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Previewing Auburn at Alabama: The Tigers Offense

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It has been a tough year for Malzahn’s crew, but there is talent.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Mississippi
Yeah, it ain’t pretty, Coach.
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Back in 2013, Gus Malzahn got the Auburn job mostly due to his offensive acumen. Unfortunately for him, that side of the ball has been uneven throughout his tenure and has kept him on the hot seat for most of the past four seasons. After getting a big raise and extension this offseason, he finds himself right back on the proverbial bubble for the same reasons. The primary culprit this time has been mediocre play from an offensive line that is severely underperforming its talent level.

You’ve all seen Malzahn’s scheme at this point. It is mostly a power running scheme with plenty of zone reads and RPOs mixed in. Then, of course, you have Gus’s infamous gadget plays. Scott Cochran is a huge fan of those.

Coming into Tuscaloosa as a 24 point underdog and nothing to lose, there is absolutely no limit to what Gus will throw at the Alabama defense. One thing you probably won’t see, however, is the breakneck pace that he was known for earlier in his career. He has understandably instructed embattled coordinator Chip Lindsey to slow it down a bit and play to their stout defense.

The players:

Quarterback

#8 Jarrett Stidham - 6’3” 215 lb. JR

NCAA Football: Liberty at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Stidham was considered a potential first round pick had he declared for the NFL Draft after last season, but felt he needed another year of seasoning. The year has hardly gone as planned for him. Stidham’s numbers have suffered across the board as issues with pass protection and uneven play from his skill players have combined with poor decision making that we didn’t see last year. Make no mistake, however, about his ability. Stidham has a legitimate NFL arm, prototypical size and athleticism that will get his name called relatively early in April. The Tide defense will need to keep the heat turned up and hold up in the back end, just to make sure he doesn’t go off.

Running Backs

#28 Jatarvious Whitlow - 6’0”, 205 lb. RS FR

#8 Kam Martin - 6’3”, 215 lb. JR

NCAA Football: Liberty at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

The more experienced Martin was listed as the starter coming into the season, but Whitlow (above) was right on his heels and took the role in short order. He is solidly built and fast, with some pass-catching ability as well. He gets about two-thirds of the touches. Martin is more of a prodding power back, and he is a load to bring down. Diminutive freshman scatback Shaun Shivers out of Hollywood, FL may see a bit of action as well. This unit is good enough in most games, but there really isn’t a game changing bellcow in the bunch.

Pass Catchers

#23 Ryan Davis - 5’9”, 185 lb. SR

#81 Darius Slayton - 6’2”, 190 lb. JR

#18 Seth Williams - 6’3”, 210 lb. FR

#80 Sal Canella - 6’5”, 232 lb. JR

#27 Chandler Cox - 6’1”, 242 lb. SR

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

The WR corps was ravaged with injuries to returnees Eli Stove and Will Hastings, then the high profile transfer of Nate Craig-Myers after week one. Ryan Davis is the obvious leader of the pack here, his 60 catches doubling those of anyone on the roster, but he has been more of a possession guy with only 8.5 yards per catch. As we saw last year, Davis can be a killer on the crossing routes. Slayton and Williams are big play threats at 14.9 and 20.0 per grab, respectively. Canella is listed as a tight end but lines up in the slot the majority of the time. Cox is the H-Back, a critical position in the Malzahn offense, and he is a good one. He doesn’t get many touches, but you’d be hard pressed to find a better blocker in both the run and pass games. Thanks to all the attrition, the depth consists mostly of true freshmen.

Summary

This unit has struggled all year to put up points, but this game will effectively be their Super Bowl. An Alabama linebacker corps that has struggled at times this season with misdirection will be dealing with a heaping helping of it on Saturday. This would be a fine game for Quinnen Williams and company to dominate what should be a favorable matchup in the trenches and limit the opportunity for slow developing trick plays. The Tigers are unlikely to find much success moving it methodically on the Tide, so eliminating that big play threat will be paramount.