Auburn Football: Tigers Will “Find a Way to Get Better”


Oct 11, 2014; Starkville, MS, USA; Auburn Tigers running back Roc Thomas (9) carries the ball during the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

If recent history is any indication, we could see an improved Auburn football team October 25 against South Carolina. Last season, the Tigers used the bye week following a loss to LSU as a turning point.

Through the first four games of the 2013 season, Auburn was averaging 28.5 points per game, and new quarterback Nick Marshall had thrown 34 and 33 passes in a close win against Mississippi State, and a not-so close loss in Tiger Stadium, respectively.

The coaching staff did some retooling during the time off, and committed to the running game. The next time out, Auburn beat Ole Miss 30-22. They never scored less the rest of the season, and Marshall didn’t throw more than 27 passes in a game all the way through an SEC Championship and a berth in the BCS National Championship Game.

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This week, following a 38-23 loss in Starkville, has a similar feel to it. The Tigers were beaten on the road by a team that simply outplayed them, but that doesn’t mean the team won’t learn from the game and improve.

“I definitely expect us to rebound in a positive way,” head coach Gus Malzahn said on the Tiger Talk radio show Monday night. “It’s really a good time for an off week. We’re a little banged up, but from a coach’s standpoint, it gives us a full week to really focus on us. Our coordinators are evaluating everything and really getting a great plan together for the next six games to finish this thing strong because we have our hands full with the opponents we have left. We’re playing some of the best teams in America, a lot of them on the road.”

In 2013, the biggest change was to rely on running back Tre Mason and a talented offensive line instead of Marshall’s right arm. It worked out well, as the Tigers led the nation in rushing and didn’t lose again in the regular season. But, that might not be the strategy this time.

Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee have often expressed their desire to be more balanced on offense than the team was last season. With Marshall’s improvement as a passer from a mechanical standpoint, and an even more talented receiving corps with the addition of D’haquille Williams, it’s understandable. So far, Marshall has twice hit the 30-pass plateau, with 31 against Kansas State and 35 Saturday against the Bulldogs.

Plus, as the hurry-up no huddle and Malzahn’s formations and play-calling tendencies become more understood by opponents, it is more necessary to diversify. And, it’s not as if the Tigers’ offense has been bad. Through the first six games of 2014, Auburn has scored 38.8 points per game. Of course, there is always room for improvement.

So, what will Auburn do? While we won’t see an about face commitment to pound the rock like we did last year, there could be a shakeup in the running game. Based on his appearance in the first half Saturday against the Bulldogs, and the spark that came with it, true freshman running back Roc Thomas could see the field more often. Thomas carried the ball six times and gained 42 yards, which was more action than he had seen since he ran for 51 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the San Jose State game in Week 2.

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  • Cameron Artis-Payne has been a quality running back through the first half of the regular season, and has rushed for 664 yards to this point. However, the senior struggled to break free against MSU until a fourth quarter 28-yard run when the Tigers had fallen well behind.

    Thomas has a bit more wiggle to him, and he drew comparisons to Michael Dyer upon signing with the Tigers in February. Could he have a similar impact down the stretch this season?

    It’s early to say exactly what Malzahn and his staff will do over the next two weeks as the team prepares to host the Gamecocks, but rest assured they are hard at work.

    “We just need to give our fans something more to cheer about,” Malzahn said Monday. “We didn’t get it done Saturday, but I’m going to tell you this: I really believe we’re a really good team. I really believe that still, and we’re going to find a way to get better. And we’re going to have to. We have a very challenging schedule the rest of the way. Our guys understand that, but I still really like this team.

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