In Saturday’s home opener against Georgia Southern, the No. 12 Auburn Tigers will be presented with a challenge by a formidable Eagles offense.
GSU plans to reinstall and run its shotgun-based triple-option attack on Saturday under former Georgia Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Cook.
The triple option is one of the hardest offenses to prepare for in college football and Auburn opens the season against a well-versed opponent in Georgia Southern. The triple option is an unorthodox type of offense. Very few schools run this type of offense, but the service academies like Navy, Army, and Air Force run it, along with Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern.
Triple option teams rely on running the football. The defense has to worry about several different running choices on each play. There are three players who could run the ball in this offense. The quarterback takes the snap and usually has a fullback and two running backs behind him in the formation.
The decision of who runs the ball is made by the quarterback during the play. Based off the quarterback's read of the defense, his first option is to hand the ball off to the fullback for the dive. If he does not do this, then the quarterback runs to the outside and has the option to pitch the ball during the play to the running back.
In the final preseason press conference, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn made several comments regarding the unique Georgia Southern offense.
“They present challenges with that triple option, there’s no question about it. Three years ago, they beat Florida, they took Georgia to overtime. They played a lot of good teams well,” Malzahn said.
Willie Fritz installed the option at Georgia Southern during 2014-2015. He left for Tulane after 2015 and GSU hired Tyson Summers. Summers went away from the option that had been so successful under Fritz. Coming into his second season however, Southern is back running the option attack.
Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has plenty of experience dealing with this kind of offense. Steele was the defensive coordinator at Clemson from 2009-2011, when the Tigers faced off with Georgia Tech annually. As for Auburn, no player currently on the roster has ever played against the triple option in college.
"Any time you're facing a triple option team, especially that's good at it and well coached, you've got to start working on (it) earlier," Malzahn said. "Kevin has got a good plan. He has been in the ACC with Georgia Tech before so he's somewhat familiar with that.”
Steele and Clemson went 1-3 against the option during that three-year span. Clemson and Georgia Tech played in the 2009 ACC Championship game, but Tech’s victory was later stripped due to NCAA violations.
While many eyes are on Auburn’s new starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham, the Tiger defensive line will hold the most responsibility for Georgia Southern and its unique triple-option attack.
Auburn enters the contest as the No. 12 team in the country, however a hyped offseason hasn't boded well for Auburn in the past. The last time the Tigers began a season ranked in the Top 15 was in 2015, when Heisman hopeful Jeremy Johnson and company began at No. 6 and were picked to win the SEC. That team went 7-6 and finished last in the Western division.
The Tigers will look to successfully debut Stidham, Lindsey's offense and Steele's experienced defense before hitting the road next weekend for a prime-time matchup with No. 5 Clemson.
As for the Eagles, redshirt freshman Shai Werts will get the start at quarterback on Saturday. The Clinton, South Carolina native will be making his collegiate debut against the Tigers, so Auburn’s coaching staff is limited on ways to prepare for Werts.
“To get a true picture of them cutting it like they cut in the offensive line, we’re not going to be able to simulate that," Steele said. "It’s a challenge, there’s no doubt it’s a challenge. But it is what it is and we’ve got to get it done."
Although the circumstances of Saturday’s game are somewhat unusual with GSU’s offensive playbook, Auburn is projected to take the game by five touchdowns.
“I think any time you experience things it does nothing but help you, the fact that they have such a unique offense," Malzahn said. "We had a long period to prepare. Some teams only have a week to prepare. Kevin [Steele] has a good understanding of the triple option and has defended it before. Now, does that mean they’re easy to stop? No, they’re good at what they do.”
Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. CST in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday. The game will be televised on SEC Network.