Monday, September 29, 2008

Auburn releases lineman Chaz Ramsey

AUBURN — Key Ramsey, father of offensive lineman Chaz Ramsey, confirmed Monday that Auburn granted his son a release.
The release stipulates that Chaz Ramsey cannot communicate with nine SEC schools. The two exceptions are Ole Miss and Mississippi State – the two in-state schools for the Madison, Miss. native.
Ramsey has not played this season after he underwent offseason back surgery nor has he worked out with the team.
As a true freshman last season, Ramsey started nine games and was named to the SEC All-Freshman team.
Key Ramsey said Chaz Ramsey’s rehabilitation has gone well and he thinks there’s a good chance he could practice during the spring, adding he expects his son’s career to continue.
Key Ramsey declined further comment on the situation.
Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville has maintained for the last month that Chaz Ramsey is still enrolled in Auburn, which he is, and said there was a chance Ramsey would later transfer.
The release does not guarantee Ramsey will transfer.
It stipulates that if Ramsey cannot continue his football career, he can continue his education at Auburn with a scholarship. That scholarship would not count against Auburn’s football total.
If Ramsey can play again, he can continue to play for Auburn or he can transfer elsewhere.
• TIGERS HONOR DEFENDERS: Middle linebacker Josh Bynes was named the coaches’ defensive player of the week after he recorded 11 tackles in his first career start.
Auburn defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said he was just as impressive on film.
“He was ripping through blocks like we do a string-out drill in Tuesday’s teamwork stuff,” Rhoads said. “He was carrying over the drills to the field and his play reflected that.
“The Mike linebacker in the system should be very productive. If you went back through the whole year and combined Tray and Josh, that would be what we’re getting out of the Mike position, just exactly what we need.”
Bynes was one of two players Rhoads singled out for their productivity on Saturday.
The other player was safety Zac Etheridge, who played through a bruised left shoulder.
“He played big,” Rhoads said. “He was a general to that secondary. We didn’t miss any of (Etheridge’s) adjustments. That kind of leadership, as well as the physical play he brings week in and week out, are very important to our play right now.”
Rhoads said Etheridge played through “extreme” pain at times.
Etheridge, who finished with six tackles, said he considered taking himself out of the game at times.
“It’s a big game, so I just pushed myself to go,” Etheridge said. “I knew I had to step up and be there for the team. So I just pushed myself and fought through the pain.”
• BYRUM GETS SOME COMPETITION: After recent struggles, Auburn kicker Wes Byrum will fight for his job this week.
Walk-on kicker Morgan Hull is Auburn’s backup. He has taken over the Tigers’ kickoff duties, but has never attempted a field goal in his collegiate career.
Hull will get an opportunity to beat out Byrum this week.
“I think we’ll have a little competition out there,” Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said.
His tune changed when he made the mistake of asking a question to reporters.
Tuberville asked how many Byrum had missed. He was quickly reminded Byrum has not made a field goal in his past three attempts.
“Three straight?” Tuberville said. “Yeah, we’ll have a competition. We’ve got to put more pressure on him. We might need to do more live rush, go against scout team, do some things, get some people in front of him. Do a little running if he doesn’t make it. Get the whole team involved.”
• ADDING INPUT: Tuberville acknowledged Sunday that, while coordinators call plays, he certainly offers suggestions.
“They don’t ask me which play to run,” Tuberville said. “I might suggest a run or a pass, you’ve got four downs, we’re not going to kick the field (goal), we’re going to go for fourth down, be more conservative, turn it loose.”
Auburn’s offense has gone ultra-conservative late in all three conference games this season. In SEC play, the Tigers have managed just seven total points in the fourth quarter — and those came when Auburn trailed LSU.
That strategy ultimately worked against Mississippi State and Tennessee, but it cost Auburn a win against LSU when Auburn couldn’t get a first down in the final minutes.
Franklin said Saturday that Tuberville gave him the green light to have Kodi Burns throw the third-and-5 pass that sealed the game.
Burns completed the pass and Auburn held on for a two-point win.
• INJURIES: Tuberville said he expected all three significant absentees from the Tennessee game to play this week.
Tailbacks Brad Lester (knee) and Tristan Davis (concussion) and linebacker Tray Blackmon (cracked bone in wrist) all missed the Tennessee game, but Tuberville said he expects all three to play against Vanderbilt.
Rhoads wasn’t as confident that Blackmon would play. Blackmon hasn’t been able to practice in full-contact drills with the cast on his left arm.
Rhoads said he wouldn’t know if Blackmon can play until he sees his starting middle linebacker practice.
— Luke Brietzke

Ramsey's release confirmed

Key Ramsey, father of offensive lineman Chaz Ramsey, confirmed Monday that Auburn granted his son a release.
The release stipulates that Chaz Ramsey cannot communicate with nine SEC schools. The two exceptions are Ole Miss and Mississippi State – the two in-state schools for the Madison, Miss. native.
Ramsey has not played this season after he underwent offseason back surgery nor has he worked out with the team.
As a true freshman last season, Ramsey started (EDIT:) nine games and was named to the SEC All-Freshman team.
Key Ramsey said Chaz Ramsey’s rehabilitation has gone well and he thinks there’s a good chance he could practice during the spring, adding he expects his son’s career to continue.
Key Ramsey declined further comment on the situation.
Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville has maintained for the last month that Chaz Ramsey is still enrolled in Auburn, which he is, and said there was a chance Ramsey would later transfer.

Ramsey transferring is reporting that Auburn has granted offensive lineman Chaz Ramsey a release.
Auburn HC Tommy Tuberville has not yet commented on the situation, but Ramsey has not been a part of the team all season. Ramsey hasn't worked with the team this fall after he underwent offseason back surgery.
Ramsey started 10 games at guard as a true freshman last year.

SEC Honors

The SEC honored another Auburn player this week in its weekly awards.
Any guesses as to which side of the ball this player plays?
That's right. Defense.
DE Antonio Coleman was named the SEC's Defensive Lineman of the Week. Coleman finished with four tackles, 1.5 for loss and a sack during Auburn's 14-12 win over Tennessee on Saturday. The junior now has four sacks this year.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Your starting quarterback is...

Still Chris Todd.
There you have it, straight from HC Tommy Tuberville, himself.

EDIT: Here's Tubs' quote:

"Chris will be our starter. I thought Kodi did good. He played 25 snaps and made some mistakes. He came in and gave us an opportunity to get the fans all excited. He did make some athletic plays. The more he plays the better he's going to get. We need to get him in there. But you've got to have a starting quarterback and a backup. I'm proud of him. That third-and-5 play was huge. He looked like he'd been out there forever and made that play. That's just a step closer for him growing up."

Tubs did add that fans can expect to see Kodi Burns again and more regularly. In case you forgot, Auburn tried the two-QB system earlier this year against Louisiana-Monroe to limited results.
Apparently the two-QB system is here to stay.
Are you, the fans, ready to embrace it?


I had to look outside to make sure the sun wasn't blue and the grass wasn't red when I heard this news: ESPN's College GameDay is coming to Nashville, Tenn. for this week's Auburn-Vanderbilt tilt.
Stop laughing.
I'm serious.
Vandy, in case you were wondering, is 4-0 with a 2-0 conference record. The Commodores are ranked 19th in both polls.
Auburn (4-1, 2-1) is now ranked 13th in the AP poll and 14th in the Coaches' Poll.
If you would have guessed before the season that GameDay would be in attendance for this game, I would have told you to seek mental evaluation.

Surviving the scare

Here's my game story from Auburn's 14-12 win over Tennessee. It's wrapped in a different package, but the themes sound awfully familiar: Offense struggles, defense bails it out. It doesn't matter how good you are as a writer when you're trying to review the same bad movie with the same bad script.

The big story today will be, SURPRISE, quarterbacks. Who's starting this week? HC Tommy Tuberville promised the coaching staff would re-evaluate the QB situation. Here's the problem: Chris Todd looked as good as he has ever looked at Auburn during the first half. Kodi Burns came in late in the second quarter and Todd was not the same. He struggled badly in the second half, including a costly interception that set up Tennessee's only touchdown. Late in the fourth quarter, Tuberville or OC Tony Franklin had to make the call to replace Todd with Burns.

Did Todd pout on the sideline? You be the judge:

"You can look at that different ways, but whatever issues are going through
your head or whatever when you're on the sideline, I've got to do a better job
of controlling that," Todd said. "If that's the case, that's on me. The fact of the matter is when you're in the game, you've got to make plays. I thought we were pretty
smooth in the first half. We came out slow after that. That's just part of

Give Todd credit for saying what he said and not denying his benching was a problem. Also give credit to Todd for answering every questions reporters had for him. I personally got over to Todd late after a large wave of reporters was leaving. He graciously stayed a little longer to let me ask him more questions, including the one that yielded that quote.

Burns, on the hand, played OK when he was called upon to relieve Todd. In his first drive of the fourth quarter, Burns kept on three rushes. UT easily stopped Burns and the drive for a three-and-out. Burns did, however, complete the game-clinching pass to Montez Billings on third-and-5.

Just to be clear about how poorly the offense played in the second half, the 10-yard completion was easily Auburn's biggest offensive highlight after halftime.

Much more to come later.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Herbstreit on Finebaum

ESPN GameDay's Kirk Herbstreit went on The Paul Finebaum radio show on Thursday afternoon and was asked about Tony Franklin's spread offense at Auburn.
Here's a brief summary of what Herbstreit had to say after spending some time at Auburn last weekend:

  • "I'm a huge fan of Tommy Tuberville. I'm a huge fan of his style of football, I'm just not quite seeing the spread offense."
  • Every year Tubs has a defense that can play, run and is physical. Look at o-line, that's a strength. RBs, a strength. Chris Todd and WRs, that's a weakness. "If I've got a defense that's lights out and I've got a running game and a big, powerful offensive line, I understand it's a spread attack, but if you're going to have to spread it, spread them out and run. My offense would be run the ball and punt. I would look forward to a punt just so my defense could get back out on the field."
  • Offense might end up being best in SEC, Herbstreit still wouldn't like it because it doesn't complement Tuberville's philosophy.
  • Spread attack makes it harder for defense to get run-first look in practice.

It's hard to disagree with much of what Herbstreit had to say. However, what he doesn't point out is that Tuberville made the decision to hire Franklin for more than one year.

As fans have seen recently, Tuberville isn't much into risk-taking these days. He took an enormous risk in hiring Franklin. Why? Tuberville has said he thinks the spread offense is the best way to score enough points regularly to be a national championship contender.

That leaves Auburn in a difficult position this year. Franklin's been hired to run a spread offense, yet he doesn't have spread offense talent. Instead, he's got I-formation run game talent. That's a bad mix and it's showing right now.

Franklin got lucky, in a way, at Troy when he landed Omar Haugabook. Haugabook was a perfect fit for the spread offense, which he had run at a community college for two years. Kodi Burns could be a good fit, but hasn't run the offense for two years (in college). Chris Todd knows the offense incredibly well, but doesn't have near the arm he once had. Add that to the fact that Auburn's receivers aren't accustomed to the spread and it's easy to see why the passing game has struggled.

I think Auburn found something in Todd's ability to throw on roll-outs. Expect to see more of that this week. Franklin is learning on the fly, and that's not what Auburn fans want to hear. However, wait and see what Franklin does with two years of recruiting before shipping him off to college football's wastelands.

On another front: It sounds like Auburn fans can expect Mario Fannin to move back to RB soon, if Tuberville was speaking candidly this week. There might be plans to move him back to tailback after the receiver experiment has not gone as well as the coaches probably hoped. With Tristan Davis and Brad Lester leaving after this year, Auburn could use more RBs.

You've got to love Auburn DTs coach Don Dunn. After Auburn coaches and players said all week that LSU dominated the run game because Auburn lined up incorrectly, Dunn called that assessment "bull crap." Everyone gets signs from the sidelines, meaning if they lined up incorrectly, it was their fault. Good stuff and a rare breath of fresh air in college football.

Some of my fellow beat writers think Kodi Burns could play a bigger (read: any) role this weekend. I don't have the same read. We'll find out in a matter of hours.

As I wrote in today's game preview, it's interesting that Tennessee comes in to Jordan-Hare Stadium as a desperate team. The last time Tennessee came calling was in 2003. At the time, UT was the no. 7 team in the nation. Tuberville was on the hot seat after starting 2-2 with a team that several publications picked to win a national championship. Auburn won that game 28-21. How dangerous will a desperate Tennessee team be this week?

Question/comments? Leave them in the comments section. I'll respond to anything you might have. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Notes from Tuesday's practice

AUBURN — Auburn quarterback Chirs Todd made a difference this week by utilizing himself in the running game.
Before the LSU game, Todd said he needed to run more to make defenders respect him as a threat.
He only gained 23 yards on eight carries, but LSU did have to keep an eye on him.
“I think that’s something I’m going to have to do,” Todd said. “It helps open up the run game a lot and they need to respect that. I think it helped. I think it helped the running backs, too, because the backside d-ends can’t go after them.”
That wasn’t the only way Todd’s feet helped the offense.
When LSU’s defense started pressuring Todd in the pocket, Franklin started calling more designed rollouts on passing plays.
“It was really more dictated by the game and them bringing some pressure,” Todd said. “It made it a little easier on the o-line. I think the big thing, and you don’t see a lot of it when you’re doing it.”
Todd credited his experience at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College for his ability to throw on the run.
“Throwing on the run, that part of my game improved a ton,” Todd said. “It helped a lot and it was very beneficial for some stuff we were able to do in the game this past week.”

BOUNCING BACK: Cornerback Neiko Thorpe caught Jerraud Powers’ attention Saturday night, not by his play, but by his attitude.
Powers was concerned that Thorpe might get down after the true freshman got beaten for LSU’s first touchdown. Instead, he came to the sideline, confessed to making a technical mistake and then pushed for another opportunity.
“He was like, ‘I’m fine, though. I’m good. I’m ready to go back out there and make another play,’” Powers said. “I thought that was pretty impressive coming from a freshman. When he went back out there, he went out and made a tackle on third down and I was just like, ‘That’s the way to respond: Just keep playing football.’
“He realizes that you’re not going to play corner in college football and not get beat deep. He realizes that and he responded to it.”

Another true freshman, strong-side linebacker Spencer Pybus, is making his way up the Auburn depth chart.
Pybus had not been listed on the two-deep, but when Craig Stevens needed to rest during the LSU game, Auburn turned to Pybus instead of backup Courtney Harden.
Now Pybus is considered Stevens’ backup.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Pybus said. “I was blessed with a wonderful opportunity. I just try and make the best of it every day.”

INJURY REPORT: Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville said tailback Brad Lester (knee) is fine and will play Saturday against Tennessee.
“He was out there today running around,” Tuberville said during his weekly press conference. “He’s just sore. He should be ready to go.”
Another tailback, Tristan Davis, was injured when he got kicked in the head by one of his teammates on a kickoff return. Tuberville said Davis still has a headache, but should be able to play. Davis will not participate in contact drills before Saturday.
Safety Zac Etheridge sustained a stinger in the second quarter against LSU. He re-entered the game later in the same quarter and is expected to play this weekend.

– Compiled by Luke Brietzke

Tuesday updates

We'll start with injuries.

  • RB Brad Lester (ankle/knee) is fine. He'll play Saturday.
  • RB Tristan Davis (head) still has headaches. He'll probably play Saturday, but won't participate in contact drills until Saturday.
  • S Zac Etheridge (stinger) is fine. He finished the LSU game after missing a few series. He'll play Saturday.

Here's what else we've got:

  • Lots of guys who were requested by the media today did not oblige. Injured players are off-limits. Apparently bruised egos qualify. I choose not to mention any of the culprits.
  • Auburn coaches and players still refuse to give LSU any credit for the manhandling the LSU o-line dished out. Everyone is sticking with the "misalign" story. I guess that's in the same vein as "misremembering." HC Tommy Tuberville said in his press conference today that the team lined up wrong "five or six times." DE Antonio Coleman guessed it was 90 percent of the time. I'm not sure which guess is more accurate and I will likely never know. Here's the bottom line: LSU dominated the line of scrimmage against a very good Auburn defense.
  • Auburn DTs coach Don Dunn is pleased with his group's performance (or at least was until the second half of the LSU game), but says it's still a work in progress. Read Thursday's Anniston Star for more on the interior linemen's success.
  • WRs and QB Chris Todd say one QB has meant better chemistry for the Auburn offense. They'll need plenty of chemistry against UT's Eric Berry this weekend. He's one of the nation's best CBs.
  • Tuberville made a point to talk about how well Todd played outside the pocket against LSU. Part of that was necessity, because LSU was getting a good pass rush, but now it might become part of the gameplan. Todd credited his junior college days for his ability to throw on the run.
  • True freshman LB Spencer Pybus has surpassed senior LB Courtney Harden on the depth chart. Both back up Craig Stevens, but when he came out of the LSU game, Pybus replaced him.

Changing places

I saw true freshman DE Jomarcus Savage walking through the hall today in a sling, meaning Auburn is down to four defensive ends. Though no official statement has been made about Savage's injury, it's clear he won't play in the near future.

Savage had been the fifth DE since Raven Gray is taking a redshirt and A.J. Greene moved to offensive line.

Two players said that DT Zach Clayton, a pass-rush specialist, has moved outside and will play as a pass-rush end in the near future.

Clayton is considered one of the best rushers on Auburn's roster and DTs coach Don Dunn has frequently used him in passing downs.

For more on the move, read tomorrow's Anniston Star.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Doolittle shines for Tigers

AUBURN — Tuberville said Sunday that sixth-year senior defensive tackle Tez Doolittle played the best game of his collegiate career on Saturday.
As a reward, Doolittle will make his first career start this week against Tennessee.
“It means a lot to me. I’ve been working my tail off trying to get to that spot, and I finally got there now,” Doolittle said. “I’m really excited about it. I’m just hoping I can hold it down.”
Mike Blanc started ahead of Doolittle against LSU, but Doolittle played 35 plays while Blanc was in the game for only 18.
Doolittle finished the game with four tackles, including half a sack.
Doolittle was granted a medical redshirt last year after he tore his Achilles heel. At the time, Doolittle was told to expect a 16-month recovery.
It took him just half that time — eight months — to get ready to start playing football again.
Now he’s earned his way into the starting lineup.
Auburn defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said he didn’t expect such rapid improvement from Doolittle.
“I didn’t think he would start playing until about this next game,” Rhoads said. “I really believed it was going to be five, six, seven … somewhere around midseason before we could start counting on him. That he was ready to go in the first game and played as well as he played in the first game has been a tremendous asset to our defense this year.”
• Final play: Rod Smith revealed on Sunday that the final play, on which he was tackled three yards shy of a first down, was intended to be a hook-and-lateral.
Smith caught Chris Todd’s pass along the sideline, but was hit as he caught it. When Smith was tackled, he didn’t have first-down yardage and LSU was able to take a knee to end the game.
However, Smith was supposed to pitch the ball back to fellow receiver Mario Fannin.
“He said he was there, but I didn’t even have a chance to look at him,” Smith said. “As soon as I caught the ball, I got tackled.”
• Lester to get MRI: Brad Lester suffered an injury to his leg during the third quarter of Saturday night’s game with LSU.
Tuberville initially said the injury was to Lester’s ankle, but said Sunday that Lester would get an MRI on his knee.
“I talked to Dr. (James) Andrews afterward,” Tuberville said. “He said it felt stable but there’s really no reason to predict the future. We’ll just have to wait to see how the MRI came out. There’s a lot of guys beat up on both sides.
“That was a pretty tough deal. He got twisted around and his cleats got caught in the ground. It’s just one of those things. Brad’s had a tough start.”
Tuberville didn’t immediately know Lester’s status for Saturday’s game against Tennessee.
Several other Auburn players were hurt during Saturday’s game. Safety Zac Etheridge (bruised shoulder), receiver Robert Dunn (ligament in right hand), tailback Tristan Davis (head) and Doolittle (sprained wrist) all suffered injuries.
Etheridge, Dunn and Doolittle all finished the game.
• Line problems: Some of Auburn’s offensive problems Saturday night came from the offensive line.
Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin was asked to describe the line’s performance.
“Not very good,” Franklin said. “It was obvious, compared to how we normally block, it wasn’t as good. Pass protection was good with the exception of a couple of blunders. It wasn’t physical, it was mental. Outside of that, we did a good job in pass protection.”
Franklin made a point to talk about LSU and how strong its front seven is, but this marks back-to-back sub-par performances for an offensive line that was supposed to be a team strength.
Offensive tackle Lee Ziemba, in particular, had some difficulties. Most notably, Ziemba was beaten on a first-down sack during Auburn’s final possession.
Todd lost 15 yards on the play and Auburn fell three yards short on a fourth-and-25 two plays later.
“He either heard or assumed a call that was made that wasn’t,” Franklin said. “He thought that he was taking the right guy.”
Against Mississippi State two weeks ago, there were nine penalties called against the Auburn offensive line.
The unit cut down on the penalties this week, but couldn’t control the line of scrimmage. Auburn never set up the run and allowed Todd to get sacked twice — both in critical situations.
One sack knocked the Tigers out of field goal range and the other forced Auburn into a long-yardage situation.
— Luke Brietzke

Next day

After Auburn lost a heartbreaker to LSU last night, here are the answers I'm searching for today:

  • What's going on with left offensive tackle Lee Ziemba? He was so good as a true freshman last season and has seemingly struggled this year. What's the story there?
  • LSU dominated last night in the running game. How much of that was LSU's offensive line and how much was poor execution on Auburn's part? DC Paul Rhoads threw the defense under the bus last night, saying the team didn't fit well, play good line assignments or tackle well. What does he think after watching film?
  • Chris Todd seemed to play well yesterday. How did he grade out?
  • What are both coordinators' thoughts on their first loss at Auburn? How are they handling the defeat?
  • Where does Charles Scott rank among RBs Auburn has faced recently?

I'll have answers tonight. Make sure you read tomorrow's Anniston Star.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

It's Game Day

So who's going to win? Well, let's stick with the facts. Here's what we know:

  • The home team has won the last eight games in this series. Tonight's game is at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
  • The loser of tonight's game has no historical chance of winning the SEC West. Since the SEC went to divisional play, the loser of this game has never gone to the SEC Championship Game. The winner of the game, meanwhile, has played for the SEC championship four times in the past five years.
  • There are two great defenses tonight. Auburn has allowed an average of five points per game this year. LSU has allowed just eight. After Auburn won 3-2 last week, would an 8-5 score really be all that shocking?
  • LSU's offense has stormed out of the gates. The defending champs are averaging 41 points per game -- against Appalachian State and North Texas. This ain't North Texas.
  • Auburn's offense managed just three points last weekend. This ain't Mississippi State's defense.
  • The media is split. Six writers from Sporting News Today all selected LSU to win the game. Meanwhile, ESPN on-air personalities Mike Tirico, Scott Van Pelt, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit all picked Auburn, as did ESPN SEC blogger Chris Low. Desmond Howard, however, did select LSU.
  • There is a strong possibility that there could be more quarterbacks played (as many as five if LSU true freshman Jordan Jefferson plays) than touchdowns scored.
  • The last four games of this series have been decided by seven points or less.

I made my pick early in the week and I decided not to change it. I picked LSU to win 20-10.

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What we learned on Tuesday

Everyone still wants to know about the QB situation, so here's the story: Chris Todd is the starter. He will be the starter unless coaches see a reason for change. If I had to bet, and thankfully I don't, I would bet Todd plays every offensive snap barring injury.
Some of my fellow beat writers have come to Todd's defense this week in conversation. They say his throws were held up by the wind on Saturday night. There was a stiff wind, but not a 30 mph wind or anything of that magnitude. It's something that most experienced QBs would have been accustomed to, I believe. Regardless, Todd still has plenty of people who think he's more than capable of leading this team.
Frankly, so do I. I believe Todd is the safer choice between he and Kodi Burns. Here's the problem with that: HC Tommy Tuberville hired OC Tony Franklin to get away from safe choices. Safe choices got Auburn close to the top of the SEC, but not to the pinnacle.
In many ways, Todd is like Brandon Cox. He's consistent, he manages the game well and he's not a run threat. Todd, damaged shoulder and all, probably has a better arm than Cox. Still, that's the exact type of QB Auburn fans have hoped to get away from. That's why I think there's been so much hostility toward the decision to start Todd.
I do think Todd gives Auburn a better chance to win in one week, but Burns has significantly more upside. He has a grasp on the offense, but doesn't always execute properly under the lights. That's a significant problem.
My real question is simple: If Auburn is so intent to run the ball, as it was against Mississippi State, why not go to the better running option? Seems simple.

Enough QBs. On to the RBs. Several beat writers think Brad Lester will start this week. I'm not yet among them. I'm often skeptical of players "having a long way to go before they play," but in this instance, with a neck injury, there will likely be more caution. Still, if the decision is really Lester's, he'll be in the lineup. Either way, Ben Tate has been the featured back so far this year. Tristan Davis is at least proving he's healthy. Eric Smith didn't play Saturday and is probably in the doghouse for his fumble against USM, but has proven capable as well. RB is not an issue for Auburn.

The players understand how big this week's game is. I will have a story on this for Saturday's paper, but in speaking to the players, this has an Iron Bowl-type build-up. If you're a fan of defense, you should be excited as well. LSU is loaded with NFL talent. Auburn has one of the nation's most stout defenses. A word of gambling advice (not that I encourage that type of thing): Take the under.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Offensive players unhappy

AUBURN — Backup quarterback Kodi Burns met with reporters Tuesday and said that watching Auburn’s dismal offensive showing was frustrating on Saturday.
“I’m pretty sure it was frustrating for a lot of people, including myself,” Burns said. “You just have to sit back and wait your turn. Hopefully you get a chance to go out there and make a play. Of course, I wasn’t able to make a play or chance, but we’ll see about this week.”
After starting in the first game, Burns played sparingly against Southern Mississippi. Chris Todd emerged as the starter after the USM game and Burns didn’t play at all during the Tigers’ 3-2 win against Mississippi State.
Burns described his relationship with offensive coordinator Tony Franklin as “kind of more like a business relationship.”
Burns said he didn’t know whether or not he would play last week. He also said he wasn’t sure he would play against LSU.
Burns wasn’t the only player frustrated with the offensive output on Saturday.
Receiver Tim Hawthorne said he thought he was open several times, but didn’t get the ball.
“Just like everybody else,” Hawthorne said. “It’s just a matter of quarterbacks trusting the receivers and the receivers expecting the ball. (We’re open) from our perspective. But at the same time, you’ve got to look at it from a quarterback’s perspective.
“A lot of times that myself and a lot of other receivers are getting open, but the quarterback’s got the ball. He’s got to get it to you. I guess I’d just like to see us take more chances. I think we’ve been a little conservative.”
Todd said he thinks the Y receiver, the position Hawthorne plays, has gotten open several times this season.
Now it’s a matter of getting the ball to the open receiver more often.
“There are plays that can be made,” Todd said. “We just need to make them.”
— Luke Brietzke

Monday, September 15, 2008

Notes from after the weekend

AUBURN — Look for Wadley native Terrell Zachery to take on an increased role in the Auburn offense this week.
Zachery was the first player Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin singled out Sunday as someone who had earned more playing time.
“We’re trying to figure out what everybody can do — what are their best assets?” Franklin said. “Then we make sure they’re in there doing that.
“Zachery, for example. He came in and time after time after time, he made unbelievable blocks. Great feet. Great leverage. Busted his butt and he’s a good receiver. That tells me that he needs to play more. We’re not playing him enough. He’s very unselfish when he comes in and does that stuff.”
Zachery started the season-opener, but has played sparingly in the past two games.
He did register his first collegiate catch during Auburn’s 27-13 win against Southern Mississippi.
• MCFADDEN’S BIG MOMENT: Cornerback Jerraud Powers laughed Sunday afternoon when asked about Walt McFadden’s game-clinching interception.
Defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads called the play one of the greatest interceptions he had ever seen, but Powers thought there was a great deal of luck involved.
“(It was) one hell of a play and one lucky catch,” Powers said. “Walt never catches picks in practice. That’s the thing: Coach Rhoads gets on him all the time for dropping picks in practice. Rhoads always says if you drop them in practice, you’re going to drop them in the game.
“So, Walt’s beat on a stop-and-go. And they teach us to play the receiver’s hands and the receiver flashes his hands, and (Walt) throws his hands up and, boom, the ball gets stuck on his shoulder pads. I’m like, ‘What in the world?’
“It was just one of those plays. We needed it. He knew we need a big play and he made it and I’m happy for it.”
As Powers said, Mississippi State receiver Brandon McRae burnt McFadden on a stop-and-go on the play. McFadden was in recovery mode when he batted the ball up out of McRae’s hands.
McFadden said it was an easy catch from there.
“It was a play we watched a few times today in enjoyment,” Rhoads said.
• D-LINE SHINES: Rhoads said that while linebacker Tray Blackmon was the defense’s most valuable player on Saturday, the defensive linemen played their assignments perfectly.
That made it very difficult for Mississippi State to establish the run.
“We just didn’t lose any of those gaps hardly all evening,” Rhoads said. “Because of that, we were successful at stopping the run. There’s nine guys that you’re talking about and all of them are stepping forward and playing extremely hard and extremely well.”
Tuberville made a point to single out the defensive tackles for their strong work.
The rotation of Sen’Derrick Marks, Mike Blanc, Tez Doolittle, Zach Clayton and Jake Ricks has gone from an unknown to one of the strongest parts of the team.
“I like all five of our defensive tackles,” Tuberville said. “That’s one reason we’re playing good defense. We’ve got guys rest, moving them in and out. It’s important you have depth in games like that early in the season.”
Blackmon led the team with six tackles and was named the defensive player of the game. Tuberville said it was his best college game.
• KICKING HIMSELF: Wes Byrum did not have a memorable night on Saturday.
The sophomore kicker produced all of Auburn’s points when he made a 35-yard field goal, but he made three bad mistakes in the game as well.
The first mistake came when he missed a 42-yard field goal. He later missed a chip-shot 22-yard field goal and later kicked a free kick out of bounds.
“(I was) disappointed in our special teams,” Tuberville said. “We can’t miss two field goals in conference games and not come away points. Our offense did the job in getting us down there, we just couldn’t take advantage and we should have had two more field goals.”
Byrum said Sunday that his mechanics were off during the game.
He also said the key is to forget about his troubles against the Bulldogs and get ready for LSU.
“I’m really just trying to forget about the last game,” Byrum said. “We should do the same thing every week, no matter who we’re playing. Just put last night into the back of our heads. It’s gone, and focus on what’s coming up.”
• LESTER OK: After a suffering a frightening neck injury Saturday night, Tuberville said tailback Brad Lester was walking around the athletic complex on Sunday.
Lester was walking on his own power after the game Saturday and was diagnosed with a sprained neck.
Tuberville said X-rays and the MRI turned out negative, but Lester would still go see neurosurgeon Dr. Swaid Swaid in Birmingham this week.
During the post-game press conference, Tuberville said Lester would play this week against LSU. He backed off that comment Sunday, saying his status is currently unclear.
• BURNS NOTICE: Tuberville said Sunday that he was the reason backup quarterback Kodi Burns didn’t play against Mississippi State.
Chris Todd won the starting quarterback spot just last week. Tuberville and Franklin both repeatedly said Burns would still have a role on the offense.
“I know everybody wonders why Kodi didn’t play,” Tuberville said. “A lot of that had to do with me. I thought putting him in a situation where our back was to the wall a lot in certain situations, I wanted it to be a positive note when he goes back in the game. And we’ve got to find the right situation.”
• ‘GAMEDAY’ VISIT: ESPN’s weekly college football preview show, College GameDay, announced on Sunday it would broadcast live from Auburn this weekend, highlighting the Auburn-LSU tilt.
Auburn is 5-3 when GameDay features its games. The Tigers have won their past four GameDay games. The most recent win came in 2006, when Auburn upset No. 2 Florida, 27-17.
• JUMPED BY ALABAMA: The Crimson Tide jumped Auburn in the AP top 25 when the newest poll was released on Sunday. Auburn is ranked 10th while Alabama cracked the top 10 at no. 9.
Auburn is still ranked ahead of Alabama in the USA Today Poll, where the Tigers are no. 9 and the Crimson Tide is no. 13.
— Luke Brietzke

More TV

CBS announced today that it will televise Auburn's Sept. 27 contest against Tennessee at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 CST.
Auburn has gotten more love than ever before from national television. Anyone living in the Southeast will be able to watch 10 of Auburn's 12 games this year in all likelihood (including likely Raycom matchups against Vanderbilt, Arkansas and Ole Miss). The nation will likely be able to watch seven Auburn games this year: Mississippi State, LSU, Tennessee, West Virginia, Georgia and Alabama.
I attribute that to two things:
First, and most importantly, HC Tommy Tuberville has raised the entire program into national prominence on a yearly basis. It doesn't matter which players Auburn has coming back, you can slate the Tigers in as a top-25 team virtually every year. Some want Tuberville to bring home more SEC titles and that's certainly a solid argument since he's won just one in nine years. Still, it's hard to be upset with someone who is always in the picture for a spot in Atlanta.
Second is the obvious arrival of college football on the national scene. It's bigger than ever thanks to smalltown America. The NFL still dominates the East Coast, but college football proves that the East Coast doesn't run the sports media. Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame on the other hand...
Thanks to increased media coverage, it's getting easier to watch your favorite SEC team all season, whether you root for LSU, Alabama or Auburn.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Day After

A few things stood out from last night's game.
First and foremost, this offense has made no strides over the first two weeks. As has been written all over the state today, OC Tony Franklin is either voluntarily doing or being forced to do what former OC Al Borges did: Don't take chances; Don't screw things up for the defense. The offense nearly found a way to screw it up for the defense last night, but the Auburn D was just too good. Against Mississippi State anyway.

This defense is darn good. Possibly the best unit in the nation. Let's see them play a top-tier foe like LSU before calling them the best, but through three weeks the defense has been incredible.

Chris Todd makes some good reads. He knows where to go with the ball. He just can't always get it there. Whether or not his arm is 100 percent healthy no longer matters. If he can't make the throws, he shouldn't be in the game. On all three long completions last night, a good throw would have been an easy touchdown. On other throws, he had an open receiver deep but couldn't get it to them. There is way too much air under Todd's deep ball and defenders have plenty of time to cover ground. Against LSU, those completions could become interceptions. We'll get official word soon, but I anticipate Todd will start this week and that Kodi Burns will play less than 10 plays, if at all, against LSU.

Alabama jumped Auburn in the polls. Much will be made of this, but how can a rational voter possibly vote Auburn ahead of Alabama right now? Both teams are 3-0 and Alabama has a very nice win over Clemson. Auburn's most impressive win, well, what would you say it has been? Even the 34-0 win over Louisiana-Monroe was hardly impressive.

Tuberville said RB Brad Lester would play this week. I find that highly unlikely. We'll get an update today.

Finally, ESPN announced today that College GameDay is headed to the Plains for this weekend's tilt between Auburn and LSU. What does that mean for you? Well, if you want to get on ESPN, it means you have to wake up early. What it means for me is a heck of a lot more traffic on Saturday. I'm always anti-traffic, so this is bad news for me.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Game Day

Hello from Starkville, where I was woken suddenly and far too early this morning by the cowbells of some fellow hotel dwellers. I figured it was a fitting way to start the day.

Anyway, I'm headed to campus in about an hour. Once again, I will be updating the game through Twitter. You can get directions to sign up here.

I would like to hear from you about what to send in terms of updates. Right now, I'm sending scoring plays and scores at the end of quarters. What else would you like? Injury updates? Key stats? Ask and you shall receive.

Feel free to contact me at any time:

Friday, September 12, 2008

Game Preview

Tomorrow's Auburn-Mississippi State game should be interesting for several reasons.
First and foremost, this is the official beginning of Auburn being "Chris Todd's team." That era can end with one bad game, though both OC Tony Franklin and HC Tommy Tuberville have said Todd will have a long leash. How will Todd look now that he has the reins of the offense? As good as he looked last week, we shouldn't forget it was against Southern Mississippi -- not exactly an SEC opponent. This will be a good test for Todd.

MSU is known to have a big, physical defense. That matched up very well with Auburn's I-formation, pro-style offense last season. How will it match up against Franklin's spread offense? The Bulldogs played against two spread offense teams last year -- Kentucky and West Virginia. MSU had two entirely different results in those games. The Bulldogs waxed the Wildcats in Lexington, but got destroyed by WVU. If Auburn can play well and get skill players to the edges, I think tomorrow could get ugly. It's all about MSU trying to keep the Auburn RBs between the tackles -- something USM and Louisiana-Monroe completely failed to do.

Remember that last year, MSU won at Jordan-Hare Stadium simply by running the football. The Tigers knew the Bulldogs were planning to run right at them, yet they couldn't stop the visitors. Auburn's front seven against the MSU offensive line will be a major key. If MSU can't establish the run game, it can't establish the play-action game.

I look for the Bulldogs to try some play-action early in the contest and then try to establish the run. Auburn used to try that strategy, but Brandon Cox didn't have the arm strength to make defenses pay for loading the box. Wesley Carroll has a stronger arm than Cox and has the ability to keep the Auburn defense honest. He will have to.

Robert Dunn might have an enormous impact on tomorrow's game without touching the football. If MSU, as Sylvester Croom promised, punts the ball away from Dunn all night, it could cost the Bulldogs 20 yards of field position at a time. The Bulldogs don't have the offense to give away field position, so my guess is sooner or later, they'll have to kick to Dunn. Can he keep his success going?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

This and that from Auburn

Tigers getting healthy
Last week, Auburn had to wonder if it would have any players left by the end of September.
Now, the Tigers are near full-strength as they prepare for Mississippi State.
Tuberville said receiver James Swinton is healthy and will play this week.
Another receiver, Montez Billings, made his return to the lineup on Saturday. Tailback Tristan Davis also played after missing the season-opener.
The only players who won’t be available this week are offensive lineman Kyle Coulahan (recovering from pneumonia) and fullback John Douglas (knee).

McKenzie still wants to play TE
Three weeks after Gabe McKenzie moved from tight end to defensive end, he said he has adjusted well to defense.
McKenzie admitted Auburn’s schemes are significantly more complicated than the ones to which he adhered during high school – especially the gap assignments.
“I can say I’m almost there,” McKenzie said. “On film, Mike (Goggans) does stuff like a half-step faster than me. I’ve just got to get a little bit quicker and then I’ll be OK.”
McKenzie said he has no regrets about moving to defense, but he wants to have a chance to play offense as well.
“I want to play a little more tight end,” McKenzie said. “I’ll put that out there. They told me they’d put me there when they need me over there.”

All in the hands
Zach Clayton has made the most of his limited playing time through Auburn’s first two games this season.
The Opelika native earned his first sack of the season on Saturday and he has two other tackles for losses. All three of Clayton’s tackles have been for loss this year, meaning he’s doing exactly what he’s supposed to – helping the Tigers control the line of scrimmage even when the reserves are in the game.
Clayton said his handwork is the biggest reasons he’s seeing immediate results.
“I think I’m using my hands a lot better,” Clayton said. “I was really bad about using my forearms and not using my hands real well. I think it’s come a long way, but it still has to improve a good bit.”

– Compiled by Luke Brietzke

Monday, September 8, 2008

SEC Players of the Week

Both Alabama and Auburn got one this week. Here's the list from the SEC offices.


5-11 • 207 • Sophomore
Belford, N.J. (Middletown South HS)

• Moreno rushed for 168 yards on 18 carries and a career-high tying three touchdowns in Georgia’s 56-17 win over Central Michigan.

• Moreno also had three catches for 30 yards.

• He scored three touchdowns for the second week in a row and leads the SEC and tied for second in the nation in scoring (36 points).

• He had a 52-yard TD run and also had a 29-yard run in which he hurdled an opposing player.

• Moreno was part of an offense that racked up 552 total offensive yards.

6-0 • 222 • Junior
Southlake, Texas (Carroll HS)

• A second-year starter, Benoist turned in a career-best performance in Vanderbilt’s 24-17 victory against #24 South Carolina.

• Benoist contributed 15 total tackles, including a six-yard quarterback sack, a two-yard tackle for loss and a pass deflection against the Gamecocks.

• His performance helped the Commodores limit South Carolina to a lone second half score and 325 total offensive yards.

Return Specialist/Cornerback
5-9 • 198 • Junior
Tampa, Fla. (Robinson HS)

• Arenas had five punt returns for a school-record 147 yards and a TD in Alabama’s 20-6 win against Tulane.

• His 87-yard return for a score was the fifth longest in school history.

• The punt return record had stood for 61 years, since Harry Gilmer had 122 yards against Georgia in 1947.

• Arenas now has four punt returns for TDs in his career, tying him with David Palmer for the school record.

• He finished with 212 all-purpose yards and 3 tackles.

6-4 • 273 • Senior
Huntsville, Ala. (Grissom HS)

• In 70 plays, Bosley graded out at a team-best 94 percent in Auburn’s 27-13 win against Southern Miss.

• Against the Golden Eagles, Bosley tallied five “rodeo” blocks and two “cockroach” blocks.

• Bosley has moved from center to right tackle, playing exclusively at that position for the first time in his Auburn career.

• Auburn tallied 380 total offensive yards for a 5.1 yard per play average in 75 plays.

Defensive End
6-3 • 250 • Junior
Stone Mountain, Ga. (Stephenson HS)

• Cunningham logged nine total tackles (five solos) with two for losses (-10 yards), including a sack (-8 yards) in Florida’s 23-3 win against Miami (Fla.).

• The Gator defense held Miami to three points, the fewest the Gators have allowed the Hurricanes since 1960 (UF, 18-0).

• The Gator defense held the Hurricanes to just 140 yards of total offense and forced nine punts.

Wide Receiver
6-0 • 175
Little Rock, Ark. (Central Arkansas Christian)

• Adams led Arkansas with seven catches for 89 yards in the Razorbacks’ 28-27 win over Louisiana-Monroe.

• Adams’ seven catches were the most by a Razorback in a single game since 2005 (7 by Peyton Hillis vs. Auburn).

• Two of his catches came to aid Arkansas’ fourth-quarter comeback, netting first downs on each catch.

• He also recorded a nine-yard rush against the Warhawks.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Offensive line switch paying dividends

AUBURN – The Tigers’ decision to move Ryan Pugh to center and Jason Bosley to right tackle worked well Saturday during the trial run.
Pugh played well at center and the snaps were more on-target than the previous week.
Bosley played well enough to earn Auburn’s Offensive Player of the Week honors.
While center is Pugh’s natural position, Bosley hadn’t played tackle since he was a high school freshman.
“I graded out 94,” Bosley said. “I thought I played really well for my first time at tackle. It's the first time I played tackle since my freshman year in high school. It’s a lot different going from center to tackle. I thought I played well. I have a lot of things I still need to work on — technique and getting comfortable out there.”
Bosley and Pugh said they didn’t know about the move until Auburn offensive line coach Hugh Nall told them on Wednesday. Pugh works regularly at center, but Bosley had just two days to adjust to the new position.
The move worked so well that Tuberville said the Tigers would keep both players at their respective positions from last week.
• Celebration rules eliminating fun: Tuberville said he watched Washington’s controversial loss to BYU on Saturday.
He said there is a temptation to blame the officials.
“We said eight or nine years ago when they started doing this, you start taking the excitement and fun out of it,” Tuberville said. “There’s not a lot of fun in football if you can’t celebrate and have a good time. It’s kind of structured too much.
“But a rule’s a rule. They were pretty picky on that, but I can’t say they were wrong because there is that rule.”
• Slaughter out indefinitely: Tuberville confirmed on Sunday that receiver Chris Slaughter has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.
Tuberville said Slaughter is still on the team, but it would be “a while” before he played again.
“You’ve just got to go by the rules,” Tuberville said. “He’s in the doghouse.”
— Luke Brietzke

What we learned

We did, in fact, speak with Kodi Burn this afternoon. It's easy to tell he is discouraged by the decision and it's hard to blame him. Chris Todd was almost apologetic for winning the job. Still, Tommy Tuberville certainly left the door open for Burns to be a goal-line QB and also play more than that.
I don't believe this is the end of the QB competition. I think Todd's first sub-par game coupled with a loss will get the coaches to re-examine the situation, though nobody is saying that for certain. The reason I think that is because Tuberville said this today: "He's been a big part of what we're doing and he'll continue that. That's not to say in a couple of weeks that he's not the starter. That's how this business goes."
That hardly says the competition is over.
For now, though, Todd will get more practice reps and that's very important for Auburn's success this season.
For more info, read tomorrow's Anniston Star.

We're starting to learn more about the Bynes/Blackmon situation. Per Tuberville, it seems Bynes is earning playing time because of his pass coverage skills. D-coord Paul Rhoads says we are making too much of the situation and it's a matter of substitution and the fact that the coaches are comfortable with Bynes. Still, Blackmon is the starter and there isn't any question about that.

Sunday storylines

Here's what I'm looking for today:

How is Kodi Burns handling the QB situation? I'm betting we aren't able to talk to Burns today. As a reporter, that stinks. Still, if I'm working for Auburn, I'm not sure I want Burns talking to the media today after he has officially been demoted to QB2. I can understand if they decide not to make Burns available.

Resolution to the Tray Blackmon situation. Blackmon isn't playing nearly as much as one would assume a starter would play. Josh Bynes has spelled Blackmon several times in each of the first two games. Blackmon said yesterday that he has no injury and that Bynes has simply earned playing time. I'd like to see what James Willis has to say. We've been unable to speak with position coaches except after games since a week before the first game.

How important is open-field tackling to the defensive success so far this year? DBs Walt McFadden, Jerraud Powers and Neiko Thorpe have all done an excellent job taking down receivers in space. Is that imperative with the cushions they give off the line of scrimmage?

How is the offense handling Chris Todd getting named the starter?

That's all for now. I'll check in again later.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Impressions from Tuesday's press conference

Chris Todd will start at quarterback for Auburn this weekend. Kodi Burns is "questionable," but HC Tommy Tuberville said that didn't factor into the decision to start Todd. Apparently, Tuberville and OC Tony Franklin had an agreement that Burns would start one week and Todd would start the next.
Does that sound familiar? Perhaps like playing one quarterback one series and another quarterback on the next?
Either way, at least Auburn took all the drama out of the QB situation this week. If Burns is healthy enough to play -- and I would bet the farm on him playing after every receiver plus Todd and Brad Lester today said he looked fine in practice -- both will still play.
Franklin has promised a new rotation scheme, but how it works remains to be seen and is still at least a mystery to the media. My hunch is Todd will get the first few series and Burns will get his first snap either late in the first quarter or early in the second. We'll have to wait until Saturday to know for certain.
I also believe this will be the last week of Auburn having co-starters. After last week's performance, both QBs would have to light up the scoreboard like a pinball machine for the Tiegrs to carry the two-QB disaster into Starkville. Franklin, Tuberville and most of the players want to have both QBs play, but for one of them to be "the guy."
Will it hurt one of the QBs' feelings? Absolutely. Is it a necessity for Auburn to contend for the SEC West? I believe so.
Several people have said the QBs looked like they were too afraid to lose the position and not brave enough to win the position. After six months of competition, both QBs had a lot to lose on Saturday.
Not any more. Burns and Todd have to trust themselves and the offense more this week. If they don't, the short passing game won't be available because teams won't respect the deep pass -- pretty much what happened last week.
Look for Franklin to find ways to get both QBs to take vertical chances early in their outings and see which QB has the most confidence in unleashing the deep pass.

Wednesday's story is about DT Tez Doolittle, who made a triumphant return to the football field Saturday after his career supposedly ended with a devastating injury in preseason camp 07.

The SEC certainly had its bright spots in the opening weekend of college football -- none moreso than Alabama's dominant effort against Clemson on Saturday night. Ole Miss, LSU, Florida and Kentucky also posted impressive wins over the weekend. Hey, Vandy even won.
The lowlights: Tennessee deciding to play things far too conservatively in its OT loss to UCLA, Mississippi State losing to La. Tech and Arkansas getting pushed to the limit by Division I-AA Western Illinois.