Lifting Off!

By Posted on: March 27th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 17 Comments »
Spring Week Two Craig

Auburn is loaded with talented receivers this spring.
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! Week two of spring drills is well underway, with another practice early this morning, and the first scrimmage of the spring is scheduled for Saturday. Positive energy continues to flow from the practice fields, and the Auburn Tigers appear to be making the most of their time this year. Watching various practice videos, the all-business approach by both the coaching staff and the players is evident. This team will make some noise this fall!

     I’ve had fun watching Auburn’s receiving corps, this spring. This is a very different unit from the guys on the field last September. Coach Dameyune Craig deserves a lot of credit for how his men have developed. It’s a lot of fun watching Coach Craig throw that ball at his guys in practice. Almost two decades after Craig was a record-setting quarterback at Auburn, the man can still sling that rock!

     Sammie Coates developed into Auburn’s go-to receiver last season, after some early-season butterfingers. While dropped balls tend to hang in my memory, it’s important to note that Coates really did not drop anything the last 7 games of the season, and made a lot of big plays. He’s catching even better this spring. I think that we’ll see JUCO transfer D’haquille Williams make a big impact this fall, as well. Williams seems to have that knack for positioning himself for the ball, and has great hands.

     Another thing that’s impressive by the receiving corps this spring is that they are a lot crisper on the receiver quick screens, this spring. That play is a staple of the Malzhan offense, and clearly it has been worked on a lot. Last season, we’d see the ball blooped out there late, the receiver would have to go get it, a block might be missed, and the receiver might not get past the line of scrimmage. This spring, the ball comes out there hot, the blocker locks up the corner, and the receiver is going forward in quick succession. That’s really going to help keep defenses honest this fall.

     Another fascinating aspect of the practice videos is watching the pace on the 11 vs. 11 segments. Most of the time, the offense is snapping the ball at ten seconds or less after the whistle from the previous play. Watch the little Youtube clock, and see. I don’t know if SEC officials will let ‘em rip plays off quite that quickly this season, but it’s clear that this offense hopes to go a lot faster.

Unit updates, after the jump!

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Like Gus Malzahn With Football – Clint Meyers Has Brought a ‘New Day’ to Auburn Softball

By Posted on: March 26th, 2014 in Featured Article, Other Sports 7 Comments »
Teammates congratulate Auburn player Jade Rhodes (8) after a sixth inning home run against Miss State Mar. 22, 2014, at the Jane B. Moore Field in Auburn, Ala. (Julie Bennett/jbennet/al.com)

Teammates congratulate Auburn player Jade Rhodes (8) after jer sixth inning home run against Miss State March 22, 2014, at the Jane B. Moore Field in Auburn. (photo:Julie Bennett/al.com)

“When we began our search for a new softball coach, the goal was to find a proven winner.” Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs on the hiring of Clint Meyers as Auburn’s Head softball Coach. That was June 14th, 2013. Fast forward a few months and it’s easy to see, Meyers is already delivering.

With 34 games in the book, Auburn (28-5-1) is off to the best start in program history. And after last weekend’s series win over Mississippi State the Tigers are ranked No.21 for the third consecutive week.

Auburn Head Softball Coach Clent Meyers has won nine national titles in his career. (photo:Julie Bennett/al.com)

Auburn Head Softball Coach Clint Meyers has won nine national titles in his career. (photo:Julie Bennett/al.com)

Coach Meyers modestly attributes the Tigers’ success to his team playing sound softball. “It kind of goes back to our formula,” Myers said. “It’s not so much about how many hits you get, it’s about when you get them. Good defense, good pitching and timely hitting.”

While playing fundamentally sound ball has to be the key to success for any sport, the Tigers remarkable streak is really more about a new direction, a new philosophy, in deed a “New Day” as it were for Auburn Softball.

Like his colleague Gus Mallzahn has done for football, Meyers has reinvigorated the softball program, almost willing them to be winners.

This team is much different from last year’s version. Like AU’s 2013 football season many of the Softball Team’s wins have come as a result of big innings late in the game. And like the 2013 Football Team, the Softball Team has a “Never to Yield” attitude and believes it can win even when things look bleak late in the game.

That confidence, that belief that your going to win the game is an intangible that often marks the difference in a mediocre team and a perennial winning program. I know a lot of coaches with consistent winners say their teams just have some kind of ‘it’ factor. It’s easy to understand what a coach means when he says that; however, the real  reason teams have that attitude is because of coaching. It’s the coaches who instill that confidence in their players. That’s why a team with less talent can often beat a more talented group.

In the formula for winning, there’s nothing like self belief. And Auburn Softball has one of the masters for instilling winning confidence. Much like that popular figure of speech, “the proof is in the pudding” meaning the truth of something can only be judged by putting it into action.” Meyers can be judged by his resume as a winner. In 28 seasons, his all time college record as a college softball and baseball coach is 1342 wins, 342 losses, and one tie for a .796 average.

He took his previous team to eight straight Super Regionals and seven appearances in the College World Series, winning two National Championships in 2008 and 2011. His Sun Devil teams averaged 53 wins per season and he has never coached a team with a losing record.

From 1996-2005, he was the head baseball coach at Central Arizona College where he took CAC to the Junior College World Series twice, winning the National Championship in 2002. As the head softball coach from 1987-1995, he won six national championships and was named National Coach of the Year six times.

Whether coaching college softball or baseball, Meyers has taught his teams how to win. And after just 34 games at Auburn, it’s easy to see he’s at it again. It may be too early to crown his Tigers as champions just yet but, make no mistake about it, they will be champions – the proof is in the pudding.

Editor’s Note:
Auburn begins a three week – seven game road trip today starting in Atlanta with a 4 p.m. CT game against Georgia State. The game can be heard locally on WEGL 91.1 or online at AuburnTigers.com.

 

Auburn Women Wearing Down Opponents in NIT (updated)

By Posted on: March 25th, 2014 in Basketball 3 Comments »
Tyrese Tanner leads the Tigers in scoring in the NIT. (photo:Lauren Barnad, Auburn Media)

Tyrese Tanner leads the Tigers in scoring in the NIT. (photo:Lauren Barnard, Auburn Media)

“You’ve got to give Auburn credit because they wear you down.” That sounds like a quote from one of Auburn’s football opponents. But this time it came from the Old Dominion University Women’s Basketball Coach, Karen Barefoot. She was referring to her team’s loss to Auburn in the second round of the National Invitational Tournament on Monday night.

The Tigers wore down the Monarchs 82-59. It was the second dominating performance by the Tigers in the last week. With the victory coupled with Auburn’s convincing victory over Furman Thursday, it appears Coach Terri Williams- Flournoy has her team playing with the high pressure defense and explosive offense that has brought her over 400 wins in her career.

This  NIT Tournament marks Coach Flo’s sixth postseason appearance in ten seasons as a head coach including having led Georgetown to the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and 2011.

Old Dominion fought hard and kept the game close in the first half but couldn’t withstand Auburn’s attacking style. The Tigers really poured on their inside game outscoring the Monarchs 44-14 in the paint including 30 -4 in the second half. Senior guard Tyrese Tanner led the way once again with 24 points, four rebounds and five assists.

The Monarchs’coach said. “I thought we had a great game plan, and we only had seven turnovers in the first half – really being patient. (But) they wear you down.” Barefoot continued, “It got away from us in the second half where they sped us up and either they got turnovers or we had quick shots. They got out in transition and really attacked the basket.”

Yes, Gus Malzahn is not the only Auburn Coach to have an attacking style of offense designed to wear down opponents; when Coach Flo’s teams are clicking, they are hard to stop.

And now Auburn advances to play Mississippi State in Starkville at 7 p.m. Thursday in the third round of the Tournament. Hopefully the Tigers will continue this level of play all the way and bring Coach Flo her first championship on The Plains. Good luck ladies and …

War Eagle!

Update:
The game was tied at 54 with 1:43 to go but All-SEC senior Tyrese Tanner and post players Tra’Cee Tanner and Peyton Davis  fouled out and could only watch from the bench as Miss. State scored the last five points to end Auburn’s season with a 59-54 win.  Still proud of our Tigers – War Eagle!

 

Auburn Baseball Nationally Ranked

By Posted on: March 25th, 2014 in Baseball 4 Comments »
5324df14cf0dd.image- auburn Baseball  crack top 25

                                                                                                (photo:Albert Cesare,Opelika/Auburn News)
The Auburn Baseball Team has broken into the Top 25 teams in the country for the first time this season. Four out of five national polls including Baseball America have the Tigers ranked. The No.21 ranking comes on the heels of the Tigers’ second SEC series victory in the last week and a half.

Auburn took two of three games against Texas A&M and two against No.18 Tennessee to garner the national recognition. The Tigers are now 17-8; 4-2 in the SEC and have won 11 of their last 13 games. Auburn has done it on strong pitching and a revived offense that has outscored opponents in four of the last five games 30-6.

The Tigers will be back in action tonight in a home game against Kennesaw State before playing their third SEC series of the season Thursday when they take on Missouri at Plainsman Park in an ESPNU 6:30 game. First pitch for tonight’s game will be at 6 p.m. CT.

Congratulations to our Tigers and keep it going!

Update:
The No. 21 Tigers beat Kennesaw State 10-5, picking up their 12th win out of the last 14 games and improved to 18-8 heading into their nationally televised game with SEC foe Missouri on Thursday.

Changes Coming to SEC Television

By Posted on: March 24th, 2014 in Football 13 Comments »
NCAA Football: Alabama at Auburn

You like change? Then, this is your year. In addition to the playoff era beginning in college football, the media landscape and how you watch Saturday afternoon football will change dramatically.

The biggest news in these parts is the launch of the SEC Network. Promising to deliver 24/7 football programming during the season, the new ESPN-sponsored network is set to launch on August 14th. The big question is whether it’ll be available in your area.

Negotiations with cable and satellite providers continue to move slowly. Right now the only providers signed on are Dish Network and AT&T U-Verse. The conference plans to carry three games each weekend, including an early, afternoon and evening contest.

Game coverage kicks off on Thursday, August 28th with Texas A&M vs. South Carolina and Vanderbilt vs. Tennessee. Two days later, the premier of SEC GameDay airs live from Auburn just before kickoff of the Arkansas game.

ESPN’s Joe Tessitore will anchor the new program and will be joined by Tim Tebow. Like the original GameDay program, the show will rotate to different campuses each week.

Recently, Brent Musburger was named lead announcer for the SEC package on the new network. Viewed as a demotion from his duties as lead play-by-play man for ABC’s Saturday night broadcast, Musburger is being replaced by GameDay host Chris Fowler.

Fowler’s contract expired this year and it’s believed that Fox and CBS both were chasing him. His new deal with ESPN likely will keep him around the network for the remainder of his career. It’s reported that his new deals pays $3.5 million annually. He’ll continue his GameDay hosting duties in addition to the new gig.

Now for the bad news: Joining Musburger in the booth will be Jesse Palmer. For me, this will make Saturday afternoons virtually unwatchable on the new SEC Network. I’m not sure what’s worse, hiring Paul Finebaum to simulcast his show live daily or allowing Palmer’s ignorance to roam freely for three hours each Saturday.

Either way, the new network has already made some missteps before flipping the switch to on. Speaking of Finebaum, look for him to have an expanded role on the new Saturday show.

Tebow will be begging the NFL to give him any kind of job after spending a few Saturdays with Finebaum and Palmer. Count me among those who’ll be sticking with the original GameDay show.

The SEC can do better.

Life on the Island

By Posted on: March 21st, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 14 Comments »

Defending the edge against Auburn’s Zone Read play

No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe;
every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine;
if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse,
as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were;
any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde;
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions

John Donne can be excused for his opinion, having never witnessed the Auburn zone read play as a defensive end or outside linebacker in the SEC. But if he had, he would know the pang of Tom Hank’s character the the movie Castaway – unable to overcome the fate of being left all alone, virtually helpless as everything he’s been taught about his role in life is taken from him and slowly going crazy watching a ball drift away out of reach.

Defensive ends and linebackers in the Southeastern conference are a unique blend of size, speed, intelligence and tenacity. The emergence of edge speed rushers in both the NFL and NCAA football has led to large, explosive athletes gravitating to the end of the defensive line where their incredible agility, speed and leverage can alter the pace of the game by pressuring the quarterback into ill-timed throws or drive killing sacks. This issue has been illustrated in many commentaries on the sport, most notably by the now celebrated book and movie ‘The Blind Side’ by Michael Lewis. The game of football, Lewis asserts, was forever changed by the vulnerability of the West Coast offense to athletes of Lawrence Taylor’s caliber and their ability to apply pressure on drop back pass-heavy offenses.

But like anything, just because a situation is conventional in the present doesn’t necessarily indicate a permanent aspect of the future. The game of football is one of constant improvement and leverage of opposing tendencies, applications of force, and the opportunistic exploitation of vulnerabilities. One of the most dramatic examples of this is how the Auburn offensive scheme under Rhett Lashlee and Gus Malzahn attacks these skilled defenders on the edge of the line of scrimmage.

The Auburn offense of 2013 used a series of plays that leveraged the expected role of the edge defender against himself, often leaving him alone, untouched, unblocked and completely out of the play at the very point where his athletic ability was supposed to dominate.

At times it was a thing of beauty and magnificence rarely found on the field of play. One moment a talented and graceful athlete was poised to create a negative play, and the next he was alone in a seemingly infinite expanse, mournfully crying out to the vanishing object of his desire.

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Spring Drills Begin!

By Posted on: March 20th, 2014 in Basketball, Football 12 Comments »
Spring Drills Begin

We have to earn it.
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! It was an incredible day in Auburn Tuesday, as Auburn University announced the hiring of Bruce Pearl as the new men’s basketball head coach, and a wild all-day celebration followed. Lost in the euphoria and welcoming of Pearl was the beginning of spring football drills. Head coach Gus Malzhan had the right message with the above quote. The Tiger football team must earn it. Starting now, the SEC Tittle and improbable comeback of 2013 means little. A new slate of games awaits, and it’s a very tough schedule this fall.

     At the crack of dawn Tuesday, Auburn began a new grueling regimen. What was evident quickly on a day in shorts is that the off-season hasn’t been wasted. The team looks bigger and faster, and a quick look at reported weights on the roster bears that out. There are guys out there like Shon Coleman and Shane Callahan who’ve added more than 10 pounds of muscle. Likewise, a few guys who were overweight last season have trimmed down. Of particular note is that starting Star position senior Robensen Therezie has put on 8 pounds. In a defense without a true strong-side linebacker, the star has to sometimes make that tough tackle. At 212 pounds, Therezie should be even better this spring.

Position by position breakdown, after the jump!

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Malzahn: Time to Speed Things Up

By Posted on: March 19th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 5 Comments »
Photo by Julie Bennett/al.com

Photo by Julie Bennett/al.com

Can it possibly be the start of spring practice? With the announcement yesterday morning of the hiring of Bruce Pearl as Auburn Head Basketball Coach, it didn’t seem much like opening day of football practice. Besides I still haven’t gotten Rod Bramblett’s voice out of my head and we’re about to start over again. But Auburn did hold its first practice of spring Tuesday.

And things are a little different this go around. For starters, ESPN brought live reports throughout the morning from Auburn. And this year its Gus Malzahn’s guys who’ll get the coveted Saturday afternoon ESPN slot for its A-Day Game – not Alabama.

But don’t expect Malzahn to sit around with Bruce Springsteen playing in the background while he reflects on the glory days.

“We’ve been really up front with our guys. We’re definitely proud of how far they came. That’s in the past. It’s a complete, new season. This is a new team,” Malzahn said. “We’ve got to earn it. All we’re talking about is earning the right to try to get back to a game like that (the national championship).”

In Monday’s pre-spring press conference, Malzahn seemed to poke his finger back into Nick Saban’s eye.

“We think we can be quite a bit faster,” Malzahn said.

Of course, he was referring to his HUNH offense that’s become the kryptonite to Saban’s future in Tuscaloosa. On a day when Malzahn was talking about moving faster, Saban continued to whine, this time to David Pollack of ESPN.

Again, Saban continued to use safety as his excuse for reducing the HUNH offense. He never commented on the dangers of his team facing the likes of Chattanooga, a team Alabama outweighed by more than 40 pounds across the offensive line. If he really cared, seems like that would be a good jumping off point.

If last season was like driving in the left-hand lane, this year should resemble the Autobahn. With eight starters back from last year’s record-breaking offense, including quarterback Nick Marshall, look for Auburn to significantly increase its play count.

Marshall is the first returning quarterback in Malzahn’s nine years as a college coach. Yes, it’s a scary thought.

While Auburn has been the face of the HUNH in the national media, surprisingly, there were five other teams in the SEC last season that ran as many or more plays from scrimmage each game, led by Ole Miss who averaged six more plays per contest than Auburn at 79.8 per game.

In fact, Auburn ranked only 61st nationally in that category last year. Malzahn is out to change that this year. You look at these stats and realize why Saban is so spooked.

And to think, he brought Lane Kiffin in to keep up. Spring has never felt so good.