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Lack of explosive plays one of top concerns for Auburn’s coaching staff

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Melvin Ray (82) catches the game-tying touchdown in regulation. Jacksonville State vs Auburn in Auburn, Ala. on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics
Melvin Ray (82) catches the game-tying touchdown in regulation. Jacksonville State vs Auburn in Auburn, Ala. on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics

Auburn’s coaching staff has identified a number of issues with the offense through the first two games.

One it would like to fix heading into its SEC-opener against LSU is the team’s lack of explosive plays. The offense only has four plays for 20 or more yards this season, representing one of the lowest totals in all of college football.

“When we’re playing good football, we have explosive plays,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “We’ve had very few explosive plays the first two games. From a coach’s standpoint, that’s something we’re focusing on.”

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee couldn’t think of a time when Auburn has had less explosive plays in a two-game span.

“We’ve had a game here and there in the past when we haven’t done great, but usually we don’t have back-to-back games,” Lashlee said.

Last year, Auburn had four explosive plays through the first 35 minutes of the season, and had 11 through the first two games.

“A lot of credit goes to the defenses we’re playing,” Lashlee said. “They’re scheming to try to take those away, and a lot of it goes to us not making those plays. So that’s definitely something we’ve talked about hard with those guys this week, generating those plays, giving them opportunities to make those plays, because that’s a big part of our offense. When we’re doing well with that, we’re scoring a lot of points.”

While much of the focus has been on quarterback Jeremy Johnson’s lack of effectiveness, Lashlee said it goes beyond one player or position.

“A lot of time the focus goes on one guy, good or bad, and usually it is somewhere in between,” Lashlee said. “It's not all their fault, and it's not all the praise. We just have to play better as a group.”

Lashlee pointed to the team’s lack of balance early in games as a major contributor to the problem.

As strong as running back Peyton Barber has been in the second half, he hasn’t had similar success early in games, and the same can be said for his teammates.

Auburn rushed the ball 17 times in the first half against Jacksonville State, and only managed 52 yards (3.0 yards per carry). The longest gain for the offense in the half was a 13-yard pass to Ricardo Louis.

In the season-opener against Louisville, the Tigers were a little more effective in the first half with 78 yards on 16 carries, but still averaged less than five yards per carry. The longest play from scrimmage was for 18 yards going into halftime.

“We got to be balanced, and when we’re balanced you can take advantage of explosive plays not just in the passing game, but in the running game,” Lashlee said.

The road doesn’t get any easier for Auburn as it faces the “best opponent” its played yet on the road Saturday in Baton Rouge.

“We know it is a big challenge,” Lashlee said. “They held a really good team with a really good quarterback to under 20 points at their place.”

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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