He Was an Auburn and SEC Legend

By Posted on: June 17th, 2014 in Basketball 2 Comments »
Auburn photo file.

(Auburn photo file)

Although he made his home in the Birmingham area, he grew up in Atlanta playing high school ball for Sylvan Hills High. After leading the Bears to two state championships he went on to become an SEC Legend at Auburn University.

It was hard to believe the news that he had passed away last Tuesday. It hadn’t seemed all that long since I talked with him in February at the Tiger Trail reception in the Auburn Arena. Always approachable, Lee DeFore was one of the nicest guys you would ever want to meet.

One of his former team mates Bill Alexander said he remembered him as a man of “Absolutely impeccable character.” A true Auburn man, Alexander continued, “And we could see his basketball skills from a statistical perspective. They speak for themselves.”

And speak they did. Lee was the first Auburn Basketball player to ever score 1,000 points. He was a three time All-SEC player and was named All-American in 1966.

One of the best shooters to ever come through Auburn, he scored over 30 points seven different times. The Team Captain led the Tigers in scoring all three years and led the conference his last year.

He set nine school records, averaged 24 points per game in 1966-67 and finished 11th in the nation in free throw percentage (.853). When he left Auburn for the New York Knicks, he did so as the Tigers’ all-time scoring leader.

Even after more than 40 years, he still ranks 5th on Auburn’s all-time scoring average with 19.0 points and 16th in all-time scoring with 1,386 points.

In 2006 he was named to Auburn’s All Century Team and was featured at the Southeastern Conference Basketball Tournament that same year as an SEC Legend.

Lee had been an active Alumni member and was at one time the president of the Auburn Letterman’s Club. His passing is a big loss for the Auburn Family – and even bigger one for his immediate family. Our thoughts and prayers go out to them.

Las Vegas Jumps on the Auburn Bandwagon

By Posted on: June 16th, 2014 in Football 4 Comments »
golden nugget

While it’s great that Auburn is getting a lot of preseason love from the media, remember these are the same people who said the Tigers would be lucky to grab six wins a year ago. Now Las Vegas is getting in on the act.

The Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas has released early lines on some key Auburn games this season and what they’ve posted may surprise you. Not only is Auburn favored in every contest leading up to Amen Corner, they are convincing favorites, set as at least a touchdown favorite in every contest leading up to Georgia.

The opening game with Arkansas has Gus Malzahn’s team a whopping 24 point favorite. That’s huge for any opening season opponent.

Most surprising is the Thursday night trip to Manhattan, Kansas where Auburn is an early 13 point favorite.

I don’t know about you, but this game already has me worried. K-State won six of its final seven games and Bill Snyder is one of the greatest coaches in college football history. If you are looking for a place to worry, circle this game.

Another sleeper that should concern Tiger fans is the October 11 game in Starkville. Dak Prescott at quarterback for the Bulldogs will give Ellis Johnson fits. Combine that with the job of getting a team motivated to play in Starkville and you can understand the worry. The Golden Nugget has Auburn as a 9.5 point favorite.

As for Georgia and Alabama on the road, Vegas have the Dawgs favored by one point and Alabama by six. You can read the story here.

Of course, none of this means anything. We all know that after last year. What it does mean is that expectations are sky high for Auburn football and that always worries me. They can rank the schedule however they choose, but it doesn’t take a Philadelphia lawyer to see that Auburn’s is a beast.

Playing at least six ranked teams and being the defending SEC Champs will test Malzahn in his second season.  Despite the perceived obstacles there’s something about this coaching staff unlike others in the past that gives you comfort. Maybe I’m just being a homer, but something tells me Auburn will be ready to play every week.

You can’t ask for anything more.

Nostalgia Friday: 1983 Iron Bowl

By Posted on: June 13th, 2014 in Football 8 Comments »

Today we go back 31 years to 1983. Can it really have been that long? The 1983 Auburn football team remains one of my all-time favorites. It was the year Auburn broke out of its hibernation and claimed its first SEC title since 1957.

The 1983 Iron Bowl was a classic and will be forever remembered as the Bye-Bye Bo Game where Bo Jackson ripped off a pair of long runs that broke the back of Alabama and gave Auburn a 10-1 regular season record and a trip to the Sugar Bowl to face Michigan.

The 23-20 Auburn victory will also be remembered for a line of thunderstorms and a tornado warning that came roaring through in the second half. Billy Murray of ABC 33/40 Weather reflected on the contest a few years ago, writing, “Legion Field Public Address announcer Simpson Pepper read the warning over the loudspeakers but the game was not stopped.

“By ten minutes to go in the game, the rain was coming down in torrents as Auburn tried to control the ball and win the game in the horrible conditions as they clung to a 23-20 lead. The rain began to fall so heavily that you could barely see the field on the cameras.

“Fortunately, the storm did not produce a tornado in western Birmingham, or the results would have been catastrophic. But later, the same storm dropped an F3 tornado that heavily damaged the Winn Dixie store at Oxford, killing two people. A total of seven tornadoes touched down across the state that afternoon and evening.”

The link here shows some great screen shots of the game.

Bo’s performance in the game made him the leading Heisman contender heading into the 1984 season (an award he captured in 1985) and gave the Tigers its second win in a row over Alabama.

Auburn would go on to defeat Michigan in the Sugar Bowl 9-7 and cap its best season in 26 years.

A Late September Homecoming.

By Posted on: June 12th, 2014 in Football 3 Comments »
LA Tech Dixon

Kenneth Dixon finds tough going for Louisiana Tech.
(Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE)

     War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn opponent preview. This year, week 5 is homecoming week, and the Tigers will take on Louisiana Tech on September 27th. It’s the last chance for the Tigers to tune up against an overmatched opponent at home, before a brutal October and November. This is likely to be a game relegated to a lesser cable network, or pay-per-view.

     At the conclusion of 2012, few teams in the country wanted to play Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs finished the season at 9-3, but incredibly were snubbed by the bowls. Head coach Spike Dykes and his offensive coordinator Tony Franklin presided over an explosive team that scored 618 points in 12 games, an astounding 51.5 points per game! This offense scored 40 or more points in 11 of 12 games. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Dykes was hired away by Cal at the end of 2013. Louisiana Tech called upon veteran coach Skip Holtz to take over, and the mighty Tech offense plunged off the cliff, averaging only 19.1 points per game last season, en route to a 4-8 campaign.

     As the Bulldogs look to pick up the pieces this season, they’ll open the season in Norman, Oklahoma against the Sooners. Road games to Louisiana-Lafayette and North Texas follow. The Bulldogs tune up at home against Northwestern State before traveling to Auburn. It’s likely that the Bulldogs will enter the Auburn game at 1-3. Can they recover after a beating from the Tigers and make a bowl game? They’ll have to win 5 of their last seven to even be bowl-eligible. Auburn will have played Arkansas, San Jose State, and at Kansas State, prior to this contest.

     Last season, coach Holtz brought in Tony Peterson to install a fast paced, pass-heavy offense. It turned out to be neither fast paced, nor much good completing passes. A rebuilt offensive line and green quarterbacks, coupled with a complex playbook spelled doom. Quarterbacks Scotty Young and Ryan Higgins have a year of splitting playing time now under their belts, but Tech loses 5 of their top 8 receivers from last season. Couple that with another rebuilt offensive line that only has 24 career starts, and it looks like another year of trouble for the Bulldogs moving the ball.

     On paper, Louisiana Tech improved on defense last season, giving up 26.2 points per game, down from 38.5 in Dykes’ last year. However, a lot of this “improvement” was due to teams running the ball, and the clock out on a Bulldog team with little chance to score late. Three defensive coaches moved on to other jobs at the end of last season, and Holtz has brought in veteran coordinator Manny Diaz to rebuild the defense. It’s hard to draw many conclusions after watching the Tech spring game, as blitzing wasn’t allowed, and that is a staple of a Diaz defense. Tech should be at least solid in the back seven, but they lost a lot of beef off the defensive line, including 2 of their top 3 tackles.

     Louisiana Tech was very respectable on special teams last season, and should improve a bit this season. Both kicker Kyle Fisher and punter Logan McPherson return, as well as decent coverage teams. McPherson wasn’t much of a distance punter, but much like Steven Clark has been for Auburn the past few years, he hits high, well-placed balls that don’t get returned much.

Unit matchups, after the jump!

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Auburn Could be a Nightmare for SEC Defenses in 2014

By Posted on: June 11th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 5 Comments »
14O2O7.AuSt.70- Nick runs over Tenn. - Auburn media, anthony hall

                                                                                                                                                    (photo:Auburn media, Anthony Hall)
He signed to play for Auburn out of junior college and even though Gus Malzahn said he was a, “great athlete, an impact player (that could) come in and give Auburn a chance right off the bat,” he didn’t garner that much press attention heading into the 2013 summer workouts.

Now a year later, there’s been a lot written about Nick Marshall and why not? He more than fulfilled Malzahn’s expectations, having led the Tigers to a birth in the National Championship game.

He has appeared on the cover of several magazines and countless articles have been written touting him as a dangerous player for opposing defenses, a potential Heisman candidate, and the pre-season top quarterback in the SEC.

And 2014 will be the first time in seven years Auburn will not have a quarterback controversy heading into summer camp. It has to be a strange but welcome turn of events for Malzahn who will have his first ever returning quarterback since he became a college coach some eight years ago.

Gus chose Marshall as his starter because Nick gave Auburn, “the best opportunity to win football games.” His seasoned leadership as a winner in high school and at Garden City Kansas Community College were the catalyst for the Tigers’ big wins on their way to the 2013 SEC Championship.

He proved he had the “it” factor with those big fourth-quarter come from behind wins against Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama. The lone knock against him was his throwing accuracy (59.4 percent). However, reports out of Auburn are that Nick has made great strides improving in that area during the off season. If Nick only adds five to ten percent in passing efficiency, it will significantly ratchet up the Tigers’ offensive attack.

What he was able to do last season after missing spring practice and arriving on campus barely three weeks before the first game was nothing short of phenomenal. Marshall guided a rushing attack in 2013 that led the nation and was 12th in scoring.

No one is any better at running the zone read than Nick. Remember Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel saying he didn’t know how to stop the Auburn offense? When Nick is running the zone read to perfection it causes the D-Backs and Safeties to come up to cover all the gaps. Now with that same running threat, defenses are going to have to cover more of the field with a new and improved Marshall.

And after being relatively conservative in 2014, the Tigers are expected to open up the playbook in 2014.

Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee said now that Nick has improved his passing skills and knows and better understands the offense, “The Tigers can perfect it and also be able to go to the next step … We can add some things, some wrinkles, and try to give our guys a chance to really be successful.”

Really successful?  

Compared to the championship season the Tigers had in 2013? … That prospect has to be a nightmare for SEC defensive coordinators.

Some Memorable Plays (from the past) – 1986 Iron Bowl Edition

By Posted on: June 10th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football, Memories 10 Comments »

lawyer-tillman-auburn-reverse.jpg
              Lawyer Tillman celebrates scoring the winning touchdown in the 1986 Iron Bowl. (Source:al.com file photo)

Since last I visited these pages with my scrivenings, we have started looking forward to the next season’s games, one opponent at a time. Nonetheless, looking back at some memorable plays I was privileged to see in person, still seems appropriate as we move into the future. Today’s ramblings recall three plays from what will always be one of my favorite Iron Bowls, the only one I got to witness in person – the 1986 “Reverse to Victory.”

On a personal note, I attended that game with a group of AU student friends, including my best friend Bill, who had decided to invest in Iron Bowl student tickets at the start of the year. After having Thanksgiving with our own families, we staged our pilgrimage from Bill’s parents’ house in Montgomery, meeting there Friday afternoon. After a dinner of Thanksgiving leftovers we all went to see Star Trek IV and on Saturday had a nice visit with Bill’s grandmother who lived in Birmingham. It was already shaping up to be a great Thanksgiving break.

Regarding the Iron Bowl itself, Bama was coming in ranked at #7, following disappointing late-season losses versus Penn State and LSU. Auburn had just been upset by Georgia in the infamous “Hose Game,” effectively knocking the Tigers out of an SEC championship. And Auburn was dropped to #14 after suffering an equally unsettling setback against Florida two games prior. Nevertheless, the mood was incredibly upbeat among all fans, as you would expect at an Iron Bowl between nationally-ranked teams. In fact, my favorite off-the-field memory was a sign made by some Auburn faithful which stated: “The GOOD we HOSE; the WEAK we BEAT!”  It was a tough game through and through, but three plays that I witnessed that day remain etched in my mind.
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Malzahn is Worth the Bet

By Posted on: June 9th, 2014 in Football 18 Comments »

MalzahnGus Malzahn may be the most popular coach in Auburn history – right now. The same could be said for Gene Chizik back in the summer of 2011. Like then, it’s hard to imagine anyone not wanting to lock Malzahn up for the long-term following the most exciting season in Auburn history.

What if he fails? It’s hard to fathom something like that happening after the greatest turnaround in college football history. But, what if?

Auburn officials have clearly decided not to let their minds go there after agreeing on a new contract for Malzahn that will put them on the hook for more than $11 million should things go south this season.

If he takes the Chizik path and crashes two seasons from now, Auburn is on the hook for nearly $7 million, about what they gave the former coach to disappear and pose for an occasional prom picture.

Many argued this week that Jay Jacobs and Company have yet to learn their lesson following expensive divorces with both Chizik and Tommy Tuberville.

This time things feel different.

Any school runs a risk when they pay a coach $4 million a year and promise him the moon if they fall out of love. They all do it. But Malzahn is different because the market says so. He’s widely regarded as the most innovative offensive mind in the college game today and that comes with a premium.

NFL clubs have already shown interest. A few more seasons like last and this contract will be chump change anyway. Besides, Malzahn and his personality along with his blue collar work ethic fit Auburn like a glove.

SEC defenses may figure out Malzahn in the near future, but I doubt it. Anybody that gets to the office before 4 a.m. will be hard to beat. Maybe I’m drinking the Kool-Aid, but this guy has the chance to define college football for a long time.

He may be that one in a million guy that’s worth every penny to keep in orange and blue. Let the naysayers live in the past. Auburn just doubled down and it’s right in every way.

Wait and see.

Shug Said Football Helped Him Get Through D-Day

By Posted on: June 6th, 2014 in Football 5 Comments »

Today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Over 150,000 allied soldiers stormed the beaches amidst some of the most hellish combat conditions ever experienced in war. Over 9,000 are still buried there at the Normandy American Cemetery and another 1557  names of the missing in action are listed on a memorial.

Be sure to read Sullivan013′s moving and excellent account (in his tribute To the Men of that Era) on that historic day including war hero Shug Jordan’s participation. In this brief video, Jordan who carried a copy of the Auburn Creed with him also said football helped get him through that day.