OXFORD, Miss. — The play call was music to Jalen Harris’ ears.
Facing a second down in the red zone and trailing by two points, Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee sent in the signal for “Fight Song” — a classic Gus Malzahn gadget play in which the Tigers line up an ineligible offensive tackle out wide, normally leaving a receiver uncovered down the middle of the field.
This time, Auburn used pre-snap motion to shift from a four-man backfield to a set with four wide receivers, a split offensive tackle and Harris, who had his hand in the dirt on the left side of the offensive line.
Malzahn named the call “Fight Song” during his high school coaching days because it always worked for a touchdown. So when the shifts sent Ole Miss’ defense scrambling, all Harris had to do was strike up the band.
“The whole middle of the field was wide open,” Harris said. “As soon as we shifted, I was like, ‘Oh, it’s a touchdown.'”
Auburn TE Jalen Harris finds the end zone. pic.twitter.com/lPIrPWM4Fw
— Lauren Shute (@LShute13) October 30, 2016
Harris’ 15-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Sean White became the first completion to an Auburn tight end in 21 games. The last one was a touchdown pass to C.J. Uzomah in the Outback Bowl at the end of the 2014 season.
But Auburn had this particular play call for Harris in its back pocket for the entire season.
“That was a play that we’ve been probably repping for nine weeks,” Malzahn said. “We probably rep it every week, and we never call it … I think they played man-to-man, and their free safety went to the three-receiver side. Nobody covered him. They executed the play really well.”
Fight song! #WarEagle
— John Elder (@CoachElder) October 30, 2016
For the first 20 games of his Auburn career, Harris was used exclusively as a blocking tight end. He hadn’t caught a pass since a playoff loss in his senior year of high school at Saint James Academy in Montgomery, Ala.
But the sophomore continued to grind away at an overlooked position in the Auburn offense, knowing more opportunities would eventually come his way.
“I’m giving it 110 percent, whether it’s blocking or running a route or catching a pass,” Harris said. “As my blocking continues to get better, my role on the team will continue to increase, because they can find so many different things to do with me.”
Congrats to Jalen on his 1st Career Touchdown at Auburn! Loading the Plane headed back to the Plains of Auburn pic.twitter.com/0JHKnEJrzA
— Scott Fountain (@CoachSFountain) October 30, 2016
Even though “Fight Song” has been a fixture of Auburn practices this season, the play call caught several offensive players — including Harris — by surprise.
“It was almost like we looked to the sidelines and were like, ‘Oh, we’re finally calling it. We’re finally calling it in a game, alright,'” White said. “We ran it, and it worked to perfection … (Harris) just came up and caught the ball. It looks like he’s done it a million times. I was proud of him.”
Malzahn and Lashlee repeatedly said in the last few weeks Auburn’s tight end position had the potential to be a factor in its red-zone offense. Harris’ snaps increased dramatically after Lashlee took over play-calling duties in Week 4, but they were for his blocking prowess.
The “Fight Song” reps kept coming, though, as a reminder for Harris to get ready for whenever his No. 85 would finally be called in the passing attack.
“Just wait on your time,” Harris said. “Don’t stay complacent, because you have to go 110 percent every time. There’s always somebody watching you and know when you’re doing good. My coaches say that to me all the time.
“It was nothing new, but the touchdown was special to me.”