AUBURN – Gus Malzahn saw his Tigers pushed.
He watched them struggle, strained out under the brutal sun in fall camp, worn down and bowled over in inescapable heat.
Then, he watched them get up and push right back.
Auburn’s offense responded with a better performance Wednesday in the team’s second scrimmage of the fall, Malzahn said, after the defense dominated their first scrimmage last week.
These are the practices where Malzahn learns the most about his team, he says, after watching them under a straw hat soaked in sun with the heat index topping 100 degrees, and with a whistle gripped between his teeth.
This is as close as it gets to kickoff before kickoff. And Wednesday, he saw his offense answer a challenge.
“The offense, overall, really rebounded,” Malzahn said, just off the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium. “We’re starting to look like an Auburn offense.
“If we get out the inconsistencies with a few drops, I think we would have felt a little bit better about that – but overall, it was a really good day.”
Yes, there were drops. Auburn’s receivers are limited and stretching to fill the gaps before game time on Aug. 31. And there are the quarterbacks, still splitting practice snaps evenly as the team searches for its Game 1 starter between Bo Nix and Joey Gatewood.
But it’s starting to look like an “Auburn offense,” the head coach says, and to fans, that’ll harken back memories of the hurry-up, no-huddle blistering by defenses on the way to championship games in 2010 and 2013.
For Malzahn himself, it’s about balance, with the running game and passing game excelling together.
“Close. We’re not there yet. But I saw improvement today and that’s the encouraging thing,” Malzahn said. “I’d like to think once we get our veteran receivers out there it’ll be even a little bit cleaner.”
Sophomore receiver Anthony Schwartz is out after having surgery on his hand this preseason, and Will Hastings and Eli Stove, both veterans back from ACL surgeries in the spring of 2018, have been limited by the coaches’ decision at scrimmages with designs on keeping them healthy and giving younger players the snaps instead of those known commodities.
Leading returner at receiver, Seth Williams, a sophomore, was also limited for Auburn’s practice Wednesday in the stadium but Malzahn said it was a minor issue and that if the Tigers played a real game he could’ve played.
“We made a lot of progress today,” senior running back Kam Martin said, despite those limitations. “We just came out fighting.
“Today we moved the ball against the defense, you know what I mean? We had some good drives where we were moving the ball real good,” Martin went on. “We scored on them… And our defense is really good, so to do that is really good.”
The Tigers simulated about 80 plays during the scrimmage, after working on special teams and two-minute drills to open the practice.
“I feel like we’re just getting closer and closer every day, you know?” sophomore JaTarvious Whitlow said of that offense. “It takes time, you feel me?
“We’ve still got a couple weeks left before we go see Oregon, so we’ve got enough time to focus on ourselves right now.”
Classes start on campus next Monday.
“It just wasn’t our day last scrimmage,” Martin said. “But this scrimmage right here, we came out fighting.”