Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Notes from Tuesday

First, a look at tomorrow's story:

The Auburn defense carefully avoided blaming last season’s demise on its woeful offensive counterpart.

This week, though, the defense has admitted what a relief it was to see the offense produce on Saturday.

LB Craig Stevens said the second half offensive onslaught during the Tigers’ 37-13 win over Louisiana Tech helped the defense gain confidence in the offense.

“It feels good because we feel like this year we have more of an offense that can pay for us getting a stop,” Stevens said. “We feel like if we get a couple three-and-outs, the offense will be able to get the ball and just because of their pace, they’re going to wear down the other defense and they’ll be able to make them pay by putting points up on the board.

“Sooner or later, if you put enough points on the board, they’re going to get out of their gameplan and just be playing catch-up for the rest of the game.”

Auburn’s defense kept the Tigers in games most of last year. The offense simply couldn’t produce enough to close contests into narrow wins.

That wasn’t the case during the season opener. Auburn racked up 556 yards of total offense and 37 points. The Tigers also racked up 301 rushing yards.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen something like that for an Auburn offense,” RB Ben Tate said.


For more, read tomorrow's Anniston Star.

More notes from Tuesday:

RB Eric Smith has rejoined the team and will be in uniform for Saturday’s game against Mississippi State.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik announced Smith’s return during his weekly Tuesday press conference, though he stopped short of saying Smith would play.

“I said when the incident happened about two or three weeks ago, I said that if you see Eric Smith back in an Auburn uniform, you’ll know that he did the things that we needed him to do to become a better Auburn man,” Chizik said when asked about Smith’s status. “You’re going to see him in a uniform this week. He’s done what we asked him to do. We’re going to move on. And without me going into details, you’re going to see him back in an Auburn uniform.”

Chizik said Smith returned to practice on Monday. He added that the team is excited to have him back in uniform.

Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn did not commit to playing Smith, saying “it’s hard to say right now.”

That was the first time the sophomore practiced with the team since his Aug. 21 arrest. Smith did not dress for Auburn's season opener against Louisiana Tech.

When Smith was first arrested, Chizik did not give a timetable on Smith’s return. Smith's total penalty came to 2 1/2 weeks of practice and one game.

Smith was arrested early in the morning on Aug. 21. He still faces a Class C misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge as well as a Class A misdemeanor assault charge. His court date is set for Nov. 5.

Shortly after turning himself in on the assault charge, Smith countered with a harassment charge against the plaintiff, Auburn student Decari Jenkins.

Tate said he would provide quality depth at both the running back position and the H-back spot.

“Kind of like Mario (Fannin), he adds more depth because Eric can do it all,” Tate said. “He’s probably going to help us out right away.

“It’s great to have him back and around the team. He’s one of my friends so it’s great to be back around him and see a smile back on his face.”

COMEBACK KID: OT Lee Ziemba said he saw a calmer, more confident QB Chris Todd during Saturday’s season opener.

That Auburn’s run game clicked from the start probably didn’t hurt, but Todd also knows he can make throws he couldn’t make last year.

“It was nice to be able to put the ball where I wanted to,” Todd said. “A lot of times, especially last year, I’d see stuff open but then I’d have to think or second-guess myself and maybe don’t throw it or you do throw it and it gets there late.”

Todd said it might have actually helped to go through last year because he is more conscious of what is a good throw now.

Malzahn was pleased with his quarterback’s performance.

“He made some plays for us. We ask a lot of our quarterback,” Malzahn said. “It’s not easy to play quarterback in this system until you get comfortable and you don’t get comfortable in anything other than games. I feel like he’ll improve his communication but he did make plays for us and he handled the team well in spots.”

NEED FOR SPEED: Though Malzahn said Auburn’s 79 plays were close to the number he wants to run, he was not pleased with the offensive tempo.

The first-year offensive coordinator said numerous substitutions slowed down the offense during the first week. Increasing the rate of those substitutions was one focal point of Tuesday’s practice.

Chizik said during his press conference that he wants the offense to run much faster this weekend.

“We are not anywhere close to being satisfied with the rhythm and the tempo of our offense right now,” Chizik said. “We’re not close. Again, as we said, we did some nice things, but our tempo and the pace of our offense was not one of the things that we were satisfied with. It has got to be faster.”

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