What made 2013 Auburn's rushing attack so special — and so unstoppable
In 2013, Auburn dominated on the ground more than any team since Nebraska's glory days. No one has matched the Tigers since then.
RB Tre Mason (Auburn University)
Several years ago, Chris B. Brown uploaded part of the offensive install from Auburn’s 2013 season to his Smart Football blog. You can check it out there and read through all the details of the Tigers’ communication system from that season.
The words “FAST, PHYSICAL, RELENTLESS” sit high atop the first page. It’s followed by a snapshot of Auburn’s offensive philosophy: “a run/play-action team that will keep constant pressure on the defense and defensive coaches.”
In a bulleted list below that, several hallmarks of the Gus Malzahn system appear: playing at a two-minute drill pace the entire game, taking what the defense gives you, using misdirection, stretching the field both ways and unleashing unusual formations and play calls.
The last bullet turned out to be foundational to the Tigers’ wild ride from winless in the SEC to a conference champion that took one of the most dominant teams in modern college football history to the wire in the final BCS Championship Game:
From Day 1 in fall camp, Malzahn and his staff were signaling to their team what would take them back to the promised land.
Elite rushing attacks and Auburn football go hand in hand. The history of the program has been closely linked to the ground game. The Tigers have a legitimate claim to be “Running Back U” in the world of college football, boasting some of the best to ever do it as alumni. Even their second Heisman-winning quarterback and national champion had more carries than the feature backs for a lot of powerhouse programs.
Malzahn was the architect of that 2010 offense with Cam Newton. When he returned to the Plains after a single year as the head coach at Arkansas State, the option-running DNA was still evident on the Tigers’ roster — even if Auburn tried to move to a pro-style offense in Malzahn’s brief time away from the program.
But Newton was one-of-a-kind: 6-foot-6, 250 pounds and a former 5-star prospect. The Tigers’ top running back in 2010 was also a former 5-star, Michael Dyer. Auburn also had Onterio McCalebb and Mario Fannin, two former 4-star prospects who had multiple years of experience and top-tier athleticism. The Tigers started four seniors on that offensive line, plus a highly rated JUCO transfer.
Malzahn was trying to make magic happen in completely different circumstances. Nick Marshall played cornerback at Georgia before giving quarterback a chance again in junior college. Tre Mason was a borderline 4-star/3-star recruit in high school. Corey Grant didn’t pan out at Alabama. Cameron Artis-Payne was a 3-star coming out of junior college. The Tigers had recruited well up front in years past, but their returning offensive line talent had underachieved on the field.
They still came together and put up more yards per game than the 2010 national champions while only trailing slightly in points per game and yards per play.
And they did it with a rushing attack that was unlike anything Auburn had ever seen — including Newton and Co. from a few years earlier.
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