War Eagle, everybody! We’re two days from A-Day! If I’m not mistaken, this will be the first Auburn A-Day in history on live television. We’ve enjoyed a Sunday replay for a number of years, but this time those of us unable to make it to the stadium will see it as it happens. The game will start at 2:00 PM Central time, and it’s on CSS. The game is also on ESPN 3.com, if you’re not in the Southeast. Unfortunately, most of the SEC territory is blacked out. For those who do head down for a tailgate in Auburn, keep an eye and an ear on the weather. Some powerful storms are expected to roll through the state Friday night before the game. Saturday should featured near-perfect football weather, with a high around 75. The rain should be long gone by game time.
Before digging into A-Day, I’d like to revisit a great discussion from earlier this past week here on TrackEmTigers.com. Is Auburn’s offense a “one-read” offense? Chris Brown over at Smart Football takes on this question, and it’s a fascinating story. If you are into the serious X and O stuff, that’s your must-read blog!
After watching a couple of Gene Chizik-led A-Days, I think we can expect this one to follow a similar format. It will have more of a feel of a practice scrimmage, with coaches on the field during plays, giving instruction. The contest will be between the offense and the defense, rather than the usual Blue vs. White scenario. Normally, the veteran stars play sparingly on A-Day. This year, we don’t have many veteran stars left, so you can expect the projected starters to make longer appearances. With a team this young, the coaches can’t afford to waste teaching time. Don’t expect a great coaching chess match between Ted Roof and Gus Malzhan. They’ll use a lot of base formations and plays. This exercise is about developing talent. So without further ado, here are five things I’d like to see out of A-Day tomorrow.
Good offensive tackle play. On the defensive side of the ball, most of the praise has been reserved for Auburn’s defensive ends. The lone returning starter on the Auburn defensive line is junior Nosa Eguae, but the young guys here have stepped up. Much like the mid-2000s, Auburn seems poised to have a true three-deep rotation on the edges. Sophomore Cory Lemonier and junior Dee Ford are locked in a race for a starting job. Sophomore Craig Sanders and JUCO transfer Joel Bonomolo have had great springs, too. Remembering last season’s Mississippi State and Clemson games (where we were absolutely crushed on the edges), all eyes are on senior offensive tackle starters Brandon Mosely and A. J. Green, as well as their backups. Can Auburn block the athletes, or will it be a crowbar party on the Auburn backfield?
Defensive tackle play. Auburn seems poised to start two true sophomores at defensive tackle, Jeffery Whitaker and Ken Carter. I don’t think the coaches are terribly happy about the play of anyone else on the depth chart beyond Carter and Whitaker, and will be looking for help at tackle early this fall from the newcomers. Can these young interior linemen make plays against the middle of the Auburn offensive line? Can they even avoid being blown off the ball? In Gus Malzhan’s pulling, trapping run game, the center is often asked to post up a defensive tackle with no help. Ryan Pugh has given us two great years of this duty. Can young centers Blake Burgess and Reese Dismukes pull this feat off? This may be the most interesting matchup of the spring.
Hands. With only two scholarship running backs available for this A-Day, I’d look for a lot of work in the passing game, with an emphasis on the routine plays. You’ll see lots of quick screens, hitches, slants and quick outs. The secondary certainly needs work against those throws as well, as they were a defensive Achilles Heel last season. It’s a given that Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachary weren’t the most talented guys in the receiving corps the past two seasons. What they did was catch the ball consistently. I’ll be very curious to see who brings ‘em in consistently, and who drops ‘em on Saturday.
Defensive alignments. Juniors Darren Bates, Eltoro Freeman and Jonathan Evans give us a respectable amount of experience returning in the linebacker corps. However, true sophomore middle linebacker Jake Holland has been assigned to set up the defense. We’ll be really interested in seeing Auburn’s run-fits in this one. Even the base Malzhan run plays are designed to get a defense out of position. Coverage calls will be interesting, too. I’d have to think the job will fall to senior safety Neiko Thorpe, who’s the most experienced member of the secondary. However, this will be Neiko’s first spring playing safety. It also won’t be a complete spring unless we see redshirt freshman H-back LaDarius Phillips tote the rock a few times. Auburn’s somewhat smallish in the front seven. How will they handle a 300-pound runner?
Passing accuracy and decisions. By all accounts, junior Barrett Trotter and sophomore Clint Moseley are running neck and neck in the quarterback race. Coaches have repeatedly used that “no separation” phrase, which really makes me nervous. Two years ago, they were saying the same things about Kodi Burnsand Neil Caudle. Here’s hoping this A-day won’t feature a lot of missed throws, or tosses dumped into coverage.
And there you have it. With a young defense, no blitzing, and playmakers likeMichael Dyer, Onterio McCalebb, Quindarius Carr, Trovon Reed, Emory Blake, and Phillip Lutzenkirchen, you’ll almost certainly see some big plays. Those will be fun to watch, but meaningless in the greater scheme of things. What will matter is those fundamental things listed above. Will it be a sloppy scrimmage? Or will we show basic competency in the little things? This scrimmage may give us an idea of what sort of record to expect next fall in the SEC.
We’ll be here live Saturday, with an open thread and our usual banter, just like a real college football Saturday in the South! As always, feel free to join in and spout off! We’ll see you on A-Day. War Eagle!