AUBURN, Ala. — When Chip Lindsey walked into his first official press conference at Auburn on Saturday, the Tigers new offensive coordinator didn’t appear particularly frightening.
Then Lindsey sat next to Gus Malzahn as the head coach publicly handed over complete offensive control to his newest staff member.
Phrases such as “a few new wrinkles” and “a little different personality” were uttered. In minutes this familiar face speaking about “spicing up” Auburn’s offense had grown a bit more intimidating.
If there’s one thing Lindsey’s learned as he’s ascended from high school football to now the Southeastern Conference, it’s that balance is key.
A major reason Malzahn trusted, then offered the former Arizona State offensive coordinator the job was their shared belief that a no huddle, run/play-action system would work. And while Lindsey’s had success moving the ball through the air, the former Auburn analyst knows that a foundation on the Plains starts on the ground.
“I think when you get to big-time, even high school football and college football, you’ve got to be able to run the football to win,” Lindsey said. “I know that and we were really successful two years ago doing that and it just opened up our entire offense. I know what Auburn is made of.”
Auburn football has long been carried on the backs of bruising rushers. It was that way in 2013, when Tre Mason and Nick Marshall combined 2,884 yards on the ground. Last season offered much of the same: the Tigers were most successful when running backs Kamryn Pettway (1,224 yards) and Kerryon Johnson (895 yards) had the ball in their hands.
In between that time, Lindsey spent two seasons at Southern Miss, where a running back duo totaled 2,236 yards. Following that triumph, a slew of injuries made it hard to tell what could have been for Lindsey’s Sun Devils in 2016 (1,578 total yards on 475 attempts).
“In 2015 we had two 1,000-yard rushers at Southern Miss. I’m really proud of that,” Lindsey said. “Last year we had a lot of things happen. College football, it is what it is, it’s a man’s game. You have to deal with adversity throughout the year and I thought our guys did a great job of that. I’m really proud of that group of players. At the end of the day we want to be a run, play-action team. That’s what we’ve always done…I think when you commit to that style of offense, trying to get the ball to your playmakers, I think good things are going to happen.”
Though Lindsey isn’t yet a master on what Auburn executed through its last 13 games, Malzahn’s given him more than a briefing.
“We’ve been one of the best, and of course last year we led our league in rushing, but we need to be more balanced,” Malzahn said. “We need to throw the ball more effectively. Chip will bring that. I’m excited about our passing game. He will bring some new ideas, some new wrinkles, new flairs, he’s got a great offensive mind. I think it will complement our run game.”
The current roster mirrors Lindsey’s plan, too. There’s some old — Pettway chose to return to handle some unfinished business as a junior — and a little bit of new — quarterback Jarrett Stidham joined the team before the Sugar Bowl.
Lindsey feels the combination of the two, topped off with his own changes, could lead to a great deal of success.
“I think we did a nice job in the last two places I’ve been of kind of meshing some things together,” Lindsey said. “That’s what we plan on doing here. Obviously, Auburn has been good on offense before and done some things that are really good. We’re not going to lose touch with those things.”