AUBURN, Ala. — As every coach does, Gus Malzahn enters each game with a plan.
More often than not, it consists of an offensive strategy emphasizing his favored frenetic pace of play. But part of the job description involves the ability to adapt to any situation. Given the circumstances surrounding Auburn’s upcoming contest with Texas A&M, Malzahn said he would consider making alterations to his hurry-up, no-huddle philosophy.
But he refused to say that he would purposely slow his offense down in an attempt to keep Johnny Manziel and the Aggies off the field.
“You've got to really see how the game unfolds, and each game unfolds differently,” he said. “Sometimes you may need to try to keep it away from them, sometimes you may need to go a little faster. Whatever your advantage is, it's what you need to do.”
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Texas A&M has an explosive offense, scoring 40-plus points in nine consecutive games, the longest active streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Of course, it’s an attack with Manziel doing the heavy lifting, as the sophomore quarterback averages an SEC-leading 377 yards of total offense on his own. For comparison, there are four teams in the league who don’t tally more than 375 yards of total offense per contest.
Knowing the challenge that lies ahead, Auburn’s offense is well-aware it will likely have to score its share of points to walk away with a road victory Saturday.
“We’ve got to do our part and score points and help our defense out,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “It goes hand-in-hand and that’s how football is. We’ve actually won games that way this year.”
But the Tigers have won games in other ways, too.
“Some games it’s, ‘Man, we’ve got to score more points and pick the defense up,’” he said. “In other games we’re struggling and they’ve got to pick us up. It goes hand-in-hand, so however the game unfolds will dictate that. It’s just like every week. We know we need to have our ‘A-game.’”
Tre Mason, for one, is eagerly anticipating taking part in a game that might turn into a shootout. Mason has already settled upon this mind-set — the Tigers will need to score nearly every time they touch the ball.
Further, the points need to be in the form of touchdowns, not field goals.
“You know they're going to put up their points,” he said. “We need to get to (our own).”
Mason and his backfield mates surely won’t be lacking for carries this weekend. Auburn enters Saturday with the top rushing offense in the SEC, averaging 287 yards per game. Defensively, the Aggies have struggled to stop the run all season, giving up 201.2 yards every outing, which is next-to-last in the conference.
You could almost hear Mason licking his chops.
“We're a run-based offense,” he said. “We're going to continue to run the ball. We feel like our O-line is great, so we're going to run behind them and just look forward to taking advantage of those opportunities that they give us.”
Dominating up front will be key, Lashlee said. Yes, it’s something the Tigers look to achieve every week.
It takes on added importance, however, when going on the road to play in a hostile environment.
“We have leaned on them since day one,” Lashlee said of the offensive line. “Coach (J.B.) Grimes has done an excellent job. Those guys are getting better and better.”
That echoes a concept Malzahn hits upon every week: improving each practice and each game. The hope is those incremental gains are enough for the Tigers to come out on the right side of the ledger each Saturday. No aspect of this weekend’s matchup can override that goal in Malzahn’s mind.
He’ll leave the hyping of the two offenses to others.
“I'm not into seeing who's got the best offense — it's who's got the best team, just trying to strategically find the best chance to win,” he said. “That's really all I'm focused in on.”