I would say Auburn kept things pretty “vanilla” on the offensive side of the ball given that this was a glorified scrimmage. They showed only a handful of their basic formations, and used a limited amount of motions. Often they would use 3 WR’s, 1 H-Back, and 1 Tail-Back as personnel. What I was most impressed with in this game was the pace that they intended to use. Last season they averaged 70.1 plays/game, good for a ranking of 86th in the country in this category. I would expect that number to jump considerably if they move more like they did in this game.
One of my favorite aspects of the Auburn offense is their ability to run the same play to either side of a formation, and do so quickly, simply, and effectively. My absolute favorite play in their playbook is just a simple power. A great example of this play came with 2:57 left in the 1st quarter. Chandler Cox was lined up as the Tail-Back, which is something new this year for the Tigers, and something I hope they use more consistently this season. Cox played in all 13 games last season, starting 10, exclusively in the H-Back position. While more than capable of playing H-Back (which I expect him to do predominantly) I think he provides a great change of pace, solid blocking, and is a reliable receiver behind likely starting Tail-Back Jovon Robinson.
I have the Power drawn below in Fig. 1. As you can see, it isn’t an overly complicated play. When run to the right side the C, RG, and RT down block to the left. The left guard pulls for the strong side LB. The LT fills for the pulling guard and hinges. The H-Back kicks out the end while X receiver blocks the safety. On the backside the #1 receiver stalked the most dangerous man while the #2 receiver hitched looking for a screen. Cox took this play for 71 yards before being brought down from behind.
Then what Auburn can do is run up to the line in this exact same formation and run the same play but to the left (Fig. 2). The one slight change is the H-Back and guard exchange responsibilities. So, the guard becomes the kick-out block and the H-Back folds inside to the weakside LB. This is advantageous when a defense places their strength toward the H-Back. This leaves a 3-technique and a 5-technique toward the H-back and a nose shading the center with a 5-technique away from the H-Back. When the play is run toward the defenses weakness (Shade and 5-technique) the offense has some great angles to make their blocks.
I know that this is pretty basic, but honestly I really like that about this scheme. I think it helps the players to play fast. I would love to know how they signal in the plays to run their offense at such a fast pace, and who decides play direction. I’d imagine that is signaled in as well, but if the coaches really trusted a particular QB to read the defense that is a simple call that can be made on the line of scrimmage. The Tigers will add in a read to this play, leaving the defensive end unblocked and allowing the QB to get more involved running the ball. Plus, the QB has the option to pull the ball and throw a screen to the inside receiver and sometimes a go-route to the outside receiver, depending on how the defense is reacting.
I also saw a lot of zone-read in this game. Jovon Robinson had a really nice run on a zone-read in the 1st qtr. But with the quarterbacks being non-contact and most being familiar with the zone-read I didn’t think it was worth spending time on. I was surprised that they didn’t run Buck Sweep more in this game, but I bet that changes during games of consequence.
The passing in this game was usually short with relatively easy routes, things like all-hitches. I believe I saw a smash concept once down near the goal line, too. One play did stand out to be that I think is worth talking about a little. To me it looks a lot like a waggle without a rollout by the QB. I diagrammed the play below in Fig. 3. They were in their 2×2 (or doubles, or whatever you want to call it) formation. In the first half Sean White connected with Marcus Davis for 50 yards, and in the second half Jeremy Johnson would have had a similar result had his pass not been dropped by an open receiver. On White’s completion the play action to Robinson was able to get the linebackers to commit to the run. Marcus Davis (#80, the left-side #1-receiver in the diagram) burned the corner on a deep post, and was wide open after the safety jumped to cover Roc Thomas (#9, the #2 receiver on that side) on his deep dig route. When Thomas got to the middle of the field he turned vertical, which I’m not sure is by design or a read he made based on the defense. Either way, the Tigers were really able to stretch the field with this play when the pass defenders bit on the run and/or were occupied by the shorter routes in front of them.
Looking ahead, I think they face a very tough schedule. They get Clemson and LSU (my favorite to win the SEC-West this season) early plus away games against Miss St., Ole Miss, Georgia, and Alabama. The biggest unknown on this team for me is who is going to play QB. My suspicion is that the starting spot will go to transfer John Franklin III. None of the QB’s were overly impressive in this game, but Franklin III best took care of the football. Both Johnson and White had one turnover each (White’s coming in the Red Zone), while Franklin III did not. Also, I think Franklin III has the running ability to really make the offense click. Last season Johnson and White combined for 172 rushing yards, but Auburn’s offense works best when the QB is a major threat to run the ball when they incorporate reads. Recently we’ve seen this with Cam Newton and Nick Marshall. I don’t think Franklin III can be directly compared to either of those guys, but he appeared to have the running ability to make this offense move more effectively. If Franklin III can improve his accuracy passing my guess is he’ll be the starter. A strength of this team is the defensive line. Both Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson return and were very impressive in the game. Like any team with an offense that runs at such a fast pace I worry about the defense’s ability to stay fresh. They may be on the field for a ton of snaps, but if they can maintain their endurance and health I think they’ll be a tough team to score on.