Can Auburn run the ball effectively this Saturday?

You know Gus wants to.

Gus Malzahn wants to run the dang football.

That desire emanates from his bones. It is the essence of who he is as a football coach. Auburn has ranked outside the top 25 nationally in rushing attempts just once in his seven seasons as head coach. It currently ranks 19th nationally averaging nearly 45 per game.

“We’re a run, play-action team,” Malzahn said last month and also countless times before that. “We need to be effective running the football.”

That won’t change in the 124th edition of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry on Saturday, no matter how good Georgia’s run defense is.

“You can’t be one-dimensional,” Malzahn said Tuesday. “For us to be successful, we’re going to have to run the football effectively. That’s really how we’re built anyway. That’ll be a really good matchup to watch. And we’ll see what happens.”

Believe it or not — I had to double-check, to be honest — Auburn has more rushing attempts this season (401) than does Georgia (348).  For all that, the Tigers are only rushing for about four more yards per game than the Dawgs, because Georgia’s rushing average is more than half-a-yard per carry higher.

Checking the game log for Auburn’s rushing offense, there’s a noticeable slide over the past few games, interrupted only by moveable object that is Arkansas’ defense.  There might be a reason for that.

… Kerryon Johnson, who torched the Bulldogs for 233 total yards and a touchdown in 2017, was replaced by JaTarvious Whitlow. Whitlow has been dealing with a knee injury and didn’t play against Ole Miss. His absence has been filled by true freshman D.J. Williams…

With a Malzahn offense, you can expect to see the ball being run downhill with two other plays mixed in. With the Tigers missing their lead back as of last weekend, they will presumably rely on yet another true freshman in D.J. Williams. How big of a difference will it make if Whitlow is unable to go?

“A big difference. He’s a stud SEC back,” said Smart. “He’s physical; he’s hard to bring down. He makes their run game tick because their run game is meant to be powerful, downhill and bruising. The young kid has come in and done a good job of that, but Whitlow is a difference-maker for them.”

D. J. Williams has put up great numbers while filling in for Whitlow. The freshman has rushed for 303 yards in four games this season, with 130 and 93 yards coming against LSU and Ole Miss, respectively.

So Auburn comes into the game with a true freshman starter at quarterback and running back.  Nix runs the ball seven or eight times a game, enough to keep defenses honest, but in conference play hasn’t really had much of an impact in that regard, other than against Mississippi State.

Malzahn has had more to work with at times, in other words.

You know Kirby would like nothing more than to make Auburn’s offense one-dimensional, and there’s an argument to be made that he’s got the horses to do that.

That 2.77 yards-per-carry mark actually makes this Georgia defense one of the stoutest against the run that a Malzahn offense has ever gone up against. From 2013-18, Auburn faced only four teams that went on to finish the season holding opponents to fewer than 3 yards per rush — Alabama in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and Mississippi State in 2018. The Tigers ran for 91, 66, 168 (plus two scores) and 90 yards in those games, respectively.

The Advertiser notes that Auburn hopes to have a fully healthy Whitlow back this week, which would help, no doubt.  It will also be interesting to see if Gus has to resort to some of the other schematic wrinkles suggested in the article — throwing more to set up the run as well as attacking the edge to spread out Georgia’s defense.  Should make for an interesting chess match.

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18 Comments

Filed under Auburn's Cast of Thousands, Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

18 responses to “Can Auburn run the ball effectively this Saturday?

  1. Has anyone really gotten to the edge against us this year? Maybe in garbage time against our backups, but I love when teams think they can beat us to the edge.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. jt10mc (the other one)

    OL, OL, OL.

    Auburn doesn’t have the OL they did in 2017. That will be the difference.

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  3. Aladawg

    I’m convinced Kirby’s offensive philosophy will make this a one score game. Doing that carries so many risks playing in their place. I can’t halp but remember our last performance there either. Their crowd impacted the game. We had big time studs in Chubb , Rowland, Michel and others, but after the first drive we got shut down. I know it’s a new year, but we better get ahead and take this crowd out early. I’m fear we lose a close one due to a Gus rabbit’s foot special.

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    • Tony Barnfart

      Yea, not having the ability or trying to take the crowd out early is a good point and scares me.

      Like

      • 79Dawg

        We were up 2 TDs (shoulda been 3) in 2010 and the crowd was never out of it. When they are good, they stay in it. Was not there in 2006, but only time I’ve seen them out of it was in 2012 when they were terrible, we beat their ass, and we had more fans there after halftime than they did!

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  4. dawgfan1995

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar game plan to 2017’s first game — try to spread the field out using those WR screens in an effort to divert defenders out of the box so as to soften up the interior. We have defended that type of pass play well at times and not so well other times, so making that work is important to them. Those are also confidence throws to get Nix on track.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. J-Dawg

    Our motivation is we “have” to win this game to stay where we are & keep our hopes alive. Also, we hate Au. Auburn’s motivation is being able to play spoiler. Their season hopes are gone and they know it. I feel we will be ready and up for the challenge. GO DAWGS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  6. 2675miller

    Was it Florida that stunned us a few years ago after totally reworking their abysmal offense during an off week? Don’t be surprised if AU has a couple of surprises for our defense. They have nothing to lose. Don’t be surprised if they work. If they get a seven point lead it will be a huge uphill climb for our offense just like it was against Carolina.

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    • Uglydawg

      This ^
      Gus will try to get a cheap score or two early. Like SC did.
      Then he will revert back to being Gus.
      But there will be a play action with a deep ball…probably on second down, early for the Dawgs defense to deal with.
      With that crowd, Gus knows how huge that would be.
      Of course, Kirbs could be planning a similar strategy.
      For either team, getting up by two scores would be huge.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tony Barnfart

        They are just a completely different team at home aren’t they ? So for about a decade now, the old road team meme has been dead and we’ve been winning a lot generally. But they lay down when they come to Athens and seem like they’re playing with 13 guys in Auburn.

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  7. Biggus Rickus

    While I think Auburn will have a little success running (like becoming the 5th team to average north of 3 yards a carry and 4th to gain over 100 yards), I don’t think it will be enough to matter. They need Nix to play the best he has to date against a quality opponent or force/receive Georgia turnovers.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. PTC DAWG

    No. Next question.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. 79Dawg

    One other thing I would note – seems like every game other than the 2017 game (where as I recall the D did yeoman’s work to try and hold them to FGs early), Gus has planned a good, scripted drive against us for the first drive, gotten 7, and then we’ve figured it out and shut them down for the rest of the game essentially. As others alluded to above though, the key for both teams is getting up by two scores. Gus (as always) will be pulling out the kitchen sink and all the stops to try and win this game!

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  10. dawgman3000

    It sure would be nice if our guys turned out a 2006 like performance on the Plains Saturday.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Charlottedawg

      Who plays the role of tra battle, Brandon Cox’s favorite target that day with THREE! Interceptions!!! Lecounte? Reed?…both????

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  11. FlyingPeakDawg

    Time for this defense to just go win a game. Shut down Auburn and score some points of there own. At the very least, stop Auburn from a winning score.

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  12. Hobnail_Boot

    1) It seems like Auburn always has a handful of “how the hell did that guy get so open?” plays.

    2) I’d bet the mortgage that Malzahn has his team primed to end the Georgia no-rushing-td streak. Should be fun to watch.

    Like