Auburn News and Notes—5/31/17 Edition
Jarrett Stidham will be receiving outside tutoring from a quarterback coach during the off season (photo: Wade Rackley/Auburn Athletics)
It was a busy weekend around the SEC . Tickets were punched for the Women’s College World Series, an SEC baseball crown was won and teams are being named to the NCAA tournament, and SEC football spring meetings are underway in Florida. How does Auburn fit into these story lines?
After two straight trips to Oklahoma City to play in the WCWS, including a shot at the title last season against Oklahoma, Auburn softball was run out of Jane B. Moore Field by the team that sent them packing last season. To say that the losses in the Super Regional in front of a record-setting home crowd were bad losses is an understatement. Auburn managed only eight hits and two runs in the two-game season finale. It can’t be said that this was surprising to those fans who watched the Tigers play all season and were aware of the possibility of a letdown season.
Still, expecting the struggles made it no less painful. What happened? The short story was that Auburn’s bats were not what they had been in previous years. A cursory look at the statistics show less productivity at the plate, especially in slugging percentage and home runs. Auburn hit 89 home runs in 2016 but just 51 in 2017. Batting average dropped 30 points across the board this season versus last season.
There was an easy reason for this drop, and it isn’t simply the fault of hitting coach Casey Myers nor the lack of production from Kasey Cooper, who leads virtually every hitting category in Auburn history. We will discuss this in depth in a later article.
Auburn’s baseball team was No. 4 in the nation at one point this season. Even though Auburn’s pitching staff was looking mighty thin at the time, a lot of folks thought the Tigers would run roughshod over the majority of the SEC when aces Casey Mize and Keegan Thompson were back to 100%. An SEC crown and a regional host spot weren’t out of the question. However, starting with a mid-week gameloss against Troy, Auburn began to tank and suffered a series sweep at the hands of Alabama, one of the bottom feeders in the SEC. After being swept by LSU, Auburn took a series from Ole Miss and limped into the SEC tournament. The Tigers sent Ole Miss home for good, had a good showing against Florida in a 5–4 loss, but were absolutely blasted by Arkansas.
A team that went from No. 4 to an NCAA tournament bubble team finds itself matched up with Florida State in the Tallahassee Regional. It will open play against Central Florida Friday at 11:00 a.m.
Football news, SEC spring meetings, and more after the jump:
The SEC spring meetings kicked off Tuesday morning in Destin with a laundry list of talking points. Among them are staff size limitation, graduate transfer rules, early signing periods, and serving alcohol at SEC football games. Where do you stand on these?
Here are my takes to some of these softballs being pitched: you can limit staff size and vote either way on early signing periods. In the end, Alabama will continue to push the envelope, and the rest of the SEC will try and keep up. It’s so interesting to me that Saban is an innovator off the field but draconian in his approach on the field. The rest of the SEC, or at least the teams that have battled Bama, are the complete opposite.
Coach Bruce Pearl is making the rounds to the local Auburn clubs, a departure from coach Gus Malzahn, who has been the featured guest in past years. Pearl will appear in Huntsville at the Space and Rocket Center Davidson Center on June 12th. The Huntsville-Madison County Auburn Club is heading up the event.
I believe this is a fantastic move. While Auburn football and Gus Malzahn are easily the bigger draw, the events have suffered, and not because of the event itself. While previous events have been top notch, speaker quality has lacked. Gus Malzahn may be an on-field innovator, but he is a drag as a speaker to the point of being downright boring. Most fans know that Pearl is anything but boring. He is lively, engaging, and more than willing to discuss questions about things that happen on the court.
Speaking of Gus Malzahn, he has suddenly decided that outside help with his quarterbacks isn’t just OK, it is welcomed. Malik Willis and Jarrett Stidham are both currently at camps receiving training tailored to their skill set.
Willis is under the tutelage of Michael Vick in Atlanta, and Stidham is working with Jordan Palmer at the QB Summit in California. Fans will be quick to note that Vick, and his trainer Sean McEvoy, were unable to help John Franklin, III last summer. Franklin, as fans will recall, essentially snuck off to Atlanta for training, making Malzahn invoke some damage control while reconsidering his stance on outside help. In the end, JF3 was never an SEC-caliber QB, and it is doubtful that anyone could have changed that.
Which quarterback is getting the upper hand? Both are getting quality help outside of Auburn, and that’s not a bad thing. The jury is out on both Willis and the Vick’s ability to help quarterbacks, but Stidham is in good company and not just because of the tutors. Joining Stidham are some of the best quarterback prospects in the country. That should speak volumes.
Perhaps the underlying question is, where is Sean White in all of this? White has long had a personal coach, renowned QB guru Ken Mastrole. Malzahn refused to let him coach White once Sean was on campus. It is interesting that reporters have the word on two QB’s who have never started a game for Auburn while a multi-year starter, known to be tutored, goes unnoticed.
Until next time …