AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn admitted in a press conference earlier this week that his play-calling “hasn’t been very good.”
One particular area he singled out for improvement was giving Auburn more opportunities to create explosive plays with downfield passing. In his weekly Tiger Talk radio show, Malzahn went more in-depth with the discussion of airing it out ahead of Auburn’s upcoming matchup with No. 18 LSU.
“You’ve got to stretch the field,” Malzahn said. “That’s really one thing that we haven’t done enough of. We’ve got to give these guys some chances, especially if teams choose to load up the box and dare you to throw the ball.”
Through the first three games of the season, Auburn is ranked 87th nationally in passing yards per attempt at 6.6. That low number isn’t affected by a lot of incompletions, either — the Tigers have completed a respectable 61.4 percent of their passes so far in 2016.
Auburn is also ranked 87th nationally in completions of 20-plus yards and is tied for 100th when the yardage moves up to 30-plus. Against Texas A&M, Auburn’s longest pass of the day went for 18 yards. Even when the Tigers faced 3rd-and-long situations, receivers rarely went deep downfield on their routes.
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That prompted Texas A&M to load the box more and bring its defensive backs closer to the line of scrimmage. Malzahn said Auburn, which is primarily a run-first team, needs to do a better job of taking advantage in those situations.
“Obviously, if anybody’s on you tight, you need to try to get over the top — whether it’s just run by him, whether it’s a double move,” Malzahn said. “Definitely, as the season gets going, we need to give them more chances, whether it’s throwing it deep or double-moving.”
A trio of Auburn true freshmen receivers could benefit from that greater emphasis on downfield passing.
Malzahn said fans will get to see Kyle Davis and Nate Craig-Myers “on the field more this week and moving forward.” He also added Eli Stove, who hasn’t recorded a catch this season, into that mix.
“Those guys just need experience,” Malzahn said. “(Davis and Craig-Myers) have catches under their belt, too. I think that’s good for the first three games … Those guys are very talented young men.”
Davis has recorded Auburn’s two longest receptions of the season — a 43-yarder in the season-opener against Clemson and a spectacular 42-yard, one-handed snag against Arkansas State. Both Davis and Craig-Myers are 6-foot-2, making them the ideal candidates to get opportunities in the vertical passing game compared to Auburn’s shorter group of starting receivers.
“Those young guys are getting better each time they’re out there,” Malzahn said. “They just need experience … They’re hustling. They’re doing a lot of the little things — the blocking and the things that a lot of times don’t get recognized.
“Coach (Kodi) Burns is doing a good job with the ground, and I think in the future, I think that’s going to be a position of strength for us.”