 2004 on the way to an undefeated year, he had turned Jason Campbell into a first round draft pick, and endeared himself to the Auburn Family with his love for Hawaiian shirts. We loved him, but let’s be honest — as legendary as Borges’ schematic was in 2004, it just didn’t have the same sizzle in 2007.

Borges got let go in favor of a more modern offense, simply known at the time as “the spread.” Was it a justified decision? Whether you want to factor in however much meddling Tuberville and the other offensive assistants may have done, or how the recruiting on the offensive side of the ball never really helped, the raw numbers don’t lie. Check out the regression from Auburn’s offense during Borges’ first year to his last.

2004 - 13-0, SEC Champions

  • 420 yds/gm on offense, 32.1 pts/gm (18th nationally)
  • 237 passing yds/gm, 183 rushing yds/gm
  • 1.6 turnovers/gm
  • Auburn was held below 300 yards in a game just twice (298 vs Alabama, 299 vs Virginia Tech), but of course we know how far ahead they were in most games, never really needing to keep pouring it on due to the famous Tubershell.
  • It also helped that Auburn’s defense finished #1 in the country in scoring defense at just over 11 points/gm.

2005 - 9-3, 2nd Place in the SEC West

  • 410 yds/gm on offense, 32.2 pts/gm (30th nationally)
  • 216 passing yds/gm, 194 rushing yds/gm
  • 1.5 turnovers/gm
  • Here you can see that the offense improved marginally in scoring and turnovers, but it still resulted in three losses. The first one came at home against Georgia Tech in a game where Brandon Cox threw four interceptions. The offense gained nearly 400 yards but couldn’t stop coughing it up. The other losses were the John Vaughn game at LSU, where the Tigers missed five field goals (Auburn gained 451 yards at LSU and didn’t commit a turnover), and then a bowl loss to Wisconsin.
  • Without Campbell, Cadillac Williams, and Ronnie Brown, you could say that the 2005 offense was a better coaching job by Borges than the year before. But if you look at the scoring offense rankings, you could see that the game was changing nationally. Auburn improved by a tenth of a point in that category and fell 12 places in the national rankings. Offense was a higher priority around the country, and soon it would pass Borges by.

2006 - 11-2, 2nd Place in the SEC West

  • 320 yds/gm on offense, 24.8 pts/gm (56th nationally)
  • 172 passing yds/gm, 148 rushing yds/gm
  • 1.5 turnovers/gm
  • At the time, this season could’ve been chalked up to injuries. In really the only game where the entire offense was healthy, Auburn put up 484 yards on Washington State and rolled in a big season-opening win. After that, Kenny Irons dinged himself up against Mississippi State, then Brandon Cox was battered senseless in the win over LSU, and never really recovered all year. Auburn failed to crack the 250 yard mark in four games (including both losses).
  • Auburn won games in 2006 often in spite of the offense. The LSU game was a 7-3 defensive struggle where Auburn gained just 182 yards. They didn’t score an offensive touchdown in the victory over Florida, and averaged less than 220 yards per game in the final two wins over Alabama and Nebraska. Meanwhile, the offense was nonexistent in losses to Arkansas...
...and this guy.

... and Brandon Cox threw four more interceptions in the dreadful defeat to Georgia. That game in particular was a classic case of the 11 AM Tuberville sleepwalk.

2007 - 9-4, 2nd Place in the SEC West

  • 335 yds/gm on offense, 24.2 pts/gm (85th nationally)
  • 178 passing yds/gm, 157 rushing yds/gm
  • 1.8 turnovers/gm
  • Here’s where you see it really start to slip. Auburn’s offense scored one less touchdown in 2007 than it did in 2006, but dropped nearly 30 spots in the national scoring offense rankings. Auburn finished just behind Buffalo and just ahead of Eastern Michigan in that category, while teams like Florida (who Auburn did beat), Oregon, Boise St, and West Virginia were all spreading the ball out and racking up the points. Even Borges’ best output of 32.2 points per game would’ve placed 39th in 2007.

In the end, the decision to show Borges the door and bring in a spread guy was probably the right move. Auburn needed to make a change if they wanted to compete in what was becoming a totally offensive-minded landscape. Was it done in the right way? Pretty obviously not, as Tony Franklin wasn’t a good fit, and the offensive staff holdovers were unwilling to bend to his scheme as long as Tuberville was still in charge. We didn’t know that as 2007 ended, however, because Franklin’s offense set season highs after just a few practices in the bowl game. The spread offense was purported to be the purveyor of future success (and it would be, just not how we envisioned it at the time).

So what would have happened had Borges been given another year? After all, Auburn never finished lower than 2nd in the West while he ran the offense, he probably deserved one more go-around. If he had, things would look quite different today.

Coming Tomorrow: The What-If Game