Auburn tailback Tre Mason became a 1,000-yard rusher last year on the final play of his sophomore season.
He's way ahead of schedule this season, and he's having way more fun.
After shredding Arkansas last Saturday for 168 yards and four touchdowns, Mason has 921 yards and 13 scores on 161 carries for the No. 8 Tigers entering this week's game at Tennessee. His totals are being compiled in an up-tempo spread system orchestrated by head coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee.
"There are just so many ways to run the ball and to find ways to get me the ball," Mason said Tuesday in a phone interview. "I've been catching the ball out of the backfield, and we have so many different types of zone runs. The scheme is way different, and it's like adding more bullets into your gun."
Mason, the SEC offensive player of the week after his performance in Fayetteville, heads a rushing offense that has amassed 2,756 yards through nine games and averages a league-leading 306.2 yards a contest. A year ago, when the Tigers were enduring their worst season in 60 years, they rushed for 1,781 yards and 148.4 per game.
First-year Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall is second on the team with 520 rushing yards (5.8 per carry), with tailbacks Cameron Artis-Payne (515 and 7.0) and Corey Grant (456 and 9.9) next in line. Marshall also is second among the Tigers with 90 carries, but Mason is pulling away in that department after rushing 32 times in Fayetteville.
"What can I say?" Lashlee told reporters Sunday. "The guy gets stronger as the game goes on. He gets stronger as the season goes on."
Normally a 1,000-yard season is cause for celebration, but the 5-foot-10, 205-pounder from Palm Beach, Fla., never got that chance last November. His 1,002nd yard occurred in the final seconds of a 49-0 loss at Alabama, which preceded the firing of coach Gene Chizik after a 3-9 season that included a winless record in SEC play.
Malzahn, who was the offensive coordinator for Auburn's 2010 national championship team, returned to assume the reins and won over Mason right away.
"When this coaching staff came in, the first sentence that Coach Malzahn said was 'We're going to have the biggest turnaround in college football,'" Mason said. "He instilled that into us, and we bought in. We knew what it felt like to have a bad season, and we didn't want that to happen again.
"We've been working so hard, and now that's what we're doing. We're having the biggest turnaround in college football."
The Tigers will be seeking their ninth victory at Tennessee, which is also their fourth road trip. They lost their first away game against LSU but have since prevailed at Texas A&M and Arkansas, rushing for a combined 612 yards on their last two journeys.
"That's been our mindset from day one," Mason said. "We're going to run our offense, and it doesn't matter what defense you put in front of us. We're going to continue to find a way to execute and come out with a win."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...
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KNOXVILLE — Tennessee and Auburn have performed this dance before.
The Auburn Tigers have been scorching offensively, regardless of who's been calling the plays.