AUBURN, Ala. — It took a while longer than Rhett Lashlee hoped, but Auburn has started to find its identity on offense.
Coach Gus Malzahn handed play-calling duties over to Lashlee prior to Auburn’s victory against LSU.
The result has been a three-game win streak in which the offensive improvement has been apparent.
“Our kids are playing better, they’re getting confidence, they’re playing with momentum and they’re making plays,” Lashlee said. “We just have to keep giving them those chances. I like the way we’re going. I like the direction we’re going. I think we’ve just got to continue to improve each week.”
Yet despite the progression, opening drives have remained a problem for the Tigers.
The first plays of Auburn’s first six games have resulted in a punt (Clemson, Texas A&M and LSU), a fumble (Arkansas State) or an interception (Mississippi State).
In fact, the only time the Tigers began a game with a touchdown was in Auburn’s homecoming blowout of Louisiana-Monroe.
“In the past, we’ve been better on opening drives,” Lashlee said. “… It would be better to start faster than we have on that opening drive.”
But the problem, Lashlee said, isn’t so much the plays, which are typically planned and scripted, as it is the mistakes in carrying out the game plan.
“I think it goes more to us executing on the opening drive more than anything,” Lashlee said.
Punts have been the result of dropped passes in open space. Sophomore Kerryon Johnson fumbled against Arkansas State.
The other turnover came when quarterback Sean White was intercepted when his pass bounced off Tony Stevens on the opening drive of Auburn’s’ 38-14 win against Mississippi State.
White previously accepted responsibility for poor offensive performances.
“There were a couple of drives in the beginning of the game where I didn’t handle my play,” White said after Auburn’s win over ULM. “I missed a couple of deep balls or something like that. I just didn’t play as well as I could have.”
The coaching staff entered the bye week with the intention of dedicating time and focus to the initial drives of games.
“A bye week gets you healthy, allows you to maybe fine tune some things you are doing and maybe try build on things you do well and things that maybe complement that,” Lashlee said. “I think we’ve got a pretty good grasp on it and it’s just a matter of trying to get our guys geared up ready for the stretch run.”
The offensive tempo has been better recently and Auburn is averaging between 70 and 80 plays per game.
After a couple of low-scoring games and a matchup in which kicker Daniel Carlson accounted for all of Auburn’s points, the Tigers have seemingly figured out how to score often.
“It all comes back to execution,” Lashlee said. “We’re executing well in the passing game, staying efficient which allows us to stay on the field. Get some tempo going, allows us to run the ball better.”
Now they just hope to turn those possessions into points.