AUBURN, Ala. — Two major things were different about the way Gus Malzahn looked on the sidelines Saturday night — his headwear and his positioning.
The former happened when his daughters convinced him to ditch his trademark visor for a basic hat because they thought he was “getting bald.” The latter happened when Malzahn convinced himself that his offense needed a change at 1-2, so he switched duties with coordinator Rhett Lashlee and let him call plays.
Both will be permanent.
Malzahn announced Saturday night that Lashlee would continue to call plays for Auburn’s offense going forward after the Tigers knocked off No. 18 LSU in dramatic fashion, 18-13.
“I’ve been really leaning towards that for two weeks now,” Malzahn said. “I’m turning it over to him. He’ll do a good job, I thought he did a fantastic job tonight. I need to be the head coach and that’s what I’m going to be. I’m looking forward to Rhett building this offense.”
In his four years and counting as a college head coach, Malzahn has almost always the final say with his offense while Lashlee advised him. At Auburn, he has let Lashlee call plays twice — a 2015 game vs. Texas A&M and Saturday night.
The Tigers won both.
So instead of taking back the play-calling duties like he did last year after the victory over Texas A&M, Malzahn is going to stick with his protege as primary play-caller. The head coach who made a point in the offseason to be more hands-on with Auburn’s offense is changing his focus four games into the campaign.
While Auburn’s offense continued to struggle with turning red-zone trips into touchdowns Saturday night, it put together arguably its best performance of the season with Lashlee taking the reins.
Auburn reached the red zone 6 different times against LSU, which was the most the Tigers had since Lashlee called plays in the 2015 Texas A&M game. Auburn also averaged 5.2 yards per play, which was the most since that same 2015 Texas A&M game.
There’s still the obvious need for Auburn to turn those trips inside the 20-yard line into 6-point chunks. But the Tigers are going to take this small amount of offensive momentum from this Lashlee-called game and push it forward to their next tests of the season.
“I thought (Lashlee) did a really good job,” Malzahn said. “We had a lot of field goals, so we need to work on getting the ball into the end zone. I thought he did a solid job against a good defense.”
Auburn starting quarterback Sean White said he learned Lashlee would call plays against LSU earlier in the week. He’s completely on board with the switch to Lashlee, who also serves as his position coach.
“He did a great job,” White said. “I’m comfortable with whoever calls the plays. They’re both, in my opinion, very good coaches … I have the utmost confidence in (Lashlee).”
Malzahn has the same amount of confidence in Lashlee, who was once his quarterback at Shiloh Christian School in Arkansas.
Now Malzahn is ready to see Lashlee succeed as a play-caller and give Auburn’s offense the boost it needs to shake off what was a rough start to 2016 — hat and all.
Besides, the Auburn head coach is 1-0 with both changes.