Auburn's Malzahn focused on offense, not Nutt

AUBURN, Ala. -- Gus Malzahn has more important things on his mind than a reunion with his former boss Houston Nutt. The Auburn offensive coordinator is concerned with getting the Tigers' offense going, fixing the passing game and finding ways to score enough points to beat No. 24 Mississippi on Saturday.

Malzahn was Nutt's offensive coordinator at Arkansas in 2006, making the leap from the high school ranks to the Southeastern Conference. Then he left to run Tulsa's offense, and said the two haven't spoken since.

That doesn't mean Malzahn holds a grudge against the college coach who gave him a chance.

"I hadn't gotten a chance to visit with him since then but he gave me an opportunity to get in the college game," he said.

Nutt indicated work, not friction, keeps the two from chatting regularly.

"We don't talk very much," he said. "Everybody is so busy in college football. When you get into the season, you have a lot of things to worry about. You have all you can handle with the task at hand."

The task now for Malzahn and Auburn (5-3, 2-3) is to get the offense closer to where it was early in the season, when the Tigers were producing more yards in a half than they got in the whole game against LSU (193).

In fact, Auburn has 508 yards the past two games, well under the production in each of the first two outings.

Quarterback Chris Todd has had little success during the current three-game losing streak, and freshman tailback Onterio McCalebb hasn't been able to get back to his early success on a gimpy ankle. Even leading rusher Ben Tate was stopped by LSU, managing just 67 yards rushing.

Still, it's been pretty evident that if you stop the running game, you stop the Tigers.

"You try to find ways to correct the things that you're making mistakes and you try to find ways to get through it and going back in the right direction," Malzahn said. "We're committed to that. The players are committed to that, our coaches are, and we're working extremely hard to do that."

Malzahn isn't too familiar with these kinds of problems -- he directed the nation's top offense each of the past two seasons at Tulsa.

His first Auburn offense was being lauded early in the season and still ranks seventh nationally in rushing. Auburn scored more points in the first six games than it did in twice that many last season, and scored 40-plus points in three straight games for the first time.

Malzahn said the recent problems don't mean opposing coaches have figured out how to stop his system.

"Matter of fact, a lot of teams are being a little more basic," he said. "They're making us earn it, and we need to do a little better job of execution, and we need to keep them off-balance. The bottom line is having enough passing yards to keep them off-balance. We've not been able to do that. We've been one-dimensional, and in this league if you're one-dimensional, it's extremely tough."

He also doesn't think Nutt's familiarity with his system and thought processes will make much difference.

"It's part of the game," Malzahn said. "There's a lot of coaches that worked together that end up playing each other. You've got to just be aware of all the variables and think what they're thinking -- and they think what you're thinking."

Malzahn's one-year foray into the SEC with Arkansas wasn't a perfect fit, but the results were still impressive. The Razorbacks were heavy on running backs and didn't muster a consistent passing game.

That team was led by Heisman Trophy runner-up Darren McFadden and fellow first-round NFL draft pick Felix Jones in the backfield. Arkansas ranked fourth in the nation in rushing.

The Razorbacks still won the SEC West, and Nutt is hardly apologizing for the emphasis on the running game.

"I knew that we had Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis -- three great backs," Nutt said. "I knew I wanted to get them the ball. That was probably the only difference in philosophy. If you really go back and look at it, that was a really good year."