When Gus Malzahn announced that he would take full control of play-calling responsibilities, it was hard to hear many fans happy about the decision. Many had suspicion that he was already calling the plays anyways and that we likely would not see much of a difference. If yesterday was any indication of what to expect in the future, then the Tigers are in a very good position heading into next season.
Purdue does not compare to the SEC, I get it. It is an average at best team that has the potential to upset a playoff hopeful team on any given Saturday (See Ohio State). However, Auburn showed the Boilermakers what it truly means to be “Auburn Fast.” Gus Malzahn installed his usual hurry-up-no-huddle tempo and literally ran right by the defense on what felt like every other play in the first half of the game. Jarrett Stidham, who is leaving for the NFL, had his most impressive game in his Auburn uniform; tossing five touchdowns and 377 yards. Kam Martin was ultimately the primary back and moved the chains time and time again. Boobee Whitlow, Auburn’s leading rusher, only had ten yards rushing on the day but accounted for three touchdowns; two on the ground and one through the air. The speedster duo of Anthony Schwartz and Shaun Shivers impressed the fans with their opportunities.
As great of athletes as those players above were, none of them may have been more impressive than Darius Slayton. Slayton blew by the competition on multiple occasions. Auburn’s best deep threat made the most of his three receptions, all turning into touchdowns and racking up an amazing 160 yards (53.3 yards per reception average). It is highly likely that all of these players mentioned will return outside of Stidham, giving the fans an opportunity to see how a Malzahn offense truly works when the players are all recruited and brought in by himself and his staff. Think about it, the last year that Malzahn was the sole play caller was in 2015; most of the players were his but the older athletes were still some of Chizik’s recruits.
The main issue will be trying to figure out who will orchestrate the offense next year. The quarterbacks are young and mostly inexperienced, but they have shown some potential. Both Malik Willis and Joey Gatewood are likely better runners than passers at this point in their careers and will have to improve over the offseason to take control, but incoming freshman Bo Nix is a gun-slinger that has the arm talent to take the snaps in the first game. Maybe the last few years of Malzahn sitting back and observing his offensive coordinators paid dividends as he found his touch and his ability to keep his opponents off balanced.
This game should be a confidence booster for Malzahn as he will be coaching for his job all next season. It won’t be easy. He’ll have to break in a new quarterback, replace a record-setting receiver, and fill in some holes that will be left in the defense due to graduation and early departures to the NFL. Malzahn has bet on himself, and this is no time to become conservative. The Revenge Tour begins August 31st.