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July 31, 2009

Opponent preview: Ball State

In case you missed the beginning of our opponent previews, you can click on Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State and West Virginia to go back and read the first three installments.

Next up, Ball State, so let’s get started. And remember, follow the War Eagle Extra on Twitter here.

Ball State Cardinals

  • Head coach: Stan Parrish (1st season at Ball State; 11th overall, 57-42-3 at Wabash College, Marshall and Kansas State)
  • 2008 record: 12-2 (8-0 MAC, 1st in West), lost to Tulsa 45-13 in GMAC Bowl
  • Returning starters: 11 (4 offense, 7 defense)
  • Total offense: 442.5 (1st MAC, 17th nationally)
  • Total defense: 368.2 (4th MAC, 69th nationally)
  • Series: Auburn leads series 2-0
  • Last meeting: Auburn won 63-3 in 2005 at Jordan-Hare Stadium
  • Consensus prediction: Fifth place in the MAC West

Five-week schedule glimpse

  • Sept. 12: New Hampshire
  • Sept. 19: at Army
  • Sept. 26: at Auburn
  • Oct. 3: Toledo
  • Oct. 10: at Temple

Ball State had a dream season for 12 games, riding quarterback Nate Davis to a perfect regular season and getting as high as No. 12 in the polls. Then came the MAC championship, where the Cardinals got upset by a Turner Gill-coached Buffalo team 42-24. After coach Brady Hoke bolted for San Diego State in December, Ball State got hammered by Gus Malzahn‘s offense at Tulsa in the GMAC Bowl, an inglorious end to what was supposed to be a dream season. Davis left early for the NFL, where he was a fifth-round choice by the San Francisco 49ers. With a new coach and no star quarterback, the Cardinals, who once were bottom feeders in the MAC, might be in for a difficult season.

To find out how things this are going for the Cardinals this year, I contacted Doug Zaleski, Ball State beat writer at The Star Press in Muncie, Ind. You can read his work online here and his blog here. Here’s what he had to say:

AB: Ball State moved pretty quickly in promoting offensive coordinator Stan Parrish to replace Brady Hoke, who left to become head coach at San Diego State. Parrish has been on board for the entirety of the Cardinals’ recent turnaround, so the continuity is there, but he hasn’t been a head coach since a pitiful three-year run at Kansas State from 1986-88 when he went 2-30-1. Is he the right man for the job?

DZ: Ball State needed to do something with its head coaching job quickly last December with a bowl game looming and Hoke leaving for San Diego State. Parrish was handy, which made him a convenient selection, but he also had the respect of the school’s administration, players and fans. He’s the architect of the Cardinals’ high-octane offense, so that continuity is there. Certainly Parrish’s record as a head coach is not good, but the Kansas State job when he held it was among the worst positions in the country.

AB: Parrish might still be around but all-everything quarterback Nate Davis opted for the NFL instead of coming back for his senior season. Who will replace Davis and what fraction of his production can Cardinals fans expect out of the quarterback position this year?

DZ: Kelly Page was anointed the likely starter heading into spring practice, and he was named the starter coming out of spring ball. Page redshirted as a true freshman last year, and Davis told me he saw enough of Page to think he’s going to be a great player at Ball State. Page has all the physical tools to play the position, but he obviously lacks experience. That deficit, combined with a mostly new offensive line could spell some trouble for the passing game this year.

AB: Running back MiQuale Lewis set school records in rushing yards (1,736) and touchdowns (22) last season but still played largely in Davis’ shadow. Is Lewis up to the task of being this team’s offensive centerpiece and will he approach any of those numbers after Ball State lost four starters from last year’s offensive line?

DZ: Everything went perfectly for Lewis last year, and it’s doubtful he’ll approach similar numbers this season. He will be the centerpiece of the offense, but without a feared passing attack to complement his running skills, the same lanes won’t be open. Defenses are certain to load up to stop Lewis and make the passing game beat them. That could be a tough task for Ball State. Parrish is going to try to get Lewis out in space a little bit, lining him up as a pass receiver at times, to get him the ball on the edge, where he can use his shiftiness.

AB; Not too much was written about last year’s defense, which gave up only 20.5 points per game, ranking 29th nationally. How much talent is on this unit after losing both starting cornerbacks (Trey Buice and Kenny Meeks) and two starting linebackers (Bryant Haines and B.J. Hill) from last season?

DZ: The big loss for the defense is the corner positions. Besides Buice and Hill, nickel corner Trey Lewis also graduated. The corners who win starting jobs in the fall will be largely untested as regular contributors. The front seven of the defense looks pretty good. Ball State should be able to absorb the loss of Haines and Meeks (coaches are extremely high on freshman LB Travis Freeman), and the front four headed by Brandon Crawford should be solid with lots of starting and playing experience.

AB: Until December of last year, Ball State was having a dream season. Then it lost the MAC championship to Buffalo, was throttled in a 32-point GMAC Bowl loss to the Gus Malzahn-coordinated offense of Tulsa and watched its head coach bolt for the sunny skies of San Diego. Was the Cardinals’ success last year fleeting or is it sustainable for the foreseeable future?

DZ: Last year’s success was the culmination of a 5-year building process with lots of talented seniors contributing in many areas. Ball State likely will take a step back this year in the MAC because of the inexperience it will have on offense. But Hoke thought his last two recruiting classes were the best of his regime, and Parrish was pleased with this year’s newcomers. The players in those classes will need time to mature, but they should prevent Ball State from falling off the map.

NCAA ’10 on PlayStation 3 says … Auburn 45, Ball State 13. Oh, what a rout! Where to start? How about Auburn’s 479 yards of total offense? Kodi Burns throws for 220 yards and three touchdowns and scores another on the ground. Ben Tate runs for 148 yards and a score. Mario Fannin adds 75 rushing yards. And Tim Hawthorne has a big day in the air, catching six passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns. An all-around strong offensive day for the Tigers, as they improve to 3-1 while handing Ball State its first loss.

Up next: We get back to conference play, with Auburn’s first road trip of the year, what’s sure to be a thrilling trip to Knoxville to take on Tennessee.

Rocker, Coleman have father/son relationship

Antonio Coleman was at SEC media days in Hoover, Ala., last week and had some glowing things to say about defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, who had equally glowing things to say about his star pupil.

So everything’s always been hunky-dory between the two, right? Well, not necessarily. They didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything early in spring practice, with things coming to a head with an on-field exchange, the details of which made their way onto the Internet message boards. It was later classified a “misunderstanding.” The result has been a Coleman as focused as he’s ever been, ready to take on the responsibility of leading Auburn’s defensive unit into battle this fall. Rocker, meanwhile, is pleased — and grateful — to have AC back for his senior season.

The story was so compelling that I wrote about it here for the dead-tree version of our newspaper, which also happens to be online for everyone to read for free. Here’s how it starts:

AUBURN, Ala. — Tracy Rocker stood shocked as Auburn opened spring practice, taken aback that his newly-inherited defensive linemen skirted physical confrontations by dodging blockers and frustrated that his star end, Antonio Coleman, went about his business in a quiet, self-contained manner.

The outspoken Rocker voiced his displeasure, specifically targeting the slow-starting Coleman. Rumors swirled and the Internet was abuzz when an anonymous report made its way onto the message boards. It said Coleman walked off the field in a huff following the exchange.

Labeled a “misunderstanding,” the incident proved to be a turning point for Rocker and Coleman, one that’s fostered a bond between the former Auburn legend and current All-SEC lineman.

“I just thought that he wasn’t giving his best, and we sat down and we ironed it out,” Rocker said, blunt as usual. “You don’t know how a kid’s going to react. And in the process, he approached it in a very mature way. ‘I didn’t know this. How do I lead?’ Well, hell, I’ll help you lead. …

“I think that was the turning point for him. After that, I said, ‘OK, that’s the guy I keep hearing about.’”

July 30, 2009

Opponent preview: West Virginia

We’ve done Louisiana Tech and Mississippi State, now it’s time for the Take Me Home, Country Roads version of our opponent previews. That’s right, West Virginia and Pat White-less Mountaineers.

And remember, follow the War Eagle Extra on Twitter here.

West Virginia Mountaineers

  • Head coach: Bill Stewart (2nd season at WVU, 10-4; 6th overall, 18-29)
  • 2008 record: 9-4, (5-2 Big East, t-2nd), beat North Carolina 31-30 in Meineke Car Care Bowl
  • Returning starters: 12 (5 offense, 7 defense)
  • Total offense: 360.4 (5th Big East, 59th nationally)
  • Total defense: 328.9 (6th Big East, 36th nationally)
  • Series: West Virginia leads series 1-0
  • Last meeting: West Virginia won 34-17 last year in Morgantown, W.Va.
  • Consensus prediction: First place in the Big East

Five-week schedule glimpse

  • Sept. 5: Liberty
  • Sept. 12: East Carolina
  • Sept. 19: at Auburn
  • Oct. 1: Colorado
  • Oct. 10: at Syracuse

Despite a 4-2 record, nothing really clicked last year for West Virginia until Auburn strolled into town and built a 17-3. That’s when Pat White, who had been plagued by injuries all year, turned into the Pate White everyone expected him to be. The senior threw for three touchdowns in the game and Noel Devine ran wild for 207 yards as the Mountaineers rallied for a big Thursday night win, driving a stake through the heart of the Tommy Tuberville regime in the process. WVU would win four of six coming down the stretch, including a thriller in the Meineke Car Care Bowl to send White in style. Now he’s gone, and the Mountaineers will have to deal with life in the post-superstar era, not an easy transition for a lot of teams.

To get the scoop, I went to Mike Casazza of the Charleston Daily Mail, who answered in great detail, which we at the blog love (we also like that he makes references to The Usual Suspects and a certain legendary North American man-ape). You can find more of Mike’s work on his WVU blog here and at the Daily Mail’s main sports site here.

AB: After four years, 10,000 yards, more than 100 touchdowns accounted for and 34 wins, including an NCAA-record four bowl victories, quarterback Pat White’s West Virginia career is finally over. There will obviously be a drop off in play from one of the best players in Big East history to his replacement, Jarrett Brown, but how much?

MC: A lot, and that’s even if JB has a good year. Quarterback play is probably the key to this year’s team, but comparisons to the predecessor are going to be unfair. First, Pat White is Pat White. Second, they’re different players. JB is bigger with a stronger arm and while he can run, he’s not a runner. That said, he comes along at a good time. He’s seasoned, he’s been patient and indications are WVU is going to be pass-first, or at least pass-prone, to take advantage of good receivers and players who are pretty skilled in space. In that view, maybe the numbers JB produces are different than Pat’s, but maybe the offense is as or about as productive. To be fair, though, a lot of JB’s potential rests in a mostly new offensive line and the ability to pass and run block. He’s played a lot, but he’s never been a guy a team game-planned for. Both of his starts have been game-time decisions and the opposing defense wasn’t sure who’d be playing quarterback. And again, that matters because they were different players. Maybe the play calls didn’t change, but they did different things in different ways. For the first time, teams will be prepping for JB. He’ll have to adjust to that.

AB: Will running back Noel Devine (1,289 yards, 4 TDs) be the focal point of the offense this season or will the Mountaineers alter their offensive focus to better utilize Brown’s throwing abilities? And are all the skill position questions moot if West Virginia doesn’t find some answers — and quickly — on an offensive line that lost four of the five players who started most of last season, including All-American tackle Ryan Stanchek?

MC: Ideally, WVU would be a 50-50 run-pass team. They want to set up the plays they want to call second-and-short, third-and-short, run when the defense expects pass, pass when the defense expects run. It’ll be interesting to see how they get into those situations. They threw the ball a lot in the spring, though part of that was to preserve Noel, get JB comfortable and bring along the offensive line. It worked pretty well and they feel good about their receivers and tight end. Noel’s value is in touches and total yards. He’ll carry the ball, but not as much as Steve Slaton, and he’ll also catch passes. He can’t be a 25-carry-a game guy and get through the season healthy and productive, but he’s too good with the ball in his hands not to get the ball in his hands. In that regard, sure, he’s a focal point. Defenses know that, though, so the offense is going to spread it around. In addition to the known receivers, they have some pretty intriguing freshmen, especially Tavon Austin, that they really want to incorporate into the offense. They also think they have some good running backs to spell Noel or to provide a different look. As you say, though, it’s about the offensive line and if they can find the right five right away to get things going.

AB: The Mountaineers return seven defensive starters from last year’s squad, and could add much-hyped junior college transfer Tevita Finau to the mix if he clears the necessary academic hurdles. What are the keys for this group taking a step toward being a formidable defense?

MC: Finau’s already reached a mythical status here. He’s part Keyser Sose, part Bigfoot. People talk about him in these epic tones, but no one’s ever seen him. He’s not here yet despite promises he’d be here in late-June. But we’re pretty sure he’s a real person and we’re told all those academic hurdles are cleared. It appears he just got caught up in a paperwork shuffle. Yet even if he’s here when camp starts next weekend, he hasn’t played in a long, long time, he hasn’t practiced with the Mountaineers and a very demanding, very good defensive line coach, Bill Kirelawich, and he’s immediately behind two good defensive ends in Larry Ford and Julian Miller, who give WVU a nice pass-rushing platoon. Point being, he’s not the key to the defense and, realistically, you can’t expect a whole lot from him at the beginning. If he develops to or close to his potential, then it’s a major bonus because that defense is going to be good. They key for them is continuity, which they already have. They have three starters on the line and some key backups for what is the key to the defense. Their linebackers might be as collectively fast as anyone else in the country and they have depth there, too. Same at the safety spots. WVU starts three safeties one’s a hybrid linebacker-safety but they’ve all started, they all play different safety spots and there’s depth there, as well. The concern is at cornerback, where they think Brandon Hogan is an NFL talent, but they have two or three guys who will continue to battle on the other side. If they can find their best lineups early, keep them on the field as much as possible and build those groups, watch out. Their bottom line statistic is points allowed. They give up yards and they sometimes struggle with third down conversions, but their red zone defense was great last year and teams had a hard time scoring on them. There’s a certain mental strength there and that only grows with experience. You’d figure the physical part would come along and they’d find ways to get off the field and force some more turnovers.

AB: West Virginia ranked third to last nationally in kickoff coverage last year. Plus, it lost second-team All-American kicker/punter Pat McAfee, who was in contention for both the Ray guy and Lou Groza awards last season. Could special teams be one of the most overlooked concerns on this team?

MC: Well, it’s not overlooked here. It’s a really, really touchy subject, especially because last year’s failures were so unexpected. Stewart doubles as the special teams coach and they’ve regularly ranked among the best teams in the country with special teams. They do really well in things like net punting and even punt and kick return offense, but their kickoff coverage was just bad last year. How bad? Cincinnati’s Mardy Gilyard studied WVU on tape before their game last year, predicted he’d break one against something he’d spotted and then brought the opening kick back for a touchdown. It was that kind of season. To be fair, WVU was without it’s best kickoff cover guy most of the season and the numbers when he was in were dramatically different than when he was out. By the way, he graduated. They had some other injuries and personnel changes and while not as significant, it was hard to plug guys in and ask them to help out a troubled group. They pressed and missed assignments and tackles last year. This will absolutely be a focus for the team and I just can’t imagine them not getting better … maybe because they can’t get much worse. Punting isn’t a major concern because they really like Scott Kozlowski, who was one of the best in the country three years ago before he shanked a punt against Louisville that was returned for a touchdown in a game WVU lost. He hasn’t kicked since, but was good in the spring. Kickoffs and field goals are going to be a concern because they don’t know who or what they have yet. They’ll figure that out in camp, but it’s between no less than four guys.

AB: The Mountaineers moved quickly to remove the interim tag on Bill Stewart following Rich Rodriguez’s departure to Michigan a year and a half ago. What is the general feeling of West Virginia fans about handing him the reins to the program, and now that Stewart is starting to recruit his own players, can he continue to build on the program’s success under Rodriguez?

MC: General feeling? Probably mixed. People still wonder if Stewart would have been a candidate if they lost to Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl they had plans to talk to and revisit other coaches immediately after that game. Nine wins wasn’t enough for a lot of people last year, but a lot of people also realize that team wasn’t good enough to justify its preseason ranking they lost Slaton, Owen Schmitt, Darius Reynaud, Johnny Dingle, Marc Magro, Larry Williams, Vaugh Rivers, Eric Wicks, Ryan Mundy and Antonio Lews and Reed Williams ended up taking a medical redshirt. That’s 11 valuable players from the team that smoked Oklahoma, which means 11 new players who had to be valuable and frankly didn’t have it in them early on against East Carolina and Colorado. I think the fact the offenses wasn’t as prolific as people had grown accustom to was used as the biggest negative against Stewart and his coaching staff, almost as if they had no clue what to do with what they had. OK, they didn’t have anywhere near the points and yards as they did the year before, but, again, there are reasons, none bigger than simple transition. It’s not magic. It’s a process. That process is looking better now, though. Last year’s recruiting class was among the best ever at WVU and a lot of people think this year’s will be even better. That has people excited, especially as they get commitments from big-time quarterbacks, running backs and receivers, which restores hope to return to that explosive offense. Stewart’s a leader. He gets his guys and he gets them to march with him. That’s his strength, whether it be with players or coaches, and it’ll allow him to build. Whether it happens like it did with Rich doesn’t matter. Like Pat and JB, Rich and Stewart are different. I guess now we’ll see who’s better, but the pieces are at least coming together for Stewart as he begins his second year.

NCAA ’10 on the PlayStation3 says … West Virginia 24, Auburn 13. The Mountaineers enter the game riding high, ranked 20th in the country, and thanks to backup running back Mark Rodgers‘ big day (145 rushing yards, 2 total TDs), they stay that way. Burns reels off a 77-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that Rodgers matches in the third quarter, going 64 yards. Auburn gets as close as 17-13 in the fourth quarter on two Wes Byrum field goals, but Rodgers scores on a 15-yard pass from Jarrett Brown to seal the deal. Noel Devine finishes with only 67 rushing yards, but he adds 83 receiving yards to his total. Ben Tate goes for 135 yards and Burns, thanks to his long run, adds 106, but the passing game struggles for the first time. Burns finished 10-for-27 for only 77 yards.

Up next: A team that’s in major rebuilding mode after nearly running the table last season Ball State.

July 29, 2009

Let the tweeting begin!

After months of resistance, I’ve registered for a Twitter account. I’ve long been against the whole Twitter phase, just because I’m rarely interested in whether somebody is “bummed to be doing laundry :(” or “just had a delicious meal at the Olive Garden.” I just don’t care about stuff like that and promise not to tweet (twitt? Help me, I’m new at this) in that manner.

However, I understand how much of a social media tool Twitter can be. For instance, when I put up a relevant Auburn blog post, I’ll put it on Twitter (the blog’s Mississippi State opponent preview was my first tweet.) If something newsy comes out of a press conference, I’ll put it up there in short form before elaborating longer on my blog or in a story. And sometimes a news item is only worth a tweet (TE Tommy Trott making the Mackey Award watch list, for example). It just seems like a good way to inform readers of information quickly and efficiently, with the ability to promote other work that I’ve done as well.

So I encourage all of you loyal War Eagle Extra readers to follow me on Twitter here (I have a running bet with Ashton Kutcher, so please help me out). My handle is wareagleextra just to make things easy to find.

Opponent preview: Mississippi State

We’re right on schedule with our opponents previews (read the Week 1 entry, Louisiana Tech, in a previous post.)

Now it’s on to Auburn’s Week 2 foe, Mississippi State, where we hope things are a little more high-scoring this season, preferably somewhere in the 6-4 range.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

  • Head coach: Dan Mullen (1st season)
  • 2008 record: 4-8, (2-6 SEC, t-4th in the West), no postseason
  • Returning starters: 11 (7 offense, 4 defense)
  • Total offense: 274.9 (10th SEC, 113th nationally)
  • Total defense: 327.5 (10th WAC, 35th nationally)
  • Series: Auburn leads 57-23-2
  • Last meeting: Auburn won 3-2 last season in Starkville, Miss.
  • Consensus prediction: Sixth place in the SEC West

Five-week schedule glimpse

  • Sept. 5: Jackson State
  • Sept. 12: at Auburn
  • Sept. 19: at Vanderbilt
  • Sept. 26: LSU
  • Oct. 3: Georgia Tech

There’s a new coach and a new attitude in Starkville after the young, offensive-minded Mullen replaced Sylvester Croom, an older, defensive-oriented coach whose teams struggled to find any kind of consistency on offense. Mullen, a longtime Urban Meyer protege who helped him go undefeated at Utah and win two national titles with Florida, doesn’t have any Tim Tebows on his roster, but he’s hoping with time that will change. In the interim, he hopes to make some waves at a school that’s finished last or second-to-last in the SEC West in seven of the last eight seasons.

To find some answers, I went to Kyle Veazey of the The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss. You can read his excellent blog here and find all of his stories here.

AB: The Bulldogs have finished 103rd or worse nationally in total offense in each of the last five seasons. New head coach Dan Mullen is an offensive guru. How long will it take for him to put the pieces in place for the Mississippi State offense to be a factor in the SEC?

KV: This past week’s departure of two wide receivers doesn’t do much to help Mullen out. Neither does an already-thin depth chart at WR, painfully little experience behind Tyson Lee at QB and an offensive line that was porous last season. That said, look for Mullen to adapt his spread offense to the hand he’s been dealt, to borrow a cliché. It’s part salesmanship to fans, as Croom was criticized for not being adaptable, but Mullen has said time and time again he’ll adjust his offensive style and scheme to what he has. And since he has a good running back in Anthony Dixon and depth there, look for that to be the starting point.

AB: Lee, a senior who is a former junior college transfer, seems to be the frontrunner for the quarterback job, but true freshman Tyler Russell, Mississippi’s Class 5A Mr. Football, appears to be the future at the position. How do you see the quarterback situation shaking out as the season goes on?

KV: My take is that Russell will get every opportunity to win the job as soon as he can. And Mullen has made it clear he’s not against playing two QBs. But don’t bet against Lee. He’s a smart kid who works as hard as anyone, and he ran the spread offense in high school and junior college.

AB: While at Florida, Mullen had plenty of offensive weapons at his disposal, particularly versatile players in the Percy Harvin mold. Who are the play-maker candidates on the Bulldogs this season and can they fill the roles Mullen needs them to?

KV: That conversation must start with Dixon, the running back. He’s agile for 235 pounds and has been State’s only experienced playmaker. He can be valuable in the open field, and look for State to throw him the ball as well as allow him to run it. At wideout, Brandon McRae returns plenty of experience and is a tall wide receiver who can be valuable. Freshman Chad Bumphis, a wide receiver from Tupelo, has a buzz around him heading into the season that he might be an instant impact-type guy.

AB: Two of the Bulldogs’ bigger names on defense weren’t around last year. Defensive lineman Pernell McPhee transferred in from Itawamba Community College and linebacker Jamar Chaney returns after breaking his ankle in last season’s opener. Will their additions be enough to offset the losses of All-SEC linebacker Dominic Douglas and safeties Derek Pegues and Keith Fitzhugh?

KV: State could be thin in the secondary but I think, with McPhee’s addition, you’ll see improvement on the defensive line. State’s defensive strength is going to be at linebacker, with Chaney, a budding star in K.J. Wright and a junior college transfer in Chris White about whom coaches are raving.

AB: Mississippi State never got over the hump under Croom, a first-time head coach. Mullen is in the same boat, having served as an assistant throughout his entire career, albeit under the extremely successful Urban Meyer at three different schools. Is there anything that leads you to believe things will be different under Mullen?

KV: I think the distinction between these two assistants is that Mullen is a career college assistant under perhaps the most successful coach of the past decade. Croom had spent 17 years in the NFL, and, thus, was 17 years removed from college football, even though he did work for the most successful coach of his era, too. Few would argue that the world of college football from selling your program to recruiting to offensive schemes had not changed in nearly two decades. Early indications are that Mullen is savvy enough to sell his program. Can he recruit consistently and recruit well? Can he install the right offense and win games with it? We shall see.

NCAA ’10 on the PlayStation3 says … Auburn 21, Mississippi State 20. Wow! An offensive showcase relative to last year’s 3-2 rock fight. MSU leads 17-7 in the third quarter before Kodi Burns hits Montez Billings for a 43-yard touchdown pass just before the end of the third quarter to cut the lead to 17-14. Bulldogs kicker Sean Brauchle‘s 33-yard field goal with 5:42 left make its 20-14 MSU, but Ben Tate plunges in from a yard out with 3:25 to play, giving Auburn a 21-20 lead it would not give back. Burns struggles passing the ball, going 12-for-30 for 181 yards and a pick. Billings saves the day with another big receiving game, catching six passes for 127 yards. The defense chips in with five sacks, two by Jake Ricks.

Up next: A non-conference rematch with the Pat White-less West Virginia Mountaineers.

July 28, 2009

Marks, Powers agree to NFL contracts

Two former Auburn players agreed to terms with their respective NFL teams on the eve of training camp, according to separate reports.

Defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks agreed to terms on a four-year contract with the Tennessee Titans, who selected him in the second round of last April’s draft, according to The Tennessean. No dollar amount was given. The Titans begin training camp Friday. Marks was the last of Tennessee’s draft picks to sign.

Cornerback Jerraud Powers, meanwhile, agreed to terms with the Indianapolis Colts, according to the Associated Press. It’s also a four-year deal, although financial terms were not disclosed. Powers was a third-round choice last April. Interestingly, Powers is the first Colts draft pick to sign. That’s weird, consider Indianapolis reports for training camp Sunday.

Auburn’s other draftee — guard Tyronne Green, who went in the fourth round – agreed to a four-year contract with San Diego over the weekend.

Opponent preview: Louisiana Tech

It’s a light week between SEC media days and Aug. 4, the day Auburn players report for practice, so we need something to fill the time. Well, I’ve contacted beat writers for each team on the Tigers’ schedule this year and asked them five questions to get an idea of what Auburn might be up against.

If this sounds like a blatant rip-off of our Georgia beat writer David Hale‘s idea following spring practice, well, that’s because it is. Hey, a good idea is a good idea. I’m not ashamed to say I didn’t come up with it.

I’d like to run one of these each day over the next two weeks and will have a tentative schedule posted on the right side of the page. Some of the answers are trickling in, though, so there might be alterations based on that.

Now let’s get to Auburn’s Week 1 matchup:

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

  • Head coach: Derek Dooley (3rd season, 13-12)
  • 2008 record: 8-5, (5-3 WAC), beat Northern Illinois in Independence Bowl
  • Returning starters: 16 (9 offense, 7 defense)
  • Total offense: 343.1 (6th WAC, 75th nationally)
  • Total defense: 376.5 (4th WAC, 73rd nationally)
  • Series: Auburn leads 10-0-1
  • Last meeting: Auburn won 52-7 at home in 2004
  • Consensus prediction: Fourth place in the WAC

Five-week schedule glimpse

  • Sept. 5: Auburn
  • Sept. 12: at Navy
  • Sept. 19: Nicholls State
  • Sept. 30: Hawaii
  • Oct. 9: at Nevada

The Bulldogs are riding high after Dooley, in only his second season as coach, led them to their first bowl victory in 31 years, a 17-10 win against Northern Illinois in the Independence Bowl. It stands to figure that Dooley won’t be hanging around in Ruston for long (fast-rising coaches get gobbled up by big programs all the time, especially one with his pedigree). But for now, he’s at Louisiana Tech and has a veteran team that might, just might, give Auburn some trouble in that first week.

To find some answers, I contacted Jimmy Watson of the Shreveport Times, whose blog you can read here. You can also find more of his stuff online here.

AB: Expectations are high in Ruston after the Bulldogs went 8-5 last year and won their first bowl game since 1977. With non-conference games against Auburn, LSU and Navy, along with the usual battles against their longtime WAC nemeses Boise State and Fresno State, can this team improve on last season’s success?

JW: Tech can improve on the 2008 success, although it may not show up on the record. The table is really being set for 2010 when Tech will basically have seven home games, a senior quarterback, two SEC transfers at wide receiver and an SEC running back (Tennessee transfer). Tech should be in the hunt for the WAC title this season and may have its best chance yet to knock off perennial WAC power Boise State in Ruston.

AB: Louisiana Tech returns 16 starters (9 offense, 7 defense), its fast-rising coach and a ton of confidence from last year’s success. Auburn is breaking in a new coaching staff, with an unsettled quarterback situation in what will be Gene Chizik’s pressure-filled first game on the sidelines with the Tigers when the teams meet in the opener on Sept. 5. What kind of chance do the Bulldogs have of pulling the upset?

JW: Tech snuck up on Mississippi State last season and pulled off the upset, but that was in Ruston. Tech has traditionally played well in the state of Alabama, beating the Crimson Tide twice and nearly knocking off Auburn in 2000 (38-28) and 2001 (48-41 ot). The Tech coaching staff has consistently upgraded its talent over the past three seasons, but doesn’t have SEC caliber talent. Are they capable of beating Auburn … sure. Is it likely to happen … no. I’d expect an opening line in the 14-point range.

AB: The Bulldogs thrived last year once head coach Derek Dooley turned to quarterback Ross Jenkins, who went 6-2 as a starter while putting up decent stats. Playing behind an experienced offensive line with a solid running back (Daniel Porter) and receiver (Phillip Livas), can Jenkins duplicate or even improve on his success from last season?

JW: Jenkins will need to improve on his throws to make his team competitive against the Tigers. Porter and Livas are first-team All-WAC performers and can give anyone fits. But Jenkins will have to make some throws down field, something he was weak at last year, or the game could get ugly. One good point about Jenkins is that he manages the game well, which Is what Dooley asks him to do. He won’t make a lot of mistakes.

AB: Louisiana Tech is solid up front defensively, with all-WAC defensive tackle D’Anthony Smith heading a deep defensive line. But the team lost a lot on the back end of the defense, including linebackers Quin Harris and Brannan Jackson and both starting cornerbacks, Weldon Brown and Stevon Howze. Who are the candidates to replace them and are they capable of making the Tech defense the backbone of the team once again?

JW: Even with the loss of the heady Harris, Tech’s linebacking corps should be solid, although there’s not a lot of depth. Junior Dusty Rust, sophomore Adrien Cole and senior Brian White will be the starters and all of the backups are young. Tech returns the best safety in the WAC and a Sunday player next year in Antonio Baker, an incredible hitter. JUCO transfer Olajuwan Paige will help ease the loss of Brown, while sophomore Terry Carter saw plenty of playing time last season and will replace Howze. D’Anthony “Boo” Smith is a man and will lead a young, but aggressive, defensive line.

AB: Dooley is a coaching name on the rise, having completely reversed the fortunes of a team that went 3-10 two years ago, before he inherited it. He’s already interviewed for at least one job, even though the Auburn meeting might have been more of a gesture to his father. How long will he stick around in Ruston?

JW: I don’t think he will leave until he accomplishes much of the agenda that he has in his mind. That could change, of course, if the perfect job (Georgia, LSU) opened, but I don’t think he’ll jump at just any BCS job. He’s making plenty of money in Ruston, his wife is a doctor in Ruston, they like the small town atmosphere and right now he’s king of the mountain. Tech folks are just riding the Dooley train for as long as it’ll take ’em.

NCAA ’10 on the PlayStation3 says … Auburn 30, Louisiana Tech 3. After going into halftime with only a 7-0 lead, the Tigers outscore the Bulldogs 23-3 in the second half. Kodi Burns goes 20-for-39 for 301 yards, with two touchdown passes to Tim Hawthorne and another to Montez Billings. Ben Tate adds a workmanlike 11 yards and a touchdown on the ground, while the defense holds Tech to 281 total yards.

Up next: The SEC opener against Mississippi State.

July 27, 2009

Greenville DL chooses Auburn

Auburn received its sixth commitment in the last 12 days when Greenville, Ala., defensive lineman Kenneth Carter said he’ll sign with the Tigers in 2010. The news was first reported on AuburnSports.com, Inside the Auburn Tigers and AuburnUndercover.com.

The 6-foot-5, 270-pound Carter is Auburn’s 14th commitment for 2010. He had offers from Alabama, Kentucky and Ole Miss.

Rivals and Scout rank Carter as a 3-star recruit.

He had 60 tackles and six sacks as a junior in high school, according to AuburnSports.com.

Here’s the updated commit list for 2010 (Rivals star rankings are in parentheses):

Here is Auburn’s updated 2010 commitment list (star rankings are by Rivals):

  • Joel Bonomolo, DE, 6-3, 245, New Orleans, La.
  • Kenneth Carter, DL, 6-5, 270, Greenville, Ala. (3-star)
  • Shon Coleman, OL, 6-7, 275, Olive Branch, Miss. (3-star)
  • Jessel Curry, LB, 6-2, 215, Buford, Ga.
  • Antonio Godwin, WR, 6-2, 170, Atlanta, Ga. (4-star)
  • Jake Holland, LB, 6-1, 228, Pelham, Ala. (3-star)
  • D.J. Howard, ATH, 6-0, 195, Lincoln, Ala. (3-star)
  • Shaun Kitchens, ATH, 6-3, 211, College Park, Ga. (3-star)
  • Demetruce McNeal, DB, 6-1, 180, College Park, Ga. (3-star)
  • Jonathan Mincy, DB, 5-10, 175, Decatur, Ga. (3-star)
  • Cody Parkey, PK, 6-2, 195, Jupiter, Fla.
  • Jeremy Richardson, WR, 6-4, 220, Springville, Ala. (4-star)
  • Chad Slade, OL, 6-6, 316, Moody, Ala.
  • Jawara White, LB, 6-2, 220, Troy, Ala. (3-star)

Where have all the quarterbacks gone?

After the circus of SEC media days, we have a week of cooldown before players report and we fire up August practice.

For those who didn’t see it, I wrote a story for Sunday’s paper about the lack of experienced quarterbacks in the league. Here’s how it starts:

HOOVER, Ala. — For three days reporters prodded coaches at the SEC Media Days to reveal their all-conference quarterback selection, the goal being to find who didn’t fall in lockstep and vote Florida’s Tim Tebow first and Ole Miss’ Jevan Snead second.

A better question might have been who should have been third?

Beyond Tebow, a two-time national champion and former Heisman Trophy winner, and Snead, a Texas transfer putting up gaudy stats in Oxford, quarterback remains a largely unsettled position in the SEC, a major concern in a conference that had 11 teams finish in the top-40 nationally in total defense last year.

“Without good quarterback play, it’s tough to win a championship,” Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

It’s a weak crop this year for a couple of reasons. Georgia’s Matthew Stafford left for the NFL (pretty good decision since he went No. 1 overall and broke the bank). Also, former prized recruit Ryan Perrilloux would be a senior had he not been in constant trouble in his two years in Baton Rouge. Now he’s at Jacksonville State. A couple other supposedly big-time recruits — Neil Caudle and Chris Smelley — haven’t yet panned out.

Seriously, though. Take a glance at this year’s group of QBs. It’s seriously lagging behind other conferences, especially the Big 12, which has been the cradle of quarterbacks lately.

  • Alabama: Junior Greg McElroy, who backed up former Missouri star Chase Daniel in high school, will follow up the steady if not spectacular John Parker Wilson. Despite no college starts to his credit, McElroy wowed everybody in the spring.
  • Arkansas: Ryan Mallett, a cannon-armed, 6-foot-7 transfer from Michigan, finished the spring as the starter and should be the perfect fit for Bobby Petrino’s quarterback-friendly system.
  • Auburn: Neither Caudle or Kodi Burns seized the job in the spring, so the battle resumes in August, with senior Chris Todd joining the mix following offseason shoulder surgery. Most fans hope dual-threat true freshman Tyrik Rollison can get on the field in some capacity.
  • Florida: In three years he’s won two national titles and a Heisman Trophy. One more season like that and Tebow could go down as the greatest quarterback in college history.
  • Georgia: Joe Cox served as Matthew Stafford’s understudy for three years. Now the fifth-year senior gets his shot. Highly-touted freshmen Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger will battle for the backup job and a bigger future role.
  • Kentucky: The shifty Randall Cobb will stay at wide receiver this season, opening up the job for junior Mike Hartline, who had his ups and down last season but started in six of the Wildcats’ seven wins.
  • LSU: Jordan Jefferson only started two games last year but staked his claim to the No. 1 spot with a strong showing in the Tigers’ 38-3 rout of Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. He can’t afford to flop, however, with sophomore Jarrett Lee and freshman sensation Russell Shepard waiting in the wings.
  • Mississippi State: Senior Tyson Lee will get the first crack at running the spread offense new head coach Dan Mullen brings with him from Utah and Florida. But Tyler Russell, the jewel of MSU’s 2009 class, is the future in Starkville and might get a shot early.
  • Ole Miss: After a slow start, the Texas transfer Snead finished last season strong, throwing for 26 touchdowns and finishing third in the SEC in quarterback efficiency behind Tebow and Stafford.
  • South Carolina: After Smelley transferred to Alabama to play baseball, the starting job is Stephen Garcia’s. His development has been slowed by his off-the-field antics, but nobody has ever doubted the former prize recruit’s physical tools.
  • Tennessee: Head coach Lane Kiffin said senior Jonathan Crompton and junior Nick Stephens will get equal reps to start preseason practice. Neither thrived while splitting time last year, as the Vols finished 107th nationally in passing offense.
  • Vanderbilt: Senior Mackenzi Adams and sophomore Larry Smith will battle for the chance to improve what was the SEC’s worst passing offense last year. Adams is more experienced, but Smith threw for 121 yards in his first start, a 16-14 Music City Bowl victory against Boston College last December.

Fear not, SEC fans. Help appears to be on the way … eventually. Here are last February’s quarterback signees and their national rank, according to Rivals.com:

Pro-style:

  • 3. Aaron Murray, Georgia, 4-star
  • 7. A.J. McCarron, Alabama, 4-star
  • 11. Zach Mettenberger, Georgia, 4-star
  • 12. Tyler Russell, Mississippi State, 4-star
  • 14. Ryan Mossakowski, Kentucky, 4-star

Dual-threat

  • 1. Shepard, LSU, 5-star
  • 2. Rollison, Auburn, 4-star
  • 10. Jordan Reed, Florida, 4-star
  • 11. Raymond Cotton, Ole Miss, 4-star
  • 14. Morgan Newton, Kentucky, 4-star

July 25, 2009

Auburn gets commitment from Moody OL

Offensive lineman Chad Slade said Saturday that he’ll sign with Auburn in 2010. The news was first reported by the Tigers’ three recruiting Web sites — AuburnSports.com, Inside the Auburn Tigers and AuburnUndercover.com.

A 6-foot-6, 316-pound tackle from Moody (Ala.) High, Slade had an offer from Mississippi State and had drawn interest from Georgia.

Scout ranks him as a 1-star recruit. Rivals did not have a ranking.

He is the Tigers’ 13th commitment for 2010 and the second on the offensive line, joining Shon Coleman of Olive Branch, Miss.

Slade’s cousin is former Auburn running back Stacy Danley.

Here is Auburn’s updated 2010 commitment list (star rankings are by Rivals):

  • Joel Bonomolo, DE, 6-3, 245, New Orleans, La.
  • Shon Coleman, OL, 6-7, 275, Olive Branch, Miss. (3-star)
  • Jessel Curry, LB, 6-2, 215, Buford, Ga.
  • Antonio Godwin, WR, 6-2, 170, Atlanta, Ga. (4-star)
  • Jake Holland, LB, 6-1, 228, Pelham, Ala. (3-star)
  • D.J. Howard, ATH, 6-0, 195, Lincoln, Ala. (3-star)
  • Shaun Kitchens, ATH, 6-3, 211, College Park, Ga. (3-star)
  • Demetruce McNeal, DB, 6-1, 180, College Park, Ga. (3-star)
  • Jonathan Mincy, DB, 5-10, 175, Decatur, Ga. (3-star)
  • Cody Parkey, PK, 6-2, 195, Jupiter, Fla.
  • Jeremy Richardson, WR, 6-4, 220, Springville, Ala. (4-star)
  • Chad Slade, OL, 6-6, 316, Moody, Ala.
  • Jawara White, LB, 6-2, 220, Troy, Ala. (3-star)