AUBURN, Ala. — Since Gus Malzahn arrived at Auburn in 2009, the Tigers have gone through their fair share of offensive superstars.
Cam Newton was the first and foremost in 2010. The late Philip Lutzenkirchen was a go-to player for several seasons. Tre Mason became the face of the 2013 run to the national championship game. Nick Marshall took over the spotlight in 2014, and Duke Williams became a household name before his dismissal in 2015.
But Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee doesn’t see that type of player on the 2016 Tigers.
“We’re not a lot of superstars this year, and that’s OK,” Lashlee said Sunday evening. “It’s a good team offensive mix, and that’s why eight different guys caught a ball (against Ole Miss).”
Lashlee said Sunday that Auburn doesn’t have a “go-to guy” at receiver. Senior Tony Stevens leads the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns, but he hasn’t had a catch in two games. Stevens sat out Auburn’s 40-29 win over Ole Miss with an undisclosed injury.
In Stevens’ absence, true freshman Eli Stove turned out to be Auburn’s leading receiver in terms of catches and targets against Ole Miss. Stove finished with 5 catches after entering the game with only 3 career receptions.
Redshirt freshman Darius Slayton led the team in receiving yards with 53 after not recording a single catch against Arkansas.
Stove and Slayton’s bigger games were evidence of Auburn’s offensive philosophy of getting a wide range of players in position to make plays instead of focusing on just one star.
“Obviously, anyone would love to have that one guy everybody knows,” Lashlee said. “Right now, there’s nobody for the defense to key on, and it allows a quarterback and really everybody to run the reads and run the progressions. Wherever the read takes it, that guy’s got to make the play.”
Against Ole Miss, those important receivers included seniors Marcus Davis and Jason Smith, who each had a catch of 30-plus yards. Davis made his first reception since Week 4 against LSU after recovering from a hand injury, while Smith had his first catch of the season.
That constant rotation of playmakers young and old have contributed to stronger performances from sophomore quarterback Sean White.
“At this point, they’ve all repped with Sean,” Lashlee said. “I think that’s why we’re getting better each week with the efficiency. He’s more confident with where they’re going to be and what they’re going to do. He’s giving them opportunities.”
While Lashlee’s “no superstar” answer was specifically in reference to Auburn’s receiving corps, it applies to the entire offense.
Auburn running back Kamryn Pettway leads the SEC in rushing this season, but he didn’t get a single carry in two of the Tigers’ eight games. Pettway and Kerryon Johnson have been closer to 50-50 in terms of rushes than any other running back duo in Malzahn’s tenure as a head coach.
“Him and Kerryon have kind of done a good job brother-in-law’ing it right now,” Lashlee said. “(Pettway) has got the hot hand, but I thought both guys ran really hard last night. We’re obviously really fortunate that he’s running the ball like he is.”
After Pettway and the ground game dominated against Arkansas, Auburn’s offense was balanced in terms of yardage against Ole Miss (307 rushing, 247 passing).
White had more opportunities to make big plays with the ball in his hands, but it didn’t matter to him.
“We just have a team offense. We really believe it,” White said. “It doesn’t matter who’s getting the ball — Kerryon, Pettway, Stanton (Truitt) — everybody’s just trying to get each other open and trying to block for each other. It doesn’t matter who scores. We’re just trying to put up yards and put up points. That’s all that matters for us.”