Malzahn's flexible offense tough to pigeonhole

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 2, 2014 at 4:31 pm •  Published: January 2, 2014

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) — It's the spread, or smashmouth. It's about big passing numbers, or off-the-charts run stats.

All those descriptions can be fairly accurate for the hurry-up, no-huddle offense designed by Auburn coach Gus Malzahn back in his Arkansas high school days. They can each be totally off-base, too.

"All he's ever said is, 'We're a hurry-up, no-huddle team that takes advantage and is going to play physical football,'" said Chris Wood, Malzahn's former offensive coordinator at Shiloh Christian and Springdale High. "He didn't say we were going to throw it or run it. He lets his personnel define the team and define the offense.

"I guarantee you he loved running the ball in the SEC. That's how he is; he just wants to win."

Malzahn has won at every stop of the way with an offense he adapts to fit the personnel instead of the other way around.

The No. 2 Tigers (12-1) effectively switched styles four games into this season, and rode Nick Marshall and the running game all the way to Monday's BCS national championship game against No. 1 Florida State (13-0). The zone read, where Marshall can either run or hand off based on what he sees from the defense, became the staple of Auburn's offense after a loss to LSU.

The offense then took flight, or more appropriately was grounded.

The result is the nation's top rushing team at 335.7 yards per game, an average just a few yards shy of the two games before the metamorphosis combined.

The offense that used to give Arkansas prep foes fits bedeviled the mighty Alabama defense and roughed up Missouri for 545 yards rushing and 52 points in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, whose defense yields the nation's fewest points, said the Tigers are just "doing a better job of executing than everybody else."

Part of Malzahn's philosophy is being willing to do what his quarterback does best. Marshall has run for 1,023 yards to complement Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason (1,621 yards), Corey Grant (650 yards) and Cameron Artis-Payne (609).

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee was an eighth-grade quarterback in Springdale, Ark., when Malzahn started running this no-huddle offense, and ran it for two years in junior high before taking over the reins at Shiloh Christian. He believes Malzahn "is the best play caller in the country." Adaptability based on the personnel of the moment also sets Malzahn apart.

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