Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn is widely recognized as one of the best offensive minds in football. The Tigers have ridden his unique, run-heavy spread system to four ranked finishes in his five seasons as head coach. His system is run-based but disguises those basic run schemes through formation and pre-snap motions and shifts. Most of the passing game is predicated upon play action, speaking to defenses being committed to stopping the Auburn rushing attack. Here are four basic play designs from Auburn last season, along with their install sheets from Malzahn’s 2010 offensive playbook (when he was Auburn’s offensive coordinator).
Rushing Play – “Zin Saint”
Malzahn installing a zone example of Buck Sweep— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) June 11, 2018
Details on Y’s Block: Keeping vertical eyes to keep OH defender back on heels allows time for PSG to make his ? path. Bending inside on 2nd step rather than 3rd, I assume is to keep block underneath and force Mike to come over top. pic.twitter.com/CMcgyX4Q7W
One of Auburn’s favorite plays is the traditional “Buck Sweep,” a play in which both guards pull towards the edge to block for the running back. Malzahn has committed to running this play over the years and is able to run it from multiple formations to keep defenses honest. The main coaching points of the Buck Sweep start with the H-back, or what Malzahn calls the “FB.” His job is to “stalemate” the end man on the line of scrimmage and allow the pulling guards and running back to get outside of him. The play side tackle and center down block away from the play while the guards pull. The play side guard wants to kick the strongside linebacker, and the backside guard needs to seal the weakside linebacker. The “S,” which can be a TE or bigger bodied receiver, has the job of sealing the middle linebacker. The running back needs to continue laterally until he sees daylight, then wants to turn upfield and hit the crease in between the two guards.
Auburn Buck Sweep (out of Wildcat)— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) June 11, 2018
•PSG’s with clinical “question mark” path and high hat placement
•Y receiver presses vertical for 2 steps, then is able to wall off Mike
•Solid “stalemate” at POA by FB
•BSG has eyes on Will backer, but motion to weakside holds Will’s read pic.twitter.com/l7aBVJ42ik
Reverse – “Green Saint”
Reverse off of Buck Sweep with false pulls by the OG’s— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) June 13, 2018
•”Twins” formation with the 2 off of the LOS
•”Green” the trigger for a reverse
•”Saint” action is the trigger for Buck Sweep pic.twitter.com/jZvb4u04Uo
Naturally, on a sweep play, a reverse can be advantageous when the defense begins to over-pursue. In Gus Malzahn’s offense, the entire offensive line is taught to block just like Buck Sweep to force the defense to begin their pursuit. The backside tackle is taught to peel off and block the edge of where the reverse is going, while the backside receiver crack-blocks the safety to his side. The only other lead blocker is the quarterback, who is naturally carrying out his play fake in that direction. This play design is predicated upon the foundation of Buck Sweep and the defense having seen the play enough to begin flowing to the direction of the sweep, only to be caught off guard by the misdirection.
“Twins Green Saint” example— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) June 13, 2018
•Defensive backfield flows to Buck Sweep action
•9 WR (#81) path to crack on S brings CB towards MOF with him
•LT (BST) and QB lead blocking in space pic.twitter.com/eBvs9t4HuX
Screen – “Laser”
Gus Malzahn screen play to backside WR in a 3x1 set, “Trips Laser.” Play fake + BSG’s pull designed to hold LB’s from pursuit towards the edge. pic.twitter.com/8K8jBNi5bc— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) June 12, 2018
A common theme in Gus Malzahn’s offense is stretching the defense horizontally with wide receiver screens. A common one is throwing the screen to the backside wide receiver in a 3×1 set. Whenever the cornerback is playing far enough off of that backside receiver, this play call can get the ball into the hands of a playmaker in space. The specifics of the play include the play side tackle getting out to block the cornerback, as well as the center scraping to block the backside linebacker. The play involves a run fake to the running back and the backside guard pulling, once again to hold the linebackers from scraping over to the edge to make a play on the eventual screen pass.
“Trips Laser” vs Arkansas— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) June 12, 2018
•With CB playing off coverage, BST exchanges to flat defender and C works up to CB
•Play fake and BSG pull allows PST to cut off Mike (slip up if free)
•Darius Slayton ++ YAC ability pic.twitter.com/MrJBS7kfM0
Play-Action – “Little Rock 96”
A common play action pass that is based on either Buck or Jet Sweep involved two main routes: a corner from the play side receiver and a deep cross from the backside receiver. This play action pass usually involves extra players in protection to give the quarterback time to carry out a solid fake and the receivers to develop their routes and generate separation. A common protection that this play is run with is known as “Utah” or “Chief”, and is a seven-man protection to pick up extra blitzers and create double teams. Being able to run play action passing concepts off of multiple run looks allows an offense to run their favorite concepts with a variety of looks to keep the defense honest.
Deciphering the Malzahn playbook. This PA pass off of Jet action, I believe would be called, “Twins Lt Speed Utah Little Rock 96”— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) June 13, 2018
•Twins puts Slot on LOS to 2 WR side
•”Speed” = Jet motion
•Utah (Chief) protection w/RB and H-back involved
•LR 96 the PA passing concept pic.twitter.com/Cu1AYOuGvg
Malzahn does an excellent job of picking his spots to throw the ball and keeping his quarterback in comfortable scenarios. Continually operating ahead of the chains with a successful run game can open up multiple dimensions for a play-caller. Malzahn’s continued commitment to running the football and the success that his teams have had are directly tied together, as well as the efficiency his quarterbacks play with. The Buck Sweep and multiple looks that Auburn has designed off of it is a staple of their offense and a solid starting point when examining their playbook.