Auburn's inability to throw downfield proves costly
AUBURN, Ala. -- Major college coaches get paid a lot of money to solve opposing offenses, but Auburn isn't making them earn it.
The Tigers (5-3) win by running the ball and don't have much of a Plan B. Dare them to throw downfield, and chances are they won't make you pay. Make them pass first, and you'll probably win.
Auburn ranks dead last in the Southeastern Conference in passing offense and 95th in Division I-A. Quarterback Jason Campbell is not making enough mistakes to get them beat or enough big plays to win when the running game isn't racking up yards and first downs.
The team's offensive philosophy has something to do with that.
"Jason is one of the better quarterbacks in the league, we just haven't tried to showcase him," coach Tommy Tuberville said. "With the five-game winning streak and being able to run the football, there was no need to.
"But now, for us to be successful, we're going to have to throw the ball, get it down the field."
It's one of the areas Auburn has stressed leading up to Saturday's homecoming game with huge underdog Louisiana-Monroe (1-7). Campbell said they're likely to put in a few new wrinkles in the passing game to give defenses more to worry about.
He is averaging just 158.8 passing yards per game with six touchdowns and three interceptions. He has completed a higher percentage of his passes (62.8) than SEC notables like Georgia's David Greene, Mississippi's Eli Manning, Kentucky's Jared Lorenzen and Tennessee's Casey Clausen.
But they all trounce him when it comes to yards.
Of course, that's partly because he's not asked to carry the team -- only Matt Jones of Arkansas has thrown fewer passes than Campbell among SEC starters. Still, when the Tigers needed big plays, they couldn't summon them up in a 31-7 loss to LSU -- or defeats to Southern California or Georgia Tech.
Campbell only averaged about 7.5 yards on 19 completions against LSU, his only touchdown a late 6-yarder to Anthony Mix that prevented a shutout but did little else.
"We're going to have to at least take shots" downfield in the coming weeks, Campbell said.
He said the Tigers planned to implement a few new routes this week in practice. But last year's bumper crop of top receivers -- including Ben Obomanu, Devin Aromashodu and Mix -- have combined for just 31 receptions and two touchdowns.
"It's kind of surprising," Campbell said. "We have the athletes that we can have a real good passing game. Over the last couple of weeks, we've been running the ball a whole lot. We have less attempts than anyone else in the SEC."
The Tigers probably also generate fewer big plays in the passing game. That must change if they are to have any chance to win the SEC West with upcoming games against Mississippi and at Georgia.
"We've got to become a better passing team," Tuberville said. "We've got to get the ball more downfield. But the big thing you've got to do is you can't get away from what you do best.
"If you want either one of them, you'd rather have a better running game to keep your defense off the field. We've got to be able to become more balanced."
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index