Gus Malzahn’s return to Auburn has reinvigorated the school’s rushing attack to heights never before seen at Auburn. One year after finishing ninth in the conference in rushing, the 2013 Tigers lead the SEC in rushing yards per game (320), yards per rush (6.5) and touchdowns (33). Auburn is on pace to break school records in each of those categories.
Quarterback Nick Marshall has been a catalyst for the running game. His 734 rushing yards leads all SEC quarterbacks and ranks fourth among FBS quarterbacks.
His numbers so far this season compare favorably to former Auburn star Cam Newton. During Newton’s Heisman Trophy-winning 2010 season, he averaged 5.6 yards per carry and posted a Total QBR of 78.6 on runs. Marshall averages 7.1 yards per rush with a Total QBR of 80.2 on runs.
Auburn’s running game will face its toughest test of the season this Saturday against a Georgia run defense that allows 3.4 yards per rush, 20th-best in the FBS.
Auburn’s Success On Zone Reads
Much of Auburn’s success on the ground this season has come on zone-read runs. Auburn averages 151 yards per game with 17 touchdowns on such runs, leading the SEC in both. Last year, Auburn tallied 138 yards on zone-read runs all season.
Marshall leads all BCS-AQ (automatic-qualifying) quarterbacks with 588 yards on zone-read runs, averaging 9.5 yards per carry. Last week Marshall torched Tennessee for 221 yards on just 13 carries on zone-reads.
The key to Auburn’s zone-read running game is its ability to stretch the defense, with 978 of its 1,505 yards on zone-read runs coming outside the tackles. Overall, Auburn has run for an AQ-high 2,186 yards outside the tackle box, 521 more yards than any other AQ team.
How Georgia Matches Up Defensively
Though Auburn’s running game has been dominant this season, it has not faced a team that ranked in the top 50 in rushing yards allowed per carry. The two best defenses it has faced (Mississippi State and LSU) held Auburn to its lowest rushing totals of the season (120 and 213 yards respectively). Against other opponents, Auburn is averaging 358 rushing yards per game, including 444 against Tennessee last week.
Georgia is the best run defense Auburn will have faced all year, allowing 126 rushing yards per game, 21st-best in the FBS.
Recent history is also on Georgia’s side. Its defense has shut down Auburn each of the last two seasons, allowing a total of seven points and 108 rushing yards in those two meetings.
Still, Georgia has shown vulnerability in many areas Auburn excels. Its only three opponents that ran the zone read more than four times in a game against the Bulldogs (South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida) averaged 101 yards per game and 6.2 yards per carry on zone-read runs.
Georgia has been especially inefficient against zone-read rushes outside the tackle box, allowing 9.3 yards per rush.
Whichever team can run the ball better will likely win the game. In each of the last 10 meetings, the team with more rushing yards won.