It appears that the Gus Malzahn era is off to a rousing start at Auburn University.
The much-anticipated debut of the Tigers’ newest incarnation of the spread offense delighted fans at A-Day last Saturday, producing 501 yards and six touchdowns as the offense beat the defense, 57-31, in front of more than 45,000 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn used a modified scoring system for the annual spring game, awarding the offense for big plays that didn’t necessarily produce traditional points. The defense also managed to score in unusual ways, picking up points for tackles-for-loss, sacks and turnovers. The system allowed Auburn, which has been slowed by injuries throughout the spring, to field one entire squad of offensive players and another of defensive players while still giving each team an opportunity to score.
The team’s top offensive performer was junior quarterback Neil Caudle, who seems to have adjusted quickly to Malzahn’s no-huddle approach. The Spain Park graduate completed 11 of 16 pass attempts for 161 yards and two touchdowns. He and fellow junior Kodi Burns have spent much of the spring deadlocked in the race for starting signal-caller. Burns struggled during the game, finishing 3 of 8 for 48 yards.
Defensively, the Tigers managed four tackles for loss, including two sacks, but created only one turnover. Matthew Sample led the team with six tackles, while Michael Goggans collected two tackles for a loss of 10 yards and a sack.
Gene Chizik, Auburn’s new head coach, was pleased with the overall effort.
“Today was a fairly productive day,” he said. “I think everybody got a little flavor today.
“The idea today was to go out and play a lot of base defense and base offense and kind of let the chips fall where they may. I think the kids had fun and the fans got a decent look at where we are going to be offensively and defensively next year.”
Chizik and the Auburn offense were without freshman QB Barrett Trotter, who tore his ACL in practice a few days before the game. Trotter, who ran a similar offense at Briarwood Christian last season, had been expected to compete for the starting job with Caudle and Burns. However, at least on this day, the Tigers had little trouble moving the ball through the air, despite depth issues.
The (traditional) scoring got underway early in the first quarter when RB Ben Tate scampered 46 yards for a touchdown. It was the first of two rushing touchdowns for Tate, who finished with 72 yards on just four carries. Later in the half, Terrell Zachery scored on his only carry of the game, a 70-yard run.
After another long touchdown run by Onterio McCalebb, Caudle hit Mario Fannin for a four yard score, the team’s first through the air. Caudle followed that up with another big touchdown pass – 34 yards to Darvin Adams – early in the third quarter.
“I know the defense is banged up and they didn't have all of their guys,” Caudle said. “But it's a big confidence-builder for us to go out there and hang up that many points on them.”
The Tigers open their season at home against Louisiana Tech on Sept. 5.