Monday, November 17, 2008

Iron Bowl time set

CBS picked up the rights to broadcast the 2008 Iron Bowl, which means the game will begin at 2:30 p.m. CST.

No. 1 Alabama (11-0, 7-0) hosts Auburn (5-6, 2-5) at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa on Saturday, Nov. 29.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fannin ready to get more carries

AUBURN — Last week, Mario Fannin led all tailbacks in carries.
Thursday, running backs coach Eddie Gran said that wasn’t because the Tigers were playing UT-Martin. It also wasn’t a fluke.
“His effort and his production could allow him to start this week,” Gran said.
Gran didn’t commit to Fannin starting, but said he wanted to get one of the three primary tailbacks more carries than the others.
Apparently, Fannin is leading the competition, with Ben Tate and Brad Lester trailing. Tate leads the team in rushing yards. Lester has started the most games this season.
Fannin appears to have passed each on the depth chart.
“I like the effort of Mario Fannin,” Gran said. “I like what he’s doing. He’s really come along here in the last three weeks. I think last week he got a pretty good dose of it — like 30 or so snaps — and I think he’s finally feeling comfortable at the running back position, being moved from receiver.”
Fannin became a part-time receiver when then-offensive coordinator Tony Franklin wanted to get him the ball in more ways.
When Fannin separated his shoulder during the spring, Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville decided to move him to receiver full-time.
Fannin graciously accepted the position change, but never fully adapted.
By midseason, Tuberville decided to move Fannin back to tailback.
Now Fannin has an opportunity to start the team’s final two games.
“He’s so physical. He brings that spark to the football team,” Gran said. “He’s downhill. He’s missed some holes where he should have been, but he’s not the only one who has done that. He just brings a spark because of his energy. I think he's a big-play guy.”
• SLOWING KNOWSHON: Auburn defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said Thursday that the key to slowing Georgia’s offense is eliminating the running game.
As many defenses have already realized, keeping Georgia tailback Knowshon Moreno bottled up isn’t easy.
“You get him wrapped up and you think he’s down and he slips away,” Rhoads said. “He’s fallen down and he plants a hand and keeps his balance and comes back out of there.
“I think he’s got a heavyweight fighter mentality, where he’s coming at you every round. He shows that by how fast he bounces up and runs back to the huddle. That sends a message. That’s an attitude that he sends to you that says, ‘You got to bring more than that because I’m here for all 60 minutes.’ If that gets to you with his success than that can wear you down.”
The Bulldogs have a strong passing attack, but Rhoads said a good portion of the passing game is based off play-action.
If the Tigers can slow Moreno, they wouldn’t have to honor the play-action game with safeties and linebackers.
“We’ve got to wrap up, we’ve got to gang tackle and we can’t be satisfied until the whistle blows and he’s on the ground,” Rhoads said.
• HULL KICKING: Tuberville publicly said he hadn’t made up his mind whether Wes Byrum or Morgan Hull would kickoff this week.
Gran, who doubles as the special teams coach, wasn’t so politically correct.
Hull, Gran said, will kickoff Saturday.
“He’s better,” Gran said. “He puts in the spot we want it. His hang time has been better. Those are the two biggest things. It’s a huge difference, and that’s what Hull has brought to the table for us — just a little bit more production, and in practice, too. It was good to get him last week to let him get into that game atmosphere.”
• PLAYING ‘UGLY’: After Auburn’s win Saturday, Rhoads said he found one critic who didn’t think his defense played very well — his wife.
“With all the yardage that was given up — my wife and I had a discussion about this Saturday, how it didn’t look very pretty — we gave up one big pass play all game long,” Rhoads said. “That was a game where we wanted to stop the run, which we did, and we wanted to control the pass, which I felt we did. And I agree, it didn’t look pretty all the time, but we accomplished our objective.”
UT-Martin, an FCS program, threw for 285 yards against Auburn. Most of those yards, though, came on passes of less than 20 yards.
Rhoads said he wasn’t pleased with his defense’s speed, but was happy to win.
“I think we played slow at times and didn’t execute very well,” Rhoads said. “I take personally in practice when we practice slow and don’t play very well.”
• INJURY REPORT: Rhoads said his defense’s biggest problem last week was the lack of pressure generated by what was mostly a second-team defensive line.
This week, he gets linemen Antonio Coleman, Tez Doolittle and Sen’Derrick Marks back.
“It’s probably immeasurable how much it helps,” Rhoads said. “You can’t play great defense without being good at the line of scrimmage, and having all those bodies back makes us better at the line of scrimmage. Those are good football players. They need to be out on the field for us to be successful, and they need to be out on the field healthy.”
The Tigers get all three defensive starters back this week.
They could get two more as well.
Tuberville said linebacker Merrill Johnson was doubtful because of a broken hand, but Rhoads said not only would Johnson play, he would be at full speed when the Tigers play the Bulldogs.
Receiver Montez Billings (broken nose) could also play this week. Tuberville declared him “doubtful” on Tuesday, but said he practiced some this week.
— Luke Brietzke

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Georgia game time set

Saturday's Auburn-Georgia game will be televised by Raycom Sports this week.
That means kickoff is set for 11:30 a.m. CST.
Georgia enters the game ranked 12th in the USA Today coaches poll.

Tragic news at Auburn

This is a release Auburn SID Kirk Sampson sent out:

Auburn Family Mourns Loss of Virgil Starks

Virgil Starks, who served as the Senior Associate Athletics Directorfor Student-Athlete Support Services at Auburn, passed away suddenly Saturday evening. Starks, 46, joined the Auburn Athletics Department inSeptember 1998.

"Words can’t express the feelings of sorrow and mourning that we haveat the passing of our dear friend Virgil Starks," said Auburn Athletics Director Jay Jacobs. "Virgil was passionate about all facets of his life and cared for Auburn student-athletes as if they were his own children. He will be dearly missed by all that he touched. Our thoughts and prayers are with Virgil’s family, friends and our Auburn Family in these difficult times."

A native of Hartselle, Ala., Starks succumbed to cardiac arrest while returning home after the Auburn football game against Tennessee-Martin.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Tigers Unlimited Foundation in memory of Virgil Starks. All donations will benefit Starks’ passion, the academic and life-skills enhancement of Auburn student-athletes.

Starks is survived by his wife, Donna, and three daughters, Carolyn, Victoria, and Anastasia.
Memorial arrangements will be provided when they become available.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

UT Martin pregame

I look down on the field today and see something familiar.

That's because Auburn is playing Bizarro Auburn.

The Tigers are technically playing UT Martin, but the Skyhawks are wearing helmets that look just like Auburn's with Auburn's colors. The only difference is UTM is wearing orange jerseys. If they were wearing white jerseys, it would look just like Auburn's spring game out there.

A few notes to pass along:

  • DE Antonio Coleman and DT Sen'Derrick Marks are not dressed and will not play today. Antoine Carter will start in Coleman's place. Mike Blanc will start for Marks.
  • DT Tez Doolittle won't start, but is dressed. Zach Clayton will start.
  • Good injury news to report for Auburn: WR Rod Smith and CBs Neiko Thorpe and Jerraud Powers are all dressed. Smith won't start. Slaughter will start instead. There hasn't been an official announcement on the cornerback spot.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Auburn coaches think deep passes will boost confidence

AUBURN — Receivers coach Greg Knox said he thinks Auburn’s success in the long passing game last week against Ole Miss has helped increase confidence.
Quarterback Kodi Burns connected on three deep passes — two to Chris Slaughter and one to Montez Billings. That’s an element that had previously been missing from Auburn’s offense.
“Being able to throw the ball as much as we did Saturday and to make some big plays down the field lit a spark under the offense,” Knox said. “We come out at halftime and are able to complete the deep ball to Chris, and then were able to continue to drive and score.
“That was a momentum thing for us. I think just to complete and throw passes down the field with some consistency is what we’re striving for.”
Slaughter enjoyed the best day any Auburn receiver has had this season. He caught eight passes for 131 yards. Seven of those receptions came in the second half.
Knox said Slaughter’s breakout performance proved any receiver could break out on a given day.
“He’s been working hard,” Knox said. “That could happen for any one of them at any point in time. It was just the luck of the draw that day. It was his day. Balls came his way and he made his plays. That’s kind of what we expect him to do.
“This week it could be any one of them. But last week it was him, and I’m sure he’s been working this week like it’s going to be him again, so hopefully it will be.”
• INJURY REPORT: Coach Tommy Tuberville said “a few” players would be unable to play Saturday against UT Martin.
Several players have missed significant practice time this week.
Knox said receiver Rod Smith (hip pointer) would be a game-time decision. Slaughter would start in his place and James Swinton would back him up.
Offensive lineman Byron Isom (concussion) has been cleared to play, but is currently backing up Mike Berry at right guard.
Defensive tackles coach Don Dunn said Zack Clayton and Mike Blanc will likely start Saturday in place of Sen’Derrick Marks and Tez Doolittle. Marks suffered injuries to both ankles. Doolittle is nursing a groin injury.
Dunn said he hopes they can play, but isn’t counting on them starting.
Blanc will play in a cast, but will not require a club.
Defensive ends Antonio Coleman (ankle) and Michael Goggans (ankle), linebacker Josh Bynes (deep thigh bruise) and cornerback Neiko Thorpe (high-ankle sprain) are all questionable.
Cornerback Jerraud Powers (hamstring) has been ruled out for this week.
• FULL-TIME JOB: Tuberville said Tristan Davis is no longer a primary tailback.
Instead, Davis will work mostly at fullback when Auburn goes to two-back sets.
Davis has now played tailback, fullback and safety in addition to special teams during his Auburn career.
“We will play him in the one-back position in our spread,” Tuberville said. “When we’re in our two-back, he’s more of a fullback guy. He’s a little bit bigger, a little bit more physical. He’s done a pretty good job.”
Davis might still be an option at tailback in the spread formations, but he seems to be the fifth option.
Ben Tate and Brad Lester are considered co-starters and Mario Fannin is the third back to enter games. True freshman Eric Smith also gets opportunities before Davis.
• SPECIAL TEAMS: Tuberville said Thursday morning he hopes kicker Wes Byrum has finally turned a corner.
Byrum has struggled this season, making just 8 of 14 field goals. He has also missed an extra point.
Tuberville reopened the kicking competition last week, but the Tigers didn’t try any field goals. Now it seems that Byrum has reclaimed his job.
“We’ve got to get him out there on the field some to see if he’s improved, but I think his technique is much improved,” Tuberville said.
Tuberville also praised punter Ryan Shoemaker for his improvement. Tuberville said Shoemaker and starting punter Clinton Durst are close together.
Auburn might allow each to punt at times this week against UT Martin.
• WEAK RETURNS: Auburn started the season with one of the nation’s best punt return games.
However, during the past six games, it’s been rare for the Tigers to even return a punt.
“A lot of it has to do with the punters’ hang time,” Tuberville said. “We’re seeing a lot of people that run the spread formation that the coverage is outstanding. You give up a little bit of protection and people try to block them on you. But it’s just hard to get a return on those type of teams.”
Since the Mississippi State game, Auburn’s opponents have punted 37 times. The Tigers have returned just five of those punts, for 26 yards.
Part of the problem is that punt returner Robert Dunn has missed parts of several games with an ankle injury. Dunn’s backup, Jerraud Powers, also suffered an injury.
That has left Chris Slaughter with the duties, though he now shares them with Dunn, who has since returned.
Tuberville said he was upset with Slaughter last week when Slaughter decided against fielding a low line-drive punt against Ole Miss.
The ball bounced another 20-plus yards, erasing what would have been good field position.
— Luke Brietzke

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Receiver Slaughter draws praise

AUBURN – One day after receiver Chris Slaughter enjoyed a breakout performance against Ole Miss, he drew praise from his quarterback.
“He’s doing what he's been doing all year,” Kodi Burns said. “He’s an extremely good receiver. He can go get the ball. Coach thought he could be one of those go-to guys. Rod (Smith) got hurt, but that lets you know that we have great depth at wide receiver that a guy like Chris can step in, take (Smith’s) spot and do what he did.”
It looks as though Slaughter will continue to enjoy an extended role.
Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said Sunday that Smith’s hip-pointer would probably keep him out of Saturday’s game against UT Martin.
Slaughter said he didn’t mind backing up Smith, but is excited to continue in a bigger role.
“Rod Smith’s a good player. I wouldn’t mind backing him up,” Slaughter said. “He just told me when he got hurt, ‘You’ve got to go out there and make some plays.’ Rod — he’s a good leader, so I was convinced.”
In Smith’s stead, Slaughter caught eight passes for 131 yards.
He also caught two deep passes — one for 37 yards and another for 42.
“I had a couple of chances (earlier in the season) but it didn’t make it to the point of me catching the ball,” Slaughter said. “But when I get a chance to get my hands up on the ball, I’m going to make a big play.”
• INJURY REPORT: Tuberville said Sunday that injuries are causing serious problems along the defensive line.
Tuberville said defensive linemen Sen’Derrick Marks (both ankles), Tez Doolittle (groin) and Mike Blanc (possible broken hand) would all miss practice this week. Defensive ends Antonio Coleman (ankle) and Michael Goggans (ankle) were also expected to miss practice.
Linebacker Josh Bynes (deep thigh bruise) is also expected to miss practice until Wednesday. Linebacker Merrill Johnson (hamstring) is questionable for Saturday’s game.
Another player expected to miss practice until Wednesday, cornerback Walt McFadden (ankle, knee), practiced Sunday.
Tuberville said cornerback Jerraud Powers (hamstring) and Neiko Thorpe (ankle) would miss Saturday’s game.
• NEED A WIN: In the midst of a four-game losing streak, Tuberville said it doesn’t matter who the Tigers beat.
They just need to beat someone — even if it is an FCS team such as UT Martin.
“Any win’s big, obviously, when you’re struggling like us,” Tuberville said. “Even if you’re not, you look for a game you know you can compete in. The last few games, we’ve been struggling getting to the stadium and thinking that we had a chance, because of the things that these kids have been through and the injuries that we’ve had.”
Auburn hadn’t lost four consecutive games since 2001.
The losing streak has dropped Auburn from an SEC West contender to a team that needs to pull an upset just to qualify for a bowl game.
• FAMILY MATTERS: With rumors circulating about his job security, Tuberville was asked during his Sunday teleconference how his family is handling the speculation.
“They’re fine. They hear talk like everybody else, but they know the business,” Tuberville said. “They know how tough it is. You’ve got to deal with the good and the bad.”
• NOT TELLING: Tuberville said all last week that he would decide who would kick field goals shortly before opening kickoff.
Wes Byrum kicked the Tigers’ lone extra point, but Auburn didn’t attempt any field goals.
Tuberville was asked who would have tried a hypothetical field goal, but he stonewalled the question.
“I’m going to go to the grave with that one,” he said.
— Luke Brietzke

Buckle up

It's going to start getting ugly for Tommy Tuberville on the Plains. ESPN's Chris Low offers his take on the situation here, proving that this story isn't just statewide any more. Many people now think Tuberville's job is not safe.

As always, there are two sides to this story.

First, the argument to keep Tuberville:

  • Tuberville has clearly built a winner at Auburn. He inherited a mess when he came to Auburn and turned the program into a legitimate power in the SEC.

  • He has an unbelievable record on the road and against top-10 teams. Tuberville has been a giant-killer at Auburn.

  • Before this season, Tuberville had won 50 games in five years -- 10 wins per season.

  • He has won while his players have stayed out of the police blotter. Auburn hasn't faced many major discipline problems since he's been here. Many credit Chette Williams, who Tuberville enlisted, for it.

  • Six consecutive wins over Alabama plus a 4-2 record against Nick Saban.

  • In 2004, he led Auburn to a perfect season and an SEC championship.

  • His buyout is $6 million. In this economy. Seriously, there aren't better ways to spend that money?

Now the argument to fire Tuberville:

  • The Tony Franklin fiasco shows that he does not have a pulse on his own program.

  • Auburn's lack of playmaking skill players and depth is a direct reflection on recruiting. There isn't great potential for some of these players to become dramatically better by next season, either.

  • He has, at best, a strained relationship with The Powers That Be at Auburn.

  • For every big win, there has been an equally big pitfall in every season but 2004. Auburn hasn't played for an SEC title since that year and has won only one conference title in 10 years.

I don't think a decision will become official before the end of the regular season.

After the loss to Ole Miss, I also think only a win over No. 1 Alabama is the best -- and possibly only way -- for Tuberville to ensure himself of another season.


Moving on to today's comments.

Tuberville says injuries are killing his team. Here's Tuberville's list of players who he says are injured and not practicing:

  • DE Michael Goggans (ankle, won't practice until at least Wednesday)

  • DE Antonio Coleman (ankle, "hasn't practiced in about a month")

  • DT Sen'Derrick Marks (both ankles, played just two plays in second half vs. Ole Miss)

  • DT Tez Doolittle (groin, "we weren't going to bring him and then we decided at the last minute to bring him in case of emergency", played 28 plays vs. Ole Miss)

  • DT Mike Blanc (possible broken hand, possibly out for season)

  • LB Tray Blackmon (wrist, out for season)

  • LB Josh Bynes (deep thigh bruise, won't practice until Wednesday)

  • LB Chris Evans (fractured big toe)

  • LB Merrill Johnson (hamstring)

  • LB Craig Stevens ("healthiest LB", turf toe)

  • CB Jerraud Powers (hamstring, out this week)

  • CB Walt McFadden (ankle, knee, won't practice until at least Wednesday)

  • CB Aairon Savage (knee, out for season)

  • CB Neiko Thorpe (ankle, out this week)

  • WR Rod Smith (hip, out this week)

  • OL Byron Isom (concussion, status unknown)

  • RB Ben Tate (hamstring, practicing)

Jeff Lebo, whose basketball teams are always hampered by injuries, would be proud of that list. In fact, Lebo's already got significant injuries to Korvotney Barber, Rasheem Barrett and Frankie Sullivan.

As for Tuberville, he said he's considering burning redshirts on DL Derrick Lykes, who can play inside and outside, and DE Cameron Henderson. There's also a possibility of moving OL Kyle Coulihan back to defense.


Not Born to Run

Tuberville on his run game struggles:

"In the past, we've been able to run the ball 8-9 in the box. We're just not physical enough. Our running backs, we're not hitting the holes north and south. We're running too much lateral. Just little things like that are hurting us. We don't have the one guy at running back that we know we can call his number and they're going to do the perfect thing, like we have in the past.

"We've got a bunch of guys out there that we're alternating in trying to find the right consistency. Mario has probably been the most consistent, along with Ben Tate. The mental things have hurt us in protection. You hate to put one guy in to do one thing and one guy in to do the other. We've got to have a complete package out of one running back."

Saturday, November 1, 2008


AUBURN — With cornerbacks Jerraud Powers (hamstring) and Neiko Thorpe (ankle) out with injuries, true freshman D’Antoine Hood made his first career start against Ole Miss. The Rebels attacked Hood early, lobbing a pass in his direction on the game’s first play.
“I’m proud of Hood. They went after him pretty early. He held his own,” Tuberville said. “They didn’t really go after him much after that. He was scared to death, as you can imagine.”
Hood said after the game that he’s always nervous before games, but talking to his cousin — former Auburn cornerback and current NFL player Rod Hood — earlier in the week helped prepare him to play.
Hood had played sparingly this season. His primary service had come on special teams, with occasional opportunities on defense.
“It was my first start and it was on the road, but my mindset was to go out there, be positive, whatever happens, just play the next play,” Hood said. “And just know my position and play good.
“I felt like I did all right, but I feel like I messed up a couple times, pass interference and stuff like that.”
Hood finished with six tackles and a pass breakup. He also appeared to have a possibly game-changing fumble recovery, but replay showed the runner was down on the play and the call was overturned.
Tuberville said many times this week that Powers was expected to play. Powers practiced for part of the week, but didn’t dress for Saturday’s game.
“He tried to go a couple days this week,” Tuberville said. “We hoped he would be better by today. He wasn’t even close.”
— Luke Brietzke