Auburn football: Fixing the running game should be priority No. 1 for Malzahn
You know those old stories about a coach making a player prone to fumbling carry a football around campus all week to teach him a lesson on holding onto the ball? That might not be a bad idea for Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.
Boobie Whitlow, who ended up with 96 yards and touchdown Saturday night against Tulane, was a fumbling machine against the Green Wave, putting the ball on the ground 3 times, including once when the Tigers were in good field position.
That was just a small matter in what is plaguing the Auburn running game. The 9-year streak of having a 1,000-yard rusher ended last season and, to seemingly fix this situation, Malzahn got rid of longtime assistant Tim Horton and brought in Cadillac Williams to help revamp the attack.
It might not have been the coaching after all.
The running plays that Malzahn has designed are almost set up to fail. Instead of bursting north and south and trying to get through the hole as quickly as possible, the running back is seemingly told to wait, depend on an offensive line that has been woeful so far to create running paths and then get going full speed. While this might have worked with Kerryon Johnson — there isn’t much that wouldn’t work with him — Whitlow, Kam Martin and the rest of the backfield are not guys who excel when the quarterback finally hands them the ball a full 2 seconds after the snap.
Watch this play for instance:
The line doesn’t build anything, the back goes directly into the line and all the Tigers gain are one yard. This seems to be a trend with Malzahn’s offense when it struggles. Go back and watch the second half of the 2017 LSU game and you will see what I mean. Quick dives into the heart of the defense, while trying to keep a defense honest, isn’t going to work, and Malzahn doesn’t seem to know how to get away from it.
You know what else isn’t working (except for once against Oregon)? The jet sweep to Eli Stove. Granted, this play would also be a lot more productive if the line could do a better job of blocking, but that isn’t the case. When the Tigers face much faster defenses in Alabama, LSU and Georgia, those plays are going to be blown up for negative yards.
All of the creative plays that Malzahn was once known for have fallen back to a boring offense that is as predictable as Auburn fans wanting a coach to be fired.
Whitlow and Martin are very different backs, but it seems that the coaching staff wants them to be the same kind of runner. Get Whitlow going straight ahead, and he is a tough load to bring down. The leaner Martin is more agile and works better in space. If Auburn continually uses them in the wrong way, the rushing attack will never be a threat and all of the pressure will build upon the arm (and legs) of Bo Nix.
Malzahn’s offense only works when the running game is working, and thus far this season, and albeit it only 2 games in, that has been far from the case.
The raw numbers aren’t terrible. Auburn is averaging 189 rushing yards per game. But the Tigers’ average yards per carry — 4.3 — ranks 7th in the SEC.
Whitlow seems hesitant and unsure with the football. Martin only gets a small smell of what he could possibly do if given more reps.
Altogether, it has been a difficult start for what once was a major asset for Auburn. Fix it, or it could be a long season for Auburn fans watching a bunch of 3-and-outs.