Friday, June 19, 2009

Pure manna: Smart Football returns to Gus Malzahn

Are you an Auburn fan who has five-to-10 minutes or so? Great. Spend it reading this fabulous breakdown of the Gus Malzahn running game from Chris Brown's essential Smart Football. Spending it doing anything else--eating poached chicken cutlets, light jogging on the treadmill, watching Herman's Head reruns, picking out an Edible Arrangement to send to Dad as a failed ironic Father's Day gift--is a mistake. The correct way to spend those five-to-10 minutes is reading Chris's post.

Now, if you've got extra time after that, I've got some responses/additional conclusions/what-have-you in handy list form:

1. Mario Fannin is going to need to be The Man.
You'll notice Chris refer repeatedly to the importance of H-back in Malzahn's preferred running plays--the lead blocker in the counter, the crease-opener (on the defensive end!) in the power, man in motion for the various backfield action ... if Fannin does take over that spot, he's going to have a ton of responsibility, and not all of it is going to be carrying the ball or catching it. (Though, as we all recall, the guy filling that spot in Tulsa did see plenty of touches.) Fannin didn't seem to really take to his receiver's role last year, and though part of that was the injury and general Franklinian incompetence, he's still going to have to embrace his new position here with a lot more gusto if these plays are going to work the way they should. Or, alternatively, he's going to find himself on the bench behind John Douglas. (There's also the better-case possibility he just winds up tailback to supplant/help Tate. But the way the coaches have gushed about Tate and as explosive as McCalebb proved himself to be, I'm expecting those two to split most of the carries.)

2. Burns's running will give him a leg up.
I mentioned just yesterday--just as I'd mentioned for much of last year--that a great big giant problem with Franklin's sputtering attempts to establish a running game were that the plays he was relying on required a running threat from the QB. Now, the counter and power plays that Chris describes don't seem to, but that zone read with the bubble screen? That option reverse/end-around to Zachery at the end? Those plays do benefit, and benefit immensely, from having a guy who can move taking the snaps. That's not to say I think Burns is a lock or anything, but Caudle or Todd is going to have to be not just better but decisively better throwing the ball to make up for Burns's advantage here.

3. Malzahn isn't some dumb huckster.
This won't be news to anyone with a functioning brain stem, but every now and then you'll see Malzahn derisively referred to as "a high school coach" using "high school plays" or some such. This isn't really a viewpoint worth responding to, but I do think it's worth noting that the plays and ideas Malzahn's using here are similar to, or indirectly borrowed from, the likes of Urban Meyer and Rich Rodriguez--not to put too terribly fine a point on it, but probably the two most innovative and successful running-game coordinators in the country. That Malzahn has been able to adjust and adapt from his pass-wacky days at Springdale indicates to me that's he's going to keep right on adjusting and adapting until it makes this thing work.

4. I think it's OK to daydream about how scary this offense can be with a full complement of weapons. However bright Malzahn may be, it's not going to do him that much good if he can't find a reliable QB and his receivers aren't up to snuff. Think Meyer's first couple of years at Florida. (I know that second year ended in a national title, but it belonged mostly to the defense, luck, and Tebow's deadly efficiency in the red zone more than any kind of all-encompassing offensive brilliance.)

But I think it's also fair to fantasize think about what Meyer was able to accomplish once he got the kinds of players he wanted. No, Auburn's not going to find another Tebow Child, but it's maybe not so far-fetched to find someone who can do a decent Harvin impression, some quality receivers, and a quarterback who can make the thing operate. Even if Auburn's version of "quality receivers" or functional quarterback won't be as talented as Florida's, mix them with Malzahn's ludicrous speed tempo and the Meyer-esque bag of tricks Chris details in this post, and who knows?

Obviously this is the best-best-case scenario ... but yeah, screw it, I'm an Auburn fan, so I think it's in play.


KungFuPanda9 said...

I agree with you. I read this article yesterday and was very impressed with Chris' analysis.

Based on his interpretation of Malzahn's thinking, Kodi would do well at QB. I just wish he could throw a competent short rope to the flats at least to give the impression of a pass threat.

I like the WRs trailing the RBs for the option. That is an awesomely simple and effective way to maximize our current strengths.

His take on defense also explains some of our recent recruitment pickups.

Robert said...

He puts a ton of pressure on the defense. I went to their championship game with ECU last year (since I'm exiled to Tulsa) and Skip Holtz had his guys faking injuries to slow down the tempo all through the second half. And if Tulsa hadn't turned the ball over SEVEN times they would have won. Which is to say that Malzahn also puts a lot of pressure on his own defense...but I think you guys are better equipped to handle that than Tulsa was.

You need some different players--linemen too, not just skill positions--to make it work, but I think the "can't work in the SEC" stuff is nonsense. Tulsa lit up Arkansas last year (even though they lost the game) for more yards than either Florida or Bama did.