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Warp speed ahead for Auburn's offense

AUBURN, Ala. -- SEC defenses had no answer for Gus Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense last season. It wasn’t a complicated scheme, but Auburn’s pace simply overwhelmed the rest of the conference. The Tigers led the nation in rushing and averaged 39.5 points per game en route to a league title and a spot in the national championship game.

If you ask Malzahn, it wasn’t fast enough. He wants to go even faster in Year 2.

"We think we can be quite a bit faster,” he said in his pre-spring press conference. “There were times last year [when] we had a lot of new people out there, a lot of moving parts, and as you get more comfortable, the faster you can get.”

The emphasis on tempo was evident Tuesday when Auburn opened spring practice. There was little time wasted between each drill, and the second period was dedicated solely to pace. Despite coming off a three-month break from football, the players embraced it.

“We love the pace,” offensive lineman Chad Slade said. “Some people don’t get used to it, but we’re used to it by now. Everybody is back, and we have high expectations for everything [including] the pace going faster.

“[Looking at] how fast we went last year, we can go 10 times faster than we did.”

Ten times faster? That’s crazy, right? Maybe not.

Consider that Auburn returns eight starters on offense including four on the offensive line. The coaching staff, which had never worked with the players this time a year ago, is back and has a year of experience under its belt. And then there’s Nick Marshall, the starting quarterback and the man who orchestrated the HUNH offense.

Marshall arrived in Auburn last summer as a junior college transfer. It took him less than a month to win the starting job, and though he started slowly, it didn’t take long before he had a grasp of the offense. By the end of the season, he looked like a natural.

Now, he is entering his first spring practice with the team, and he’s more comfortable than ever.

“I think he’s really looking forward to the spring,” Malzahn said. “This is the first time we’ve actually had a quarterback [who] will go through spring practice that started the year before. Coach [Rhett] Lashlee is excited about that, and that will be a good thing moving forward.

“I’d like to think if your quarterback comes back, we’ll be a little farther ahead.”

It’s the first time Auburn has returned a starting quarterback from the year before since Brandon Cox in 2007.

But Auburn isn’t the only team looking to speed up the pace. Based on the Tigers’ success from a season ago, more and more teams in the SEC are following the same blueprint this spring. Florida showed a little up-tempo offense when it opened practice on Wednesday, and even Alabama, whose head coach advocated for the 10-second rule, has picked up the pace.

Still, as the rest of the conference tries to catch up, Auburn is only going to get faster. The pieces are in place for Malzahn to take his HUNH offense to the next level this season.

And that is a scary thought for SEC defenses.