RUNNING THE POINT: Analysis of Auburn’s 24-6 win in home opener versus Tulane

There were two types of Auburn fans after the Tigers beat Tulane 24-6 last Saturday. Some told themselves Tulane is a good team, while others do not share the same sentiment.

As the follow up to the Tigers’ heroic comeback victory versus Oregon in the season opener, Auburn’s performance against Tulane left a lot to be desired for everyone watching. It is not time to overreact, but everything is not figured out either.

The most glaring issue Auburn faced against Tulane was the inability to establish the running game. For a team that’s offensive philosophy is predicated on establishing the run, that is a big deal.

Sure, Tulane is a decent team in the American Athletic Conference. On the other hand, they are only a decent team in a conference that features competition significantly lower than that of the SEC. The Green Wave won seven games last year in a league that doesn’t belong in the same breath as the SEC.

Sure, Tulane has a good defensive line. It held Ohio State to four yards per carry and sacked the Buckeyes three times in a game against them last season. Auburn’s offensive numbers bear resemblance as the Tigers’ rushed for 3.8 yards per carry, but they didn’t allow a sack.

Throw these specific statistics aside. Ohio State scored 49 points and Auburn scored 24. At the end of the day, Auburn struggled against a team that would lose to every single team on the Tigers’ SEC schedule with the exception of maybe Arkansas. If Auburn expects to compete in the SEC, the offensive performance will have to improve.

Tulane’s defensive approach was clear from the onset of the game: stack the box to stop the run. Auburn is starting a freshman quarterback, so Tulane took the smart approach to make him beat them with his arm. Auburn ran its way back into the Oregon game, and from the start of Saturday’s contest, it was evident that Auburn would have to throw the ball to open up the ground attack. Unfortunately, 5.6 yards per pass attempt is not going to open up the run.

Other teams in the SEC will catch on to Tulane’s game plan. Oregon was unable to adjust to JaTarvious Whitlow, who rushed for 110 yards in that game. Until the Tigers switched to the wildcat with Whitlow, Auburn’s running game was going nowhere against the Green Wave.

Moving forward, Auburn will have to find ways to open up the running game because the SEC’s approach will be the same as Tulane’s. The wildcat appeared to work, and we might see more of it moving forward. The passing game will have to stretch the field vertically more than horizontally. Bo Nix is improving on a snap-to-snap basis, but it is still essential to put him in comfortable situations.

Nonetheless, it is okay Auburn struggled. It is only the second game of the season, and you should look no further than Auburn’s 2017 meeting with Mercer that ended 24-10. People thought Auburn was surely doomed, but lo and behold, the Tigers beat two No. 1 teams and made it to the SEC Championship later in the season.

After two weeks in the regular season, Auburn has learned enough information about themselves to know what areas improvement is needed. That is incredibly valuable considering Auburn is 2-0, and Malzahn has employed relatively basic game plans. Despite the issues, Auburn is in a much better position than it seems, regardless of how good we think Tulane is.