Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Tony Franklin in the wake of the LSU loss:
The biggest mistake I made is not throwing the ball enough. We threw it 30-something times I think, 32, but if I went back and had to do it over again I would have thrown it 10 or 15 more times. The things that we struggled with in running the football, we probably couldn't fix that night. I should have thrown the ball more.
I speak on behalf what I'm sure is nearly every Auburn fan in existence* when I tell you, Tony: No. While perhaps in this very specific situation throwing the ball more might have helped, that is not why the offense was not more successful Saturday night. Throwing the ball more is not a long-term solution.

The reason the offense struggled was not because it didn't pass more often. It was because it could not run the ball. It ran for 1.9 yards a carry. The solution to the offense's struggles, then, is not--as you seem to suggest here--to simply abandon the run. It's to make sure that next time the "things that we struggled with" in the running game are less of an issue. The solution is to ensure that when the offense tries to run, it succeeds.

Because you will have to keep running. Have to. All the chatter you and everyone else has heard from birth about running the ball and stopping the run "to win in this league" is chattered for a reason. One-dimensional offenses do not survive the SEC. Let a secondary and pass rush like Georgia's, Tennessee's, or even Vandy's go into a given down knowing there's a 80 percent chance the play call will be a pass, and the offense will have substantially less success than it even had against LSU.

I don't have a problem with your apologies, Tony, as frequent as they have become. Just apologize for the right thing, please. Not calling as many passes is the wrong thing. Not figuring out a way to make the Auburn running game consistent--specifically, consistent enough that it could grind out a first down or two and end the game on Auburn's next-to-last possession--is the right thing.

Because I refuse to believe it was impossible to run the ball Saturday night, even against the best defensive line in the country. We have an outstanding offensive line. We have a stable of talented running backs. We have willing and capable blockers in our receiving corps. In you, we allegedly have a creative and intelligent offensive coordinator willing to think outside of the box when he needs to attack a problem.

We saw this Saturday in the passing game. With the area near the line of scrimmage jammed and LSU attacking the run and passes into the flat so aggressively, you called more deep passes and--even more importantly--moved the pocket to help buy Chris Todd the time to complete them. After three games of general inefficiency, the passing game showed marked improvement, against a substantially better opponent.

So why has the same relative ingenuity not been applied to the running game? Over and over and over again you called for the same zone read play to one side or the other. The zone read is a terrific play--there's a reason Pat White and Steve Slaton rode it to a Sugar Bowl win, a reason Dennis Dixon's Oregon team was in position to play for a national title until his knee fell apart.

But that reason is that the quarterback is a threat to keep the ball and pick up major yardage without having to hand the ball off. When he's not, the backside defensive end (usually unblocked in this scheme) is free to crash down towards the running back, confident that even if the QB keeps, either he or his teammates can recover.

I'm not telling you anything you don't know when I say that Chris Todd, try as he might, is not a threat to pick up major yardage. And that Kodi Burns is. I don't doubt that Burns may not be as precise a passer, don't doubt that he may not have as firm a grasp of the offense as you may prefer. But to build the running game around a play that hinges on the quarterback's running ability and then select as the quarterback to run that play the quarterback who doesn't have that ability as opposed to the one that has gobs of it is madness. What were the chances of Auburn running on three consecutive downs to pick up a first at the end of the game with Todd in the game? What were they with Burns? Without a doubt, without any kind of argument or question, they were exponentially better with the latter. So why--in a situation where the best result for Auburn, also without question is three consecutive runs for a first down--was Burns not in the game? The only possible answer is because he had not been in the game to that point. But whose lack of foresight is that?

The running game's struggles go far beyond that, however. Mario Fannin has shown on multiple occasions he can accomplish things with the ball in his hands; why did he never touch it on an end-around or reverse? Brad Lester's slashing ability makes him a better fit for this offense than Ben Tate, rugged as he might be, evidenced not only by Lester's 3.7-to-2.4 yards-per-carry advantage against LSU but that Tate has lost 29 yards this year to Lester's 9 (even per-carry, Tate has lost yardage at twice the rate Lester has); so why after the game's first carry did Tate carry nine consecutive times? Aside from personnel issues, why was there never any misdirection plays? Why no screens to the running backs as a kind of long handoff when the short handoffs weren't working? Why no handoffs to Robert Dunn? Why has a second, blocking back not made an appearance all season? Where is the commitment to finding a way to making the running game work rather than sending Ben Tate headfirst into a mob of defenders for the 16th time?

Unlike the multitude of Auburn fans surrounding me at the LSU game who seem convinced the Spread Eagle is doomed to fail as a matter of consequence, I believe your offense can succeed, Tony. But only if it is balanced. And right now, I don't see balance. I see one aspect of the offense developing and growing, and one aspect that appears--to me--sacrificed at the altars of 1) quelling any hint of a quarterback controversy (good luck) 2) an unwillingness to use every available option for reasons I don't understand.

Tubby has always seemed to grasp how important this is and he still seems to. Let's hope he can pass that understanding down a notch on the coaching ladder this week, or Tennessee's secondary--much, much better than LSU's--might make it much, much clearer for you.

Pointless aside: on what planet has Charles Goldberg found Auburn fans willing to award Franklin "brownie points" for airing it out 50 times a game? The hell?

*The parents of the wide receivers count too, right?


Jason@TigerWalk said...

Jerry, I think we are at a very difficult decision for the coaches as to who will play QB. I can see validity in both, but you have to believe that Burns is the long term answer. The hard decision will have to be made to play Burns, even though he will have growing pains in the passing game. I think that Burns will be given his chance in the next couple of games and we may be looking at a totally new dynamic offense once we reach amen corner.

JD said...

Standing ovation, sir. I couldn't have put it better myself.

jrsuicide said...

i'm trying so hard to remain on the rational "this offense is better for us in the long term" way of thinking but when i read shit that Franklin wants to throw the ball more i have THE FEAR start creeping over me and i worry we are gonna turn into Kentucky.

Sean said...

I took Franklin’s comment as pertaining to the LSU game specifically. In reality, we probably should have thrown more because the run wasn’t working. And the run wasn’t working for exactly the reasons Jerry points out.

I commented to a friend a few weeks ago that I think Auburn fans are upset because they thought we were getting a West Virginia type spread (which I think most everyone would have been fine with) and in fact we are getting the Texas Tech Run ‘n Shoot. I’m convinced of this by the lack of creativity in the running game against LSU, comments like “passing to set up the run,” and the fact that Kodi Burns is not starting.

I agree with Jerry and Jason. I think the running game will need to become more creative and that means more Lester, more Fannin, and maybe Burns.

Host PPH said...

So he is sorry that he didn't throw the ball enough. Well I didn't do it so just have to live with it.