AUBURN, Ala. — It was hard to find much fault with Auburn’s offense last season.
The Tigers led the FBS in rushing, averaging 328.3 yards per game. They were second in the SEC in points per game at 39.5. And the passing game, while not dominant, continued to improve as the season went on, as the team finished with 20 touchdowns and 2,422 yards through the air.
But there’s at least one area where Auburn knows it could have been better: taking care of the football.
The Tigers fumbled 30 times last season, losing possession on 11 occasions.
It’s a number offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee deemed unacceptable.
“We had what we call the 'disasters,' what we call the 'explosives,' and we looked at them,” he said. "The ball was on the ground too much, for a variety of reasons. It wasn't just because I'm running and fumble, even the ones we didn't lose.”
During the coaching staff’s offseason evaluations — where it broke down every aspect of all 14 games last year — getting to the root of the fumbling problem was of the utmost importance.
The film study revealed that the lion’s share of miscues unfolded the same way.
“The reality of it is, we studied our fumbles, it's when they're making a move or they're in traffic, you spin, you make a cut, that ball leaves your body,” Lashlee said. “There's just a lot of little things that we're really, really emphasizing.”
No player has been observed more closely than Nick Marshall.
The Tigers’ starting quarterback — not surprisingly given the number of times he had the ball in his hands last season in the offense’s zone-read scheme — was responsible for the majority of the ball security issues. He led the team in both total fumbles (14) and fumbles lost (six), though a missed exchange with Cameron Artis-Payne on the opening drive against LSU likely should have been credited to the running back.
To avoid those types of mistakes this year, Lashlee is making sure the signal-callers aren’t treated any differently than their backfield mates.
“I pretty much take a period of every day, and I do a lot of the same drills (with the quarterbacks) that (running backs coach) Tim Horton does with the running backs,” said Lashlee, who serves as Auburn’s quarterbacks coach.
Despite being sloppy holding on to the ball at times, the defense helped to provide an equilibrium. The Tigers recovered six fumbles and picked off 13 passes; in addition to their 11 lost fumbles, the offense also tossed eight interceptions. This dead-even turnover margin tied for ninth in the SEC along with LSU and Kentucky.
Simply put, Lashlee said that ranking has to improve this fall.
“Our turnover numbers overall were OK, but we want to be the best,” he said. “We've got to get better."