Auburn offense switches gears in practice

Published 10:28 pm Tuesday, October 7, 2008

AUBURN – The tempo was faster, the coaches were loudly demanding perfection and Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin was even running pass routes to show his players how it’s done.

The 20th-ranked Tigers are trying to shake up an offense ranked among the nation’s worst.

“It felt like we were in two-a-days all over again out there,” receiver Rod Smith said after Tuesday’s practice. “It’s a good thing. I definitely think we need that as a team, to light a fire under us. Something needs to be done to get this offense going, just get the whole team going back in the right direction. Something has to be done.”

The Tigers (4-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) are trying to fix an offense that has oscillated between old-style smashmouth and spread offense finesse, prompting some players to express confusion after a 14-13 loss at No. 13 Vanderbilt.

Smith said Franklin warned players before the game “the old Troy guy’s back,” and coaches had receivers running routes several times until they got them perfectly and showing a more in-your-face style. Franklin even offered demonstrations personally.

Auburn hasn’t been able to reprise the fast-paced, productive spread offense Franklin ran the past two seasons with the Troy Trojans.

Quarterback Kodi Burns said the Tigers spent Tuesday “learning a lot of the basics back over again,” working more on the things they have excelled at and scrapping a few they haven’t.

“All you’re really going to see is a little more basic offense and us executing things a lot better,” Burns said.

The defensive players didn’t need to see the difference in practice. They could hear it from more vocal, intense offensive coaches.

“Everybody turned around looking, ‘What’s going on?'” defensive tackle Tez Doolittle said. “I see everybody getting down and running plays real quick and fast. Just a lot of noise out there today.”

Coach Tommy Tuberville didn’t rule out a switch in starting quarterbacks, but said Chris Todd and Burns would both play Saturday against Arkansas.

Neither has been able to jump-start an offense ranked 104th in total yards and 103rd in scoring and passing.

“We are our worst enemy in terms of penalties,” Tuberville said. “We have cut back on the turnovers. We’ve just got to be a better machine in terms of having a lot more consistency. It’s going to come. It’s going to happen. We’re all waiting for it to happen. It needs to happen like it does in practice sometime, but sometimes we just haven’t carried from the practice field to the game field.”

The offense looked like vintage Auburn when it started the Vandy game with 14 consecutive running plays. Then the Tigers went back to more of the new-look spread offense, leading some players to wonder aloud: Why?

The Tigers have had mixed results with both styles. Those 14 rush plays netted 82 yards, but Ben Tate was stopped from the Vanderbilt 1 line on third and fourth downs. The passing game produced 98 yards and two first-quarter touchdowns, one set up by an interception in Vandy territory.

Auburn wound up averaging only 2.5 yards on 44 runs. Not surprisingly, the early game switch still had the tailbacks and linemen nostalgic for days past.

“We came out in the first quarter and rushed for about 100 yards and looked like the Auburn of old,” center Ryan Pugh said. “We got our confidence going and then all of a sudden we completely go away from it. As a player, it’s frustrating. As someone watching the game, I’m sure it’s frustrating. To come out like that and then come out and lay an egg in the second quarter and the second half is really embarrassing on offense.”

Tate was a little mystified, too. He finished with 27 carries for 108 yards, his first 100-yard game since the season opener.

“It felt really good,” Tate said. “The offensive line was loving it. We were loving it. I’m pretty sure the fans were loving it. We were marching right down the field. It was good overall.”

What happened after that? “I don’t know. I couldn’t have an answer for that.”

Tuberville said it’s simple: Auburn is just aiming for some balance like always.

“We’re a football team that wants to throw it, we want to run it, we want to be physical,” he said. “But we also need to finesse people, as we did in every offense we’ve had the last 10 years — it’s just that we’re going in a different direction in terms of how to achieve it.”