Gus Malzahn’s Auburn offense will add a new wrinkle in 2020. This fall former Clemson offensive coordinator and Arkansas head coach Chad Morris will be calling plays from the Tigers’ sideline.
“That’s a good tandem with Chad and Gus,” Mark Stoops said earlier this week. “If you watch the film they are very similar in so many ways, even with the way they think, the way they set up plays, when they take their shots, the way they use gadget or trick plays. I’m sure that’s very comfortable for Gus and Chad to have each other. That’s two very, very good coaches working together.”
After analyzing what Morris did at previous stops, Stoops sees an offense that throws a little more than what Malzahn typically implements. If that trend continues, Morris will rely on the inconsistent arm of Bo Nix. Last year he led the team to victories over Oregon and Alabama but only completed 57.6 percent of his passes.
“The first thing is just talent. He has all the talent you’re looking for, that’s for sure,” Stoops said. “He’s really talented on the move. He did a really nice job for a freshman with a feel for the pocket, buying time and then delivering the ball down the field with some accuracy while on the move. He has a very good presence about him and all the arm strength to make any throw. Very talented young man.”
Nix’s two favorite targets are Anthony Schwartz and Seth Williams. Defensive coordinator Brad White’s cornerbacks could receive their toughest test of the season in week one.
“You could argue that they’re two of the best receivers in this league and really for different reasons: Schwartz with his speed and what he can do and how he can stretch the field vertically and Seth who can really make contested catches. He uses his size really well. You don’t see him drop balls. Both of them present a unique challenge to our guys to how we’re going to approach this game,” said White.
“I know our guys are excited for that challenge, but they know it’s going to have to be a down in, down out battle and just like in any situation, any game, there’s going to be times that they make plays. That’s why they are the players that they are. Our guys have to respond and when it’s our time to make a play, we’ve gotta make plays.”
The defense will be asked to make plays in a timely fashion. Malzahn and Morris each became known as offensive gurus for bringing uptempo offenses from the Arkansas high school ranks to college football. Even though defenses have adapted to punch back against the style, it still presents a difficult challenge.
“Our players have to be able to get the call from the sideline, look at the formation, get the check needed, get their eyes right, get their feet right, get their positioning right. When everything happens fast, you just have to do it quicker and you can’t be worried about catching your breath. You just have to play,” said White.
“Hopefully we’ve done a good enough job repping at a higher tempo that our guys are ready for that. Until they experience it firsthand, until they’re going full-speed, we always talk about that first drive, you gotta blow out your lungs a little bit. Even if it’s a four-play first drive, those guys are going to come off and they’re going to be breathing like it was a 14-play drive. It’s just the way football is, between the adrenaline, the first game jitters, the intensity of gameday, then you throw in tempo, our guys just have to manage it physically and emotionally.”
If players get gassed, Kentucky has enough bodies to stay fresh. The problem is getting them into the game. Once the no-huddle uptempo offense gets rolling, there’s no time for substitutions. White has already prepared a message for his players before they encounter the problem.
“If you wanna get off the field, get off the field. You can get off in three plays or less, but you’ve got to do it. If you wanna stay on the field all day, then let them gain yards. If you wanna get off the field, stop ’em at three and out and you can come get a Gatorade.”
White’s wife, Kate, gave birth to their fourth child last Friday. He’s still found plenty of time to prepare for the Auburn offense.
“She’s been a great sleeper so far, knock on wood” he said of their newborn baby. “The sleep that I’ve lost is not related to her, it’s more about Auburn.”