Tempo Continues to improve for Auburn Offense
Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee (Photo: Auburn Athletics)
The final media availability before this Saturday’s game at Ole Miss was on Wednesday, and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee spoke to the media about last weekend’s win over Arkansas, strategy for the Ole Miss game, and provided updates on injuries and personnel changes. Auburn’s approach to this weekend’s game is respectable, considering the turn of events that took place inside Jordan-Hare Stadium last Saturday night. Auburn had a record-breaking performance on the ground, as they defeated Arkansas 56-3. With a performance of that caliber and a jump in the rankings from 21st to 15th, many coaches worry about confidence playing too much of a factor heading into their next game. Auburn coaches are not too worried about overconfidence in their players. Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele said on Sunday that he has told the players that they are not allowed to discuss the Arkansas game until the postseason banquet. Lashlee said that players were focused and had high energy in Tuesday’s practice, and worked on third down and red zone situations on Wednesday. Lashlee says that Ole Miss brings an athletic bunch to the table, even though size is not as big of a factor as it was for the Arkansas game. “They rush the passer better than (Mississippi State and Arkansas). They move a lot, which allows guys to make plays.” Ole Miss is also an aggressive defense that likes to blitz. Lashlee says that in order to win, the offense must execute at a high level to avoid negative plays. Lashlee then talked running backs. On Tuesday, Head Coach Gus Malzahn said that Kerryon Johnson’s status was still in the air following an ankle injury that he suffered early in the Mississippi State game, which kept him out of last week’s game against Arkansas. During Wednesday’s teleconference, Malzahn confirmed that Johnson had a great day of practice on Tuesday, and will be available for Saturday’s game at Ole Miss. Lashlee said that Johnson, though not 100%, was available last Saturday. He thought that the move was smart, and was thankful that the run game performed at such a high level, that it allowed Johnson to pick up an extra week of rest. Kamryn Pettway filled in nicely, racking up 192 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. The best overall performance went to sophomore Stanton Truitt. Truitt, who moved to running back earlier in the season, rushed for 78 yards on 8 carries and had two touchdowns. Truitt even caught a pass from Sean White that went 45 yards to the end zone for another touchdown. Lashlee describes the move: “We made (the move) about 3 or 4 weeks ago. Stanton obviously had a really great fall camp for us. He has always been kind of half receiver half running back, he’s a real thick, stocky guy, even though he is not real tall. He is extremely explosive, he has running back skills with the ball in his hand. We went ahead and made that move, and credit to him for buying into it. He has worked very hard. It’s good to see him reap those rewards with this opportunity on Saturday. On Tuesday, wide receiver Tony Stevens compared running back Kamryn Pettway to NFL Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis, due to the size and power that “The Bus” showcased on Sundays for the Pittsburgh Steelers for ten seasons. Lashlee says that Pettway does not remind him of a player that he has coached, but says that Pettway has the similar features of former Auburn running backs Rudi Johnson and Brandon Jacobs. “When he gets to the second level, people are getting out of the way,” Lashlee said of Pettway’s running style. “That is why you see everyone try to tackle him low, but he is able to go downhill, north, south, and be a one-cut runner. He has good, quick, shifty feet. Because of that, he is able to run through a lot of arm tackles as well.” Freshman Eli Stove played a big role in the win on Saturday, most notably scoring on the first play of scrimmage. Lashlee said that Stove’s role on Saturday stemmed from his impressive game against ULM, where he had more opportunities to run and catch the ball than games before. College life has slowed down for Stove at this time of the year, and he has been able to contribute in big ways at this point of the season. The Arkansas game was the third game this season where Auburn rushed for over 400 yards. Lashlee said that last Saturday’s game was a rare opportunity, where the offense could rely on the running game so much, and rarely use the passing game. The feat was so rare, that Lashlee is not counting on it happening again this season. He credits guys on the perimeter for the surge in rushing. “That was by far the best game that our wideouts have blocked,” Lashlee said of his receivers. He also credits how well the receivers helped out in a way that they are not accustomed to. Auburn quarterbacks only completed seven passes for 89 yards on Saturday night. “You have a guy like Tony Stevens. Zero catches and he is smiling and is as happy as he has ever been on the sidelines. Marcus Davis, Zero catches. Kyle Davis, Zero catches. Darius Slayton, Zero catches. They did not care. Every game has its own personality, and what’s working. We were rolling. But the real reason we were working, is because those guys were doing a great job of being physical and manning their guys on the perimeter.” Malzahn said that more recent lineup of the offensive line will remain the same, with Austin Golson starting at center and Darius James at left tackle. However, with Xavier Dampeer, he is pleased that there are six players who have the talent to start on the offensive line. Lashlee feels that the line has improved drastically since week one, and likes the idea of having an extra lineman with experience. “With five games left, we have been fortunate so far,” Lashlee said about the health of the offensive line. “You gotta be ready. (There’s) only one play away from things changing.” This time last month, Lashlee, as well as Head Coach Gus Malzahn, were on many metaphorical “hot seats” after finishing their first three games with a 1-2 record. Things began to improve during the LSU game when Malzahn announced that Lashlee had taken over play-calling duties. Since then, Auburn has won three straight games by more than three touchdowns, two of those by over 50 points. Many things have gone right since the loss to Texas A&M, according to Lashlee. “We have tried, as a staff, to do a better job of putting them in a better position. We have simplified things and have played faster. We have to put them in the best position to be successful. But we have to call the plays and let them go play. I think that is why our tempo has been better. We are playing faster, our guys have confidence. We are not putting them in as many bad situations.” Auburn continues preparations for Ole Miss. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:15 P.M. on Saturday from Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Mississippi.