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Phillip Marshall: Spread offense? What spread offense?

Oct. 24, 2013

AUBURN, Ala. - Gus Malzahn gets tired of hearing it. He gets tired of explaining it. His offense might go fast. It might feature the shotgun. It might often use multiple receivers. But it is not, Malzahn says very clearly, the spread.

When Malzahn thinks spread, he thinks finesse, passing to set up the run. And that's not Malzahn's way.

"We're a two-back, run, play-action team with an emphasis on going fast and throwing the ball vertically down the field," Malzahn said. "We go from the shotgun, which probably people think is the spread. But we have to run the football. We have to run the football to open up the pass to be successful.

"The spread, for whatever reason, a lot of people characterize that as throw to open up the run. We're completely different."

In eight seasons as a college coordinator and head coach, Malzahn has used with great success the scheme he developed during a legendary career as an Arkansas high school coach. And there is no better example of than the first seven games of this season.

The Tigers are averaging 300.1 yards per game rushing, easily tops in the Southeastern Conference, and 194.1 yards per game passing going into Saturday's game against Florida Atlantic. When they drove 75 yards in 13 plays to the winning touchdown in last Saturday's 45-41 victory at Texas A&M, they completed just one pass. It was physical, downhill running that took Auburn to the season's biggest touchdown.

Most spread teams don't have the ability to simply give the ball to the tailback and run at teams that know they are going to run. Their running game comes off the passing game. When Texas A&M put nine in the box, Auburn continued to hammer away between the tackles.

Auburn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes is as hard-nosed as they come. As far he's concerned, if it's not physical, it's not football. He coached for Malzahn last season at Arkansas State and followed him to Auburn.

"I've always said football is a tough game played by tough people," Grimes said. "You can never get away, in the Southeastern Conference, from running the football. It not only helps your offense, it helps your defense. I think Gus understands the whole team concept of being able to run the ball and stop the run.

"He likes throwing the football, but he understands the physical nature of the game and what it means for an offensive line to get vertical and knock people off the ball. He gets that."

Here are Malzahn's running and passing numbers over the past seven seasons:

Arkansas, 2006: 228.5 yards per game rushing, 149.5 yards per game passing

Tulsa, 2007: 172.9 yards per game rushing, 371 yards per game passing

Tulsa, 2008: 268 yards per game rushing, 301.9 yards per game passing

Auburn, 2009: 212 yards per game rushing, 219.8 yards per game passing.

Auburn, 2010: 284.8 yards per game rushing, 214.4 yards per game passing.

Auburn, 2011: 182.3 yards per game rushing, 155.5 yards per game passing.

Arkansas State, 2012: 206.2 yards per game rushing, 260.5 yards per game passing.

Auburn, 2013: 300.1 yards per game rushing, 194.1 yards per game passing.

That's offense, Malzahn style.

Until next time ...


Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for Follow Marshall on Twitter:




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