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August 25, 2011

Late night notes: Auburn, Gus Malzahn expect offense to pick up the pace this season

Last season, Auburn rarely hit the 80-play threshold offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn sets as a weekly goal.

With Cam Newton at quarterback, the Tigers were so efficient on offense that they didn’t need to.

That might change this season. Auburn will likely get back to the basics of Malzahn’s offense, trying to out-pace opponents to create confusion on defense.

“I think so,” Malzahn said. “After we get an initial first down, that has been one of our positives and we’re trying to build upon that. There will be definitely times this year when we’ll need to be able to play fast.”

Auburn only hit 80 plays in one game last year: the national championship against Oregon, when it ran 85.

The closest the Tigers came before that was 78 against South Carolina the first go-around, although Malzahn wasn’t concerned.

“We always want to win the game or run 80,” he said. “There are certain times the game dictates you can’t run 80. But that’s still our goal as far as our pace goes and number of snaps.”

Although the Tigers didn’t break it out often last year, they still practice pace all the time.

“It’s going to be a weapon that we use more often than we did last year,” wide receiver Emory Blake said. “In order to do that, we’ve got to keep working at it everyday.”

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Here are more notes and quotes from Thursday night:
  • It’s been a week since coaches named Barrett Trotter the starting quarterback over Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier. The three are settling into their roles. “They’ve really responded well,” Malzahn said. “Barrett has really taken the leadership role. Clint Moseley is really preparing like he’s the starter too. Great attitude, really attentive. Kiehl Frazier the same way. In meetings, on the field, they’re paying attention. I’ve been very pleased with their effort mentally and physically.”
  • Auburn has plenty of young guys who will play in the opener. “That’s my anxiety,” Malzahn said. “Hold onto the football, execution, penalties, the thing that happen from inexperienced teams. That’s my anxiety, but we’re working very hard to be disciplined and to overcome that.”
  • After a yearlong experiment at linebacker, redshirt freshman LaDarius Owens is back where he feels comfortable: on the defensive line. A defensive end at Jess Lanier High in Bessemer, Ala., Owens moved to linebacker once he got to Auburn, playing there through the spring. He switched back to d-line in the summer, and has worked behind Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford at rush end. “The transition has been good because I’m glad to be back in my comfort zone,” he said.
  • Owens said he gained about 20 pounds, putting him in the 250 range, still light for a defensive end going up against 300-pounders. How does he deal with that? “You’d better bring it,” Owens said. “It’s either kill or be killed. That’s the mentality I go in there with. You can’t be beat up. You’d better come in there and fight and be quick.  My advantage is getting off the ball quicker than them, faster then them. You’d better use that to your advantage. You don’t want to get into a tussle with them or nothin’ like that.”
  • Who is Auburn’s starting center? They’re still waiting to find out. True freshman Reese Dismukes continues to battle sophomore Blake Burgess for the job. “I’m not sure if it’s going to be me yet, but I’m sure we’ll get that news here pretty soon,” Dismukes said.
  • Dismukes might be young, less than a year removed from high school, but he enrolled early to get used to the college game. It was worth it. “I’m pretty much comfortable with doing everything I need to do, making all the calls, all that kind of thing,” he said. “It’s not that difficult. I’ve got everything down as far as that goes.”
  • Defensive coordinator Ted Roof had some interesting things to say about the number of players he plans to use on defense this year. Usually it’s around 18-20. This year, it’ll be “significantly higher.” More on this in a newspaper story I’m planning for Saturday.
  • Roof likes the progress of sophomore CB Ryan White. But he noted the difference about being inexperienced on the d-line and in the secondary. “Because when you make mistakes out there you’re exposed,” he said. “A defensive tackle gets breached and they go for six yards, not a lot of people see that. If your corner busts a coverage and they throw for 80, everybody sees that. The risk is a lot higher out there.”
  • Freshman LB Justin Garrett said he’s worked at several spots and has been getting some work in on the dime defense. He’s only 206 pounds, so it’s tough. He’s also been working on special teams.
  • The team has done more Utah State prep of late. Roof said Utah State does “everything under the sun. They line up in anything from unbalanced to Wishbone to no back and everything in between. So there’s a lot of diversity in their offense and they do a good job with multiple personnel groups, pace, you’ve got the whole ball of wax to deal with defensively.”
  • We had a chance to talk to DT Jamar Travis for the first time. Very pleasant guy. He sounds genuinely excited about getting an opportunity to get on the field finally. “You see Nick (Fairley) and Zach Clayton (last year), you pretty much knew,” he said. “Every year, everybody gets a chance. But this year you see a lot of opportunities because none of us have ever started except Nosa (Eguae).”
  • Travis, a junior, said he used all the talk of the freshmen who were going to come in and get all the playing time as motivation this summer during workouts. “You’ve just got to work hard, because they’re eager, too, ” he said. “I go a lot harder. I know I can push a lot harder now. I know where I can go.”
  • Travis, who’s from Brewton, Ala., like offensive lineman Jared Cooper, made a tackle on special teams in last year’s BCS title game against Oregon. The whole town must have seen it. “That night I got a million calls,” he said. “People back at home had seen it. Coming from a small town little things like that mean a lot. I just try to make my city proud.”

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