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September 28, 2011Auburn running back Michael Dyer would like more carries, and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn would like more plays.
If Malzahn gets what he wants, Dyer will, too.
"The more plays we have, the more touches he'll have," the Tigers' offensive coordinator said.
Malzahn's goal each game is to run 80 plays. So far this season, the Tigers are averaging just 59. Dyer would like to carry the football at least 20 times each game. So far, he's averaging just 15.
In 2010, Cam Newton was the Tigers' first option to run the football. The Heisman Trophy winner averaged 19 carries per game. Even while sharing the backfield with Newton, Dyer still averaged 13 carries a contest, just two fewer than he is this season without Newton.
Malzahn said the reason for Dyer's lack of carries this year is the lack of plays. But a year ago, Auburn averaged just seven more plays per game than it is so far this season.
Malzahn said one of the reasons is the difference in defenses' schemes this year. Opponents no longer have to focus on Newton and Dyer, just Dyer. The sophomore said he has noticed it, too.
"I can definitely tell it's different," said Dyer. "I notice when they move over from the strong side to the weak side, or move to the side we are more prone to run to. They line up differently on our plays and some of the scheming they do to us to stop the run.
"It makes it harder, but you have to fight through it, find a crease and get through it."
Dyer has found creases when he's had the chance. Although he's getting just 15 carries a game, Dyer is averaging nearly seven yards on each one. He's also averaging 106.5 yards per game and has scored two touchdowns in three of the Tigers' four contests.
Getting first downs would be the first step in running more plays, and thus getting Dyer more carries, Malzahn said. But getting first downs has been difficult for the Tigers this season, particularly on third down. Auburn is 78th in the country on third-down plays, converting just 38 percent.
"Running 80 plays is our goal, and we have high expectations, but sometimes the game dictates a lower number than that," said Malzahn. "The bottom line is we have to find a way to make more first downs. We have to keep improving on third downs so we can stay on the field and develop that pace and get those first downs.
"If we get first downs we feel like that is an advantage for us with our pace. We just need to get more of them."
More first downs, more plays, more carries for Dyer. The former Little Rock (Ark.) Christian five-star recruit would welcome them. Dyer said he believes he gets better with each carry during a game.
"I'm ready to carry as many times as my coach needs me to. Whatever it takes for us to win," said Dyer. "I think anybody that wants to be the leader of the offense would like the ball more, but however many times my coaches give it to me, that's what I'm going to do and just play my role in the game.
"But I definitely feel like the more and more I touch it during a game, I can get a feel for it, get used to it and I feel like I get better every time. And when the game is on the line anybody wants the ball. They want to be the key leader on the offense."
Dyer said it's more about being the go-to guy, the leader, than individual statistics.
"I just go out there and have fun, play hard, play for Auburn, play for our crowd and our coaches and my family," he said. "It's not about stats. It's about trying to win."
*** Auburn practiced for nearly two hours Tuesday night as the Tigers prepare to go on the road to face the No. 9-ranked Gamecocks.
"We had a solid practice," said Malzahn. "We are preparing for the different things they do and the different challenges they present. Our guys were very upbeat. They had good energy in practice. Overall, I was excited about it."
*** Dyer on what he believes the Tigers will need to do to pull the upset Saturday in Columbia: "We need to pay attention and actually focus on our calls and our reads and not anticipate what we think is going to happen.
"We need to play just like we do a home game, go out there and play hard and have fun."
*** Dyer on playing against South Carolina sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore: "I take it as a challenge, and am just going to go out there and play hard."
*** Dyer said Auburn might have taken FAU too lightly last week. The Tigers fell behind 3-0, led 10-6 at halftime before winning 30-14.
"We were overconfident about the game," he said. "It was one of those games where we thought we would go out there and win big."
*** Freshman Quan Bray has had just one catch, five carries and two kickoff returns through the first four games, but Malzahn said he sees those numbers increasing beginning this week. Bray will help fill the void left by Trovon Reed, who will be out with an injury suffered against FAU last week.
"(Bray) has a great opportunity," said Malzahn. "He was real excited in practice, was really locked in. He has some real good playmaking ability. He just needs some experience and he will get it in this game. He's been on the field. He's been in the heat of the battle.
"Ball security, you are always concerned about young guys, but he's done a solid job with that. And he's a competitor and we really don't think the moment (playing in his first SEC road game) is too big for him as it is for some freshmen. He has a chance to be a really good player."
*** Freshman quarterback Kiehl Frazier received the most game experience of his young career last week against ASU rushing for 30 yards on three carries and attempting a pass. Malzahn said he expects to see Frazier's role in the offense increase.
"Kiehl has impressed us and really handled himself well," said Malzahn. "He ran the ball well inside last week and protected the football. He's a real calm kid and we are trying to expand his package each week and add to it. So far so good with him and he has a chance to help us.
"He can throw it. We just have to be selective on what we feel like he is ready to do. Each week, that expands more and more. We are getting to where we can really trust him."
*** Auburn will have its starting tight end/H-back against South Carolina Saturday as junior Philip Lutzenkirchen returns from a one-game hiatus due to a minor knee injury. In the first three games, Lutzenkirchen had five receptions for 40 yards and two touchdowns.
"He's very important to us," said Malzahn. "We ask him to do a lot of things. Last week, we had three different guys try to play his one position. That tells you how valuable he is to us.
"He's like a coach on the field. That position is really like a quarterback in a way with a lot of the things we ask him to do. He's very valuable to us."
*** With Lutzenkirchen out last week against FAU, freshman Brandon Fulse received the majority of playing time, but back-up center Blake Burgess saw action on the outside as well.
"He is a solid player and has some skills that can help us," Malzahn said of Burgess. "We are utilizing him in any role we can."
Auburn and South Carolina kickoff Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CT. CBS Sports will televise the game.