Auburn brought in ASU’s Chip Lindsey as offensive coordinator this offseason and he will be calling the plays this Saturday. Lindsey has extensive experience coaching under Malzahn and the offense won’t look particularly different, scheme wise, from what Auburn ran last year. What has changed is who’s under center, with Auburn coming in with a defined starter instead of the trotting seemingly half the depth chart under center last year. Sean White settled in and became a solid starter once he eventually took over, and prior to his injury Auburn found a groove on offense. Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham is a former five star recruit who showed enormous potential in a small sample as a true freshman before suffering an injury. Stidham is probably the most talented quarterback Malzahn has worked with since Cam Newton and he opens up a new element for the other Tigers offense.
The running game brings back Kamryn Pettway from suspension and will have undersized spark plug Kam Martin off the bench. Kerryon Johnson is questionable after suffering what looks like a pulled hamstring but the former elite recruit has shown off the big play potential Malzahn offenses look for in the running game.
At receiver Auburn has less proven production, but between a trio of undersized possession receivers (Hastings, Davis, Stove) and the taller, more physical duo of Darius Slayton and Kyle Davis there’s potential. Auburn has never been particularly inclined to feature their H back/tight end in the passing game, often using him as an additional pass protector/lead blocker, but always has the wheel route in their back pocket if the defense starts ignoring him outright.
Auburn bases out of twenty personnel, with the tight end off the line of scrimmage to serve as more of a fullback.
AU also runs a good bit of 11, 21 and 10 personnel but tries to keep the same players on the field when the offense has the tempo they want working. Given the depth at the running back position I wouldn’t be surprised to see Auburn running a decent amount of 30 personnel again this year. This is a team that literally ran the single wing last year, nothing is impossible. While it’s rare for them to go under center they will a few times a game, and often feature a WR either on a sweep, reverse or as a decoy.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Auburn, especially given their offensive coordinator’s past penchant for throwing the ball to RB’s, running plenty of empty or four wide one fullback “spread wing” formations. At ASU Lindsey often featured a version of 20 personnel often features two true running backs instead of a fullback.
Also, this is Auburn, they will absolutely feature the wildcat. Auburn ran it against Georgia Southern to mixed results, but Lindsey has had recent success with the formation.
Auburn wants to run the ball first and foremost, and will rely primarily on inside zone, power, counter and buck sweep to do it. Malzahn bases his scheme in the wing-t and looks to set up his main running plays before calling counters off them to spring big plays when defenses overcompensate. Between tackle runs such as power and inside zone set up the bigger plays that come later. Offensive linemen will combo block, down block, pull and trap routinely in an effort to get advantageous angles. Because Auburn runs so many types of conventional and run pass options they can read pretty much any player on defense if he’s proving to be impossible to block.
Some of the counters are built into the plays in the form of options. These range from the traditional zone read to more exotic RPO’s. One such RPO is this play Lindsey ran at ASU, where it looks like the quarterback can either handoff to the running back running counter, keep the ball if the end crashes or throw a slant outside.
Auburn did not run their patented power read play much against GA Southern, but at 6’3” 215 Stidham has the size to be an effective between the tackles runner. Of course, he also has injury concerns after just four games as a starter. College strength and conditioning have likely made Stidham more prepared for the rigors of FBS football but with veteran backup Sean White still suspended Auburn may elect to be cautious. Stidham will still almost certainly find a way to hurt Clemson with his feet eventually.
Note on this zone read that the player aligned as an h back appears to be a pass option (Stidham even pump fakes to him), making this play a type of triple option. A lot of Auburn’s yardage through the air comes off of these types of RPO’s, it’s probably the majority of their short passing game. Auburn is particularly fond of throwing hitch routes to the isolated receiver.
Lindsey also has run an RPO Clemson fans may recognize, designed to attack aggressive cover four safeties.
If Auburn is able to establish inside zone they will be able to throw the ball off that alone. Conversely no matter how talented they are, the AU front struggled with Georgia Southern at times. Some of that may just be a team coalescing, but if the Clemson front can keep Auburn from running the ball effectively a huge portion of Auburn’s playbook stops functioning. Auburn has every trick in the book to do it, but ultimately this is a system that needs to be able to go big on big and execute a few core running schemes. Everything else in the playbook is a constraint on that. Auburn ran the ball less efficiently against GA Southern than you’d expect. Four carries account for 194 of Auburns 350 rushing yards and while this shows you how explosive Auburn can be if the defense makes a mistake it also leaves the AU offense taking 49 carries to amass around 150 rushing yards against a Sun Belt team. A lot of the plays Auburn runs, whether runs or play actions, develop slowly because of the amount of fakes involved. Some of these work fantastically and Clemson could get burned if the secondary isn’t disciplined.
Some of them don’t, and it may have just been first game rust but Stidham had issues with turnovers under pressure.
This is not to say, blocking provided, Auburn can’t move the ball with their drop back passing game. Slot receiver Will Hastings performed well against Clemson last year and is deadly finding space in the middle of the field.
As well as running option routes against overmatched linebackers.
And Stidham will likely be asked to throw a few rollout passes in an attempt to neutralize Clemson’s pass rush. Auburn has loved to roll to the two receiver side and throw smash for as long as Malzahn has coached there. Screen passes and draws could also turn Clemson’s defensive aggressiveness against them and odds are a play action pass will spring someone open eventually.
Auburn’s fondness of max protection will somewhat mitigate Clemson’s pass rush, but if Auburn is forced to win the game passing they’ve been forced far outside of their comfort zone. The hurry up, no huddle pace Auburn prefers can be murderous on teams defensive line depth, and this is a concern for Clemson, but also requires the offense to move the chains in the first place. If Auburn isn’t able to establish their identity on offense, the ways this offense mitigates defensive fronts become a lot less effective. If AU is routinely facing passing downs, Clemson should be able to win the game. This is an Auburn offense full of potential that might coalesce into one of the better units in the country, but playing this early in the season is in Clemson’s favor defensively.
30-23, Clemson Tigers