Auburn – Louisville Preview






Auburn – Louisville Preview

On September 5th Auburn and Louisville will meet in the Georgia Dome for the Chik Fil A kickoff game, a pivotal test for both programs right out of the gate. Expectations are as high as they’ve ever been for Gus Malzahn and Auburn. Louisville is hoping to re-create the success they enjoyed their first time around with Bobby Petrino and a win over the #6 ranked Auburn Tigers would certainly point their program in the right direction.

Auburn made headlines in the offseason with the hiring of former Florida head coach and renowned defensive coordinator, Will Muschamp. According to people to who know, Muschamp’s effect on Auburn’s defense was noticeable as early as spring practice. Of course, none of that matters unless they show improvement on the field and they’ll have their chance against Bobby Petrino’s high powered offense.

Below we’ll take a closer look at Louisville’s offense as well as Auburn’s defense to get a glimpse of how Saturday in the Georgia Dome may look.

Louisville Offense

When describing Bobby Petrino’s offense I’m sure phrases like “spread,” “air raid,” or “run and gun” come to mind but the reality is that Petrino’s offense is more complex than that. Yes, he certainly borrows elements from the Air Raid but his playbook is a far cry from Hal Mumme’s playbook at Valdosta State or the University of Kentucky. He’s not afraid to spread the ball around the field but he also likes to pound it in between the tackles and utilize play action for downfield passing. His quarterbacks operate from both the shotgun and from under center.

So, where does that leave Petrino and his offense?

Well, aside from being left in a ditch alongside a blonde, female University of Arkansas employee and a wrecked Harley Davidson motorcycle…

All joking aside, Petrino’s offense is more West Coast oriented than spread or Air Raid based. To get a better understanding of Bobby Petrino’s offense we can look at one of his favorite plays, the Shallow Cross. To be clear, Petrino is not the first coach to utilize the shallow crossing route. This play has been around for quite a while and is used extensively in Air Raid offenses but like all great coaches, Petrino tweaked and modified it to fit his scheme.

*Disclaimer* We’re making the assumption that the offense used in the example below is facing a standard 4-3 defense playing Cover-2 in the secondary, which is not what Auburn will be running under Muschamp, but for now let’s stay with this assumption.

Below is the shallow crossing concept in its base form as Petrino likes to run it. What we have below is a one-back, shotgun formation with two receivers split wide to each side (“Z” and “X”), slot receiver (“A”), a tight end (“Y”), and a running back (“R”). At the snap, Z runs a deep post, X runs a comeback route, R runs a wheel route up the sideline, Y runs a square-in route and A runs the shallow crossing route over the middle.



The wheel route pulls the underneath coverage to the sideline and up the sideline while the deep post pulls the safety (or safeties) deep into the secondary. The square in route pulls the outside linebacker away from the shallow cross and the comeback route occupies the cornerback on the right side of the play. An important point to keep in mind here is that conventional thinking for QBs is that their read progression is high – low (deepest route – shallowest route)…Post route (“Z”)>wheel route (“R”)>square-in (“Y”)>comeback (“X”)>shallow cross (“A”). Due to the nature of the play the thought process is reversed…shallow cross>…>deep post. The point of running this play though isn’t to go deep, but instead to give the QB an easy throw and to get the ball in the hands of a fast, shifty play maker in the open field.

Petrino’s version differs in two main ways as compared to the Air Raid version: 1) Petrino likes to have the wheel route (receiver “R”) and the slant route (receiver “A”) run to the same side as opposed to opposite sides like we see in Air Raid systems and 2) the wheel route (receiver “R”) and post route (receiver “Z”) are the “hot routes” or “alert routes.” The recognition of hot routes by the QB is where Petrino’s offense becomes more West Coast (pro style) oriented and more complex than Air Raid systems.

So, what are hot routes and why is this important in distinguishing between Petrino’s offense and an Air Raid offense?

If a QB signals or checks into a hot route that means he has recognized the defensive scheme or, more importantly, he’s picked up the blitz before the ball is even snapped. Hot routes are the routes in which receivers will be wide open because the defenders that would ordinarily occupy those zones, or match according to route distributions, will be blitzing. If the quarterback has correctly identified the blitz and gets the ball out quick enough, it usually results in a big play for the offense.

The shallow crossing concept is one of Petrino’s favorite plays and can be used for a simple completion or for a big play depending on how aggressive the defense wants to be. I’d expect to see quite a bit of this on Saturday as the chess match between Petrino and Muschamp unfolds.

Auburn Defense

It’s no secret that Auburn’s defense was atrocious last season and Gus Malzahn went to great lengths to ensure that his defense would be much improved for the 2015 season. Enter Will Muschamp. Muschamp is widely regarded as one of the best defensive minds in the game and he’s proven that at every stop along the way including his stint as head coach at Florida where the Gators had a top 10 defense each year. It also doesn’t hurt that Muschamp comes from one of the best coaching trees in the business…the Bill Belichick, Nick Saban coaching tree.

So, how does Will Muschamp help turn the Auburn defense around against a great offensive mind like Bobby Petrino?

We can get an idea by looking at Muschamp’s Cover-3 pattern matching scheme known as “3 Buzz Mable.” This coverage scheme works great against trips but can also be used against offensive sets with two receivers to each side, which Auburn will likely see a lot of on Saturday. The idea with this scheme is to push coverage toward the trips side of the play, thus creating a 5 over 3 match (5 defenders, 3 receivers).


We can see in the example above (diagram # 2 on the play sheet) that the defense is basing out of the 4-3 and they’re facing an offense with three receivers to one side, one running back, and a single receiver on the back side. At the snap, the cornerback (“C”) to the trips side makes a 2-1 read meaning he’s reacting to the route distributions of receivers # 1 and # 2. The cornerback’s responsibility is to match with the vertical-go route. The strong side linebacker (“S”) matches with receiver #2, middle linebacker (“M”) matches with receiver # 3, strong safety (“SS”) defends the possible curl route in the flat, weak side linebacker (“W”) matches with the running back coming out of the backfield, and the backside cornerback (“C”) is playing man coverage against his receiver. The free safety (“FS”) remains deep, over the top to provide help if either of the vertical routes becomes open.

How does this scheme apply to what we saw in the shallow crossing concept?


In this scenario, the weak side linebacker would match with the crossing route (“A”), middle linebacker would match with the square-in (“Y”), strong side linebacker would match with the wheel route (“R”), the cornerback would match with the post route, the strong safety would provide 2 over 1 help against the wheel route or shallow cross and the free safety would be deep to help against the post route.

The biggest differences between what I think would actually happen versus what’s displayed in these examples is that I don’t think Muschamp would have the defense in a base 4-3. It’s more likely that he would be playing in a nickel defense so the defender that actually matches with the shallow cross and the wheel route may be different.

Keys to the Game

For all the talk about Bobby Petrino as an offensive mind we shouldn’t forget that he went out and hired one of the better 3-4 defensive coaches in the game in Todd Grantham. His name should be familiar to most everyone around the SEC because he was the DC at Georgia from 2010-2013. Louisville’s biggest strength is probably their front 7 on defense and their ability to stop the run. I expect Grantham to stack the box and bring the heat early and often to put Auburn behind the chains.

Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson will have to be sharp and quick with his passes to negate Louisville’s aggressive defense and will likely have to pass to open up the run early in the game. Auburn’s offensive line will have its hands full with Louisville’s front seven but depth will be an issue for Louisville late in the game.

The chess match between Muschamp and Petrino will be fun to watch and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Louisville have some fireworks early in the game but by the second half I’d be surprised if Auburn’s Carl Lawson isn’t causing Petrino some major issues in the backfield. Louisville will have success on offense and I think their defense will be able to keep Auburn’s running game in check for a portion of the game but Auburn’s running backs will find creases and the Cardinal’s defensive line depth will begin to show itself in the second half.


It’s no secret that Bobby Petrino has been scheming for Auburn since the spring but despite masterful play calling by one of the game’s best, Muschamp’s defense adjusts and clamps down on the Cardinal’s prolific offense. Auburn’s running game starts clicking in the third quarter and a late TD run by Roc Thomas signals the beginning of the end for the Cardinals.

For the first time in 10 seasons as a head coach, Bobby Petrino loses an opening game. Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson shows just how lethal Malzahn’s offense can be when operated by a more refined passer and Carl Lawson establishes himself as an elite, disruptive pass rusher and perfect fit in Muschamp’s hybrid 4-3 scheme.


Auburn 35 – Louisville 24





Play diagrams can be found through the following links:

This document is not to be sold or used for profit in any way and is not to be copied and/or distributed without the consent of the original author. The original photos and diagrams contained in this document can be found in the sources listed above this statement. This document is to be used for educational and entertainment purposes only.

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