Saturday, September 29, 2007

Not The Swamp I remember

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Greetings from high atop The Swamp.

It's been since 2002 that Auburn played here, so it's been since 2002 that I was here. I remember the operative phrase back then being "Please pardon our progress."

Well, progress achieved. The new, very-open-air press box is a wind tunnel, and it's very windy today.

It was also steamy hot, as I walked from my car to the stadium.

As I sit here, memories return. I'm looking straight down at a familiar set of goalposts, and they conjure a double thump. Yes, I'm talking about Damon Duval's low-hit field goal try from point-blank range, which Florida couldn't help but block.

So blew Auburn's comeback. The miss near the end of regulation forced overtime, and Florida won.

A lot of significant things happened that night in 2002.

First was the positive career turn of Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell. A lot of people forget, but he was backup to Daniel Cobb before that night. Then-offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino, genius that he is, said time and again that season that Cobb was Auburn's best chance to win.

Campbell was but a sophomore, and Cobb was a senior. Petrino liked the backfield combination of Cobb and running back Carnell Williams.

Williams sustained a fractured fibula that night, so Petrino was finally convinced to trot Campbell back out there. He and Williams' replacement, Ronnie Brown, nearly led Auburn back for a victory.

Brown's performance that night also had huge implications down the road. It began his strong finish to the 2002 season, which set the wheels in motion for 2004 delights.

Brown's showing in 2002 prompted current Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges to go with a two-tailback setup in 2004. Borges created the "F" back position, which made the most of Brown's pass-catching and power-running skills.

The two-tailback system worked wonders and was a major key in Auburn's undefeated run through 2004. Brown went on to join Williams among top-five picks in the 2005 NFL draft.

Turning from Memory Lane to the present, I'm more convinced than ever that parity is a controlling factor in major college football. Too many top-10 teams are losing to teams ranked well below them or not at all.

Also, those of us who bought into Auburn's early schedule this season are looking smart on this day. As I write, Kansas State, which Auburn beat, is leading Texas 21-14 at halftime. South Florida, which beat Auburn in week two, beat West Virginia for the second year in a row Friday night.

There's no excuse for Auburn's loss to Mississippi State, but the loss to South Florida and struggles against Kansas State don't look so bad, now.

It just takes me back to my parity theory. The current college football setup is ripe for a team like South Florida, which has natural location advantages, to emerge quickly.

It's getting awfully noisy here. We're more than two hours from kickoff, but military jets are practicing for their flyover.

I can't see them because the stadium's upper deck is right above my head. If I look straight ahead, I see concrete.

I can hear the planes, however. I wish I could see them because I'm a fan of military aviation, especially Navy jets like the F/A-18 hornet.

Well, I guess I need to take some time to learn my new digital voice recorder. I got time and date set up on the readout. Now I need to learn advanced functions like, well, recording.

If you're bored and want to keep a bored scribe company, just post a comment or email to

Sunday, September 23, 2007

And now it gets real

Brandon Cox is back. Auburn's offense is back. Auburn is back.

That's a lot to glean from Auburn's 55-20 victory over New Mexico State on Saturday. Let's call it Auburn's feel-good reprieve in a feel-bad start to the season, and let's get real.

Auburn is about the face a murderous stretch of five Southeastern Conference games: Florida on the road, Vanderbilt at home, Arkansas and LSU on the road and Ole Miss, the team that nearly upset Florida on Saturday, at home.

By the end of this five-week stretch, we'll all know whether Auburn was just a good young team that needed something good to happen, or whether New Mexico State merely brought an mirage from the desert.

To be sure, Cox looked like the Cox of old Saturday night ... accurate, efficient, in command. If not for a couple of drops, his passing numbers would have looked much better.

Auburn's running game looked like an Auburn running game with 229 yards and two 100-yard rushers.

Three freshman offensive linemen started, and Auburn still produced.

Auburn, one of the nation's worst teams in terms of turnover ratio last week, improved Saturday with six takeaways and one give.

Everything looked better, but that wasn't Florida or LSU on the other side of the ball.

Assuming Auburn sticks with what worked Saturday, this week will come down to the immobile Cox behind three true freshman lineman in The Swamp.

If Auburn comes out of that with a victory or at least a competitive showing, then just maybe this team can get something going.

Looking ahead, here are a couple of thoughts:

TREND: Auburn's talent center is in its lower classes. The Tigers started six freshmen against NMSU, including four true freshmen. Look for the coaching staff to continue to get its best talent on the field, though it looks like Cox will return as Auburn's starting quarterback at Florida.

SEEM FAMILIAR? This season seems to be tracking like the 2003 season. The Tigers lost their first two games, failing to score a touchdown against Southern Cal and Georgia Tech, then erupted for a 45-7 win at Vanderbilt. That was the beginning of five consecutive wins for a team that finished 8-5 and won a bowl. That was a team that made the least of its talent, however, and the current Auburn team doesn't have the same talent level in the upper classes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Soothing the bruise from the boos

AUBURN – While a spirited debate between the pro-boo and anti-boo factions of the Auburn fan base plays out on message boards this week, Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville has sought to soothe the boo-boo on quarterback Brandon Cox’s ego.

The coach used his Tuesday news conference to praise the way Cox has handled the insertion of true freshman Kodi Burns in the lineup, say nothing of the boos Cox received before and during Auburn’s loss to Mississippi State on Saturday.

In fact, Tuberville gave perhaps his most candid and telling assessment of why Cox, fifth-year senior and third-year starter, has struggled so through Auburn’s first three games.

“I'll tell you this: we have not given up on Brandon Cox,” Tuberville said. “Brandon is still going to be a quarterback. He could be at full tilt this week, next week, because he knows what we're doing. He just needs some help around him. Kodi doesn't need quite as much help because of his athletic ability out of the pocket.”

It means that, when a play breaks down, Burns can use his quick feet to buy more time to make chicken salad out of … well, you know the saying.

Tuberville’s statement also means that the less mobile Cox has his weakest supporting cast since he became Auburn’s starting quarterback in 2005.

Cox no longer has Devin Aromashodu, Anthony Mix, Ben Obomanu and Courtney Taylor at wide receiver and no longer has two-year leading rusher Kenny Irons in the backfield.

Cox has seen a complete turnover of the offensive line during his time as Auburn’s starter, with losses including second-round NFL draft picks Marcus McNeill and Ben Grubbs.

Cox is a pocket passer, waiting in the pocket for others to do their jobs. He’s a system quarterback running a West Coast-style system, expecting receivers to reach certain spots at certain times. He throws to those spots at those times.

Judging from how off the usually accurate Cox seems, one surmises that receivers aren’t sticking their pass patterns. Judging from how often the usually heady Cox seems to throw into coverage, perhaps he must take more chances because receivers aren’t getting open.

It stands to reason that Auburn’s receiving corps would be down. The older receivers are guys Auburn signed when Auburn was loaded at that position. The younger receivers – who signed after Aromashodu, Mix and Obomanu finished their eligibility -- are young.

Add that Brad Lester, Auburn’s top returning running back, has sat out on suspension through Auburn’s first three games. Add that King Dunlap, Auburn’s lone-returning starter on the offensive line, has been its biggest disappointment.

Does anyone remember that reputedly stout group of tight ends? Tommy Trott has played more like Tommy Drop. Even senior Cole Bennett let a Cox pass skip off of his hands, right to Mississippi State safety Derek Pegues, who returned it for a touchdown.

It always looks like the quarterback’s fault because the quarterback is the most visible player on the field. That which others do or fail to do is more subtle.

Tuberville said Cox does not deserve all of the blame and maybe not even a majority of it.

“I think in terms of how his season started – fifth year coming back, expectations were high, and making mistakes -- a lot of them weren't his,” Tuberville said. “He was forced into situations. He'd love to have two or three of the passes back, obviously.”

Tuberville said Cox has handled the situation admirably.

“He's a great guy. He was very supportive on the sidelines last week,” the coach said. “You find out a lot about people when things get tougher and tougher, and things couldn't be any tougher for him. He's a senior watching from the sidelines in the third game of the season; a season he thought would be a great start and a great year for him, which it could still be.

“… But there's not a guy I think more of than Brandon Cox. I've watched him this week. He's practiced hard, pushed himself hard, been a leader. That's just part of his demeanor.”

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Status quo for Zachery, Lester

AUBURN --- Despite Terrell Zachery's absence from the sideline in Auburn's loss to Mississippi State on Saturday, Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said there’s no change in the status of the redshirt freshman wide receiver from Wadley.
Tuberville said Zachery’s absense Saturday was in compliance with SEC rules limiting the number of players allowed on the bench for conference games.
“You can only dress so many for conference games,” he said. “If you're in the dog house there's no sense in dressing out.”
Zachery was on the sideline for the Kansas State and South Florida games, wearing a jersey and shorts. Both were non-conference games.
Zachery has spent this season in the coach’s “dog house” for undisclosed reasons. Tuberville has kept Zachery off limits to media.
Same for reserve safety and dog house roommate Lorenzo Ferguson and starting tailback Brad Lester, who is suspended for what an Auburn news release termed "unresolved academic issues."
Tuberville said Sunday he does not know when he'll know something new on Lester's status.
"I still haven't heard anything," he said. "Hopefully, it will clear up soon. That's all out of my hands. I've completely stayed out of it."

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Time to refigure

Last season, Auburn quickly went from the nation's No. 2 team to overachieving at 11-2. Fans and media got to know the team better over 13 games.
It won't take that long for Auburn's 2007 team. The Tigers are three games and two losses into the season, including a Southeastern Conference home loss to Mississippi State.
Auburn has SEC road games against Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and LSU ahead, and a freshman quarterback has begun cutting teeth because of senior Brandon Cox's sudden decline.
It's widely understood that Auburn's talent center is in the lower classes, so dare we say the word?
Dare we say rebuilding?
Actually, my pet term is "transition year." Auburn is clearly transitioning to a younger corps of players, and this year's schedule leaves little room to expect much record wise.
So how far does Auburn dip?
If one assumes those four road games are losses, then 6-6 looks like the best Auburn can do. Then again, one wonders if Auburn can win home games against Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Alabama with an offense that struggles to score touchdowns. Auburn has yet to score more than two touchdowns in one game. The offense has scored just five.
So how did Auburn get in this state?
I blame a hiccup year or two in recruiting, especially 2004.
Auburn had a loaded roster at the time, a team that was picked by some to win a national title in 2003 and went undefeated in 2004. Kids want to go where they can play quickly, and Auburn handed out redshirts with scholarship papers back then.
The whole Jetgate affair at the end of the 2003 season probably didn't help Auburn's recruting much, either.
Auburn currently has 17 seniors, four of which are walk-ons. There aren't too many difference makers in the bunch. There's defensive end Quentin Groves and then a major dropoff.
I blame a lot of Auburn's offensive woes on mediocre receivers, the kind that don't entice safeties to back off the line of scrimmage. Again, recruiting was a problem here.
The Tigers signed that class of Devin Aromashodu, Anthony Mix, Ben Obomanu and Courtney Taylor in 2002. They started playing as freshmen, so top receiver recruits knew Auburn could not offer quick playing time.
It doesn't help that Auburn advertises itself as a run-first team. If the coaches don't get freshman quarterback Kodi Burns using his arm as much as his legs, he's bound to scare off more receivers talented enough to make a difference.
Auburn made inroads with a touted receiver class of Tim Hawthorne, Terrell Zachery, Chris Slaughter and Alex Rose in 2006. Hawthorne, a redshirt freshman, made his first start Saturday. Zachery, also a redshirt freshman, resides in Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville's "dog house" and has yet to suit up. Slaughter, a true freshmen who re-signed this year after a prep-school detour, has played in Auburn's last two games. Rose hit the academic skids and is not playing this season.
None have made a significant impact.
Auburn signed Quindarrious Carr this year and has commitments from Darvin Adams, Harry Adams and Damion Allen ... all three-star prospects, according to
Auburn is recruiting others, most notably Julio Jones, but that won't help Auburn this year.
At the risk of coming off like a bad Yogi Berra imitator, this doesn't appear to be the year to think about this year.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The latest on Burns

Those who were buying Kodi Burns stock Tuesday might be selling today.
Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville seemed to dispell rumors that the true freshman quarterback might see action Saturday against Mississippi State.
Told that some expect Burns to play Saturday, Tuberville told reporters at practice, "I don't. You might be surprised. Blake Field is our No. 2."
Rumors spread Tuesday that Auburn could be looking at some kind of role for Burns. Not that Burns would unseat senior starter Brandon Cox, but that Burns could get a few plays as a "change-up" quarterback against Mississippi State.
It's not the first time such a role has been suggested for Burns. Florida made the change-up quarterback in vogue last season when the Gators used then-freshman Tim Tebow that way.
Rumors about Burns grew with wide receiver Robert Dunn's comments after Tuesday's practice.
"They give him the same treatment Florida gave Tebow last year," Dunn said. "They're kind of putting him in and letting him run a couple draws here and there.
"Y'all will just have to wait until Saturday to see what's going on."
Tuberville seemed to refute that Wednesday. Stress "seemed."
He more directly refuted talk that Burns has already unseated Field as the backup.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A rumor so hot it Burns

AUBURN – A hot rumor arose from Auburn’s football practice Tuesday morning. So hot that it Burns.
Pun and upper-case "B" intended.
But one won’t get players or coaches to acknowledge firmly that Auburn might be looking at ways to get true freshman Kodi Burns on the field.
"I’m not at liberty to say right now," said Blake Field, senior Brandon Cox’s backup for two-plus seasons. "Brandon's still our starter right now. That's all I'm going to say.
"I'm still working to be his backup, if something happens. We're going to try to make some plays?"
So, what to read in all of that?
Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville and offensive coordinator Al Borges were firm Sunday in saying that Cox is Auburn’s starter, despite Cox’s struggles and those of Auburn’s offense in the Tigers’ first two games.
Through a 23-13 victory over Kansas State and 26-23, overtime loss to South Florida, Auburn ranks last in the Southeastern Conference in total offense at 290.5 yards a game. Cox ranks tenth with a 99.5 pass-efficiency rating.
Still, there’s no serious talk about Cox losing his starting job.
"I'll tell you this, man: You can't take one of the best quarterbacks out," senior defensive end Quentin Groves said. "If they do, then they do, but he's a proven guy.
"They (fans) weren't talking about benching him when they went 11-2 last year. When he led us to the Capital One Bowl, they weren't talking about benching him then. Now, all of a sudden, you want to talk about benching him when we've won one game and lost one game?"
It’s hard to imagine Auburn’s coaching staff benching a senior and third-year starter in favor of a true freshman. Cox is 20-6 as a starter.
But it’s not hard to see Burns moving into the No. 2 role at some point this season. Auburn’s coaching staff has long expressed tepid confidence in Field, and Burns was ranked among the top dual-threat quarterback prospects.
Then there’s the Tim Tebow option. Tebow was a true freshman at Florida last season when the Gators used him as a change-of-pace quarterback. Senior Chris Leak was the starter, but Florida’s coaches inserted the run-oriented Tebow in the game from time to time to give defenses a different look.
"They give him the same treatment Florida gave Tebow last year," wide receiver Robert Dunn said after Tuesday's practice. "They're kind of putting him in and letting him run a couple draws here and there.
"Y'all will just have to wait until Saturday to see what's going on."
Still, Tuberville has long expressed a leaning toward not burning a year of Burns' eligibility this year. He has said he would consider playing Burns only if Burns became the No. 2 guy.
Tuberville was not asked about Burns in the open news conference. He did address Cox’s status. "I know Brandon Cox has taken a lot of heat, and, you know, Brandon Cox is our quarterback," Tuberville said. "He will be our quarterback."
Cox followed Tuberville at the news conference, taking questions from the podium. Cox usually meets with media in various groups in the Rane Room of Auburn’s athletics complex on Tuesdays.
"I am the starter," he said. "Nothing has been said about it. I’m just approaching it that way."

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Hate to say I told you so ...

It's time to refigure this Auburn football team and season.
Not that a 26-23, overtime loss to South Florida on Saturday was unexpected. It was a trendy pick, in fact, after Auburn played a BCS-conference opponent in the first week and had to play another in the second.
Auburn was beat up after the first game and is more beat up after the second.
It's not that Auburn lost to South Florida on Saturday. It's how Auburn lost.
Auburn's offense is woeful. It showed against Kansas State, but there was the promise of improvement from the first week to the second.
Just when it looked like freshman running back Mario Fannin would give Auburn the spark it needed, he reminded everyone why coaches let freshmen watch and learn. He fumbled twice in the third quarter, both resulting in turnovers, and never carried the ball the rest of the game.
Auburn's offense reverted to its pre-Fannin form, which certainly was no improvement over the form it showed against Kansas State.
Auburn must get its offense going to have a chance against its remaining schedule, which includes road games against Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and LSU. It's hard to see from where Auburn gets that offense.
Fannin will learn from his fumbles, but he can't do it himself. Auburn needs to find big-play receivers. Quarterback Brandon Cox needs to get the ball downfield. Auburn's line needs to block.
Until that time, opposing defenses will stack near the line of scrimmage, showing blatant lack of respect for Auburn's "play makers." Auburn shows no sign of having the play makers to beat that tacti, after all.
Suddenly, those four road games look more like losses than ever.
Might it be time to rethink how to view the Iron Bowl this year? Could Auburn's five-game winning streak against Alabama be nearing its end?
Alabama is 2-0 and seems able to score. At least in that, the Crimson Tide has one up on Auburn.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Music to AU fans' ears

It looks like middle linebacker Tray Blackmon (ankle), safey Aairon Savage (ankle), wide receiver Montez Billings (hamstring) and cornerbacks Pat Lee (neck) and Jonathan Wilhite (hamstring) are a go for Saturday night's home game against South Florida.
Kicker Wes Byrum, who injured his right (kicking) ankle on a kickoff against Kansas State last week, is questionable. If he cannot go, sophomore Zach Kutch will handle kicking duties.
IDOL TIME: The halftime show for Auburn's Sept. 15 home game against Mississippi State will feature 2006 American Idol winner Taylor Hicks performing with Auburn's marching band. He and the band will perform a medley of songs.
Hicks enrolled at Auburn in 1995, studying business and journalism for three years. His life as a working musician was established while at Auburn.
Hicks' win on American Idol was viewed by 36.4 million households with some 63.4 million votes cast for him.
-- Joe Medley

Note: See Thursday's Star for a story analyzing Auburn's hunt for play makers on offense, with a look at the coaching staff's effort to work running back Mario Fannin more into the action this week. On Friday, I'll analyze the Auburn-South Florida matchup in a game that will require more scoring from Auburn.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

No news on Lester

AUBURN -- No news on suspended Auburn tailback Brad Lester as of Tuesday afternoon, and Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said he's not sure when he will get news.
"I couldn't tell you," he said at his weekly news conference. It's been in the works for the last few weeks, and I'm out of it. I'm just watching as he goes.
"Brad's participating and preparing every day to hopefully get back on the field. That's out of my hands."
Auburn announced Lester's suspension Friday, citing "unresolved academic issues" in a news release. Neither the release nor Tuberville offer specifics. Lester has been off limits to media since his suspension was announced.

Tale of a Tough Quarterback

AUBURN – The book on Brandon Cox’s two-plus years as Auburn’s starting quarterback tells of a classic protagonist – personal struggles with a debilitating illness, talent, flaws, critics and defenders but, ultimately, he perseveres in his own way.
The book’s emerging title? How about, Tale of a Tough Quarterback.
Not to overdramatize things. We have yet to see something like the old NFL Films footage of a helmetless and bloodied Y.A. Tittle on his knees.
Then again, there is the vintage clip of old Vikings quarterback Joe Kapp, wincing and rolling in the ground in Super Bowl IV. Cox had a similar scene Saturday, after taking the second helmet hit on his right shoulder late in the third quarter of Auburn’s 23-13 victory over Kansas State.
Fortunately for Auburn, it happened on the last offensive snap of that possession. A field goal and change of possessions allowed Cox time for the pain to deaden, and he returned to action on Auburn’s next offensive snap.
He’s done that a lot over the last two seasons.
He rolled on the ground, hopped up and hobbled off the field after an LSU lineman landed on his left leg last season, badly spraining his left ankle. After a timeout, he ran back on the field for the next play.
He played on the rest of the season, his lower left leg nearly mummified in tape. He could barely push off of it.
Cox played on after banging his right knee on the turf at Ole Miss, though the bursa sac injury affected the left-hander’s plant leg.
Auburn had to scale back its offense, but he played on because Auburn’s coaches lacked confidence in backup Blake Field.
Cox did the same Saturday. Through five sacks and, we learned this week, fuzziness from absorbing several hits, he played. Through 40 sacks dating back through last season, he has played.
Saturday, Cox persevered to lead Auburn’s drive to the go-ahead touchdown with 2:01 to play, going 5-for-6 for 56 yards and throwing his 3-yard touchdown pass to Gabe McKenzie.
Cox’s 17-for-30, 229-yard performance wasn’t the stuff of fantasy-league quarterbacks. His performances rarely are.
He just picked himself up and improved to 20-5 as a starter.
-- Joe Medley

NOTE: Read more about Cox's wooziness and winning performance in Wednesday's Star.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Strong showing for Tigers' defense

AUBURN – Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp saw good, bad and ugly in Auburn’s 23-13 victory Kansas State on Saturday. Mostly good.
The good starts with the bottom line.
"Whenever you win, you did something right," he said. "That's the obvious thing I always look at. I thought that, other than the first drive, we played much better on third down. That was the key to getting off the field. We had five three-and-outs."
Kansas State scored one touchdown, wide receiver Jordy Nelson’s 21-yard pass off of a lateral to running back Leon Patton in the third quarter.
"We played well in the red area, other than the one trick play they hit on us," Muschamp said. "I thought they had great effort, and the kids competed. That will win you some games with great effort and pursuit to the football. I was real pleased with that.
"On the negative side, we had 15 missed tackles, and we missed plays in space. That was disappointing, but it’s all correctable. We didn't leverage the ball the right way at times and started off slow a little bit. The first drive, there was nothing new they did in the first drive we had not prepared for. We just didn't execute very well, and they did."
Defensive end Antonio Coleman led the way on Muschamp’s production-points system with 34. Defensive tackle Pat Sims had 29.
"Antonio Coleman, Pat Sims, (end) Quentin Groves, (cornerback) Pat Lee, (cornerback) Zach Gilbert all produced high," Muschamp said. "Real pleased with those guys. Real pleased with (middle linebacker) Chris Evans coming in there with Tray (Blackmon’s) injury. (Safety) Zac Etheridge played the entire game. (Safety) Eric Brock played well for us. There were some guys that stepped up, Zach Gilbert, that came in and played some quality snaps for us and played well. I'm pleased to be able to go to those guys and feel good about it."
-- Joe Medley

AU playing '10-man football'

AUBURN – Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges said Monday that Auburn’s offensive woes in a 23-13 victory over Kansas State on Saturday came down an apparent misinterpretation of football rules.
"We didn't really play as a team offensively very well," he said. "We had a lot of 10-man football – 10 men doing it right and one breakdown resulting the play to be negative."
Auburn gained 62 net rushing yards after allowing five sacks, totaling a negative 29 yards.
Negative plays and breakdowns made it nearly impossible for Auburn to sustain drives. The Tigers’ best drive came in the final four minutes, as they moved 58 yards to Brandon Cox’s go-ahead touchdown pass to tight end Gabe McKenzie.
A defensive touchdown – Antonio Coleman’s 34-yard fumble return -- accounted for the final margin.
Kansas State brought heavy pressure, lining up eight or nine defenders within seven yards of the line of scrimmage most of the night. The Tigers didn’t handle it well.
"We had some opportunities, too, after watching the tape," Borges said. "I'm convinced, if we had just been a little better execution, we could have scored some more points.
"We're just not well-oiled, and, against a heavy-pressure team like that, and you don't take care ofall your business, they are going to hit your quarterback. They hit our quarterback, and we didn't run the ball well enough to keep the pressure off."

Auburn lands two commitments

AUBURN – Some Auburn fans didn’t like what they saw in the Tigers’ season-opening victory over Kansas State, but two recruits did.
Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Dillard wide receiver Harry Adams and Miami Archbishop Carroll athlete George Baker announced Monday intentions to sign with Auburn in February of next year.
Both players were among five official visitors at Auburn’s 23-13 victory Saturday night.
Baker (5-foot-11, 170 pounds) is rated the No. 34 athlete in the country by He chose Auburns over offers from LSU, Kansas State, Ole Miss and Rutgers, among others. He was also receiving heavy interest from Florida and Miami, according to AuburnSports.comAs a junior, he had 50 tackles on defense while rushing for 1,010 yards and 11 touchdowns on offense. He is being recruited as a cornerback.Adams (6-foot, 175) chose Auburn over offers from Florida, Florida State, LSU, Ole Miss, Minnesota, North Carolina and Rutgers, among others. He said he still plans to visit other schools, but calls his commitment to Auburn "strong." He had planned to wait until signing day to announce.
Auburn has sought a receiver who can stretch a defense, and Adams won the Florida Class 6A 100-meter dash title as a sophomore in 10.2 seconds. He ran a 4.3-second 40-yard dash at an Auburn camp in 2006. ranks Adams as the No. 71 wide receiver prospect.
Auburn has 11 oral commitments for the 2008 class. The Tigers have 17 seniors, 13 of which are scholarship players.

INJURY REPORT: Starting middle linebacker Tray Blackmon (ankle) did not dress out for practice Monday. He was wearing a protective boot on his left ankle but showed no visible limp.
"I plan on playing Saturday," Blackmon said, referring to Auburn's home game Saturday against South Florida. "It's just a sprain. I sprained it as soon as I intercepted it."
Kicker Wes Byrum (ankle) had a protective boot on his right (kicking) foot again Monday and did not practice.
Starting free safety Aairon Savage dressed out for practice, but rode a stationary bike. His left ankle was heavily wrapped, and he walked with a limp.
Kickoff returner and backup cornerback Patrick Lee (neck) did not dress out Monday, and cornerback Jonathan Wilhite (hamstring) did practice.
Reserve wide receiver Montez Billings (hamstring) also rode a stationary bike.

ENVELOPE, PLEASE: Defensive end Quentin Groves has been named the Southeastern Conference's Defensive Lineman of the Week.
Groves had five tackles, three for losses, including two sacks and forced a fumble Saturday. With Auburn leading 16-13 lead with just more than a minute left, Groves sacked Wildcat quarterback Josh Freeman, causing a fumble which Antonio Coleman returned 34 yards for a touchdown.
Groves, who was named to preseason watch lists for the Lombardi Award, Bednarik Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Hendricks Award, now has 25 career sacks and is just one sack shy of tying the Auburn career record held by Gerald Robinson (1982-85).
It marks the third time Groves has been honored with an SEC weekly award. In 2006, Groves was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week after collecting three quarterback sacks during Auburn's 27-17 victory over Florida, and was the league's Defensive Lineman of the Week after finishing with two sacks and two forced fumbles in Auburn's 22-15 victory at Alabama.
--- Joe Medley

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Byrum questionable for USF game

AUBURN – Freshman kicker Wes Byrum (ankle), who kicked three field goals in Auburn’s season-opening victory over Kansas State on Saturday, is questionable for this week’s game against South Florida.
"We'll wait and see," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said Sunday. "It's swollen and a little bit. It's his kicking foot. We'll have to see what happens."
Byrum wore a protective boot Sunday and left the athletics complex on crutches. He said he expects the boot to come off today and that he will play against South Florida.
If he plays, he’ll likely only kick field goals and extra points and not handle kickoffs. He was injured on a kickoff in the second quarter and attempted two field goals after that, hitting from 31 yards and missing from 47.
Walk-on Morgan Hull handled the next kickoff and kicked out of bounds late in the third quarter, resulting in a penalty. Zach Kutch handled the last two kickoffs.
If Byrum can’t handle field goals and extra points this week, then Kutch or Graham Sutter will.
"We'll let them kick this week the first couple of days," Tuberville said. "But Wesley could kick. He kicked two field goals with the ankle the way it was. He may not be able to kickoff, and that's the reason I didn't kick him -- because he couldn't run."

M-A-S-H: Auburn got encouraging injury news Sunday about middle linebacker Tray Blackmon (ankle), cornerback Jonathan Wilhite (hamstring) and safety Aairon Savage (ankle). All look like they will play against South Florida, Tuberville said.
Tuberville said the physical season-opening game left "two or three dozen" players in treatment Sunday.
Among then was cornerback Patrick Lee, who has a sore neck. This after Kansas State’s Justin McKinney grabbed Lee’s face mask and pulled Lee’s head around on a kickoff return.
Tuberville said only Byrum’s injury is serious enough to make him questionable for the South Florida game.

THE ‘DOG HOUSE’: Wadley product Terrell Zachery, a redshirt freshman wide receiver, and reserve junior safety Lorenzo Ferguson did not suit up for Saturday’s game. Why?
"Dog house," Tuberville said, using a cliché that indicates a coach is not real pleased with a player.
Are they suspended?
"Dog house. My dog house," he said. "They are in my dog house. Dog house."
What did they do?
"Dog house," he said.

LESTER UPDATE: Tuberville said Sunday there’s no change in the status of starting tailback Brad Lester, who sat out of Saturday’s game on suspension for what a Friday Auburn news release termed "unresolved academic issues."
"He can practice," Tuberville said. "That's a thing that, hopefully, will be resolved in the future.
"He's not going to be with us until we get it resolved. He'll be practicing. He just won't be playing. We'd love to have him out there. He's got some work to do to make that happen."

P-O-Gs: The coaches’ selections for players of the game were tight end Gabe McKenzie (offense), linemen Antonio Coleman and Pat Sims (defense), Byrum (special teams), Brian Anyadike (scout-team offense) and Darrell Roseman (scout-team defense).
--- Joe Medley
Some believe in a world where there are only excuses. I happen to believe that facts matter, and it's more reasonable (perhaps "fair" is a better word) to acknowledge the reality of reasons.
It's my job as a beat writer to learn everything I can about what I cover and be fair, based on what I know. Never know better --- or have reason to believe better --- than what I write.
And never, never pander to popular misperceptions. It's nothing more than a ploy to score points with some readers --- or get by with ignorance.
That's how I approach writing for the newspaper and, in my opinion, that's how to approach a blog. It's all publication, just in a different forum.
Now that I have that off my chest, there are few reasons to explain why Auburn's offense struggled so in its season-opening victory over Kansas State on Saturday.
There are reasons to explain some of it.
Kansas State came in with a new 3-4 defense, new coordinator and a lot of new schemes off of its alignments. Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges said Sunday that 30 to 40 percent of what K-State ran Saturday never showed on game film from last season.
Normally, a team with an established coordinator and schemes and/or game film from the current season will toss in about 5 to 10 percent new wrinkles, Borges said.
I've not known Borges to be an excuses guy in the three-plus years that I've covered him. I'm also not a coach, nor was I in film study with him.
I'll give benefit of the doubt here.
That said, it sure seemed to take a long time for Auburn to adjust. It wasn't until Auburn's drive to its go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter that Borges went to quick slant passes with short dropbacks, and it worked.
The way the game played out, perhaps it was smart coaching to hold that changeup until the right time.
Perhaps Auburn wouldn't have needed to rally from behind so late, had the change come earlier.
Still, there were plenty of problems with Auburn's offense Saturday. Again, I'll start with what seem to be good reasons.
An offensive line with four new starters looked like it. A running game without suspended starting tailback Brad Lester looked like it.
Then again, why did the one returning starter on Auburn's line, senior left tackle King Dunlap, seem to have the worst game of the bunch?
Why did a fifth-year senior quarterback in Brandon Cox struggle as much as he did with reads? Why did he make poor pass decisions that resulted in both of his interceptions?
Why, when Auburn's running game struggled so, did Auburn's coaches leave redshirt freshman running back Mario Fannin on the bench? He's supposed to be one of Auburn's up-and-coming talents, a ball carrier with game-breaking ability.
I know the explanation. Fannin seems to be a liability in pass blocking, the same reason why Auburn held Kenny Irons back in 2005.
Irons went on to lead the SEC in rushing that season, despite his delayed insertion into the starting lineup. He showed he had take-it-to-the-house ability, which Fannin is supposed to have.
I wonder what difference it would have made had Irons/Fannin punished aggressive defenses with one long touchdown run. Might Irons have slowed Georgia Tech's defense in the 2005 opener, which Tech won by blitzing Cox into five turnovers? Might Fannin have caused Kansas State's defense to back a safety or two off the line of scrimmage?
All it takes is one hole and one running back with speed and vision, and he's beyond those nine guys in the box, in a foot race with cornerbacks.
Against Kansas State, Auburn's receivers could have helped by beating man coverage deep, and Cox could have helped by getting the ball down field.
Perhaps Auburn's receiving corps still struggles to get open, like it did last year. Outside of Rod Smith, perhaps Auburn has only possession receivers who catch reliably and young game breakers who don't catch reliably.
Games down the road will confirm or refute whether that liability still exists. Games down the road will show whether the offensive line will gell, and whether Cox will regain his 2005 form after he struggled through injuries in 2006.
Through one game, every preseason question mark for Auburn's offense looks like a real liability ... which could be a reason, if the Tigers struggle to sustain and finish drives like they did in 2006.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Barbara and Buddy Sisson of Conyers, Georgia, have been coming to every Auburn game, both home and away, for years, and they choose to set up their tailgate on busy Magnolia Street rather than getting an RV. But that doesn't stop the Sissons from putting up elaborate decorations. One pole of the Sissons' Auburn canopy is the "Tiger snack pole," and they hang from the pole plush mascots of all the teams Auburn defeated last season. If they can't find a particular team's mascot, Barbara Sisson sews it.

Today, Buddy Sisson also dragged the Kansas State mascot behind his remote control car, driven by Aubie (see photo). That's a miniature version of what the Sissons do with their own SUV: they have a hangman's noose on the back and hang Auburn's opponent's mascot there when they drive to games. They said people often tailgate them on the highway to take photos of the back of their car.

But the Sissons' sense of rivalry doesn't run much deeper than decorations. As a group of Kansas State fans wearing purple togas walks past them, Barbara Sisson cries out "welcome to Auburn!" She says they often meet people from other schools at Auburn tailgates and then meet up with them at away games.

"That's what sports were invented for," Barbara Sisson said.
One of the things I've most enjoyed today is seeing the variety of ways people wear their Auburn pride. There are blue and orange Auburn t-shirts, of course, and I saw one that said "Beating Alabama." But I've also seen AU purses, blue and orange wigs, and one pair of tiger-paw earrings. There are also a lot of people walking around with blue and orange pom-poms hanging out of their pockets.

Many of the RVs in the parking lot south of the stadium have been here for at least one night already.

Melissa Scarbrough of Troy arrived in Auburn last night to begin the twentieth season in which she's attended all of Auburn's home games. She plans to attend the game this afternoon, but this morning she was comfortably ensconced in a folding chair outside of her RV, watching other games on a satellite TV she brought with her.

Bruce Pfeiffer and Romez Perez arrived around 5 p.m. yesterday and spent a couple of hours setting up the canopy and Auburn decorations outside their RV. Like Scarbrough, Pfeiffer and Perez attend all of Auburn's home games, but they usually arrive in town on Wednesday.

(Most of the tailgate setups in the RV parking lot look like this one. Put a lot of them together and the orange is striking.)

Abby Roberts, age 2, is one of many kids I've seen dressed in Auburn gear today.
There's enough orange in the RV parking lots here to brighten even this overcast day, but I did meet a handful of Kansas State fans who were tailgating out of a school bus they drove here from Kansas. They arrived here around 1 p.m. yesterday and said they've been surprised by how nice the Auburn fans have been.

I asked them if they had any hope for a Kansas State victory, and they were noncommital.

"I think it's gonna be a good game," said Brett Willoughby.

When I set out for Auburn this morning, the roads were almost empty. But the closer I got to Auburn, the more obvious it became that it was gameday. By the time I turned onto 147, I was part of a small parade of cars and trucks bearing AU flags, stickers, and license plates. As I drove through town, the automobiles became even more distinctly Auburn. I've seen a couple of convertibles painted orange and blue and one RV with "War Eagle" on the side.