In what may be the biggest storyline outside of Covid this offseason, whispers coming from the locker room seem to point to a redesigned and fresh take on offense.
Earlier this year, coach Gus Malzahn claimed that it would be first-year coordinator Chad Morris’ offense to run, and players on both sides of the ball seem to be taking notice.
“Y’all are going to see it this season,” said Auburn linebacker Owen Pappoe in a news conference last week. “It’s going to look like a whole new Auburn offense, man. All the stuff they’ve brought in, it’s ridiculous.”
Auburn University will open its 2020 season with its fourth offensive coordinator in Malzahn's seven years as Auburn's head coach, when Morris takes over the reins. He was hired as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach after serving two years as the head coach at Arkansas. Morris, a 28-year coaching veteran, got his college coaching start in 2010 at Tulsa as the offensive coordinator before moving on to working at Clemson. His first head coaching job was at SMU.
Morris rose much like Malzahn out of the ranks of elite high school coaches. While Malzahn hails from Arkansas and Morris from Texas, both frequently talked and compared notes.
While Malzahn’s philosophy is run first with play option passes, Morris likes to incorporate a much more in-depth passing game, including intermediate routes.
The skillset Auburn has can be most compared to the players Morris coached when he was the offensive coordinator for Clemson. During his four years at Clemson, the Tigers went 41-11, won the 2011 ACC Championship and had four bowl berths, including two BCS Orange Bowl appearances. Under Morris' offense, the Tigers set 127 offensive records and had the top three scoring seasons in school history, as well as four of the top five passing seasons at Clemson.
Morris is expected to bring in a bigger focus on the passing game, something that excites receivers like senior Eli Stove.
“We are throwing the ball a little bit more,” said Stove with a smile.
Morris' presence should mean a significant boost for one position group in particular — the tight ends. The tight ends have often been seen as the unused offensive position in Malzahn’s offense, but Morris loves to use them, and according to several Auburn players they have already been put to good use, catching four or five passes in a recent scrimmage.
“They’ve been used a lot,” said Stove. “Really, all of the tight ends have been getting in.”
As the season progresses, expect Auburn to at the very least attempt to open up their passing game more than before as Morris attempts to shape Bo Nix and the offense into a balanced and efficient machine.
The Tigers open the season at 11 a.m. Sept. 26 at home against the Kentucky Wildcats.