Gus Malzahn is a Spread Offense genius on par with Chip Kelly. I haven’t seen a team so similar to Oregon in their offense as we both run Inside Zone Reads, Outside Zone Reads, Power Plays, and Play-Action passes off the Zone Read alignments. There are important distinctions between these teams and while some of this you have seen in the hundreds of reports written already, it is my belief that you will glean something new from my view of the Auburn Tigers. Usually you see my reports after the scrimmage or game, and this is the first time I’ve previewed an opponent in advance, and it was a fun one.
I am not sucking up to Auburn fans as you read my impressions of their offense. For those who have read my reports—you know I love the Xs and Os and appreciate the unique aspects our opponents bring to the table. There is no need to post this report on the Auburn boards as I already know how they feel about any critique of their team; I have an e-mail box full of them. I try to be objective in my assessment, and call the good and the bad about an opponent, a player, and our team. (Auburn fans can confirm the first part of that)
We have so many similarities on offense, and we have similar results to show in yardage and scoring. I noted that Auburn had about as many negative plays from scrimmage as we did in the six SEC games of Auburn that I watched. You can’t get excited about one TFL play, as, like us they are very resilient and bounce back for a big gain on the next play. Both teams run a lot of speed double-options, bubble passes to the sideline, and yet they do not run the triple option the way we do, and we don’t run inside plays designed for the QB to run as they do.
Cam is the darndest college QB that I’ve ever seen. We have seen his highlight runs where he shows his amazing elusiveness, and it helps him escape the pocket for big gains, ala Pryor of the Rose Bowl. He runs with the fluidness of a WR, yet a fraction before impact he slithers enough to avoid direct contact on him like the great RBs. He is incredibly accurate throwing the ball, and can do so with a flick of the wrist. What sat me back was the little plays you don’t see on the highlight reel, where he turns a certain TFL into an eight yard gain. Those plays keep drives alive and boost their overall scoring. His running inside the tackles is the biggest surprise I did not expect going into viewing these games; he is a “Blount” between the tackles as a QB! One man cannot tackle him, so when contact is made he drives with his 6’6” frame and falls forward for three yards more. His size, strength, and elusiveness make him ideal for running inside and it is astounding how they use him as the work-horse. Both Darron Thomas of Oregon and Cam Newton have an average of 5.8 yards per carry, but Auburn runs Cam for a 1,000 yards more through the season.
Their RBs, McCalebb and Dyer, are speed backs and can take the Outside Zone Read the distance down the sideline if one tackle is missed, yet they are not exceptional running inside the tackles compared to LMJ or their own QB. Malzahn tweaked their OZR (Outside Zone Read) to accent their powerful QB by Zone Reading the playside DE, and pulling a guard. Let’s assume that the OZR is going to the right and thus the RB starts on the left side of Cam (the way ours is done) and then goes to the right. Cam looks at the DE on the right side of LOS and Zone Reads him while doing the mesh. If the DE stays put, then Cam gives the ball to the RB who takes off outside. If the DE comes up to take the RB, (which is what usually happens) then Cam pulls the ball and follows the pulling guard who has come from the left side and is turning into the hole to obliterate the LB. When the OG (Offensive Guard) does it a HUGE gap is created for Cam to run forward into, as this is their bread-and-butter play that is difficult to defend and stop for short gains due to the superb blocking of their guards and because Cam is a monster to tackle with any room given to him. They have made a TON of yardage off this play, and are the only team that I’ve ever seen that uses their QUARTERBACK for the inside power plays as often as they do. Wow.
Gus Malzahn, (The Offensive Coordinator and Spread Offense Guru) has designed other plays to utilize Cams ability to run inside. One tweak that I love is how he’ll line up TWO Offensive tackles on one side in a short yardage situation, pull on offside guard besides, and have Cam run behind this “Beef Brigade”. The first time I saw this I wanted to shout, “Downhill-Incoming!” It is nearly impossible to stop. Sometimes they will pull BOTH guards and run the sweep outside and those big OGs are fast enough to turn the corner with a nasty disposition. While they routinely mow defenders down, those speedy RBs only need a crack for a 30 yard pop. Malzahn has taken the power formation look we see from Stanford and applied it to his Spread Offense and unique QB. It is smart, smart, smart. We have not faced a team that has agile blockers that move, scatbacks that can whiff by you in a moment, and a player at QB who runs inside like a fullback, and outside like a WR. Defensive Coordinator Nick Aliotti knows what he’s up against and said recently, “I relish the challenge.” (Good for you!)
While we run a little faster No-Huddle, they can be quite fast at it themselves to create bad matchups. One strategy they employ on third and short is to actually huddle, and then break huddle, race to the LOS, and snap the ball from behind the center in three seconds within a power formation. You’re not ready on defense, you don’t know what side they’re attacking, and it was successful every time I saw them do it. Again, Harbaugh-type alignment problems coupled with the Spread Offense? I love/hate this Malzahn guy!
As I look at their offense I give credit to their WRs blocking well on the corners, and they are quite fast, get open and make most catches. (Like ours) They have a TE who is a good blocker and outstanding at slipping into the secondary behind the LBs. When I compare the group I cannot place them ahead of OUR WR blocking, or say they are better at getting open and making the tough catch like Maehl. I would not trade our TE, Paulson, for anyone in the US with his big-playing making ability and persistent outside blocking. In grading the two WR/TE groups I call it EVEN.
At Running Back—it is not close. They do not have anyone close to LaMichael James that has the power inside and blazing speed in one RB. Advantage Oregon.
As an old offensive lineman—I have to admit that I love their scheme for the offensive linemen at Auburn. Are they more physical than Oregon as many have claimed? No. Those assertions are based upon ignorance of our offense; if they understood how often we run the IZR (Inside Zone Read) which requires rooting out the D-Line, and is the toughest one-on-one blocking possible, then they would change their tune. You do not have the nation’s leading RB and scoring offense with shield blocking, as our OLs love to hit. One thing I noticed is that the Tiger’s pocket protection holds up a little better than ours. We don’t have many sacks because Thomas is good at releasing quickly and taking the hit, and he has taken more than I’d prefer this season. I’ve seen a ton of Tiger passing plays where Cam has all day to throw. Slight advantage to AUBURN on the Offensive line.
I already mentioned how the yards per carry by our QBs is the same. In passing Darron has thrown for 28 TDs to Cams 28 TDs, while Newton has only 6 interceptions to Darron’s 7 picks. (DT has only thrown two interceptions in the past seven games) While those stats are close—I have to give the advantage at QB to the Heisman Trophy winner.
So we have WRs/TE at even, O-Line to Auburn, RBs to Oregon, and QB to Auburn. Advantage on Offense to AUBURN!
When I assess the Tiger defense I noted how at the end of the season they were good at disguising their Zone Blitzes. They would bring four on 3rd and long, but which four? They lined up six and confused the O-Line of USCjr. extremely well. Both defenses let the opposition “dink and dunk” on them down the field and want to force 13 play drives with “rally and tackle” concepts. Auburn runs a rigid 4-3 and has a defense built to stop SEC offenses, while Oregon’s is designed to counter the balanced offenses of the Pac-10. I am happy to see their emphasis on Defensive linemen, and not the four fast NFL man-eater type LBs you see at Cal. You could say that our primary one-gap 3-4 defense is especially suited to attack the Spread Offenses of other teams which tells me that Chip anticipated the massive transition of other teams to the Spread Offense and is one step ahead again. Both defenses are excellent in the second half, but Oregon’s is incomparable with an average of only 6.4 points or one touchdown per game has been scored against us in the SECOND HALF of games this year.
At Defensive line I see good run defenders in the Tigers as I do in Oregon and they, like us, have excellent depth and rotate two full platoons of DLs that make plays. The difference to me is they put more pressure on the passer and collapse the pocket more often. Their D-Line star, Nick Fairley, was discussed in the last report. I love our guys but gotta give the edge to AUBURN on the Defensive Line.
At Linebacker the Tigers have a lack of size and speed at times which hurts in pass coverage. The depth at LB for Auburn is not strong, since the starters are not the best to begin with. We have one of the most intuitive MLBs in Matthews (An NFL Defensive family) and his speed has been helpful on the delayed blitzes. A former WR in Paysinger and “Mr. Athletic” Kaddu takes their high 4.50s jets to run with TEs, along with their 6’3” 235 lb builds to take on the power of Auburn’s pulling guards. The inside game will be an interesting matchup and our next group coming in of Clay, Littlejohn, and BoLo combines exciting athleticism with speed. Advantage in Linebackers easily goes to OREGON.
The Pac-10 has routinely been denigrated as a “finesse” conference and the reason is the emphasis upon a skilled passing game. I cannot imagine a worse matchup for a team that has a “wanting” secondary than to take on a Pac-10 team. Their corners play a huge cushion, yet still get burned long. Their safeties deliver big hits, but frequently miss open field tackles. They get confused in coverage often, and will allow too many easy completions. In short—a dream come true for a Pac-10 team. The infirmary at Auburn would be full of DBs with 3rd degree burns if they were in the Pac-10 and had to take on Luck of Stanford, Barkeley of USC, Threat of Arizona State, Foles of Arizona, and now Thomas of Oregon. We counter with the “rock” at one corner and a second team All-American at the other corner. Boyett is one of the best nationally at Free Safety, and when you bring in former starters such as Lewis and Gildon—we see nary a drop-off with the other platoon brought in. You cannot survive in our league without a great secondary. HUGE advantage in the Defensive Backfield goes to OREGON.
When you look at all the defensive personnel and then realize that the Ducks are the best BCS team at creating turnovers in the nation, the better defense appears to be obvious. Then you learn that Oregon is 5th in the US at Red Zone Defense vs. #96 for the Tigers! The advantage on Defense overwhelmingly has to go to OREGON. (I am relieved to see this advantage as Auburn was looking pretty formidable!)
Oregon has changed games this year on special teams with the numerous two point conversions, fake punts and Field Goals, and of course, being the nation’s best team for punt returns with FIVE coming back for TDs. Problem for us is the Tiger punter being a 37 yard average is all. Usually our best returns come from big booming punts outkicking their coverage. Gene will have his punter kick high with tons of hang-time. I see us getting NO runbacks, thus the advantage we hold on Special Teams is negated. I see Special teams in this game as EVEN.
Normally I would state that the surprise element of Chip Kelly is going to worth many points in this game. He has used plays this season, put them back in the toy box, and then pulled out new ones or blocking schemes from two years ago to defeat a new wrinkle that surfaced against him. The fact that bowl practices have been closed to the public and media pretty much guarantees Auburn seeing something new. Problem is—that rascal Malzahn is a shoo-in to be introducing something new too. There is too much time for preparation to NOT to, and I fully expect him to have our defensive heads spinning at times. Coaching advantage for this game with all the preparation time is EVEN.
As you compile my grades, it results in the balanced game that everyone is talking about. I personally do not believe we will hold Auburn under 40 points with Cam and Gus, while their secondary should not be taking on a Pac-10 team with such glaring vulnerabilities. (They will not hold us to under 40 points either) The next report will be much shorter as I explain the strategies that will bring Oregon victory and the TWO MAJOR KEYS to this game that the mainstream media have not yet discussed.
Our beloved Ducks are in the National Championship game! We Love it!
Charles Fischer firstname.lastname@example.org