4 ways Auburn's offense will be different in 2021
Change has become a constant on The Plains. That ramps up even more heading into the 2021 season.
The good news for Auburn fans is that they don’t have to swallow the constant waffling that they’re accustomed to. It seemed as if former head coach Gus Malzahn had a different mission statement in each of his 8 years in Auburn. Sometimes he claimed he was going to take complete control of the offense. Other times, he said he was ready to hand over the reins. That got really old fast.
The one consistent factor of Malzahn’s two approaches is that they almost never stuck throughout the season. Malzahn was incredibly ahead of the offensive curve when he left Arkansas State for Auburn in 2013. Sure, the Tigers had success under Malzahn initially. However, as time went on, it became apparent that he didn’t have the conviction to be a successful, long-term head coach. That’s why Auburn decided to move on.
Here are 4 ways Auburn’s offense will be different — and perhaps better — under first-year Tiger head coach Bryan Harsin.
1. It will be consistent
This seems like a certainty when compared to the past. There’s no way Auburn would have hired another coach who didn’t have a clear vision of what he wanted his offensive approach to be. Harsin has extensive experience as an offensive coordinator and spent the past 8 seasons as head coach at Boise State.
The consistency should be evident game to game. Auburn had offensive highlights but often seemed out of sorts because of a rather elementary scheme.
“Under Gus Malzahn, Auburn’s offense was a power outside zone team that worked best when the tempo was fast and the quarterback was utilized in the running game,” former NFL scout and college coach Chris Landry of LandryFootball.com said. “Where it failed was the overall lack of development in the passing game, starting from fundamental flaws in pass protection to poor route concepts that often limited options.”
When it worked, Auburn forced teams to overplay the run, especially via the quarterback. When it didn’t, there wasn’t much of an answer.
“When they could not have their consistent success with the run game, their passing game had no answer,” Landry said.
2. Play-calling duties will (likely) fall on one person’s shoulders
Harsin has handled more than his fair share of calling offensive plays at Boise State but he has said he won’t be doing so at Auburn. Harsin has said offensive coordinator Mike Bobo will handle play-calling. That should free up Harsin to handle important decisions involving game management.
“Mike is calling the plays and my responsibility right now is to help install and be there for the DNA of who we are on the offensive side,” Harsin said in a recent press conference, via Saturday Down South. “The things that we and I have been a part of, the things coach Bobo and other coaches on our staff have been a part of, so as you start to talk scheme, what are some of the best things that we’ve all done? And it’s an open discussion.”
Bobo’s input is invaluable. He has been a head coach or an offensive coordinator since 2007 and knows the SEC after stops at Georgia and South Carolina.
Bobo is very adept at setting up play-action. That can be a huge advantage as long as Auburn proves it can run the ball effectively. Bobo and Harsin have utilized tight ends and fullbacks in their schemes. Look for that to be a major part of their offense.
“The biggest difference will be how the offensive lineman are taught in this system,” Landry said. “Under Malzahn, Auburn’s offensive line was poorly prepared in their pass sets and when defenders got free, there were no properly developed sight adjustment routes, so the quarterback was forced to fend for himself versus rush pressure with deeply coordinated routes instead of shorter adjustment routes against pressure that would have been easy check-downs.”
3. Auburn’s offense will have the ability to adjust
Malzahn’s offense was his offense no matter if he or some other poor soul was running it. With Harsin and Bobo working together, the Tigers should be able to play to their strengths.
“Brian Harsin and Mike Bobo will run a basic pro set with multiple formations,” Landry said. “(The quarterback will) work both under center and in shotgun, run lots of pre-snap motion to help the quarterback better identify coverage pre-snap and also try to work the tight end more in the passing game to better manipulate the defensive coverages.”
4. Quarterbacks will be challenged
Playing quarterback under Malzahn was about as simple as it gets. As long as one could handle run-pass option reads and master a simple passing tree, Auburn’s quarterbacks looked good to great as long as Auburn could run the football.
That won’t be quite as simple this year. Starting with Bo Nix, Auburn’s quarterbacks under Harsin will be forced to make more pro-level decisions in the passing game. That could be a challenge, especially early in the season.
Nevertheless, it feels as if Harsin and his staff have a plan that is more advanced and slightly adjustable. That’s a step in the right direction.