AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn’s offenses have always taken off swiftly upon his arrival at a school, just not quite like what’s happened with the Auburn Tigers.
The eighth-ranked Tigers have been on a three-game offensive tear Auburn couldn’t manage even when Cam Newton was powering the 2010 team to the national championship with Malzahn as offensive coordinator.
Auburn (7-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) has produced one of the program’s 12 highest yardage totals in each of the past three games, averaging 652 yards during the stretch with no Heisman Trophy candidate or big star leading the way. The Tigers, who had never gained 600 yards three times in a season, visit Arkansas (3-5, 0-4) on Saturday.
The Tigers have key additions like quarterback Nick Marshall and tailback Cameron Artis-Payne, but perhaps the biggest newcomer was Malzahn and his hurry-up, no-huddle offense.
“I think guys (are) just playing harder, and actually believing in the coaches and having trust in the coaches,” said tailback Corey Grant, who has gone from benchwarmer to big-play threat in a deep backfield.
The first-year turnaround is nothing new. Malzahn’s offenses as coordinator at Arkansas, Tulsa and Auburn climbed an average of 53 spots in the national rankings in scoring offense, 49 in total yards and 19 in rushing yards in his initial season.
Auburn’s rise has made that look like chump change. The Tigers’ surprising climb into SEC championship contention has been spearheaded by an offense that has jumped 85 spots nationally in scoring, 102 in total and 73 in rushing.
The Tigers struggled badly during a one-season switch to a pro-style offense under coordinator Scot Loeffler, now at Virginia Tech. Now, Malzahn is back, and the numbers are surging again.
“Gus has got an extremely unique package that they’re obviously grasping very, very well,” Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema said. “And they’ve got players that fit into it. I think their execution has gotten better every game.”