Resur­gent of­fense pro­pels Auburn into top 10 sta­tus

Starkville Daily News - - FOOTBALL - By JOHN ZENOR As­so­ci­ated Press

AUBURN, Ala. — The Auburn Tigers have rid­den an al­laround of­fen­sive resur­gence into the top 10.

Quar­ter­back Jar­rett Stid­ham and tail­back Ker­ryon John­son have de­liv­ered big plays, the young wide re­ceivers have come through more con­sis­tently and the of­fen­sive line has un­der­gone a shuf­fling.

With all that com­ple­ment­ing a highly rated de­fense, the 10th-ranked Tigers ride a four-game win­ning streak into LSU on Satur­day.

Coach Gus Malzahn chalks part of that slow start up to a hav­ing a new quar­ter­back in Stid­ham and of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor in Chip Lind­sey.

"Chip was brought in to pro­vide bal­ance and more shots down the field and he's done that," Malzahn said Tues­day. "We've been able to hit some of those ex­plo­sive pass plays. We've had ex­plo­sive run plays too. Our tempo has got­ten bet­ter.

"I think it's more kind of all of the above, ev­ery­thing kind of com­ing to­gether, be­ing more com­fort­able, kind of know­ing who we are."

There was plenty of cause for con­cern, if not panic, three games into the sea­son. The Tigers man­aged just 117 to­tal yards against No. 2 Clem­son but also com­mit­ted five turnovers against Mercer's much less her­alded FCS de­fense the fol­low­ing week.

Auburn has since scored 144 points in its first three South­east­ern Conference games. John­son has run for 11 of his 12 touch­downs in those games to take the na­tional lead after miss­ing the Clem­son and Mercer games with a right ham­string in­jury. Stid­ham, now the SEC's high­est rated start­ing passer , threw for just 79 yards against Clem­son.

"We've come a long way since the first cou­ple of weeks of the sea­son, but we're still look­ing to im­prove quite a bit," Stid­ham said. "I think there's a lot of room to grow all the way around."

Auburn hasn't played a de­fense any­where near the cal­iber of Clem­son since that 14-6 loss.

The of­fense has clearly made strides since then, though. Stid­ham hasn't been in­ter­cepted in the past three games and John­son has kept the run­ning game go­ing with Kam­ryn Pettway miss­ing two of them with a lower right leg in­jury. Malzahn said Pettway would likely prac­tice Tues­day but that they won't play him un­til he's healthy.

On the line, Auburn moved Austin Gol­son from cen­ter to left tackle the past two games. Casey Dunn, a grad­u­ate trans­fer from Jack­sonville State, re­placed him at cen­ter.

The Tigers al­lowed 11 sacks against Clem­son and only five in the four games since then.

They have also scored on their last 14 trips inside the op­po­nents' 20-yard line, in­clud­ing 12 touch­downs.

LSU cor­ner­back Donte Jack­son praised Stid­ham's ac­cu­racy but noted that "they didn't go against us yet."

"They have the ath­letes, even on the out­side," Jack­son said. "But they also have a great of­fen­sive game plan too."

Sus­tain­ing the suc­cess in the sec­ond half of the sea­son is a chal­lenge, since op­pos­ing coaches mostly know what the of­fense does and doesn't do well, Malzahn said.

"This time of year it's about ex­e­cu­tion," he said. "And it's more about ex­e­cu­tion right now than any other time be­cause as a coach, what­ever you're good at, you want to keep build­ing upon those things.

"Well, other teams know that and they're go­ing to try and stop it and you've got to have an an­swer when they try to do cer­tain things like that. So re­ally it's more about ex­e­cu­tion this time of year than it was the first half."

(Photo by Butch Dill, AP file)

Auburn quar­ter­back Jar­rett Stid­ham throws a pass against Mis­sis­sippi State dur­ing the first half of a game ear­lier this sea­son.

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