Published Thursday, October 11, 2012
BY JOHN ZENOR
AP SPORTS WRITER
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) – Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze is struggling with the same question that might confound anybody who has watched an Auburn game this season.
What is the Tigers' offensive identity?
"Well, that's a good question," Freeze said. "They're kind of against the wall right now and they're talking about their offensive identity. Exactly what that is, I don't know. We've kind of seen the power game and we've seen them try to spread it out a little more."
None of that has worked out very well for the Tigers (1-4, 0-3 Southeastern Conference), who continue their quest for offensive answers with Saturday's visit to the Rebels (3-3, 0-2).There's no bruising, between-the-tackles tailback and scarcely enough receivers to spread it around much beyond Emory Blake, even if the quarterback play hadn't been so erratic.
It's unclear after five games and an open date if Auburn is any closer to figuring it out, though it's likely to start with the running game and play-action passing.
Struggling quarterback Kiehl Frazier was benched for the second half against Arkansas and is being challenged for the starting job by Clint Moseley. Chizik said he would take more of a hand in the offense this week.
"I'm not saying there's wholesale changes or anything like that," Chizik said. "I just want to make sure that we're all focused in, we're all on the same page. Not that we weren't before, but let's go ahead and really look at what exactly do we want to look like Saturday and get a great plan and narrow it down a little bit. I think we might have been doing a little bit too much."
Chizik and offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler made it clear that Auburn will be emphasizing the running game more behind a trio of tailbacks and fullback Jay Prosch.
"Who we are is this: We are going to run the football," Loeffler said.
No go-to tailback has emerged so far. Tre Mason leads the team with 307 yards, while Onterio McCalebb has 262 and Mike Blakeley has 114 - and a couple of fumbles likely limiting his carries.
The run distribution has varied widely all season. Mason, who has more of a mix of speed and power, had 22 carries for 90 yards against Louisiana-Monroe and has run only 15 times for 86 yards in the past two.
The speedy, 173-pound McCalebb ran for 128 yards against ULM in the team's lone win and has gained 48 since then. All three have had turns as Auburn's leading rusher in a game.
Running backward has been a big problem.
The Tigers are last nationally in turnover margin and in tackles for loss allowed at 9.2 per game, including 17 sacks, 10th-most. They have 202 negative yards. Auburn is 117th in scoring offense with a 15.4-point average per game and 113th with an average of 302.4 yards.
Their strength, if it can be called that, is the ground game. And that ranks 92nd.
"I want us to be able to have definitive ideas on exactly how we're going to run the football and stay with the plan, stay with the run gameplan," Chizik said. "The two things we're doing offensively right now that we've got to improve on is, we're taking tackles for losses that are not sack-related and we're taking too many sacks.
"We've got too many negative plays out there. We've got to be able to run the ball effectively and we've got to be able to protect the quarterback. And part of that is the quarterback getting the ball out of his hand and making quick decisions."
The three tailbacks are all averaging 5.2 or 5.3 yards a game but McCalebb has been gobbled up for 44 negative yards in 49 carries.
Big signee Jovon Robinson was ineligible and two-time 1,000-yard rusher Mike Dyer was released from his scholarship after last season.
All the rotating runners might have made it hard for a tailback to get into a rhythm most games.
"We'd like to get a running back into a groove in a game and continue to give him the ball," Chizik said. "We've got a couple of guys that are suited for different things with what we're doing offensively. Some guys are more perimeter guys, some guys are more inside guys.
"We've got to use our personnel to the best of our ability based on what they can do."
AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Oxford, Miss., contributed to this report.
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