April 24, 2014
Gus Malzahn works the crowd during Tiger Walk before the A-Day Game (Zach Bland photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- Uh-oh if you're everybody else. Gus Malzahn wasn't satisfied with just leading the nation in rushing last season, wasn't satisfied how he ended up ranked 11th in the country in total offense, thought maybe how he averaged 39½ points per game was tilted a little too much to the run game.
That is the reason Auburn worked so hard developing the passing game in spring practice.
Auburn showed it in last weekend's A-Day Game by passing more than running. And while the run will likely be featured again in 2014, Malzahn says he's looking for a happy mix, something that had been the cornerstone during his college coaching career.
"We've always prided ourselves on balance," Malzahn said this week. "If you look back over the last eight years, we've been fairly balanced, and at times some of the most balanced offenses in college football. Last year was an extreme with the run."
This year, Nick Marshall has more experience in his second season with Malzahn. Marshall rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season. This season, he could add to his 1,976 yards passing total with a more experienced receiving corps.
"We've got to make people pay when they roll down an extra safety down, and some cases two, that are hard to block," Malzahn said. "We worked extremely hard with that. Nick is a lot more comfortable. You can just tell with his demeanor. You could tell that Saturday in the pocket with his progression, his eyes, his footwork."
Marshall didn't go through spring practice last year, but he was thrown into the starting role as a first-year quarterback, sort of like Cam Newton in 2010.
"It was similar," Malzahn said, "though we had the luxury of knowing what we had in Cam in the spring. We just didn't have Cam live. We saw what kind of runner he was. People couldn't tackle him."
Still, the 2010 offense didn't fully center on Newton until "probably Game 4."
"Last season," said Malzahn, "it was probably during our off-week before the fifth game against Ole Miss that we kind of changed gears. That's probably what we really honed in on what we thought Nick's strengths were. We put him in some tough situations against LSU (the only regular-season loss). He wasn't ready for a couple of those things. We didn't have him prepared, and he didn't have the experience. So we took a deep breath, we had the week off, and we developed a plan for the rest of the season."
The plan worked, taking Auburn all the way to the BCS championship game.
Months later, Auburn was refining the plan in spring practice despite a rash of injuries that limited scrimmages.
"We were very physical in the spring with the stuff we did up front with the offensive and defensive lines," Malzahn said. "We didn't feel like we had to scrimmage as much last year because we felt like we had more information. But from the halfway point to the end, we were banged up. We knew we had to have enough bodies for A-Day to be able to have a full-blown scrimmage-type game."
Malzahn put on a show at A-Day by having the first-team offense play the second-team defense. The first-team Blues won 58-3.
"You never know how it's going to unfold, but we had gone ones on ones all spring, and it was a grind, and it was good," he said. "But in a game-type setting with the fans there, you want to score points. We went ones against twos, but you've still got to earn it. You still have to execute. For the most part, our offense did execute. I was happy with our ones' defense because we've got some guys on that No. 2 offense who can really play. I thought they did some really good things also."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine