How Auburn football is looking to get Tank Bigsby to the next level in 2022
By focusing on the "little things" of technique and looking to the NFL, the Tigers' top offensive weapon has been a top priority this spring.
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RB Tank Bigsby (Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
It doesn’t take long for Tank Bigsby’s talent to shine on a practice field.
With all the moving pieces for Auburn’s offense this offseason, there’s a lot going on during drills. Newcomers and youngsters are trying to prove themselves. The quarterback group is completely made up of players who weren’t here last spring. Older key players — particularly on the offensive line — are sidelined, creating more reps for those with less experience.
And then there’s Bigsby. Whenever he touches the ball, whether in a team drill or in individual position work, he looks like the best player out there.
That’s because he is. Bigsby was the nation’s No. 40 recruit in the class of 2020. The only higher rated offensive skill player Auburn has signed out of high school in the last few classes is Bo Nix, who is now at Oregon. Before them, you have to go all the way back to 2014, when the Tigers signed 5-star running back Roc Thomas.
Bigsby averaged more than 6 yards per carry in 2020, which was the best mark for a top Auburn running back in more than two decades, and won SEC Freshman of the Year. In 2021, despite all of the Tigers’ offensive struggles, Bigsby became the first 1,000-yard rusher at Auburn since Kerryon Johnson in 2017.
Auburn’s coaching staff has made no mistake about it: The 2022 offense is going to be built around what the Tigers can do with their best weapon.
“We're going to start this thing with a downhill, physical run game,” offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau said last month. “We're going to come after you. That starts with those guys in the backfield, and obviously Tank being the forefront of that. I'm excited about it. You need to have a foundation. You need to put your feet on something, and Tank is a big part of that.”
Even in the age of high-powered passing attacks, Georgia proved last season that a team can still win big while committing to a run-first system. (The Bulldogs averaged almost 10 more carries per game than pass attempts. Auburn, by comparison, averaged 35 passes to 34 carries in 2021.) The passing game will always be a difference-maker in modern football, but there’s still room for a strong ground game.
And with Auburn rebuilding a passing attack with a new quarterback and mostly inexperienced commodities at wide receiver, leaning on Bigsby and the ground game makes the most sense this fall.
Cadillac Williams smiles when he hears that, calling it “music to his ears.” Williams was one of the centerpieces of a run-oriented, pro-style offense that won big in 2004. Times have changed, but Auburn’s running back coach likes to point out that even in the title-winning seasons after that — 2010 and 2013 — his alma mater smashed teams on the ground.
“Like I tell people, when Auburn has won — just go in the history books — we run the football and we play great defense,” Williams said.
It might not be the sexiest pitch for an offense in the year 2022, but it’s the smartest one for Auburn right now. Bigsby is a proven commodity in a sea of question marks.