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Halfway home: Auburn offense looks to 'clean things up'
Oct. 12, 2014

Roc Thomas may have a bigger role in the second half of Auburn's season

By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala.  Auburn has hit the halfway point of the regular season with a bye week and a resolve to fix whatever ailed the offense over the weekend. 
Good timing there, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said on Sunday, especially after Saturday's 38-23 loss at Mississippi State.
"It allows us to slow down and really look at ourselves…and try to say, 'here's the direction we need to really try to focus on,'" Lashlee said. 
"We can try to clean some things up and maybe refocus some things more so than we could if we didn't have the off week."
Lashlee says the Tigers have things to work on, like cleaning up the three turnovers the offense committed, like protecting Nick Marshall better after the 13 quarterback hurries Saturday, like figuring out better passing lanes to prevent the tipped passes that cropped up against Kansas State and Mississippi State.
Going forward, Lashlee said freshman running back Roc Thomas may get more opportunities. He had a career-high six carries for 42 yards. Going backwards, Lashlee lamented the fact Auburn struggled to score touchdowns in the red zone Saturday.
It's Auburn's second bye week of the season, and comes at better juncture than the first one that came after the second game. Lashlee says Auburn, now 5-1, can regroup before pressing ahead to play its next game against South Carolina on Oct. 25.
Lashlee says Auburn has more information to plot its course.
"There's a bigger sample size. We have a better idea," he said. "Six games in, we should know our guys -- know what they do well, know what they don't do well, know what they need to improve on, what they can, what we need to do differently to give our guys a better chance and put them in a better situation. There's no question the timing is better than just two games in."
Auburn turned the ball over on its first two plays leading to a quick Mississippi State 14-0 advantage. The Tigers tried to play catch up the rest of the game.
"It was what everybody else saw: We beat ourselves," Lashlee said. "You can’t have three turnovers on the road in an environment like that against one of the better teams in the country, and you can’t get the ball in the red zone six times and score two touchdowns. 
"We knew going in that was going to be a big key to the game. Obviously, we have been good at not beating ourselves and so have they. We had been good in the red zone, and we were very poor in both areas and it cost us the game."
The red zone issue was a surprise.
"I think we had been in there 21 times going into this game and we had scored touchdowns on 17 of them or so," Lashlee said. 
"When you lose, everybody looks at themselves. We all could have done something better, but at the end of the day we didn’t get it done and they did. They executed down there better than we did when it mattered and that was the difference in the game. They turned the ball over, too. Our defense got us some opportunities and got us back in the game, but they took our mistakes and made touchdowns out of them. We took their mistakes and kicked field goals or nothing. That’s what kept us from getting back in the game."
Lashlee also said…
• On Roc Thomas: "Our plan was to play him more. We had a specific place for him. He made some really good runs. We feel like he's getting to where he's ready. He showed great bursts and made some really good runs. He held onto the football, which was good."
Thomas, said Lashlee, is still working on his pass protection.
"You try to protect the younger guys and not put him in as many protection situations, if you can help it. At the same time, he was probably in on at least a half a dozen passes. At least execution-wise, he knew what to do. He didn't have any busts. You know, maybe technique-wise, he could get better. I definitely see his role expanding."
• On Corey Grant getting five carries the last two games: "Corey, he's like a lightning rod. He gets in the game, and everybody knows how explosive he is. Defenses almost have specific plans when they see '20' on the field. They know, bam, they're going to do certain things. 
"We've got to get creative and find ways to get him touches. His touches the last few games have been down, but he has still made plays with it. It's a good problem with those guys, but we've got to do a better job managing and making sure that we're getting them the touches when they need it and the right kind of touches."
On the play of quarterback Nick Marshall: "He still accounted for over 300 yards and some touchdowns. He's definitely got a few he would like to have back. He also made some really good throws. We've got to do better around him. 
"All in all, he kept fighting. He gave some guys chances to make plays. He did some good things, but we've got to be better around him, and he's got to be better."

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:



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