AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn has made one of the tougher calls of his career after Auburn’s 1-2 start.
The coach whose offense propelled the Tigers into two national championship games turned the play calling reins over to offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee starting with last Saturday night’s win over LSU.
It’s something Malzahn had been contemplating and gradually moving toward since Auburn managed just 262 yards in the opener against No. 5 Clemson. He pulled the trigger after a similarly low-scoring performance against Texas A&M.
“It finally got to a point that this is what’s best for our team,” Malzahn said Tuesday. “This day and time and in this league, I just don’t think it’s realistic. That’s what hit me and that’s how we got to this point.
“I feel very good about moving forward with where we’re at. We’ve got the potential to grow a lot on offense. These guys have been with me a long time and I’ve got confidence in them.”
It’s too early to tell how much difference the move will make. An offense led by Lashlee, with help from offensive line coach Herb Hand, produced 388 yards and six field goals in an 18-13 win over LSU .
The combination didn’t help Auburn’s struggles in finding the end zone. The Tigers have only produced three touchdowns in three games against teams from Power 5 conferences. Quarterback Sean White’s three touchdown passes all came against Arkansas State.
This week Auburn hosts Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday.
Auburn’s offense the past two seasons little resembled the fast-moving unit that Cam Newton led to a national title in 2010 when Malzahn was offensive coordinator. It also hasn’t been nearly as productive as Malzahn’s first Auburn offense as head coach in 2013, when the Tigers led the nation in rushing and became only the second Southeastern Conference team to top 7,000 total yards.
Resolving the persistent red zone issues is the top offensive priority, Malzahn said. In the meantime, he can perhaps spend a few less hours hunkering down watching film and devote more time to the overall program.
“The biggest difference is I’m not going to be in that film room for 20 hours a day,” Malzahn said. “I’m going to let them do it. I’ll still be on top of things and involved but it’s going to allow me there for my players more — I think that’s the biggest thing — and the other coaches more. It was very refreshing last week from my standpoint as far as a preparation standpoint overall. Just being more of a head coach, game manager and everything that goes with it.”
Malzahn said he was more relaxed during the week and game as a result, and that he had been “coaching angry.”
“You saw the looks on my face, didn’t you?” he said, when asked what that means. He said a better description might be that he was too negative and living and dying on every play.
Safety Johnathan Ford said players could tell the difference in Malzahn’s demeanor last week.
“He was more calm, more relaxed,” Ford said. “He just let us have more fun, came in energized throughout the whole week. Told some jokes, played music. He just had us all relaxed and let us go play ball.”
NOTES: Malzahn didn’t mince words in discussing the man charged with burning one of the oak trees at Toomer’s Corner. “I hope they punish the guy bigtime,” he said after praising a woman, Herron Taylor, who confronted the suspect late Saturday night. Jochen Wiest, 29, is charged with 1st degree criminal mischief. … Reserve defensive end Paul James III is likely out for the season with a knee injury.
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