Auburn’s coaches decided to close in the walls.
If there wasn’t enough heat already on the Tigers during their fifth straight day of practice to start fall camp, out under the August sun and weighed down in full gear, Gus Malzahn and his staff pulled the team to the most pressure-packed part of the field.
Auburn focused on red zone play Tuesday on the first day of fall camp in full pads — contracting the field and putting the Tigers in do-or-die situations on tight fields near the goal line where teams can make or break their chances in games during the season.
Competing quarterbacks Joey Gatewood and Bo Nix were part of that challenge with the rest of the team, for another day of what Malzahn calls a high-volume install for the offense early in fall camp, and another step toward the coaches finding their starter for the Oregon game.
“We went full pads. It was hot. I think it was really good for our team to experience that,” Malzahn said in his report to the media after practice. “Their bodies are starting to talk to them, but really had good leadership as far as the energy and getting through practice and all that.
“It was a red zone day,” he said. “We really focused on the plus-25 offensively and defensively. I thought there were some good things, really, on both sides of the football.”
Part of that, he said, he found in that quarterback play.
Gatewood is a redshirt freshman and Nix is a true freshman, both splitting first-team repetitions during practice in competition for the starting job.
“I thought they got better today,” Malzahn said Tuesday evening of his two quarterbacks. “Like I said, we’re putting a lot of volume install, and any time you go red-zone, that’s a whole other deal. The field condenses, and there’s specific plays that you call, and quite a few of them were new plays today.
“I thought they handled it really good today,” he said. “Two days ago, wasn’t as good, but today I thought they did a good job, and so that’s part of it.”
Malzahn said earlier in camp that he has ramped up the installation of his offense in this preseason camp as opposed to previous years, teaching players more plays in a shorter amount of time because he has experience at every position on offense — except for there at quarterback.
For their part, they’re just going to be tasked with keeping up — and so far, they have.
Red zone play could prove especially critical for Auburn this season. In 2018, Auburn recorded its lowest red-zone scoring percentage under Malzahn, as head coach or offensive coordinator, scoring on 43 of 53 trips to the red zone. That 81.13-percent scoring efficiency ranked 12th among the SEC’s 14 teams.
In 2017, Auburn was sixth in the SEC, scoring on 52 of 59 trips.
“We were pretty good in 2017,” Malzahn said, on that red-zone efficiency. “Last year we weren’t as good. I think, really, if you look at the history, when we’re successful running the football, we’re really good in the red zone. The years that we struggle a little bit running the football, it’s tougher. I think that can probably be said for most teams in our league.
“I mean, when you get in the red zone, to be a good offense, you got to be able to line up and run the football.”
After five straight practices, Auburn will take a day off today before gearing up for the first scrimmage of the fall Thursday in Jordan-Hare Stadium.