Auburn coach Gus Malzahn lost his mojo in 2015.
During his first season, Malzahn was praised an offensive guru in taking the Tigers to the National Title game.
He pushed all the right buttons for an offense that averaged more than 40 points and 500 yards a game, but replicating the success hasn’t been easy.
Malzahn and his offensive coaching staff bear responsibility for the way the offense stumbled this season.
It starts with how they handled the quarterback situation.
Jeremy Johnson may have impressed coaches in winning the starting job over the spring, but the championship expectations were difficult for the first-year starter to meet.
At a minimum, the coaching staff should have done a better job managing those preseason expectations.
Johnson’s early poor play isn’t totally on the coaches, but the lack of improvement he showed in returning to the lineup was.
The Montgomery native protected the ball better, but the team’s intermediate passing game was non-existent as Auburn maintained a conservative game plan.
Two other issues that plagued the offense throughout the season were the coaching staff's play calling and rotations.
Auburn’s coaches couldn’t settle on a top running back. Jovon Robinson seemed to make a push at establishing himself as the guy late in the year, but the coaches were reluctant to give him the bulk of the work to the determinant of the offense.
While the Tigers had a clear No. 1 receiver in Ricardo Louis, the coaching staff failed to develop a consistent second and third option. Duke Williams dismissal from the team was a setback, but the lack of production at wide receiver contributed to problems in the passing game.
Malzahn’s past success was tied to how he mixed tempos, deployed trick plays and generated explosive gains.
The play calling failed on all three of those fronts in 2015 and the failures extended into the way coaches ran the offense in the red zone. It was a key reason why the Tigers scored a touchdown or less four times.
Auburn’s defensive coaches don’t get a complete pass, but the growth of the group collectively and individually in the second half of the season was an important difference.
Final grade: C-minus