November 2, 2013

Simply unstoppable

How's that for normal American football?

Auburn eschewed many of its usual tactics during a 35-17 win in Fayetteville Saturday night, instead opting for the most elementary version of coach Gus Malzahn's offense. The Tigers relied on a handful of straightforward run plays -- inside zone, outside zone, zone read, inverted veer -- to batter the Razorbacks' defensive line into submission.

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has been critical of offenses like the one Auburn uses, insinuating they're too reliant on finesse and fitness to pass muster.

How's this for finesse: Auburn threw the ball only nine times and gutted the home team for 233 rushing yards on 46 carries. This was black-and-blue, north-south football that rewarded the team most able to mitigate the physical demands of such a game.

That team was Auburn.

"We wanted to come in here and run the ball," Malzahn said afterward. "We got the lead -- and we just kept doing it."

This was not pretty football.

It didn't have to be pretty. Malzahn, a former Arkansas player and assistant coach, was winless in his first three trips to Razorback Stadium. He came into each one of those games with a team that was underpowered relative to the competition, which forced Malzahn to take some chances he'd prefer not to take.

Things were different this time around.

Auburn may have been 0-8 in Southeastern Conference games, but Malzahn and his staff have created an environment where excellence is expected at every turn. That revamped mindset coupled with an offensive system that creates an automatic advantage has turned a Southeastern Conference doormat into perhaps the most intriguing team around.

Auburn wasn't underpowered Saturday.

Malzahn had the better team and he wasn't about to concede that advantage. So the Tigers did exactly what Malzahn said they were going to do -- operate in a way that minimized turnovers and explosive plays allowed.

Check and check.

Quarterback Nick Marshall fumbled during the fourth quarter, but somehow was able to gather the ball amid a pile of Arkansas defenders. Eight plays later, Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee called for a smoke draw on 3rd-and-9.

The play will go down in history.

H-back Jay Prosch motioned to the field side, where Arkansas' defensive line was shaded to help gain leverage for an outside run. Prosch and Auburn's other blockers flowed to the field side after the snap, which brought eight Arkansas defenders toward the line of scrimmage in anticipation of a run to that side.

Instead, Mason cut it back.

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