Open playbook: Auburn takes running game to Knoxville

Nov. 8, 2013

TreMason
Tre Mason has been on the go for Auburn this season (Todd Van Emst photo)

By Charles Goldberg
AuburnTigers.com

AUBURN, Ala.  Auburn has played with an open playbook this season. 

The Tigers have thrown the fewest passes in the SEC. They have run it more than anybody. 

It's no secret that Auburn is a running team, and will now take that act on the road to Knoxville on Saturday for an 11 a.m. game against Tennessee. 

The Tigers tested their road show at Fayetteville again last week, throwing just nine times  and only twice past the line of scrimmage said Gus Malzahn  and came away with a 35-17 win. This Saturday pits Auburn, the top rushing offense in the Southeastern Conference by a huge margin, against Tennessee, the worst rushing defense in the league. 

Malzahn said he rode Tre Mason's hot hand in Fayetteville, and has latched on to the running game to carry the load in general.  The turnaround in league play is evidenced by this: Auburn has scored 19 offensive touchdowns in five SEC games this season after scoring eight touchdowns in eight league games last year.

This season's totals in all games: 28 rushing touchdowns and 13 passing touchdowns.`

But could a healthier Nick Marshall change Auburn's stategy against Tennssee? He barely threw in the week leading up to Arkansas because of a bad shoulder. He's been healthier this week. 

Auburn won the rushing battle against Arkansas even though the Razorbacks could have quickly figured out what the Tigers were doing. Still, Malzahn, the offensive line paved the way, to the tune of 46 carries for 233 rushing yards. 

"That's a tribute to our guys up front  run the football when they know you're going to run it," Malzahn said. 

Mason rushed for 168 yards and four touchdowns and was named the SEC's offensive player of the week for his troubles. He's the first Auburn player to rush for touchdowns in six consecutive games since Carnell Williams in 2004. He has rushed for a touchdown in 13 of his last 16 games. 

It was a tough test, Malzahn said, because Arkansas has a strong defensive line.

"Our guys did a real solid job of executing. It was one of those hard-fought wins, and that's good. And on the road. You've got to roll your sleeves up, and I felt like our guys did that." 

He'll be looking for more in Knoxville. 

It will be Malzahn's second consecutive game against a fellow new SEC head coach. He beat Bret Bielema last week, and tries his luck against Tennessee's Butch Jones on Saturday.  

Playing a new coach can be tricky, at least early in the season, Malzahn said. 

"If it's early season, and you don't have a lot of information, it is a little bit of a challenge," he said. "You have to look at what they've done in the past. But this late in the season, you have a lot of information. You've got a lot of information on their personnel and how they like to use it. It's a little easier late in the season."

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