The Auburn Tigers have scored 80 points over the course of their last two games at Arkansas and at Tennessee. They’ve scored those 80 points while throwing the football just 16 times (nine versus the Razorbacks and seven versus the Volunteers). Remarkable.
So just how run-heavy is Auburn’s offense? More run-heavy than any SEC team since at least 2007. On the season, Gus Malzahn’s squad has run the football 493 times out of a grand total of 697 plays. That means 70.7% of the time some Tiger is toting the football rather than throwing it or catching it.
Through 10 games, Auburn has run the ball an eye-popping 49.3 carries per game. Projected onto a 13-game season that would equal 641 carries. If Auburn reaches the SEC Championship Game (increasing its games played to 14), that projection would jump to an insane 690 runs.
To put that into perspective, no SEC teams ran the ball even 600 times (including the SEC title game and bowl games) last year or the year before:
Projected Auburn rushes in 2013: 640.9 (if 13 games), 690.2 (if 14 games)
Alabama, 2012 SEC rush attempts leader: 570 (14 games)
LSU, 2011 SEC rush attempts leader: 591 (14 games)
In fact, the last SEC squad to run the football 600+ times in a season was Auburn in 2010. Ya know, the year Gene Chizik, Malzahn, and some kid named Cam Newton won the BCS crown.
That Auburn squad is one of only five SEC offenses to rush 600+ times since 2007:
Auburn 2013: 640.9 rushes (projected, 13 games) or 690.2 rushes (projected, 14 games)
Auburn 2010: 652 rushes
Arkansas 2007: 625 rushes
Miss. State 2010: 620 rushes
LSU 2007: 612 rushes
Alabama 2009: 601 rushes
So much for total rushes. In terms of the percentage of run calls, none of those teams match Auburn’s current 70.7% run lean:
Auburn 2010: 68.7%
Arkansas 2007: 66.6%
Miss. State 2010: 68.3%
LSU 2007: 67.9%
Alabama 2009: 63.4%
In the SEC this season, Auburn is far and away the most “run happy” team in the league. The next closest teams to Auburn’s 70.7% are Arkansas (60.8%) and Florida (60.3%). Those teams like to run, but they’re so bad they find themselves throwing the ball in catch-up mode more than their coaches would like.
(In case you’re wondering, no SEC team throws the ball more than they run it this year, with Texas A&M being the closes with 50.4 to 49.6 run/pass ratio.)
All those running numbers look terrific for this year’s Tigers. But what happens if/when they find themselves in the position of needing to pass? For example, what happens if AU can’t run as roughshod against Alabama’s defense in this year’s Iron Bowl?
In 2010, for example, Auburn fell behind 24-0 in the first half. Newton led the Tigers back to a 28-27 victory with a 13-of-20 passing performance for 216 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Current quarterback Nick Marshall is putting up some Newton-esque rushing figures (214 yards versus Tennessee on Saturday), but how does he compare as a passer? Put simply… he doesn’t.
Below you’ll see Newton’s passing stats from 2010, a 14-game season. Below his numbers are Marshall’s 2013 stats as well as a projection of his numbers over 14 games:
|Player||Comp-Att||Comp %||Yds||TDs||INTs||Yds/Game||Att/Game||QB Rating|
The takeaway is obvious. Auburn has the most effective rushing attack we’ve seen in the SEC in at least six seasons (though, it must be pointed out, SEC defenses are down this year). Malzahn has his squad playing the same kind of hurry-up, run-first football that led them to a national title just four seasons ago.
But the Tigers do not have a passing threat on par with Newton. Marshall is a great runner and a serviceable passer. Newton excelled as both a runner and a passer.
If someone slows or stops the Auburn ground game — remember: Alabama held LSU to just 1.4 yards per carry last Saturday — it doesn’t appear that they’ll have a passing answer with their starting QB. Auburn’s 2010 team was a run-first squad that could be dynamic in the passing game. This year’s AU squad is pedestrian when passing the football and that makes them one-dimensional, not run-first.
For Malzahn and the Tigers to mount another BCS title run, Marshall will likely have to display more in the passing game than he’s shown so far.