Auburn's Offensive Attack: Both the Key and Weakness Againts #2 LSU
As the 10th ranked Auburn Tigers heads to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to take on the the 2nd ranked LSU Tigers in Death Valley, a place Auburn has not won at in 20 years, all eyes are not on the defenses of these SEC powerhouses but on their respective offenses. For Auburn fans in particular, the question of whether or not Auburn can keep up weighs heavily on some.
The Auburn offense has struggled with consistency in all phases throughout the 2019 season.
The rushing attack, normally a stable of the great Auburn offenses of the past, has struggled at some points during the season, most notably in the Florida game where the Tigers managed only 124 yards and lost star running back Boobee Whitlow to a knee injury. While the Tigers are 11th in the country in rushing with 239.6 yards a game, they have struggled against top defenses like Florida, particularly in short yardage situations.
While Whitlow and his 544 yards along with 7 touchdowns will certainly be missed, the Tigers running back room is deep with talent including veteran Kam Martin, second year speedster Shaun Shivers and freshmen D.J. Williams and Harold Joiner. In their first game without Whitlow, the backs delivered with just under 300 yards rushing including 84 from Martin and 127 combined from Joiner and Williams.
Still, the loss of a bruising power back like Whitlow, combined with an offensive line that has struggled with interior blocking all season is gonna force Gus Malzahn and the rest of the offensive coaching staff find other ways of establishing the running game which will take some of the pressure off of Bo Nix and keep the dominant LSU offense off the field.
One key to opening up the running lanes up the middle is to stretch the defense out wide and keep defenses from stacking the box. One of the ways to do this is through jet sweeps with Eli Stove and Anthony Schwartz, two of the fastest players in all of football.
Speaking of Schwartz, after weeks of dealing with a lingering hand injury, he has finally been fully healthy these past few weeks and has been electrifying. His opening drive touchdown against Texas A&M was crucial and set the tone for the rest of the game. Getting a player like Schwartz involved in the offense is crucial for the Tigers to have success on offense as seen in the Florida game, arguably Auburn’s worst performance of the season, when Schwartz only touched the ball once. The offense ran 61 plays during their 24-13 loss in Gainesville, and Schwartz was on the field with fellow playmaker and Auburn’s best receiver Seth Williams for only nine plays. In a hostile environment against a tough defense, it is important for an offense to utilize all of their weapons. The problem was that Schwartz and Williams both played the same position: split end. This past weekend, Auburn made the adjustment and moved Schwartz to the flanker position which will allow Malzahn to design more packages with both Williams and Schwartz on the field.
Having Schwartz and Williams on the field will also give Freshman quarterback Bo Nix more options in the passing game. Nix struggled against Florida with only one touchdown and three interceptions along with 11 completions in 27 attempts and only 145 yards passing. In the following game against Arkansas, Nix rebounded, throwing for a career high 3 touchdowns and 176 yards on 70.5 completion percentage. However, it is important to mention that Arkansas’s defense is in the bottom half of the SEC and one of the worst in the country while LSU’s, despite not being as good as past defenses, is still dangerous, especially in Death Valley. The
performance of Nix will be the key to success for the Auburn offense this Saturday and for the Malzahn and the rest of the coaching staff they have gotta find ways to take some of the pressure off of him. Nix has been a great quarterback throughout the season; however, the offense needs to be balanced and not lean entirely on him like in the Florida game where Nix threw it 27 times. Nix has also been at his best when he has had good protection and the offensive line has struggled at times this season which has forced Nix to simply throw the football away which is part of the reason he is 94th in the nation in completion percentage.
Easing Nix into the game getting him in rhythm, keeping a balanced attack, getting playmakers involved are crucial for Auburn to have success this Saturday.