Auburn’s offense trying to fix mistakes

Published 4:54 pm Tuesday, September 16, 2008

AUBURN – Tommy Tuberville expected No. 10 Auburn to make some mistakes in adapting to a new offense.

The Tigers’ coach couldn’t quite predict this: A rash of fumbles and penalties and struggles cashing in drives with touchdowns. That’s the bad news. The good news is he figures those mistakes are the biggest factors holding back the offense, not problems at quarterback or mastering the spread offense.

“I knew that we’d make a lot of mistakes,” Tuberville said Tuesday. “I thought by this time we would overcome the false starts and fumbles.”

More good news: Despite all that, Auburn (3-0) is unbeaten heading into Saturday night’s showdown with No. 6 LSU (2-0), thanks to a 3-2 win over Mississippi State.

Figuring out some of the problems with the Tigers’ offense might not be too difficult. They had 12 penalties in the game, many of them holding calls and false starts. They have lost six fumbles in the last two games.

Auburn also ranks 102nd nationally in red zone offense, scoring only 69 percent of the time when penetrating the opponents’ 20-yard line.

The perfect record helps the players keep the faith in the offense.

“People are doubting it now, and saying that it’s not working and it’s not going to work,” tight end Tommy Trott said. “But we really are so close.

“When we start moving the ball, we shoot ourselves in the foot. Once we take care of those silly penalties like holding … Things will change when we get rid of that. The scoreboard will start to light up a little bit more.”

Tuberville and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin say they are sticking with quarterback Chris Todd as the starter for a third straight game. Tuberville isn’t ruling out a switch if necessary.

Backup Kodi Burns didn’t see action in the Mississippi State game and was ineffective in brief appearances against Southern Miss. Todd, however, couldn’t get Auburn into the end zone.

“It could change. It could change soon, it just depends,” Tuberville said. “We’ve got to score more points, and it starts with the entire offense. But the quarterback is a big part of it. They get a lot of publicity. I have total confidence in Chris.

“I’ve seen what he can do in practice, but Kodi can, too.”

Putting the athletic Burns in on short-yardage and goal-line situations is an option, but Tuberville said he wants the sophomore to master the entire offense, not just a few elements, and be a passing threat, not just a runner.

“If you go out there and say, ‘OK, Kodi, we’re going to make this small package for you and we’re going to let you run that,’ he’ll never get any better,” Tuberville said. “You’ll never find out what kind of quarterback he really is.”

He said he met with Burns’ parents after the Southern Miss game when Todd was named the starter, and “they understood” the situation. Burns said his approach hasn’t changed.

“I’m just working hard every day in practice and we’ll see what’s going to happen. If they put me in, they put me in. If they don’t, they don’t. I just have to stay ready and keep preparing as a backup.”

Todd thinks some growing pains can be expected with a new offense.

“We’re going to continue to improve,” he said. “Once we catch fire like I think we will, we’ll start rolling.”

Franklin, meanwhile, has hardly shied away from criticizing his own performance.

He said one problem has been that he has stuck to his pre-game script instead of relying on his gut, especially in the red zone.

“I’ve called more stuff off a script in the red zone than I ever have before,” Franklin said. “I don’t need to do it. I need to go back to gut instinct and feel. I’m better at that.”

Franklin pointed to similarly ugly games in 2006 as a first-year Troy offensive coordinator. The Trojans had 243 yards against North Texas, 202 against UAB and 140 against Nebraska, totaling nine points in those three games in the first half of the season.

He said the performance was “a lot uglier” then than now, but it improved dramatically by the bowl game.

“We’re so close,” Franklin said. “It’s scary how close we are.”