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Monday, Sep 25, 2023 | Latest Print Edition

Wesley's Tale of the Tape: Gus Malzahn makes near-perfect return to play-calling

<p>JaTarvious Whitlow (28) scores in the first half. Auburn vs. Purdue on Dec. 28, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn.</p>

JaTarvious Whitlow (28) scores in the first half. Auburn vs. Purdue on Dec. 28, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn.

Auburn was able to end the season on a high note with a historic win over Purdue in the Music City Bowl. For what felt like the first time all season, the offense clicked throughout the whole game.

Auburn started the game hot and kept it up throughout the first half. On a third-and-1 early in the first quarter Auburn unveiled a new type of fake that completely fooled Purdue.

On this play the offensive line moves around like it is going to be a run. A guard pulls, but they all stay back to pass block. Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham takes a step forward as if he is going to run the ball before pulling back. Auburn running back JaTarvious Whitlow releases out of the backfield on a wheel route and is completely wide-open, displaying excellent open-field running to score a touchdown.

Not all of Purdue’s defense bought the initial QB run fake, but Auburn’s two receivers made sure to take the linebackers who are supposed to cover Whitlow out of the play. It is both a run fake and a designed offensive pick play, and it works to perfection to allow Auburn to begin the game with a touchdown. 

Before the half, Auburn would have another huge play for a touchdown, again coming off of a couple of fakes. On this play, the offensive line sells the run again by moving as if they are run blocking, and having a guard pull to complete the fake.

Stidham takes the snap and fakes handing the ball of to both the running back and to the end- around man before pulling it and launching the ball. Part of the reason this play works so well was the timing of it all. Stidham finishes the second fake handoff and immediately goes into his dropback. Upon completing the dropback, he takes two steps forward and launches the ball for a 74-yard touchdown.

The offensive line allowed no pressure, and Stidham was able to make a clean throw. The important thing was that he made the throw nearly right away. He did not have to dance around in the pocket trying to buy time, or have to avoid pressure. Given a clean pocket and good route timing, Stidham delivered a perfect pass for an easy touchdown. 

Auburn’s next touchdown would come early in the second quarter. Facing a second-and-long, Auburn calls a screen pass to try and get some yardage back. Great play design and Slayton’s elite speed end up turning it into a touchdown.

This screen is unique as it begins with Slayton exploding off the line. Known traditionally as a deep threat, this pushes the defenders back. When Slayton stops his route and comes back for the screen, there are no defenders close enough to make a play.

The way this screen develops -- with an extra second in order to sell the route fake -- allows the offensive linemen to get out in front of Slayton. From there, Slayton uses his elite speed to turn what would be a 10-yard gain into a touchdown. 

In the third quarter, Auburn would score on a Ryan Davis sweep. The design of the play is fairly standard, but it is Davis running that makes the play truly work.

Davis is an elite playmaker with the ball in his hands, and on this play, he turns at a 90-degree angle in order to score. Davis runs parallel to the line and strings out the defense. The entire defense is so scared of Davis getting the edge, that when Davis cuts it up field the defense has all over ran it.

Davis breaks a few arm tackles and gets into the end zone thanks to some great blocking by the O-line.

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Auburn finished what was a lackluster on a high note, and several players who are leaving the team ended their Auburn careers with a game to remember. Auburn will now begin looking to the offseason, where they will need new players to step up at many positions.

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