You all owe me for this one. I spent actual hours of my life watching cut-ups of the Auburn offense so that I could spare you the feelings of grime deep within my soul that is still clinging to me. I’m starting a GoFundMe so that you can donate to the eye doctor bills that will soon be coming in from me gouging out my own eyes. There was no other option. They had to be purged.
But, enough about that. I’ll do my best to be totally impartial and objective for the duration of this.
The Gus Malzahn offense is mostly the same as it’s always been while he’s been there. Shotgun-based, though the back lines up in more of an offset pistol more often than not. There is usually an H-back in front of the QB somewhere ready to block, and there is generally always someone, usually a receiver, in motion. From there, it’s either a power run up the middle, a speed sweep, or a quick pass off of playaction.
They still hurry to the line and snap the ball immediately after getting there if there is no receiver motion, but Gus has slowed the pace down a little from his early years— they often huddle a few feet from the ball for a few seconds before trying to jump into place and snap it before the defense is ready.
Running back Kerryon Johnson is the man who makes all of this work. At 212 pounds, he’s got both the speed to bounce to the outside and the strength/stamina to pound away up the middle all game as long as the other team lets him keep going. He’s exceptional at slipping out of tackles to turn 4 yard gains into 11 yard gains and keep the chains moving time after time. He has 1172 yards on 5.3 yards per carry and 16 touchdowns on the season.
He’s backed up by bowling ball and former starter Kamryn Pettway, who’s been dealing with injuries all season and may not even play this weekend. In his stead is Kam Martin, who is the very opposite of a bowling ball. At 182 pounds, he’s lightning quick and is mostly used on speed sweeps and the such to get outside the tackles.
Receiver Eli Stove is the go-to man on receiver sweeps and reverses, and he has 22 carries for 265 yards in the running game alone.
While the Auburn rushing offense is both deadly and efficient, their passing game is a bit clunky, to say the least. QB Jarrett Stidham, preseason Heisman favorite, technically is one of the top in the league in efficiency, but it’s so bolstered by the volume of screen plays that the numbers can be deceiving. He’s got a very strong arm and a quick release, but his side-arm motion leads to accuracy issues. Over throws on deep balls. Under throws on shallow routes. Errant placement on even the screen passes eliminate yardage that his receivers could have gotten.
He’s a good enough runner with some speed, but has no ability to elude tackles or follow blocks or anything like that. He also has happy feet in the pocket and drifts around into people when not pressured, or caving and trying to escape (usually right into one of his own linemen) at the first hint of pressure. Despite my criticisms, his numbers are actually pretty good. 2445 yards with a 67% completion rate and 16 touchdowns to only 4 interceptions.
The diminutive and explosive Ryan Davis is the most common target with 58 catches for 564 yards and 5 touchdowns— all team highs. Davis does most of his damage after the catch on short, quick screens and other routes designed to let him try to make guys miss. On the other hand, the 6’2” Darius Slayton is used almost solely as the team’s deep threat. With only 19 catches, he has 533 yards and 5 touchdowns. He’s fast, and Stidham can throw a long way. It’s not the kind of deep ball connection like we saw with Sammie Coates going over people for contested catches in the past, but more of a connection predicated solely on speed.
Eli Stove, the designated jet sweep motion man, also has 26 catches for 238 yards to go along with his rushing production. Stove and Davis both are YAC guys that are more extensions of the running game that pure receivers, and it shows in that both average less than 10 yards per catch.
You’ll also occasionally see Will Hastings, a former walk-on kicker, who has 19 catches for 388 yards and 3 touchdowns on the season. He’s fallen out of the rotation somewhat lately, but his slight 170 pound frame gives him exceptional suddenness in his route-running, and suddenly the tiny white guy is 30 yards behind the defense with no one in the vicinity.
You’re going to see a lot of runs. Over and over again. Power runs. Sweeps. Jet Sweeps. Screens. And they come one after another, with little time in between for a defense. The opponent defenses will start off strong, shutting down the run game and forcing Stidham into long situations. But as the game goes on, the Auburn O-line starts opening holes more and more often, and Johnson keeps slipping just enough tackles to keep the defense on the field. Suddenly there’s a triple play-action and everyone is just so tired of all that tom-foolerly that they hesitate, and Slayton is now 5 steps ahead of the cornerback and catching a 50-yard touchdown.
The Auburn offense, as it always has been under Gus can be extremely efficient and deadly. But a defensive front with the depth, discipline, and stamina to keep the run game bottled up without giving up chunk gains on sweeps can force Jarrett Stidham into 3rd and long situations where he’s more than likely to panic and take a sack or badly overthrow someone than he is to make a chain-moving play.