SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Somebody asked Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn this week if it was inevitable that defenses were catching up to the spread offenses.
Malzahn, as he’s done ever since he arrived at Auburn, made it clear that he doesn’t characterize what the Tigers do as the spread.
Other people might, but not the guy who oversees Auburn’s offense.
“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’ve got to run the football. We have to run the football to be successful to open up the pass.
“The spread, for whatever reason, a lot of people characterize that as throw to open up the run. We’re completely different.”
The Tigers have indeed been dominant in their running game, dispelling the myth once and for all that Malzahn’s offense was more of a gimmicky attack.
Auburn leads the SEC in rushing with an average of 287.2 yards per game, which is 71.4 yards more than second-place Mississippi State. The Tigers have three of the top 12 rushers in the league, including quarterback Cam Newton.
Auburn is averaging 6.2 yards per carry, which would be the second-best average over the course of a season in SEC history, trailing only LSU’s average of 6.8 in 1945.
The Tigers have a chance to become the closest SEC team since the 1985 Auburn squad to average more than 300 yards rushing per game in a season. The 2007 Arkansas squad came closest in the past 25 years, averaging 286.5 yards per game.
Auburn has rushed for at least 300 yards eight times this season and 10 times in the past two years. Prior to Malzahn’s arrival, Auburn had just four 300-yard rushing games in the previous six seasons combined (76 games).
And for the record, Malzahn said he never really paid the naysayers much attention when they claimed his offense wouldn’t work in the SEC. As recently as 2005, Malzahn was coaching high school football in Springdale, Ark.
“I guess when you’re a high school coach and you come into college, you’re going to get questioned on everything you do,” said Malzahn, who turned down the Vanderbilt head coaching job last month and also interviewed for the Maryland head coaching job.
“But you just can’t get wrapped up in that. You’ve got to believe in what you do. You can’t listen to outside things.”"