Sunday’s Fan Day Means Auburn Football is Less Than Three Weeks Away

By Posted on: August 9th, 2014 in Football, News 1 Comment »
1h4mfa.AuSt.70- Fan day

                                                                                                           (photo:Todd Van Ernst/AU media)
First there was SEC Media Days, then last week the start of fall camp, and now tomorrow Auburn will hold it’s annual Fan Day on The Plains. Yes, Auburn Football is almost here! Just three weeks from the date of this article, the Tigers will be teeing it off against the Arkansas Razorbacks.

In the mean time the Tigers will be taking a break on Sunday to meet and greet the fans. Players and coaches will be available for pictures and autographs in the Auburn Arena between 3:30-5:30 p.m. CT. As always there will be no admission fee and doors will open at 3 p.m.

In addition the soccer and volleyball teams will be available and Aubie will be on hand for photographs along with the Cheerleaders, and Tiger Paws (the dance team). Fans will be able to pickup free posters and schedule cards for the 2014 season inside The Arena. Also each fan is allowed to bring an item to be signed (but only one item).

Fans are asked to enter the Auburn Arena from the south side through the doors leading in to the practice court to access the seniors and through the main entrance to meet the underclassmen football players, cheerleaders, Tiger Paws, Aubie and the volleyball and soccer teams.

To meet Gus Malzahn, fans will have to enter through the Scholarship Entry on the southeast corner of The Arena. According to the official release, time constraints will prevent the taking of pictures with Coach Malzahn.

In addition to Fan Day, Auburn will host “Meet Your Seats,” a time when fans can enter Jordan-Hare Stadium (between 2:30-5:30 pm) and take a first-hand look at available seats to purchase season tickets for the 2014 season. Entrance to the stadium will be available through the west side Gate 11. In addition to the Stadium Parking Deck, free parking will be available at the Auburn Arena and the old Coliseum.

And after this day is over, it won’t be but 2 weeks and 5 days till kickoff. We can hardly wait.

War Eagle!

Some Memorable Plays (from the past) – 1990 Auburn vs. Florida State Edition

By Posted on: August 8th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football, Memories 3 Comments »

fb1990_10_20 Auburn Football IllustratedGreetings once more, lovers of post-secondary pigskin! At this time, when we are so close to opening day on the Plains that we can taste it, let’s look back on the last happy memory I was honored to witness against FSU – the great 1990 contest in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Both teams came into the game ranked in the top 10 (AU at #5 and FSU at #7). And both felt like they had some business to which to attend. FSU had just been pummeled by Miami the previous week, and AU was not happy about loosing the last three meetings against the Seminoles. I was likewise tired of seeing Auburn come up short against FSU, having seen in person the 1987 beatdown by the Seminoles while attending Auburn and the 1989 loss in Tallahassee. I watched the ’89 game together with Jim, my long-time friend, and previous FSU attendee.

I had graduated with my second degree from Auburn in the Spring of 1988, and returned to my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida, to start my career. Over the next few years, Jim and I went to several Fla. State home games together, including the 1989 AU vs. FSU game. I was determined to go see the 1990 FSU game with Jim in Auburn.

By this time, we mere dues-paying Auburn alumni were not being offered single-game tickets to any decent games at Jordan-Hare. Although Jim’s season tickets made FSU away-game tickets available for him, I had to buy a pair of “scalped” (see what I did there) tickets from another Seminole-booster for myself and my best friend Bill, from Auburn.

Jim and I drove up to Bill’s parents’ home in Montgomery that Friday night, listening through the late night static to the Oakland-Cincinnati World Series on the radio.

After a night’s rest and a great day with Bill’s folks, we headed for Jordan-Hare for the night game. Bill and I were seated in the FSU section in the north end zone, with Jim several rows down from us. The sell-out crowd all settled in for what we expected to be a hard-nosed football game.

Auburn scored first with a touchdown in the first quarter, but FSU …

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Fall Camp Proceeds Apace.

By Posted on: August 7th, 2014 in Football 6 Comments »
Beanie Bowl

Tucker Tuberville (16) got more snaps in the first scrimmage than Nick Marshall did!
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! Yesterday, the Auburn Tigers completed their first fall camp scrimmage. Yes, yes, I know! I owe faithful readers here previews of Auburn-UGA and the Iron Bowl. I’ve been very real-world busy lately, but I should have time on vacation next week to give these difficult games the treatment they deserve. In the meantime, here are a few more nuggets from fall camp, and another archived shot from A-Day. Did anyone out there ever envision a Tuberville family member on Pat Dye Field taking snaps? Awesome, sez I!

     Auburn’s first scrimmage featured a lot of young faces, which was a theme reminiscent of the old Terry Bowden beanie bowls during fall camp. It was a run-heavy scrimmage, with around 70 percent of the plays taking place on the ground. Young backs Peyton Barber, Roc Thomas and Kamryn Pettway all got plenty of carries.

     When the Tigers did throw, it was true freshman Sean White who received the most praise from head coach Gus Malzhan:

     “He can throw the ball on time. We knew that when we recruited him. What we ask our quarterbacks to do presnap, there’s a lot to it. Communication, then you have to know the play, then you have to think about how the defenses adjust. We’ve been pleased with him so far. He’s been able to pick things up at a pretty good rate. Just looking at it out there from behind, there weren’t a whole lot of just busts… just complete busts as far as communication, as far as execution. I thought he looked solid.”

      Shuffling on the offensive line continues. Chad Slade has been banged up at left guard, and this has opened the door for Devonte Danzy to get a lot of first team reps. Danzy was a highly regarded JUCO transfer last season, and it’s certainly good for Auburn to work on offensive line depth after the injury to Alex Kozan.

     The most surprising admission of the day was coach Malzhan stating that there was an open competition for the punting job vacated by Steven Clark. As the only scholarship player at punter, Jimmy Hutchinson was the heir-apparent, but he’s not been named a defacto starter yet. I got to the stadium very early on A-Day, and watched a good battle between the punters during warmups. On a blustery gray day, I saw three guys all punting well, and pretty equally. Evidently, none has separated himself, and the job is up for grabs. Last spring, Jimmy Hutchinson, Tyler Stovall, and Jack Bjork all looked good. They are joined this fall by true freshmen Matthew Sheil and Logan Rice. From my untrained eye way up in the 36th row, Bjork looked the strongest on that cold day. This race will be interesting to watch, I think!

     Long time readers of TrackEmTigers.com know that yearly, one of my biggest worries is the tight end/h-back spot. I never feel like we have enough depth there, or proven starters at both spots. And often I have been right, as whiffed lead blocks at the point of attack stalled running games at times in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012. I am again worried about depth this season, and I suppose that’s going to be a yearly thing for a while yet. This season, I like coach Malzhan’s answers on that question. The starters at those positions, seniors C. J. Uzomah and Brandon Fulse are versatile veterans. Both are physical players who can run and make plays both blocking and receiving. Accordingly, the plan is to move them around quite a bit. While neither guy is the dominant force blocking that Jay Prosch was last season, defenders won’t be able to brace for impact, as both of these guys can get open and catch touchdowns pretty easily, if defenders treat them as blockers only.

     Finally, color me ecstatic that Charter Cable has reached an agreement to carry the SEC Network. I was worried about potentially missing Auburn games on TV this fall, but my fears have been allayed. Charter forced all of us old-school Tragic City analog subscribers to get cable boxes this summer, and I grumbled as much as anyone. We still use two-prong electrical outlets in this house, cast-iron skillets, and cast-iron plumbing pipes. Even something as modern as a gas grill is heresy, around these-here parts! My most up-to-date phone isn’t an Android or I-phone. It’s a 1960s Bell touchtone job…

     Honestly, the high-def stuff we’re getting off the cable boxes now is awesome. Unless football Saturday traffic causes slow-downs, I’m going to have fun this fall. I’ve got a bigger screen and cable box at the ready next to my computer screen, for games I’m not attending this fall. Here’s hoping this translates to an even better live thread!

The Exception

By Posted on: August 6th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 13 Comments »

As an amateur statistician, exceptions bother me. There has to be a reason or a rationale for every single outlying figure. When you discover them, they usually lie annoyingly beyond the safe and secure standard deviation or the normal distribution. They poke up or down sharply from the smooth curve, menacing in their oddness.  They scrape against my secure theories and intrude into my clearly delineated graphs. However comfortable life would be if I just simply dismissed them outright, I can’t seem to bring myself to do it. And so they remain on the page, sharply critical of my analysis, defiantly different and demanding explanation and investigation.

In the last seven years, only one team that has had Gus Malzahn as a coach at the collegiate level has scored fewer than 33 points per game. No team of his has failed to gain six yards per play, or run fewer than 68 plays per game for an entire season, except one. Neither has any team failed to score a touchdown from the Red Zone less than two out of three tries, except one. Nor has any team failed to achieve a third down conversion rate of at least 40%, save one specific group of young men.

That team was the 2011 Auburn Tigers, the reigning BCS Champions of the previous year.

Not only was it Gus Malzahn’s least productive year while at Auburn, it was his worst year since he started coaching at the collegiate level, possibly even the worst in his career since he first implemented the HUNH offense. Auburn under-achieved in nearly every measurable statistic on offense from any other Gus Malzahn-coached team including his previous ‘worst year’ at Arkansas in 2006 where his offense was strangled by Houston Nutt’s interference.

The differences were evident from the very first game of the season. The visiting Utah State Aggies had given up nearly 35 points per game and over 6 yards per carry in 2010. Their head coach, Gary Anderson was so disgusted that he dismissed his defensive coordinator and took that role for himself in 2011 in addition to his head coaching duties. Yet the Auburn offense struggled mightily in the first half against the Aggies, gaining only 1 first down in the first twenty minutes of the game, and only 30 yards rushing in the first half. Barrett Trotter was sacked twice in a game in which Auburn scored 42 points, but only edged the Aggies by less than a touchdown, the difference being an electrifying kick return for a touchdown in the second quarter by a young freshman running back named Tre Mason.

On the surface, this was puzzling. How could a team that kept its coaching staff relatively intact for two years, having won every game the previous year while setting innumerable scoring, rushing and passing records start so poorly the third year? How could such a dynamic offensive scheme fall so flat in such a short time? By any reasonable expectation, the HUNH offense should have sailed through the 2011 season just as it had during the 2010 season.

What went wrong?

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First Day in Full Pads!

By Posted on: August 5th, 2014 in Football 3 Comments »
Punters work

Practice is heating up in Auburn.
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! This afternoon, the Auburn Tigers will practice in full pads for the first time this August. These are the days when the players separate themselves from the bench warmers. We’ve already heard defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson harp on the importance of tackling practice. Tackling was one thing that really improved on defense last season. Unlike the years previous, you didn’t see too many guys pulling away from Auburn defenders. Auburn may have had problems at time getting into position, but the runner went down consistently when an Auburn player caught up.

     The biggest theme we’re hearing this fall is that Auburn players are light-years ahead of this time last year, in most ways. Players are bigger, stronger and faster, and they know the system well on both sides of the ball. If there are any negatives so far, it’s much as it is every year, on the injury front. Starting defensive end Carl Lawson had surgery this spring, and may or may not play this season. Freshman All-American guard Alex Kozan is definitely out for the season, after back surgery this summer. Now, Auburn is replacing two offensive line starters.

Position by Position breakdown, after the jump!

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Shades of Jeff Burger? Probably Not.

By Posted on: August 4th, 2014 in Football 22 Comments »
jeff burger

So much for the big announcement. Gus Malzahn’s declaration that Nick Marshall would not start the opener against Arkansas really didn’t give fans the definitive answer they were expecting. All we know for sure is that he won’t take the first snap.

This is nothing new for Auburn and its quarterbacks. Back in 1987, Tiger quarterback Jeff Burger found himself in a similar situation minus the weed. He accepted a ride on a plane from a friend of a teammate, which was a violation of NCAA rules and for a time was ruled ineligible.

Just prior to Auburn’s game with Florida, the NCAA relented and reinstated Burger’s eligibility. However, it wasn’t over yet. Some at the University insisted on Burger being punished by the school.

Finally, Auburn coach Pat Dye relented and benched him as the starter against the Gators – for one play. It was the ultimate middle finger to University officials pushing for the punishment. Burger and his Tigers defeated Florida 29-6 and went on to capture the SEC Title.

Something tells me Marshall will sit more than one play, but will likely be on the field before the halftime show cranks up…

Tired of worrying about Marshall? Take a closer look at the offensive line. Replacing All-American Greg Robinson and fullback Jay Prosch was a bad enough hit for Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant. Now, perhaps Auburn’s top returner on the line, Alex Kozan is gone for the year with a back injury.

Tre Mason was special. Auburn’s offensive line turned him into Superman. With Kozan gone, there has to be some concern among coaches. The 6-foot-4 300 pound Kozan had bonded with fellow lineman Reese Dismukes this summer at Navy SEALS Training in San Diego. Now Dismukes will be expected to do even more.

Coaches are expected to shuffle players around in the coming days, with Chad Slade, Patrick Miller and Avery Young all getting looks at different positions. Malzahn tried to downplay the loss.

“Obviously that’s a big blow for our guys up front with the type of year he had and the type of player he is,” said Malzahn.

“With that being said, we do have quality depth up front. I’ll take you back to the spring: Avery Young played some guard. That was good. We will kind of mix and match probably the first week or so, and we’ll see what happens with that.”

While very concerning, if there’s any place Auburn can absorb it, it’s on the line – I think…

Been worried about Tony Barbee since was fired by Auburn this spring? Yeah, I bet. Especially considering how fan friendly he was during his tenure on the Plains. Well, you can sleep easy now. Barbee has been hired as a “special assistant” to Kentucky coach John Calipari. Barbee played for Calipari at UMass and coached under him at Memphis.

Isn’t it amazing that Bruce Pearl has done more for Auburn recruiting in four months without being allowed to leave campus than Barbee did his entire tenure? Can you say, W-O-R-S-T Auburn basketball coach ever? And hey, we all know, that’s saying a lot.

Until next time…

Nick Marshall Will Not Start Against Arkansas

By Posted on: August 1st, 2014 in Football, News 14 Comments »
Nick Marshall will lead No.3 Auburn in it's quest for the Tigers' 2nd SEC Championship in three years. (photo: Julie Bennett, al.com)

                                                                                                                                         (photo:Julie Bennett/al.com)
Gus Malzahn said today that he would not be starting Quarterback Nick Marshall or Corner back Jonathan Mincy in the Tigers opener against Arkansas on Aug.30. He made the announcement in his press conference following the first day of fall practice. Gus said the action is “part of their punishment.”

He also gave some bad news on Offensive Lineman Alex Kozan. The All SEC Guard will miss the entire season due to a back injury. “That’s a big blow for our guys up front,” Malzahn said. “With the type of year he had and the type of player he is.”

Watch the video here for the rest of Coach Malzahn’s comments during his press conference.

                                

Tempering Steele

By Posted on: August 1st, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 3 Comments »


                                                           A properly tempered sword will sport Auburn colors*

First off, let me say that I enjoy reading Phil Steele’s magazine and daily blog. If ever I need to know how many starting offensive linemen are returning for a given team year to year, or how each SEC team’s yards per play compares to any other at a glance, it’s just a quick search in his archived articles. His annual articles related to such data and his comprehensive magazine are anticipated by college football fans for weeks before thier publication dates. They’re a wonderful blend of hard numbers and oftentimes very astute analysis.

That being said, at other times much of Phil’s analysis is either puzzlingly vague or laughably absurd. Many of his regular articles are either overly simplistic or completely irrellevant in any rational analysis. Why this occurs in amongst his other fine articles is unknown. I can only surmise that as his entire business revolves around keeping his readers engaged, he sometimes chums the water every now and then just to keep them occupied while he works on other more relevant material.

For example, some of his more common articles involve the return of key position players for various teams. While this might seem to be an important factor in assessing a team’s potential, it is often misleading in the extreme. Take last year’s report on % of Offensive Yards Returning. I looked at what Phil reported and added the actual yards per game in 2013 for each of the SEC teams. Sorting first for Phil’s numbers from his mid-summer article shows what seems like important data on returning talent.

Steele1

However, when you sort by actual yards gained during the season, you see that such analysis is completely useless in terms of predicting or analyzing what any one team will do.

Steele2

Granted, he pegged a few teams correctly – Alabama and LSU started and ended in the top five and Vandy and the Gators stayed at the bottom, but few other teams are anywhere near what his numbers would suggest by the end of the season, least of all the team that led the SEC in running the ball last year. Marshall, Artis-Payne and Grant had zero yards in 2012, and although Tre Mason was a thousand-yard running back, it was under an entirely different offensive scheme that woefully under-utilized his true talent.

So my question is, if Phil Steele’s data is so often irrelevant day to day, what about his predictions for the coming year?

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