Auburn’s Passing Game

Auburn thinks their passing game will be much improved this year:

Gus Malzahn has options and he’s ready to use them.

The Auburn coach’s promise to throw the ball more often in his second season will be fulfilled only if his receivers follow through, and so far the Tigers believe their options are abundant and strong.

“Really, for the first time, at least since I’ve been at Auburn, we’ve got deep threats at every position we put on the field,” Malzahn said Monday on SiriusXM radio. “Hopefully that will equate into some big plays in the passing game.”

Here are the those prospective deep threats:

Sammie Coates, who was eighth nationally in yards per catch (21.5) last season, returns after a 900-yard season. Ricardo Louis, who fans will always remember for his 73-yard tipped touchdown catch against Georgia, is also back. It’s those big threats — they all stand tall at 6-foot-2 — that has Malzahn expecting a breakout season in the passing game, which ranked 108th nationally at 173 yards per game in 2013.

When you consider how dominate Auburn’s offense was in 2013 – this was a team that rushed for 4,500 yards after all, it makes one wonder why Gus Malzahn would keep tinkering. Plus, besides the fact that their rushing game was so dominant, Nick Marshall didn’t appear to be that good of a passer, so why mess with a good thing?

Well, here’s the reason:

“It’s going to be hard to double-team anybody on our team,” Coates said. “We have a lot of threats everywhere.”

We’ve talked on this blog recently about the importance of the double team. It’s huge – whether it’s offensive or defensive players demanding this attention. Unfortunately, the benefits of double-teams apply to Auburn as well.

I don’t think – at least for 2014 – that Malzahn wants to get too far away from their potent running game. There are many reasons for this. Their offensive line looks to be very good; they have several capable running backs; and Marshall is very effective when he runs. There’s no reason to over complicate things. Until the running game can be stopped, opposing teams will get a load of it.

But at some point, some team will effectively stop their rushing attack. It may be Alabama or it may be LSU or it may be another team. But, eventually, it will be stopped and that’s where defenses double-teaming wide outs will become very important. Defenses will load the box and go man on the edges, tempting Auburn to go up and over. We saw this last year at times, which helps to explain Coates’ gaudy YPC.

The problem for Auburn, as we saw last year is that, at times, Marshall just wasn’t very good throwing the ball. While last year’s crop of SEC quarterbacks was very good, top heavy in fact, Marshall was only middle of the pack in terms of throwing the ball. He was 6th in terms of QB rating, but only 10th in completion ratio. That’s not good enough for the elite teams of the SEC. With stats like that, it’s easy to see why defensive coordinators will be loading the box to stop Auburn’s running game and daring Marshall to beat them with the pass.