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4 Downs: Things to know on the Auburn offense




I'm going to write a full story on a specific aspect of the Auburn defense later this week, and with no room my budget this week for something on the Auburn offense, I decided to give you that here. 




In consecutive games against Clemson and Mercer, Auburn used a running back to carry the ball a combined 56 times. All 56 times, it was Kamryn Pettway. 


It was an incredibly unusual development for Gus Malzahn, who has a deep history of spreading out a heavy rushing workload through at least two, if not three, backs. For context: the one year he had a feature guy, when Tre Mason got Heisman buzz in 2013, he only accounted for 43 percent of Auburn's carries that year. The Pettway thing became a big talking point out of Auburn thanks to that fact. 


The correction came in convincing fashion against Missouri last week: Kam Martin ran for 74 yards, Kerryon Johnson scored five touchdowns on 18 carries and Pettway didn't play at all. After that brief scare for a couple of weeks, nothing is new: Auburn's going to run. A lot. 


"They've got running backs that give you different looks, great combinations of size, speed and power as they mix it up," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. 




Mullen said of the Auburn offense: "They have a quarterback that's starting to grow into the system of what they're doing. You see it from week to week. He made a lot of big plays even before he got to Auburn, and now he's starting to get comfortable in their system." 


He's obviously mentioning the preseason's most discussed transfer quarterback, Jarrett Stidham. Let's run down Stidham's numbers from the first two games to the last two games: 


- First two games: 56.25 completion percentage, 5.5 yards per attempt, 9.7 yards per completion, -25 rushing yards (getting sacked endlessly by Clemson being the obvious reason for that. 


- Last two games: 83.3 completion percentage, 10.7 yards per attempt (over six more attempts, at that), 12.9 yards per completion, 58 rushing yards. 


The competition certainly helped -- Georgia Southern and Clemson in the first two games, Mercer and Missouri in the last two -- but most people involved are looking beyond that. 




The talent level on Auburn's offense was never a question: the only question was where those guys would end up. The Tigers seem to have figured that out now. 


Braden Smith was widely regarded as one of the conference's best offensive linemen and was talked about at both left tackle and center, but he's ended up at right guard. (Kind of strange for a team that doesn't live on pulling guards to be one of the nation's elite linemen there, but I digress.) That's not the real one: the big thing is switching center and right tackle. 


For the first time this season, Casey Dunn, a transfer from Jacksonville State, started at center against Missouri and the Austin Golson started at right tackle, Auburn's raving about the combination, so that could pose trouble for MSU; on the flip side, this Dunn guy is playing his second game at center and has to deal with Jeffery Simmons. That's a big matchup in this game. 




Auburn has not shown itself to be the kind of team that will generate big offensive plays with any consistency. It has tallied 17 plays of 20 or more yards this season, which ranks behind the MSU offense and the talk around it of being unable to go deep, but also this list of uninspiring offenses: Iowa, Duke, Wake Forest, Virginia, UConn and UMass. 


To make matters worse, that Auburn number is actually a bit inflated to the average for the year as Auburn got at least five 20-yard-plus plays against Mizzou last week. There is also evidence that Auburn doesn't need those explosive plays. 


Take a look at Power Success Rate, a measurement of how often teams that run on third or fourth down with two or fewer yards to go get the first down. It has a pretty obvious objective: measuring how well teams can impose their will when the situation calls for that and nothing else. Auburn converts there 83.3 percent of the time, which ranks 17th in the nation. When you're moving the sticks on third-and-short that well, maybe you're not as dependent on big plays as most are.



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