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Auburn’s offensive rehab begins with a blank slate

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

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Alert readers may have noticed over the weekend that Auburn has a new offensive coordinator, Scot Loeffler, about whom there is little to say except this: He has a tough act to follow, in more ways than one.

On one hand, his predecessor, Gus Malzahn, was generally regarded as the most respected offensive guru in the SEC, and was by far the highest paid at $1.3 million per year after the Tigers' prolific, Cam Newton-led march to the BCS championship in 2010. On the other, Malzahn's stock took a steep tumble along with Auburn's numbers last year, a rebuilding campaign that produced no new stars and no coherent identity to build on after Malzahn bolted for the top job at Arkansas State. Once again, the Tigers are starting over from scratch.

Not that anyone expected much fireworks in the wake of massive attrition from the 2010 team. But even by the dramatically lowered preseason standards, the 2011 edition was a flop: After a solid start in September, the Tigers managed just 16 points against South Carolina, 14 against Arkansas, 17 against Florida, 10 against LSU, 7 against Georgia and 14 against Alabama — all 14 in the final case coming via fumble return and kickoff return, respectively. Overall production plummeted by more than 15 points and 160 yards per game.

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The revolving door at quarterback between Barrett Trotter, Clint Moseley and change-of-pace freshman Kiehl Frazier never really stopped, mainly because none of them managed to take hold of the job for any extended period of time. Outside of Clint Moseley's 12-for-15, four-touchdown effort against the worst defense in the league, Tiger QBs combined to complete fewer than half their passes in SEC games with twice as many interceptions (11) as touchdowns (5) and a dreadful pass efficiency rating (90.6) that hovered a good 25 points below the SEC average. This was before they lost the most productive player on the team in the exodus to Arkansas State.

One season as a play-caller in the MAC isn't enough to tag Loeffler with any particular philosophy — Temple was extremely run-oriented in 2011, for what it's worth, although that had at least as much to do with the presence of Bernard Pierce and Matt Brown in the backfield as it did with Loeffler's preferences — but that may turn out to be an asset: With previous stops as a quarterbacks coach in Michigan and Florida, Loeffler can claim credit for grooming NFL starters in both pro-style (Brian Griese, Tom Brady, Chad Henne) and spread (Tim Tebow) schemes, which theoretically leaves the door open for all three contenders at quarterback to compete on equal footing while finding his niche. Mosley and incoming freshman Zeke Pike are both big, prototypical pocket slingers in the traditional Michigan mold; Frazier is the resident "athlete" who can sting defenses with his legs, à la Tebow, but may be more dangerous to his own team than to opposing defenses when he attempts to throw. There is no indication that Loeffler prefers one "type" or another, or that he's opposed to accommodating both by allowing Frazier to reprise his role in Wildcat sets.

At any rate, this is probably starting to feel a little too familiar for Auburn fans, who will be ushering in their sixth different opening-day starter in as many years and have little more than blazing tailback Onterio McCalebb and some advance hype for the likes of Pike, running back Tre Mason and wide receivers Trovon Reed and Quan Bray to hang their hopes on. Until at least one of them emerges from the "potential" phase, even the eternal optimism that accompanies a new year is on hold.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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