Why Auburn football shouldn’t have a slow offensive start in 2018

Auburn football-Auburn Tigers-Auburn-Gus Malzahn-Jarrett Stidham

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AUBURN, Ala. — With the success Auburn football accomplished in the second half of the 2017 season — beating two No. 1 teams at home, clinching the SEC West — the Clemson game looks strange in hindsight.

Auburn put up a measly 117 yards and 6 points against the eventual ACC champion. That would end up being nearly 440 yards and four whole touchdowns below its season average.

When it happened, Gus Malzahn was planted firmly on the hot seat. Then, less than three months later, he secured a 7-year, $49-million contract.

What changed for the Tigers, and what can they do to make sure that slow start doesn’t happen again in 2018? Let’s just go back to Malzahn’s own words in the aftermath of the disastrous loss at Clemson.

“Just looking at this season, I think [it’s] the fact that we have a new coordinator,” Malzahn said in September. “We do have a new quarterback, a couple new guys up front and I think the coordinator is learning his offense, his players are getting used to him, and I think that’s really the facts of the matter right now.”

MORE: Auburn’s Nick Coe among college football’s breakout players in 2018

Malzahn turned out to be right. Jarrett Stidham settled down and became one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the SEC during the last two months of the regular season.

Offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey seemed to have more control over the play-calling the rest of the way, and it showed through Auburn’s drastic improvements in deep-ball passing and overall efficiency.

Wide receiver Ryan Davis, who broke Auburn’s single-season catch record in 2017, blamed the slow start to 2017 on the unfamiliarity between a new quarterback, a new coordinator and several new starters.

“It took us a little while and I would say by, like I said, the Missouri game, everything just really started clicking,” Davis said at the Peach Bowl. “It’s one thing when you’re going against the same people every day, every day, you know, everything gets kind of bland and boring. After a while, when you actually go against real people, you really see how this thing was going. The offense kind of started out slow, it wasn’t going as fast as we wanted it to.”

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Auburn wide receiver Ryan Davis benefited greatly from the Tigers’ wide-scale improvement over the course of the 2017 season. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Davis also pointed to the Clemson game as a rallying point for the Auburn offense.

“We just felt like we left so much out there,” Davis said. “We just really felt like we lost that game because of ourselves. Clemson also did a great job, but we wasn’t really a close-knit offense just yet. We didn’t have an identity yet. Once we got the run game going and the pass game with the RPOs, kind of simplified things as much as we could, then everything hit from there.”

Injuries to Kerryon Johnson, inconsistent play on the offensive line and turnovers from Stidham doomed the Tigers’ offense in the final two games of the season. Still, it finished the season in a much better place than it started.

That leads into the 2018 season. According to Malzahn and Davis, Auburn’s problem against Clemson was that it was still trying to figure things out on offense. In Week 2 of a new quarterback-coordinator combo, it’s frustrating but understandable to a degree. An SEC offense should never put up just 117 yards against anybody.

But if you trust Malzahn and his players at their word, the slow start should not be a problem at all in 2018 — the key word being “should.”

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Auburn will have Lindsey back. The Tigers also will have a returning starting quarterback in Stidham. The Texas native also will have the bonus of returning all of his receivers from what was the second-most prolific passing season in school history.

The last time Malzahn returned a starting quarterback, back in 2014 with Nick Marshall, Auburn opened the season scoring 45, 59, 45 and 41 points in four of its first five games of the season. Auburn had a clearly defined identity on offense and an experienced player at the most important position on the field.

Auburn’s identity might be tweaked some in 2018 with a new starting running back and at least a pair of new starters on the offensive line. The Tigers will have to adjust to the changes up front and hope J.B. Grimes can develop talent that will be ready for Sept. 1 against Washington.

But there shouldn’t be the same amount of newness to Lindsey’s ways this fall.

The Tigers didn’t drastically change after Clemson last season. They just improved with experience. With a lot of that experience coming back in 2018, there shouldn’t be any excuses — or any Clemson-like performances — this fall.

The post Why Auburn football shouldn’t have a slow offensive start in 2018 appeared first on SEC Country.

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