The Auburn Tigers continued their resurgence from early season struggles with a decisive blowout win against the 17th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks. Mark Schofield breaks down how the Tigers ran up the score through a series of well-designed plays.
After just three weeks, the sharks were already circling. The Auburn Tigers began the season with a loss to the Clemson Tigers at home and, after a victory over Arkansas State, the Tigers fell to Texas A&M to drop to 1-2. With the Tiger Bowl on the horizon (and the visiting LSU Tigers also limping in at 2-1) the seat under head coach Gus Malzahn could not be hotter – and as it was for Malzahn, so too was it for his counterpart in that contest, Les Miles. There was speculation that the losing head coach would be shown the door, so when Auburn pulled out the victory late, Malzahn was safe while Miles was headed for the unemployment line.
But Malzahn’s squad has righted the ship since that 1-2 start. In addition to the LSU victory, wins over Louisiana-Monroe and Mississippi State eased the tension around Lee County and saw the Tigers ranked for the first time all season. But this week they faced a stiff test in Arkansas, who entered the game 5-2 overall and ranked 17th in the country.
The hosts did not wait long to pounce:
On their first offensive play of the game, the Tigers line up with 11 offensive personnel and quarterback Sean White (#13) under center. Running back Kamryn Pettway (#36) is deep in the backfield with fullback Chandler Cox (#27) staggered to the left. Tony Stevens (#8) is the single receiver split to the left, while the Tigers use a slot formation to the right, with freshman Eli Stove (#12) inside of Darius Slayton (#81). Arkansas aligns in a 4-2-5 nickel.
Stove comes in motion toward the quarterback, and Auburn uses a jet sweep with the speedy freshman:
The blocking – both in terms of design and execution – is perfect, starting with their revamped offensive line and on down. Left tackle Darius James (#78) bypasses the defensive end across from him and immediately arcs to the second level to block the playside linebacker. Next to him, guard Alex Kozan (#63) gets a quick shoulder on the defensive tackle before center Austin Golson (#73) – Auburn’s left tackle to start the season – is able to take over. Next, Kozan works to the second level to handle the backside LB. On the outside, Stevens cracks toward the middle of the field on the safety while Cox leads to the edge to handle the playside cornerback:
Stove is untouched, going 78 yards for the score:
The Tigers began using this offensive line combination after their starting center Xavier Dampeer suffered an ankle injury against LSU, and the new pairings have fared well.
The quick score gave Auburn the early lead from which they would not look back, taking a 28-3 lead into the locker room at halftime. While it was Stove who got on the board early, redshirt sophomore Stanton Truitt, a former wide receiver seeing snaps at running back, exploded for two first-half scores.
On the first, the Tigers face a 2nd and 3 on the Arkansas 21-yard line with just over a minute left in the first quarter, already enjoying a 14-0 lead. White stands in the shotgun with Truitt (#10) staggered behind him to the right. The offense has slot formation to the left and a single receiver split to the right, and Cox aligns as an upback just behind the left B gap. Arkansas has their nickel defense in the game, and they show Cover 1 with weakside linebacker Dwayne Eugene (#35) down on the line of scrimmage in blitz posture:
The offense uses a split zone design:
The offensive line flows to the left, while Truitt takes the handoff heading toward the right side. Cox executes the cross block, coming across the formation and aiming for the right edge. At the snap, Eugene crashes down inside and the defensive linemen all slant to their right. Simultaneously, Brooks Ellis (#51), the MLB, scrapes into the hole on the edge reading the play:
Once again, Stevens executes a good block as well, cutting to the inside to block safety Josh Liddell (#28). So when Truitt clears the line of scrimmage and cuts to the outside, he’s left one on with with cornerback D.J. Dean (#2), and the speedy RB sets him up with a move to the inside before beating him to the outside, and into the end zone:
That gave the Tigers a 21-0 lead, but Truitt’s big first half was not completed. With under two minutes to go in the second quarter, Auburn faces a 2nd and 9 on the Arkansas 45-yard line. They line up with White in the shotgun and 20 offensive personnel on the field. Stevens is the single receiver split to the left, while Truitt stands just to the left of the QB. Cox aligns as an upback again, this time just behind the right B ap. On the right side, Slayton and WR Ryan Davis (#83) are in an inverted slot, with Davis on the outside:
Davis comes in motion, and the Tigers fake a jet sweep before White retreats to throw, with these routes to choose from:
Truitt runs the wheel route out of the backfield, which, as we all know, is undefeated:
Stevens runs a route breaking to the middle of the field, which pulls the cornerback and safety away from the outside. That frees up the sideline for Truitt, and the defense loses track of the shifty RB as they track the motion and potential jet sweep. White puts the football on Truitt, and the former receiver races into the endzone for the score – picking up yet one more big block from Stevens – giving the Tigers their big halftime lead. They would not look back, coasting to the 56-3 blowout.
The victory moved the Tigers to 5-2 overall, and 3-1 in the conference. With Texas A&M losing to Alabama, Auburn now sits in third place in the SEC West, behind the undefeated Crimson Tide and the Aggies, who are 6-1, 4-1 in the SEC. Their trip to Oxford to take on Mississippi might be their toughest test left on the schedule. If, of course, you don’t count the Iron Bowl at the end of the year. A few weeks ago it seemed like the Iron Bowl would be a mere formality this year. But now? There’s the possibility it could decide the winner of the SEC Wast.
Editor’s Note: This article originally stated that Kerryon Johnson was at running back, not Kamryn Pettway, and also misidentified Chandler Cox and Tony Stevens, as well as misstated the SEC sub-conference impacted by this game. Big thanks to commenter Barfunkle for pointing out the errors.
Follow @MarkSchofield on Twitter. Buy his book, 17 Drives. Check out his other work here, such as how Alabama passes to attack the flat, or Tennessee’s use of the double post concept, or how LSU runs play action.
All film courtesy of ESPN.