Auburn was positively putrid last football season in the spread offense.
The Tigers are employing the spread again this year, and senior tight end Tommy Trott has heard the groaning, but he promises the version under new offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn will be better. Last year's offensive coordinator, Tony Franklin, was fired after six games.
"I think a lot of people are worried we're still in the spread, seeing the lack of success we had last year, but there are so many different variations to the spread offense," Trott said. "I think you'll see with this offense that we'll use the run to set up the pass a little more, whereas in the past we've used the pass to set up the run. That's going to be big for us, because time has proven in the SEC that to be an effective offense you have to run the ball."
Franklin's spread never had a chance with a pedestrian group of receivers who couldn't stress defenses. Auburn's most effective 2008 offensive weapons were running backs Mario Fannin and Ben Tate, but their talents weren't maximized.
Fannin and Tate return this season, as do veterans up front such as center Ryan Pugh and tackle Lee Ziemba.
Camp start: Aug. 5
Camp objectives: 1. Determine which quarterback best suits Gus Malzahn's offense, whether it's Kodi Burns, Neil Caudle, Chris Todd or someone else. 2. Find a receiver who scares somebody, which hasn't been the case since Courtney Taylor in 2006. 3. Keep the secondary healthy, because it may be a team strength if cornerback Aairon Savage and safety Mike McNeil bounce back from injuries.
Season opener: Louisiana Tech in Auburn on Sept. 5 (7 p.m. EDT on ESPNU)
Fun fact: Down cycles at Auburn typically take two seasons. In the past 30 years, the Tigers didn't have winning records in 1980-81, 1991-92 and 1998-99 before last season's 5-7 slide.
"With Coach Malzahn's offense, you're able to establish more of a downfield running attack," Trott said. "I think you saw last year a lot of handing the ball to a running back and we, for one reason or another, always seemed to be going sideways. We never really got going downfield, and we never really gained any yards."
Malzahn came to Auburn after two seasons at Tulsa, where he helped coordinate the nation's most efficient offense both years. The Hurricane averaged 543.9 yards per game in 2007 and 569.9 last year.
Tulsa was second in the nation in scoring a year ago with 47.2 points per game.
Malzahn became familiar in SEC circles as the head coach of Springdale (Ark.) High, which produced former Arkansas and current Southern Cal quarterback Mitch Mustain. He was hired by former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt as offensive coordinator in 2006 and helped the Razorbacks to the SEC West title, but then he left for Tulsa.
"Gus has a great, great record of being able to be balanced and productive both running and throwing," new Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said. "We know what we want to do. We want to create a physical brand of football, which over the years is what Auburn was built on."
Auburn finished last season 104th nationally in total offense (302.9 yards per game) and 110th in scoring offense (17.3). The more quarterbacks Chris Todd and Kodi Burns struggled in the spread, the more the defense stayed on the field.
By the 36-0 loss at Alabama, Auburn's defense was spent.
"That's what we were recruited to do," senior defensive end Antonio Coleman said. "If the offense turns the ball over, you've been recruited to go out there and get the ball back. It was a long season last year, but that was last year and it's another year."
Trott, a 6-foot-5, 243-pounder from Montgomery, caught 20 passes for 201 yards last season. He could be used this year as a tight end with his hand on the ground or split out as a receiver.
Watching Arkansas and Tulsa video has occupied a lot of his free time, and he believes this year isn't any different as far as expectations.
"I committed here after this team went 13-0, and before last year there wasn't a season where we won fewer than nine or 10 games," Trott said. "Obviously we had a very disappointing season last year, but for the hard work we've put in the winter workouts and spring practice and even into the summer, you never expect to come in and not win a bunch of ballgames.
"We still feel like we're a very talented team, and hopefully this new coaching staff can milk all that talent out of us and make us the best team we can be."