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Don’t Write Off The Spread At Auburn Just Yet

Following the introductory press conference of Scot Loeffler yesterday, many pundits began writing the epitaph for Auburn’s spread offense.  After all, the new offensive coordinator said that he wanted to “protect the defense” and that likely means chucking the no-huddle, hurry-up part of Gus Malzahn’s system.  (Makes you wonder if Gene Chizik and Malzahn might not have seen eye-to-eye when the OC had to slow down his offense at the HC’s request last season.)

Auburn also welcomed aboard Jay Prosch, a transferring fullback from Illinois last week.  There certainly wasn’t a traditional fullback in Malzahn’s spread, either.

Further muddying the water, Loefler and Chizik danced around specific questions about Auburn’s new offensive style.  “I like it all,” Loeffler said.  “What we’re going to do here is take our personnel, assess exactly where we are, and we’re going to build a system to get our playmakers the football.”

“Everybody’s going to talk about spread and pro,” Chizik said.  “What they’re called, that’s overrated.  It’s real simple on offense right now.  Create the offense, and have the flexibility to get your best players the football.”

A slower pace.  A fullback.  Both coaches refusing to say the spread would be back.  All have been taken as clear signs that the days of Malzahn’s influence are at an end.

But remember that one thing still lives on from the Malzahn era — a roster specifically recruited for the spread offense.  If Auburn wants to go from spread to pro-style on a dime, the Tigers could be looking at some of the same issues faced by Florida’s new regime in 2011.  Ask Will Muschamp how easy the Gators’ transition was.

We find it far more likely that Loeffler — a man with experience in both spread and pro-style systems will simply start the move from spread to pro-style.  That may be a multi-year project depending on how quickly Auburn can begin to recruit to Loeffler and Chizik’s desired system.

So what do we think you’ll see on the Plains this fall?  Listen to what receiver prospect JaQuay Williams said last week that Chizik told him:

“He said it’s going to be a little bit o the same.  Four receivers.  Three receivers.  It’s be more a little pro-style.  It’s going to be good.”

That sounds reasonable.  The Tigers have recruited the skill positions hard.  If Loeffler can coach up one of Auburn’s quarterbacks — Clint Moseley, Kiehl Frazier or newcomer Zeke Pike — it makes sense that AU would still try to spread teams out across the field.  They also lost their best offensive weapon in running back Michael Dyer.

With Dyer off to Malzahn’s Arkansas State squad, Onterio McCalebb is the Tigers’ leading returning rusher.  But McCalebb has most often been used on sweeps as AU’s speedy “Mr. Outside.”  Could he become a traditional, workhorse, SEC back?  Good question.  See: Jeff Demps at Florida.

Florida-transfer Mike Blakely (close to Dyer’s 5’9, 210 frame) and Alabama-transfer Corey Grant are options as well, but current commitment Jovon Robinson might be the closest thing to a prototypical, pro-style back at 6’0, 215.

Suffice to say, Loeffler might not have the personnel to run a tried-and-true pro-style offense.  For that reason we anticipate Auburn will continue to spread teams out (think NFL Saints and NFL Patriots rather than Malzahn’s or Oregon’s spread) and will continue to utilize the occasional sweep or end-around to take advantage of talents like McCalebb’s.

We do agree with most others that it sounds like the hurry-up is going bye-bye.

But to suggest a wholesale system change in Year One?  That would be inviting the same kind of troubles that Muschamp and Charlie Weis experienced last season.  To see those issues first-hand, Chizik would only need go dig out the game tape from Auburn’s 17-6 win over the Gators last season.



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