Gus Malzahn nodded his head. “Yeah.”
He didn’t need to be reminded, but as it was just pointed out to him again, he is college football’s hurry-up, no-huddle guy. He agreed.
He wrote the book on it — quite literally.
“Right,” he nodded.
But his team isn’t using it very often these days.
“No. We’re not hurrying enough,” Malzahn acknowledged Tuesday, in his press conference at the Auburn athletics complex.
Auburn challenges No. 6 Georgia on Saturday at 6 p.m. in Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga.
The Tigers are heading into that rivalry matchup on the heels of a 28-24 comeback win over Texas A&M last Saturday at home, which saw the Tigers charge back in the final minutes when a struggling Auburn offense came alive late for two two-minute-drill scoring drives, which flipped the script in the game and earned Auburn a thrilling win.
Tuesday, as Malzahn looked ahead to Georgia — the SEC East division winner bidding for a return to the College Football Playoffs — he seemed to know his Tigers offense was going to have to play more like that for more of the game if his team is going to have a puncher’s chance against the Bulldogs.
And he fielded questions from the media about how Auburn found success when playing fast and up-tempo in the urgent moments at the end of last Saturday’s game against Texas A&M, but less as much in other stages of the contest.
“A lot of it has to do with, you’ve got to be successful,” Malzahn said, continuing his answer, when he was asked why his team isn’t pushing pace as often as his offenses have in the past.
“The worst thing you can do is go quick and go three-and-out,” he said, pointing to a fear of putting a tired defense back on the field after just a short rest.
“I’ll go back to our third downs, too,” he went on. “We’ve got to be better in that area.”
In short, it just isn’t so simple, in Malzahn’s mind.
Pushing pace and upping the game’s tempo became a topic of discussion in Auburn circles online early this week, after the Tigers’ offense zipped down the field for those two game-winning touchdowns last Saturday.
Auburn trailed 24-14 midway through the fourth quarter last Saturday, before the Tigers offense pieced together an eight-play, 71-yard touchdown drive in just 2:00 on the clock to cut the deficit to one score with 5:14 to go.
Later in the fourth, the Tigers’ offense scored its game-winning touchdown on a fast, two-play drive, when, after a big gain by Ryan Davis, Jarrett Stidham hit Seth Williams in the corner of the end zone for the winning score with 1:41 to go.
Auburn’s offense didn’t substitute personnel often on those drives, which left the Texas A&M defense without its own chances to substitute opposite the Tigers.
But for Malzahn — who wrote that book, “The Hurry-Up, No-Huddle: An Offensive Philosophy” back in the early 2000’s as he rose to fame boasting that innovative offense in the high school coaching ranks — often enough, the no-huddle comes with success, as opposed to success automatically coming with the no-huddle.
“It just depends,” Malzahn said, when asked if his team substituted too much during drives earlier in the game. “You look at the rhythm that we ended the game with. That was pretty good. We weren’t substituting. There’s a fine line there. Sometimes you need to substitute for certain things, sometimes you don’t.
“If you’re not being successful on offense, the worst thing you can do is a fast three-and-out — your defense is back out there. There’s strategy that goes with both and every game unfolds a little bit differently.”
There’s a need there, Malzahn said, to avoid putting a tired defense back on the field soon after it steps off it.
He didn’t say so Tuesday, but there may well be a need, too, in the minds of the coaches in those offices at the athletics complex, to mix and match personnel with substitutions in creative ways to try to bolster a struggling Tigers running game, and to help an underperforming offensive line in pass protection.
Per tape analysis tweeted by former Auburn offensive lineman and current SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic, Auburn sent Stidham into a passing dropback with five-man protection on seven plays in last Saturday’s game, while the line had additional help on his 25 other dropbacks in the win.
Those seven plays resulted in a sack, two quarterback hurries, two quarterback pressures and a batted ball at the line of scrimmage, Cubelic tweeted. Stidham was cleaner and found success with protection, though, finishing the game with 239 passing yards and two passing touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Auburn’s offense struggled to run the ball effectively, finishing with 19 total rushing yards in the game — the program’s worst single-game output in that category since 2000, when the Tigers rushed for 18 yards in a game against Mississippi State.
Malzahn did point directly to that as being part of the Tigers’ struggles on offense on Saturday — and indirectly, he seemed to imply that a stronger running game would allow his team to enter the hurry-up more often.
“Each game is a little bit different with your approach and who you’re playing and their strengths, and everything that goes with it,” Malzahn said, when asked if his team would run more of the two-minute offense moving forward. “Obviously you always look at yourself, look at the things you do well, and try not to do the things you don’t do well.
“The big thing for me Saturday was just the disappointment of not being able to run the football effectively. … When you play the elite teams, you’ve got to manufacture the rushing yards.”
If there’s something Malzahn is taking away from those last two touchdowns drives, though, it’s that the Tigers did find their stride when they needed it most — and that’s something the team will try to carry with it into Sanford Stadium for its showdown at Georgia on Saturday.
“It’s about rhythm. And there’s no doubt we were in rhythm the last two series,” Malzahn said.
“You’re always trying to find, offensively, a rhythm, so we’ll see where that carries us these last three games.”