AUBURN, Ala. — The first time Auburn held a live scrimmage this fall, Gabe Wright saw Nick Marshall run the zone-read.
The junior quarterback ran it well, yes. But even Wright, a junior defensive tackle and Carver alum, said he couldn’t have predicted what was to come once the regular season started.
“I guess you can never know. Being here my freshmen year the read option was actually successful and it’s successful elsewhere,” he said. “It’s hard to say I would instantly believe my offense would run for 400 or 500 yards and be top-tier, but anytime you can have an offense can help the defense out, it’s tremendous.”
Wright said it goes both ways, though.
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“I remember earlier in the year Nick threw a pick and I came to him and told him, ‘We’re going to get it right back,’ and that’s what we did,” he said. “I just feel like the best offense is a good defense and vice-versa. I’m definitely proud of the way those guys have been running the ball.”
In their last two games, that’s almost the only thing the Tigers have had to do, all but forgetting about the passing game in victories over Arkansas and Tennessee. Those two victories saw Auburn pass just 16 times compared to 99 rushing attempts.
Head coach Gus Malzahn said the one-sidedness in his play calling hasn’t struck him as strange, citing his background as a high school coach, where being able to adapt to the skill set of the roster is paramount.
“It's just whatever you do best, you need to build around that,” he said. “That's kind of what we're doing best right now.”
Though many like to draw comparisons to what Marshall is doing now to the things Cam Newton did during the 2010 campaign, Malzahn said the offense Auburn is fielding this year has its own iterations that set it apart.
“The first year, no matter whether it was Chris Todd or Cam Newton or Nick Marshall, the core of who we are foundation-wise didn't change,” he said. “We just build around the strengths of our quarterback.”
With Marshall, that happens to be operating the zone-read — and it’s begun to show itself more and more every week. In the past six games, he has run for more than 100 yards on three occasions, topped by his 214-yard showing in last week’s win over Tennessee.
Consider Corey Grant impressed.
“He's gotten better just overall,” the junior running back said. “Making his read, running the ball, knowing when he needs to give it.”
Not turning a blind eye to what’s working, Malzahn said Auburn is going to keep it on the ground as often as possible until opponents prove they can stop it.
“Football is not a complicated game,” he said. “A lot of people make it complicated, but you do what you're good at. Right now, we're good at running the football.”