AUBURN, Ala. — A few minutes after a game in which his team ran one ball-carrier 39 times and only threw 18 passes, Gus Malzahn wanted to brag about his offense’s balance.
More specifically, the Auburn head coach praised the balance offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee gave the Tigers after taking over play-calling duties in Week 4.
“We’ve been more balanced since we made that switch,” Malzahn said. “I think it’s a very good thing moving forward.”
Malzahn’s words might have seemed odd in the immediate aftermath of Auburn’s 38-14 win over Mississippi State. The Tigers ran the ball (56) more than triple the amount of times they threw it (18) against the Bulldogs. Quarterback Sean White only attempted two passes after halftime.
It was the second of three Lashlee-called games in which Auburn only passed 18 times while rushing for more than 55 times. That run-pass split seems to be the farthest thing from balance.
But Malzahn saw balance, and it had everything to do with another area of the box score — total yardage.
“I think balance is being able to throw the football when they give it to you and run the football when they give it to you,” Malzahn said Wednesday during the SEC coaches teleconference. “If you look at our yardage, it’s been pretty good as far as run-pass is concerned. Balance is more of what they’re giving you.”
Using Malzahn’s belief of measuring balance as the percentage of total yardage for rushing vs. passing, Lashlee has indeed called three of Auburn’s four most balanced games of 2016. The Mississippi State game, even with the massive difference in rushes to passes, was quite close to 50-50.
|OPPONENT||TOTAL||RUSH||TOTAL %||PASS||TOTAL %|
“Balance isn’t always a number,” Lashlee said Tuesday night. “But when you look at the stats, we threw for over 200 yards, we rushed for over 200 yards. So the efficiency was there.”
Auburn has been a run-first team under Malzahn. And even with more of a pocket-passing quarterback in White and a new play-caller in charge, keeping the ball on the ground will continue to be the majority of the Tigers’ offense.
For Lashlee, being balanced offensively has less to do with the strict number of pass calls vs. run calls and more to do with being more creative when Auburn goes to the air.
“We got some tempo going,” Lashlee said. “We’re throwing the ball a little more in tempo, throwing the ball on first and second downs in the middle of drives. That’s just something we’ve worked on.”
Of Auburn’s 18 passing plays against Mississippi State, 12 of them came on first and second downs. That’s a newer wrinkle Lashlee is throwing into the offense, even one that knew from the second play of the MSU game that it was going to be able to run the ball well.
FERG’S FILM ROOM: Breaking down all of Auburn’s passing attempts vs. MSU
“I think you look at the first half, we have 16 passes and 33 runs,” Lashlee said. “But the mix was pretty good … You look at that, that’s somewhere roughly to a 40-60 — 35-65 is probably a better number — mix. That’s pretty good. There’s going to be games where we’re going to have to throw it more.”
Malzahn and Lashlee know Auburn won’t be able to dominate the rest of its opponents on the ground as much as it did against Mississippi State.
But as the sophomore White continues to click with a new-look group of wide receivers in the second half of the season, the Tigers will have more opportunities to hit longer passes downfield.
And even if the call splits continue to be weighted heavily in favor of the rushing attack, Malzahn will be content as long as the yardage is balanced.
“I know that with just casual fans, you think balance, everything has to be equal with the carries to the passes,” Malzahn said. “A lot of times, it’s more of what they’re giving you and how the total yardage is being dispersed.”