AUBURN – Every option is on the war-room table.
Auburn is going to do whatever it takes to try to reload its arsenal.
The Tigers know they’ll need every weapon firing this weekend.
That seemed to be the message from Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn this week when he spoke about his team’s need to rejuvenate its rushing attack before the Tigers take on No. 6 Georgia on the road this weekend.
There, Auburn will challenge the Bulldogs, who are looking like every bit of the championship contenders they’re positioned to be — and in order for the Tigers to give them their best shot, Malzahn knows his team will have to kick-start its sputtering rushing offense.
He said the Tigers coaches are looking over several options to help their players make that happen starting Saturday.
“Whether it’s get a little more creative in the run game, or do things a little bit different, or not do some of the things as much — all those things are on deck, and all those things are being considered,” Malzahn said during his regular meeting with the media on Tuesday.
“The bottom line is we’ve got to run the football better. We’ve taken great pride in that in the past, and we’ve got to do a better job these last three games.”
Those last three games are against No. 6 Georgia, Liberty and No. 1 Alabama.
And Auburn will enter Saturday’s game against Georgia just a week removed from totaling 19 rushing yards last Saturday against Texas A&M.
It’s the program’s lowest total in that category in a single game since 2000. And it comes as part of a series of struggles for Auburn in running the ball this season.
Auburn stands 12th in the 14-team SEC in rushing yards per game, averaging just 155.2 yards per contest. The Tigers have never finished outside the league’s top five in that category since 2012, before Malzahn’s tenure. Auburn led the league in rushing in 2013 and 2016.
Auburn rushed for 218.3 yards per game last season, spearheaded in the backfield by star back Kerryon Johnson, running behind four experienced offensive linemen who have since left the Plains.
Earlier in the season, Malzahn figures inexperience, both in the backfield and on the offensive line, contributed to Auburn’s struggles in running the ball the way the Tigers would like to in Malzahn’s run-first spread attack . But by this stage of the season, inexperience shouldn’t be as much of a factor, and Malzahn says he’s bent on his team doing whatever it can to be an effective running team again.
“I think it’s a lot of different factors involved,” Malzahn said. “I can tell you earlier in the year, I can talk about the youth and inexperience. But like I said, about halfway through, you’ve got reps now.
“And then I can talk about the inexperience of running backs, the youth, but we’re getting to a point now where we need to be more effective. That’s our challenge.”
Redshirt freshman JaTarvious Whitlow leads the Tigers in rushing with 642 yards this season. Junior Kam Martin has rushed for 272 yards. True freshman Shaun Shivers has added 223 rushing yards. They’ve struggled to find consistency behind a new-look, reshuffling offensive line.
But, while the Tigers are looking over their options for ways to bolster their running game, Auburn isn’t looking, yet, to simply abandon the run.
When asked about the idea of adopting a more pass-heavy approach, Malzahn didn’t rule anything out as far as putting the best plan in place for his team — but, he said, his experience tells him that, it’s critical to have balance against good teams.
And Georgia and Alabama are coming up on the schedule.
“I think you’ve got to look at all of the above,” Malzahn said, when asked about the pass. “From that standpoint, whatever gives your guys the best chance of being successful, that’s really the bottom line, that you’ve got to (consider).
“But, you know, the more talented teams you play, the more important it is to be balanced.”