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Clunky play-calling puts Auburn at disadvantage in loss to No. 19 Ole Miss

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn likes to script its early offensive plays for each game.  

The number of scripted plays can vary, but offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee has said the magic is usually around nine.

On Saturday in a 27-19 loss to Ole Miss, those nine plays put together by the Tigers coaching staff didn’t set a positive tone at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Auburn came out with one strange call after another that prevented the offense from getting into a rhythm.  

Sean White and Jeremy Johnson rotated at quarterback while Kerryon Johnson took snaps in the wildcat formation. The group managed one first down, and 16 total yards on their first two possessions.

On the first possession, White completed a pass for 11 yards then came out of the game for two plays. He returned to the field for a third-and-six, and was sacked for a loss 8 yards. 

White similarly watched the offense run two snaps out of the wildcat on Auburn’s next possession. When he reentered the game, the redshirt freshman promptly launched a deep throw into double coverage that was intercepted by Tony Bridges at Ole Miss’ 39-yard line.

It was White’s first interception in 95 attempts.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn attributed the rotation at quarterback to an injury White suffered late in the game against Arkansas. His left knee swelled up during the week, and he was a game-time decision.

“Our plan was to play both of the guys because we felt like some of the running type plays worked for both of those guys,” Malzahn said.

After the first quarter, the play calling issues were mostly apparent in the red zone where Auburn couldn’t manage a touchdown in three chances.

The Tigers weren’t willing to commit to the run game like they had in previous weeks. After scoring 11 touchdowns in his last three games, an injured Peyton Barber only carried the ball once inside the 10-yard line.

Of the seven plays Auburn ran from inside the 10-yard line, Auburn threw the ball four times without a completion. White did have a 12-yard touchdown to Marcus Davis called back inside the red zone due to a holding penalty.

Auburn’s overall struggles running the ball Saturday made the coaching staff hesitant to dial up runs close to the gaol line.

“I think that a part of the factor for me was that we had a little trouble running the football,” Malzahn said. “We are a run to play action team and we need to be effective running the football. You have to give them credit though; they did a good job of stopping the run.”

Malzahn’s other play-calling gaffe came in the second quarter when he had Auburn go for it on a fourth-and-two at Auburn’s 49-yard line with a 10-3 lead.

The Tigers defense forced Ole Miss to punt on two straight possessions. Instead of trying to pin the Rebels back at their own end zone, Malzahn kept the offense on the field.  

Auburn turned it over on downs when White couldn’t hit Davis on a short pass in the flat. Ole Miss scored a game-tying touchdown on its ensuing possession.

Malzahn defended the call in his post-game press conference.

“The mindset was that we wanted to be aggressive,” Malzahn said. “We were going to try and go for it on a couple of fourth downs and we liked the matchup we had, but we just didn’t execute the play. That was our plan. We wanted to be aggressive.”

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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