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October 31, 2008

Auburn-Ole Miss preview

This will have to be shorter than usual this week because I have to get on the road to Tupelo pretty soon. I’ve been told it’s the birthplace of Elvis, although I can’t imagine myself taking extra time to go find that place.

Anyway, on to the game, which has some pretty big implications. If Auburn loses (and Vegas has the Tigers as a 6.5-point underdog), making a bowl game is going to be pretty tough. As I wrote in tomorrow’s game advance, Amen Corner is tougher than usual this year, with Georgia ranked No. 6 and Alabama No. 2. Assuming a win against FCS Tennessee-Martin next week and losses against the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide — not a stretch of the imagination, by the way — Auburn’s bowl eligibility hinges on Saturday’s game.

No pressure, though.

Let’s (briefly) break this thing down, shall we?

  • Say what you will about the Ed Orgeron era — which had to have topped out when he ripped his shirt off in that first team meeting, didn’t it? — but he didn’t leave Ole Miss’ cupboard bare. If there’s one thing Orgeron could do, it was recruit. And now with a coach like Houston Nutt who knows how to do a thing or two with some talent, the Rebels are definitely on the rise. A good Ole Miss team and an Alabama squad that’s as good as it has been in almost 20 years certainly makes the SEC West much more formidable. Once Nutt and Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino get things situated, that’s going to be one tough division.

  • Here’s a stat that may be meaningless: Auburn is 8-1 all-time in Oxford, having not lost there since 1992. I seem to remember fairly similar statements about the Tigers traveling to Vanderbilt, right?
  • Got an e-mail from Skip Hansberger, a reporter from the Citizen of East Alabama, the paper in Phenix City, asking about Auburn’s preference for wearing all-white shoes and socks this year. Since Skip is one of this blog’s few loyal readers who is not a) my girlfriend, b) one of my close friends or c) a member of my immediate family, I feel obliged to put his thought out there:

    “Everyone talks about how successful Auburn is when they wear the white uniforms. But something that might be a little more interesting is to find out how the Auburn football team fares while wearing white SHOES. If I remember correctly, Auburn has worn black shoes for both home and away games for at least the last five seasons, maybe even more. I know they wore white shoes during the 2001 season and maybe ’99 through ’02 as well.”

    Admittedly, my knowledge of Auburn’s sartorial statements are extremely limited having been on the beat for, oh, a month and a half now. I do know that Tommy Tuberville said on his radio show last night that the players wanted to wear all-white shoes and socks this year because it made them feel like they were faster (hey, whatever convinces you). So I’ll put this out there to anyone in the know — what is the history of Auburn’s color preference for shoes and socks? Give me a good response and I’ll give you a shout-out in the blog.

  • As a bonus question, what does everyone out there prefer with Auburn’s road unis — white or black shoes?
  • Well, back to the game. There’s been a lot of talk about finishing games off this week, which there should be, considering Auburn has led at halftime in every game this year, blowing double-digit leads in all four losses. What’s to blame for this? Here are a couple ideas
    1. The defense lacks depth, something that was very noticeable in the second half of the West Virginia game, when the Tigers missed all sorts of tackles and let Noel Devine run wild.
    2. The offense doesn’t know how to adjust. Opposing defenses have obviously adjusted to what Auburn does in the first half, stacking eight or nine guys in the box and daring the Tigers to beat them in the air. Auburn, with de facto offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger, in actuality a tight ends coach, and Tuberville, a defensive coach by trade, aren’t capable of making the necessary adjustments. It’s fairly simple to call all running plays in the first half. When you have to switch up what you’re doing is when you need a smart, trained offensive mind who can keep defenses on their heels. That’s why you hire and — perhaps more to the point — why you keep coordinators.
  • Auburn better hope CB Jerraud Powers (hamstring) can play and isn’t limited too much. The Tigers can barely field a nickel package as it is. Not a good thing when you’re going against a quarterback like Jevan Snead, who has thrown as many touchdowns this season as Florida’s Tim Tebow and Georgia’s Matthew Stafford.

Prediction time: This is a tough one. While it seems like Auburn would be especially motivated because its bowl life is basically on the line, you would have thought that last week and the week before and the week before, when the Tigers’ chances at staying near the top of the SEC were fading. Truthfully, I don’t know what to expect out of Auburn. The Tigers can look like the best team on the field (witness the first quarter at Vanderbilt and the first 20 minutes at West Virginia), and they can look like the most clueless team in the SEC at other times. Auburn’s big problems are with its depth in the secondary and its place-kicking game. Those are two pretty big holes to have if you’re expecting a close game.

As a result, I’ll go with Ole Miss 23, Auburn 17.

October 30, 2008

Thursday update: Second-half struggles

Not surprisingly, Tommy Tuberville‘s focus this week has been on getting his team to come out strong in the second half. Auburn has led at halftime in every game this season, blowing double-digit leads in all four its losses.

So how do the Tigers combat coming out flat?

“We might go scrimmage at halftime,” Tuberville joked.

“No, I don’t know. There’s really no answer to it other than the fact we need something to happen to us when we first go out there. We’ve gone back and looked and it looks like we’re waiting for things to happen instead of making things happen — coaching and playing. We’ve got some things in mind that we want to try to do if the situation arises.

“There’s no miracle formula. We’ve just got to go out and play and coach better for four quarters.”

In other news:

  • Both Auburn and Ole Miss are 4-4 this year. It’s safe to say the teams’ respective fan bases are taking things very different. “It’s all relative to what you’ve done in the past and what you’re doing now,” Tuberville said. “Everybody looks at us saying something’s wrong that we’ve lost four games. You look back and we’ve won 50 games in the last five years. It’s hard for us to take. You think the fans it’s hard to take. It’s harder for the players and coaches to take it than it is for the fans. It eats at us because we know we’re better than how we’ve played.”
  • Tuberville said it’s been hardest for the seniors. “This is the last time most of them will ever play football,” he said. “We play the Iron Bowl 30 days from today and it will be the last time they put on pads. Their time is coming to an end.” I’m going to assume Tuberville was not giving up on the possibility of making a bowl game. It is funny how he phrased it, though.
  • On the injury front, NG Tez Doolittle (groin) practiced Thursday and is expected to play.

  • CB Neiko Thorpe (ankle) won’t play. Jerraud Powers (hamstring) practiced Thursday and should be fine for Saturday.
  • RB Ben Tate (hamstring) is not quite 100 percent, but he took snaps all week long.

October 29, 2008

Trustee, AD back Tuberville; coach appreciative

Tommy Tuberville apparently still has some friends out there.

The embattled Auburn coach got a public statement of support from Paul Spina (right), president pro tempore of Auburn’s board of trustees, and athletic director Jay Jacobs.

“I think Tommy made a couple of staff mistakes, and I’m going to fight for him to have the opportunity to correct those mistakes,” Spina told the Birmingham News. “Tommy deserves that opportunity, and I’ll fight for him to have that opportunity to remain the head football coach at Auburn University.

“I think Tommy is good for Auburn. Given the opportunity, I think he can continue to be good for Auburn.”

Jacobs released a statement Wednesday evening:

“As I do with every coach, I evaluate their job performance based on the body of work. That being the case, we will continue to support Coach Tuberville and the program as we always have, and are looking forward to the next four games.”

Tuberville, who met briefly with reporters after practice, had this as a response:

“You look at it and you appreciate it, but you’ve just got to do your job, just keep going, work at it and try to get better. You always look for support obviously, but I know we’ve just got to keep trying to get better and win games.”

In other news:

  • Backup CB Neiko Thorpe (ankle) doesn’t sound like he’ll play. Tuberville said he’s probably a week away. Phenix City native D’Antoine Hood will likely be Auburn’s third cornerback against Ole Miss.

  • CB Jerraud Powers (hamstring), DE Antoine Carter (ankle) and NG Tez Doolittle (groin) all practiced Wednesday.
  • No news on the place-kicking situation. Tuberville said the trio of Wes Byrum, Morgan Hull and Clinton Durst went 18-for-18 Wednesday. I’m highly skeptical, but that’s what the man said.

SI’s Mandel: Auburn most disappointing team of 2008

This is not surprising. In his weekly mailbag, Sports Illustrated national football writer Stewart Mandel was asked which team was the most disappointing this season. His options? Clemson, Auburn or Wisconsin.

Here’s his reponse:

“I have to go with Auburn. Clemson, while unquestionably a flop, was a flop most of us saw coming from the get-go but foolishly talked ourselves into anyway. I certainly thought the Badgers would be better than they are, but their demise hasn’t exactly sent shockwaves through the sport.

“Auburn’s implosion, on the other hand, is downright inexcusable. The Tigers have been playing at a high level for years. The athletes are there. It’s just been a case of a coach’s grand experiment going completely awry, and it’s a complete waste of an incredibly talented defense. At this point, Auburn’s problems run far deeper than their offensive scheme. As I predicted at the time, Tommy Tuberville‘s hasty dismissal of coordinator Tony Franklin sent that whole program into a cloud of negativity, and you can see the ripple effect.

“Against West Virginia last week, the Tigers simply looked like a team that’s thrown in the towel. They jumped to an early lead, but as soon as the Mountaineers fought back, Auburn flat-out crumbled. Suddenly this week’s Ole Miss game is huge. Lose that one, and there’s almost no chance the Tigers finish .500.”

Can’t say you’ll find too many contrary arguments around here.

Wednesday video

From Tuesday’s round of interviews, it’s got head coach Tommy Tuberville, QB Kodi Burns, DE Antonio Coleman and DT Sen’Derrick Marks. Enjoy.

Wednesday video

From Tuesday’s round of interviews, it’s got head coach Tommy Tuberville, QB Kodi Burns, DE Antonio Coleman and DT Sen’Derrick Marks. Enjoy.

Wednesday video

From Tuesday’s round of interviews, it’s got head coach Tommy Tuberville, QB Kodi Burns, DE Antonio Coleman and DT Sen’Derrick Marks. Enjoy.

Wednesday video

From Tuesday’s round of interviews, it’s got head coach Tommy Tuberville, QB Kodi Burns, DE Antonio Coleman and DT Sen’Derrick Marks. Enjoy.

Wednesday video

From Tuesday’s round of interviews, it’s got head coach Tommy Tuberville, QB Kodi Burns, DE Antonio Coleman and DT Sen’Derrick Marks. Enjoy.

Wednesday video

From Tuesday’s round of interviews, it’s got head coach Tommy Tuberville, QB Kodi Burns, DE Antonio Coleman and DT Sen’Derrick Marks. Enjoy.