Auburn changed its ways and Gus Malzahn made adjustments.
He and Auburn’s coaches on offense spent time last week tossing out ideas and tinkering with new ones, leading up to their team’s game last Saturday against Georgia. That much is clear now, after how the contest played out.
But those changes didn’t work. Auburn lost 27-10.
The Tigers ran the ball only 20 times in the game, marking the lowest rushing attempt total made by the program in a game since a 19-carry, 18-yard performance against Mississippi State in 2000.
Instead, Auburn ramped up its passing, and at times, the Tigers revved up their two-minute offense.
The result was the same as it has been too often, for many on the Plains, in a lost season at Auburn.
“Obviously any time you come up short, especially in the second half and not put any points on the board, that’s disappointing,” Malzahn said, in his postgame press conference Saturday.
Auburn’s offense isn’t entirely to blame for the loss, by any stretch. The Tigers’ defense gave up 516 yards to the Bulldogs.
But as Malzahn pointed out, the Auburn offense did not score in the game’s second half. A touchdown picked up on the Tigers’ second series on offense in the game, and a field goal tacked on in the second quarter, eventually gave way to scoreless frames in the third and fourth quarters.
It happened in a game in which the Tigers seemed to abandon the inside run, apparently learning from painful past experiences earlier this season.
The Tigers have struggled in finding a consistent running game this season, after the departure of Kerryon Johnson and four offensive linemen from last year’s team.
The Tigers averaged 45.9 rushing attempts per game last season. They’ve never averaged any fewer than 45 rushing attempts per game in a season in the Malzahn era.
Acting against Malzahn’s run-first philosophies didn’t do Auburn many favors Saturday, though, and neither did the Tigers’ two-minute offense.
Malzahn fielded questions during the week leading up to the Georgia game over Auburn’s use of the two-minute offense and whether it can be employed more, amid a clamoring from fans to hurry the offense’s pace after the Tigers pieced together two quick scoring drives in the fourth quarter of a comeback win over Texas A&M the team’s last time out.
Against Georgia, Auburn fans saw firsthand why teams don’t use it every series.
Late in the game’s second quarter, after Georgia fought back from Auburn’s early 10-6 lead and took the lead 13-10, Auburn got the ball back with 2:41 left to go before the halftime break. There the Tigers’ offense took to the field primed to attack in a two-minute offense, as Auburn’s coaches dialed up three straight passing plays.
One went for a completion, but then two incompletions forced a quick Auburn punt.
Georgia got the ball back with 2:00 to go. That’s when the Bulldogs pieced together its game-breaking drive. Georgia scored to go up 20-10 with 21 seconds left in the half and took that lead into the third quarter.
“Right before the half, I think the momentum in the game changed,” Malzahn said after the game, pointing to that sequence. “The offense went three-and-out, two minutes left and then they went down and scored.
“It was kind of uphill from that.”
It wasn’t from stubbornness, on the part of Malzahn or his coaches.
The Tigers changed up their game plan, conceding to make changes based on what’s worked and what hasn’t this season.
The trouble is, even that didn’t work.
So Malzahn and the Tigers are left to try to figure out what’s next.
Soon enough, on the schedule, next will be No. 1 Alabama.
And Auburn will hope to have found its answers by then — if it’s figured out what questions to be asking.