Auburn scraps old-fashioned offensive ways

Published 8:38 pm Wednesday, August 13, 2008

AUBURN – The old-fashioned Auburn Tigers haven’t really scrapped the formula of winning with defense and the running game.

What they have done away with: Huddles. The run-first mentality. That old-fashioned label.

Coach Tommy Tuberville, 80-33 school, 10th year; 105-53 overall (14th year).

Last Year 9-3 overall, 5-3 Southeastern Conference (second West).

Offense Quarterbacks Kodi Burns and Chris Todd are vying to run the newly implemented spread offense. The unit’s strengths, though, appears to be an offensive line returning intact and the tailback platoon of Brad Lester and Ben Tate, who combined for 1,433 yards last season. Rod Smith is the leader of a deep but unproven receiving corps. Guard Tyronne Green and tackle Lee Ziemba lead line returnees.

Defense Front seven is deep and talented. Tackle Sen’Derrick Marks and end Antonio Coleman are potentially dominant, and newcomer Raven Gray brings another pass-rusher opposite Coleman. LB Tray Blackmon can be a star if he stays healthy and out of trouble. CB Jerraud Powers is cornerstone of secondary that has been hit with DB Aairon Savage out for the year knee injury.

Special teams P Ryan Shoemaker is a preseason All-SEC pick, and PK Wes Byrum was projected as a second-teamer. Mario Fannin and Robert Dunn are back in return game.

Key losses QB Brandon Cox, CB Patrick Lee, DT Pat Sims, SS Eric Brock, NG Josh Thompson.

Opener Aug. 30 Louisiana-Monroe.

Pivotal game Sep. 20 LSU.

Outlook The spread offense has hogged the headlines, but the defense still figures to be the strength. The Tigers were picked to win the SEC Western Division. Coaches and teammates have expressed confidence in both Burns and Todd, and each could play since they have different strengths. Auburn has home games against LSU, Tennessee, Arkansas and Georgia. The Tigers also face a big test in a Thursday night visit to West Virginia Oct. 23.

– The Associated Press

The Tigers will trot out a 21st century-style, fast-paced spread offense this season to fix a wobbly passing game and try confounding defenses instead of just pounding them.

“It’s hard in this league to consistently pound and pound the ball,” coach Tommy Tuberville said. “People were ganging up on us” at the line of scrimmage.

The change has hiked expectations and given fans something to buzz about instead of just wondering how many yards the latest star tailback will get. Or even whether it would be Chris Todd or Kodi Burns running the show at quarterback.

The Tigers were picked to win the Southeastern Conference Western Division over defending national champion LSU. Sure, having another fast, loaded defense was likely the biggest factor.

Tony Franklin’s offense probably didn’t hurt either. Even hastily installed, it produced a season-best 423 yards in the Tigers’ bowl win over Clemson.

The offense had ranked 107th nationally in passing and 101st in total yards last season.

Those numbers and the success of other spread offenses in the college ranks led Tuberville to make a fairly radical change. Auburn didn’t need such a makeover to be competitive, having won 42 games in the last four years. Tuberville said he wanted to aim higher still.

The Tigers, however, haven’t just joined the growing college football fad of spread offenses. They turned it up a notch.

“Everybody says, ‘Well, some teams run this.’ Not like we run it,” Tuberville said. “It’s no-huddle, fast-paced, fast-tempo, involve your quarterback in running the football, spread the field, use a lot of wide receivers.”

In other words, a lot of stuff that’s mostly new to the Plains.

Auburn had been winning games the old way, but the passing game had grown steadily less productive the last few seasons. Tuberville finally ditched his old-school preferences and offensive coordinator Al Borges, whose offense helped Auburn go undefeated in 2004 in his first season.

Tuberville hired Franklin, a former Kentucky coordinator, away from Troy.

Todd is a junior college transfer who started his college career in one of the most notable examples of the spread offense at Texas Tech. He switched to Auburn after committing to play for Franklin at Troy.

Burns is a sophomore who played in nine games last season, though he had more yards running (203) than passing (145). The competition could wind up with both playing at least to start the season.

The Tigers are hardly going to abandon running tailbacks Ben Tate and Brad Lester, especially not with an offensive line returning all five starters. Three of them were freshmen last season.

Troy actually averaged more rushing yards than Auburn last season, a rarity for a team that has sent a slew of backs from Rudi Johnson to Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown to the NFL in recent years.

The Tigers will mostly operate from the shotgun, rushing to the line without huddling.

“What we do that’s uniquely different is the tempo,” Franklin said. “We play extremely fast. There’s a lot of people that do no-huddle, but most people that do no-huddle don’t try to play the tempo that we played on at Troy the last two seasons. We are fast no-huddle.”

Like the quarterback situation, there’s plenty of uncertainty about who will be catching all the balls getting tossed around. The top five receivers are back from last season, but behind Rod Smith there are plenty of contenders for spots. Tuberville said the Tigers have more candidates for the position than they’ve ever had.

“It’s going to be fun to watch these receivers,” he said. “We’re going to have a few playmakers. We’re going to need more and more of them to step up as we go along.”

The candidates include converted tailback Mario Fannin, who could be used in multiple roles.

“We have a lot of athletes on our offensive side of the ball,” Fannin said. “We have some great athletes that can work in space and we have some great receivers that can run great routes and great running backs that can run in the hole and come out of the backfield and catch some balls, too.”

Tuberville is hoping for a few more big plays. The Tigers had only seven scoring plays of 20-plus yards last season.

“We’ve got to be able to score from a distance and not have everything be like pulling teeth to get the ball across the goal line,” Tuberville said. “That’s what I’m looking for on offense.”

In the meantime, a defense that ranked sixth nationally last season is getting overshadowed. Cornerback Jerraud Powers said he doesn’t mind.

“When people come to games, they’re not coming to see what the defense is going to do,” Powers said. “They’re coming to watch the offense.”