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AUBURN — If you want to raise Gus Malzahn’s blood pressure, call the hurry-up, no-huddle philosophy he developed a spread offense. Draw similarities from his offense to the Air Raid of Mike Leach and Washington State, Auburn’s opponent in Saturday night’s season opener, and the Tigers coach is downright dismissive.
“We’re a run the football to open up the pass with play-action,” Malzahn said. “I know they’re a pass to open up the run. But they’ve been very successful doing what they do.”
Comparing Malzahn’s offense, which relies heavily on running the ball, to Leach’s almost exclusively passing attack is an ignorant attempt to make two offenses which both like to operate at a high tempo seem more similar than they really are. It’s a case of perception versus reality for the casual observer.
Last year at Arkansas State, Malzahn’s offense ranked 23rd nationally in rushing offense and in his prior three seasons as Auburn’s offensive coordinator the Tigers ranked 32nd (2011), 5th (2010) and 13th (2009) nationally in rushing. By contrast, Washington State was last in the country in rushing last season under Leach, averaging just 29.08 yards per game, but was ninth in passing.
Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, a harsh critic of spread offenses in the past, has draw the distinction in how Malzahn’s rushing attack is beneficial for a team’s defense.
“A lot of the spread teams that do not have a physical running game. Their defenses get soft because they’re the only thing you work against all spring and preseason,” Johnson said. “That’s where the foundation is, it’s a very physical running game. Then it has an element of the option, it has the element of the quarterback play-actions and having to defend him on different plays. It has formation deception and then that speed of operation.”