AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s offense took a two-pronged approach to its bye week.
First, the coaching staff evaluated the offense as a whole.
“Each year your team develops a little personality within that offense,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said following Sunday’s practice. “What do we think we should be? We've tried to kind of go more in that direction and really hone in on those things that we think... Each week you're going to have game plans, you're going to have little things here or there, but what are we going to be good at?”
And what are those things?
“At this point, not enough,” Lashlee said. “But we know the things that we're getting better at and the things we think will be our strong points.”
Those areas of perceived strength include its trio of junior running backs (Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant) and its experienced offensive line. Lashlee conceded the receiving corps is still a work in progress, but felt it is “getting better every week.”
And he’s also been pleased with the play of starting quarterback Nick Marshall as well as the occasions that Jonathan Wallace and Kiehl Frazier have been inserted as the team’s signal-caller when it breaks out its “Wildcat” formation.
“It's just a matter of the consistency level of executing, throwing and catching the football,” he said. “ Over the first four games there (hasn’t been) any point (where we’ve) been consistent enough throwing and catching the football.”
From there, things were pared things down to looking at specific players.
There was only one question that needed to be answered, Lashlee said.
“Are we asking guys to do what they're good at?” he said. “At some point, it's not fair to ask a young man to do something that maybe he's just not as good at.”
One thing the Tigers have struggled with — much to Lashlee’s chagrin — is picking up first downs. Auburn ranks 12th in the SEC in first downs, averaging just 20.5 per game.
If the Tigers don’t make much-needed strides in that department, their hurry-up, no-huddle offense won’t reach the pace the coaching staff desires.
“We know we want to be a tempo team and play fast, but you've got to get first downs to do that,” Lashlee said. “Sometimes if you don't get that first first down it makes it really hard to get your tempo going. At times we've done that in spurts and we've looked (like we’ve shown) a little bit of a glimpse of what we want to be. And at times we've been exactly what we've been — very inconsistent.”
The Tigers’ defense has had many of the same issues with consistency. That’s why coordinator Ellis Johnson said his unit tried to avoid getting into preparations for Ole Miss last week as much as possible.
The open date was a time for Johnson and his assistants to take stock of where it stands one-third of the way through the season.
“We worked a lot of young players,” he said. “We got some guys back on the practice field. They got more repetition. It helps us. I think we'd already learned a little about some of the young players having to play them in the first three games, four games, because of injuries and other issues. They're certainly going to benefit from that.”
Johnson was happy to note that the defense is finally welcoming some of its injured players back into the fold. Nearly every injured defender is “doing something,” Johnson said, a group which includes Chris Davis, Justin Garrett, Jonathan Jones and Craig Sanders.
Most are limited in the drills they can take part in, but that made no difference to Johnson.
“Chris Davis is slowing getting back in. He's day to day,” Johnson said. “Craig Sanders is back in pads. Not sure he's full speed — kind of day-to-day. Jonathan Jones is now getting some practice repetitions. He's been gone for the whole four weeks. Those are good things as far as good signs (to) get some depth back on the perimeter.”