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November 30, 2011

Replay of live chat with Auburn beat writer Joel A. Erickson

Short but sweet, with questions on quarterbacks, coaches, Auburn men’s basketball and celebrity appearances from Jim Halpert and Dr. John Dorian. Yep, I’m counting that one.

Chick-fil-A Bowl looks like it is zeroed in on Auburn

Photo by Todd Van Emst

For the past couple of weeks, the Chick-fil-A Bowl has put out a wealth of information at Jordan-Hare Stadium in advance of Auburn’s games against Samford and Alabama. A few national prognosticators have had the Tigers in the Chick-fil-A Bowl for weeks, but the bowl itself identified Auburn as the lead candidate from the SEC in its weekly blog Wednesday.

“They are probably our front-runner right now,” Chick-fil-A Bowl Team Selection Committee chairman Leeman Bennett wrote in his blog. “But we’ll have to wait and see how things shake out on Sunday.

At 7-5, Auburn is slotted almost perfectly into the slot, provided that LSU knocks off Georgia in the SEC title game on Saturday. The thinking has gone that an Auburn-Clemson matchup would not be attractive to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, considering that Auburn and Clemson have already played in 2011 and are scheduled to play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl’s Kickoff Classic to start the season in 2012. But Bennett makes no mention of the issue in his blog, and he lists Clemson as the No. 1 most likely ACC team to reach the Chick-fil-A Bowl, along with Virginia Tech. The loser of the ACC title game is slotted to go to Atlanta as the ACC’s No. 2 option. Bennett also mentions Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Wake Forest among the possible ACC options for the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

On the SEC side, though, the No. 1 option appears to be Auburn, a team the Chick-fil-A Bowl committee has high regard for this season.

“All five of the teams the Tigers lost to are currently in the Top 20,” Bennett wrote. “There might not be another team in the country that can say that. And don’t forget about their win over a 10-win South Carolina team on the road.”

Florida is also listed as a possibility, but the Gators were not on the Chick-fil-A Bowl’s SEC list as recently as last week. Bennett writes that only one scenario includes Florida in Atlanta, and that includes a Georgia win in the SEC title game that presumably lands three teams in the BCS and pushes Auburn up to either the Cotton Bowl or the Outback Bowl. If Georgia wins, some experts believe the SEC will land three teams in BCS bowls — LSU vs. Alabama in the national championship, Georgia in the Sugar — which would leave the Capital One, Cotton and Outback to pick from among a group that includes Arkansas, South Carolina and Auburn. At 7-5, Auburn is comfortably slotted in the SEC’s sixth spot. (Thanks to Hunter-Gatherer for pointing out the need for clarity here).

For Bennett’s entire blog, check out this link: Team Selection Blog. For more Auburn news and observations, follow the blog on Twitter.

Report: Auburn resumes recruitment of QB Jameis Winston

Auburn has reportedly resumed the recruitment of Hueytown football and baseball prospect Jameis Winston despite apparent self-imposed restrictions that would have kept the football coaches from contacting Winston until January 2012, the Birmingham News reported Tuesday.

On Monday, Scout.com reported Auburn had visited Winston, and The Birmingham News reported Tuesday that Auburn coaches Gus Malzahn, Curtis Luper and Trooper Taylor made a recruiting visit to Winston’s home Sunday night.

An Auburn spokesman declined to comment Wednesday, saying the school is not allowed to comment on prospective student-athletes. AuburnUndercover.com reported Wednesday that it was told Auburn violated no rules by visiting Winston.

“Consistent with our standard approach, the SEC office will communicate with the institution and the NCAA national office, and will have no further comment on this issue,” SEC associate commissioner Charles Bloom said in an e-mail to the Ledger-Enquirer Wednesday.

Regarding self-imposed measures, NCAA Bylaw 34.4.2 states  “Failure to fully implement the self-imposed measures may subject the institution to further disciplinary action.”

Winston, a highly-rated quarterback who is listed at 6-4, 196 pounds on MaxPreps.com, is verbally committed to Florida State.

Auburn temporarily halted its recruitment of Winston in September 2010 due to inadvertent secondary violations committed during a Tiger Prowl event — a coaches caravan — in Pelham, Ala., in April 2010, according to documents released to the media under Alabama’s open record law earlier this month.

A secondary violation is defined by NCAA Bylaw 19.02.2 as “a violation that is isolated or inadvertent in nature, provides or is intended to provide only a minimal recruiting, competitive or other advantage and does not include any significant impermissible benefit.”

In the documents, Auburn concluded that two instances of inadvertent impermissible contact was made with a recruit who was a rising junior at the event. In both cases, the Auburn coaches in question did not initiate the contact and ended it quickly, the documents indicate.

Winston’s name was redacted from the documents, but the recruit in question is listed as a football and baseball recruit, Hueytown is mentioned and the player was being recruited by Auburn, Alabama, Miami and Ohio State.

All of those facts indicate that Winston was the recruit in question, and the Birmingham News reported Tuesday that Winston’s father indicated his son was the recruit in question.

According to the documents released by Auburn, the school’s self-imposed penalties banned off-campus contact with Winston until January 2012.

“Under the SEC minimum penalties, we have imposed a 60-day period (30 days for each violation) of no off-campus contact beginning with the off-campus contact period in November 2011,” the document states. “Therefore, the football staff will not be able to make off-campus contact with (redacted) until late January 2012.”

 

November 28, 2011

Beyond the Arc: Auburn 72, Arkansas-Pine Bluff 59

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Auburn rode a 20-2 run at the end of the first half to its fourth straight win to start the season on Monday night. The Tigers beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff 72-59 in a game that was sloppy at times and featured a burst of scoring right in the middle.

But Tigers head coach Tony Barbee did not like what he saw.

Barbee wants to play a tough, scrappy, defensive style of play at Auburn, and the Tigers did not meet his expectations against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The Golden Lions only shot 30.3 percent in the first half, but after the break Savalace Townsend and Kyle Jones helped Arkansas-Pine Bluff shoot 46.4 percent. Townsend scored a game-high 24, and Jones had 15.

Barbee let loose in the post-game press conference.

“Until we start to enjoy playing hard, playing tough and nasty, we are going to look sluggish,” Barbee said. “We do not enjoy playing that way right now. We think that it is about trying to outscore people and that is not going to do anything but get you beat.”

Asked if Monday’s win was one of the most frustrating games of the season so far, Barbee said he has been far from satisfied in any game. Auburn, on the other hand, is off to its first 4-0 start in five years.

“All of the games have been frustrating thus far. I am not enjoying coaching this group right now because they are not enjoying playing the way you have to play to win at a high level.”

For what it’s worth, coaches who aren’t satisfied when they’re winning usually find a way to put their imprint on the team eventually, in my experience.

For more, follow the blog on Twitter. More quotes from Monday night at Auburn Arena are below. Barbee pulled no punches in the locker room, either. “He told us in the locker room we hadn’t arrived yet,” Kenny Gabriel said. “He was ready to throw up by the way we played defense today.”

  • Backup center Willy Kouassi, a freshman center from the Ivory Coast, looked good in 23 minutes of action. Kouassi, a project who is still learning the game, had seven points, four rebounds and three assists. More importantly, he likes to mix it up. On multiple possessions, Golden Lions forward Daniel Broughton tried to push Kouassi out of the lane, and the freshman would not be budged. “He is one guy that I would say plays with that meannes, toughness and desire that we need,” Barbee said. “He has no idea what he is doing out there. No clue. What he does know is how to play hard, mean, nasty and tough.”
  • Barbee pulled no punches in the locker room, either. “He told us in the locker room we hadn’t arrived yet,” Kenny Gabriel said. “He was ready to throw up by the way we played defense today.”
  • From where I was sitting, it looked like Chris Denson had a pretty solid performance off the bench. Denson, a Shaw graduate, poured in a team-high 17 points and shot 6-of-10 from the field. But Barbee was a little less than impressed. “Misleading,” Barbee said. “It has nothing to do with offense. He’s got the ability to score and slash and throw the ball in the hole, but he’s not bringing it defensively. The fact that we had to play 70-percent zone today…” Barbee trailed off there, but his point was that Auburn would be playing man-to-man if the coach thought his team could stop players on the perimeter.
  • Frankie Sullivan scored 14 points and buried three 3-pointers during Auburn’s big second-half run, but he said that even that run wasn’t a good representation of how Auburn wants to play. “We’re moving backwards right now, and I really don’t know why,” Sullivan said. “What we’re trying to do this year is establish ourselves as defensive stoppers. … We’re not satisfied at all with ourselves.”
  • Gabriel had 16 points, eight rebounds and five blocks. When he and Kouassi are in the game together, trying to score in the lane appears to be pretty tough for anybody who stands under 6-8 and doesn’t have an NBA-level vertical. On the other hand, starting center Rob Chubb played his way onto the bench with a four-point, four-turnover performance, and he didn’t grab a rebound until the final minutes. “Our big guys got their tails kicked today,” Barbee said. “(Chubb)’s distracted right now, and it’s obvious.”

Links: Projecting an Auburn bowl destination

Photo by Todd Van Emst

For the second straight week, there was a bunch of Chick-fil-A Bowl-related information waiting for me at seat 106 at Jordan-Hare Stadium before Saturday’s Iron Bowl. Right now, it sure seems like all signs are pointing in the direction of Atlanta. At this point, it appears that the only thing standing between Auburn and a Chick-fil-A Bowl berth is a possible rematch/prematch with Clemson, which could be the ACC’s No. 2 team, the slot normally allotted to the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Auburn and Clemson are also slated to play in the Georgia Dome for next season’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic.

But it’s more than the media now. The bowls themselves have started to zero in on the matchups they are hoping to get. The Gator Bowl itself told the Orlando Sentinel it’s hoping to get a Florida-Ohio State matchup, a game that just got a whole lot juicier with the move of Urban Meyer to Columbus. And in the Chick-fil-A Bowl’s weekly update did not have Florida on the list last week. With five 10-win teams in the SEC, those five figure to go to the BCS, Capital One, Cotton and Outback Bowls. Auburn is the only 7-win team, and then there a trio of 6-win teams. Barring an Auburn-Clemson game most fans seem to want to avoid, Atlanta is looking more and more likely.

For more Auburn news and updates, follow the blog on Twitter.

Links: Bowl Projections

 

Trooper Taylor finishes as finalist for Assistant Coach of the Year award

Auburn assistant head coach/wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor was a finalist for the American Football Coaches Association 2011 Assistant Coach of the Year award, but the award went to Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker.

The colorful Taylor, was hired by Auburn head coach Gene Chizik when he took over the program three years ago, was named to Rivals.com’s list of the top 25 recruiters in the nation for Auburn’s 2010 signing class.

Along with Taylor and Parker, Oregon State’s Danny Langsdorf was a finalist for the award, which has been handed out since 1997. The award “was created to honor assistant coaches who excel in community service, commitment to the student-athlete, on-field coaching success and AFCA professional organization involvement,” according to the AFCA’s website.

The AFCA Public Relations Committee chooses its finalists and award winners from a list of nominations submitted by staff representatives of football-playing schools.

Basketball preview: Auburn vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Photo by Todd Van Emst

When the calendar turns to December, the Tigers will play their first major-conference opponent in Seton Hall, but Auburn has one more tune-up against a smaller school before making that trip North. Auburn is scheduled to take on Arkansas-Pine Bluff at 8 p.m. ET tonight in Auburn Arena.

Auburn (3-0) has been on a roll to start the season, albeit against less-than-stellar competition. The Tigers have won by double-digit totals in each of their first three games, and even though the opponents were McNeese State, Kennesaw State and Nicholls State, but Arkansas-Pine Bluff could present a slightly different challenge than any of those three teams. Auburn has overwhelmed its first three opponents with its size — even though McNeese State had its fair share of taller players in the frontcourt — and blocked a school-record 17 shots against Nicholls State last Friday. Arkansas-Pine Bluff has a bigger lineup overall, so it will be interesting to see if freshman defender Willy Kouassi and center Rob Chubb can keep the defensive mojo going.

On to the matchups:

Auburn vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff

  • When: 8 p.m. ET Monday.
  • Where: Auburn Arena.
  • TV: Auburn IMG Sports Network.
  • Last time out: Auburn 78, Nicholls  State 57; SMU 64, Arkansas-Pine Bluff 55.
  • Series: Auburn leads 3-0.

Matching Up

Center: Auburn’s Rob Chubb has been a reliable force in the paint the first three games in terms of scoring. He’s averaging 13.0 points, third-highest on the team, but the Tigers would probably like to see a few more rebounds out of the big guys, who is averaging 5.0. On the other side, 6-8 forward Daniel Broughton is averaging 6.8 points and 5.5 rebounds, and he had nine points and six rebounds against Oklahoma State. Edge: Auburn.

Forward: Kenny Gabriel is the Tigers’ chief glue guy, the guy who has taken a backseat in scoring but leads Auburn with 7.3 rebounds-per-game and 2.0 blocks. Against Nicholls State, Gabriel had four blocks and three steals. Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s Lavoris Weathers has a big body, but he has largely struggled to put up numbers so far this season. Edge: Auburn.

Forward: Auburn’s Allen Payne could be starting to gain a little momentum after an 11-point, 5-rebound performance against Nicholls State, but he has been the Tigers’ least-productive starter so far. On the other side, lanky 6-6 swingman Mitchell Anderson is one of two Golden Lions averaging double-figures in points, and he also averages 8.0 rebounds-per-game. Edge: Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

Guard: Frankie Sullivan has been a solid scoring option for Auburn in the early-going, and he poured in 22 points against Kennesaw State in the Tigers’ second game. On the other side, the Golden Lions’ offense runs through senior Savalace Townsend, who has put up 17.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.5 steals in the first five games. Townsend is the closest thing to a sure scoring option Arkansas-Pine Bluff has. Edge: Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

Guard: Varez Ward has probably been Auburn’s best all-around performer this season. Ward is tied for the team lead at 14.3 points-per-game, pulls down 5.0 rebounds and hands out an impressive 5.3 assists-per-game. Ward, a transfer from Texas, could be matched up against Lazabian Jackson, a 6-3 starter who has only been a marginal producer on the offensive side so far. Edge: Auburn.

Bench: At least three players on Auburn’s bench have provided regular contributions. Chris Denson is a reliable scoring option off the bench, Josh Wallace has provided scoring and playmaking (2.7 assists), and 6-10 freshman Willy Kouassi is a defensive force. For Arkansas-Pine Bluff, only 6-7 forward Jamar Harris has provided any kind of spark. Edge: Auburn.

Verdict: Auburn rolls to its first 4-0 start in five years.

November 27, 2011

The day after: Chizik reiterates that he is prepared for changes to the coaching staff

Photo by Robin Trimarchi

Questions about coaching changes are swirling around the Auburn football offices right now. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn’s name has been mentioned for a bunch of different head coaching jobs, and fans and media alike have started to suggest that it’s time for defensive coordinator Ted Roof to go.

Chizik did not address any personnel specifically in Sunday’s weekly press conference. He did say he is prepared for the eventuality that some players.

“There are going to be guys who are going to be sought after as head coaches, there are going to be all kinds of different variables, but I’ve always placed a very high amount of importance on staff continuity,” Chizik said. “Again, some guys will have opportunities, some won’t, but again they will do what is in the best interest of their families.”

Chizik also reiterated that he is ready for the eventuality that some coaches may leave.

“So I’ve got a plan in place for however it happens and whether that’s early or late,” Chizik said.

  • Auburn will take the next two weeks off while the players study and take final exams.
  • T’Sharvan Bell may be ready for spring practices, but it’s unlikely that the cornerback will be able to go full speed. “You hope that when spring practice starts there’s some things he’ll be able to do. And guys just come along at a different pace faster than others. With him, I think it’s just going to be how he responds to the surgery.”
  • Linebacker Kris Frost, who was forced to redshirt as a freshman due to shoulder surgery, is hoping to start practicing with the team, at least in part, when bowl practices begin. “He’s trying to work himself into that. He’s made a lot of strides here in the last three weeks. He’s one of the guys we think may be able to do something during bowl practice. We just don’t know exactly to what extent yet.”
  • When Frost does get on the field, he will have to find a spot. “That’s a good question because we haven’t seen him play yet – he never made it to the practice field. So we don’t really know. We know he’s a great athlete and he’s got the ability to probably play anywhere at those linebacker positions that we want.”
  • Offensive lineman Shon Coleman is recovering well, but his playing status is up in the air. “It sounds like he’s really doing well in terms of treatment, where he’s going, the effectiveness of his treatments,” Chizik said. “But as far as what that means for him playing, ever playing, when he may be able to play, there’s not really anything out there on that yet.”
  • Asked about whether or not he had to evaluate the quarterback position, Chizik said he will evaluate every position. “You can lump the quarterback in there with the guards and the centers and the wideouts. It’s all the same.”
  • Auburn made no changes to the offensive scheme this season. “It’s the exact same offense. That never changed. In terms of pace, in terms of what we were trying to do, whether we ran it or threw it, that was all based on, again, what the defenses were giving us or not giving us.”
  • The Tigers are looking to improve all over the field. “We have to get much better everywhere,” Chizik said. ”I consider having a wide-open race everywhere. At every position. Our football teams know right now that we’ll go with the best guy at any position that earns that spot.”
  • Onterio McCalebb has taken over Tre Mason’s role on kickoff returns. “Tre got hurt for a little while there and that kind of set him back,” Chizik said. “Tre has turned the ball over at that position some. He’s still going to be really good at it.”
  • McCalebb really likes returning kickoffs, and it helps that he’s good at it. “We knew Onterio had the potential. He works it in practice. He loves doing it. He likes being the kickoff return guy. In the middle of the game, several times he’s asked to go in there and get a shot at it.”
  • The blowouts hurt. “Regardless of how you did in the other games, any time you get beat against a Georgia and an Alabama, very unfavorably like we did, obviously it’s very disappointing.”

Links: Auburn remains unranked

Photo by Robin Trimarchi

From what I’ve been seeing and reading, Alabama all but punched its ticket to the national championship game by blowing out Auburn in Saturday’s Iron Bowl, and the Crimson Tide may have also struck the final blow on Auburn’s chance at being in the polls this week. The Tigers were already unranked in both human polls, but they had been hanging at No. 24 in the BCS. After the loss to Alabama, though, Auburn fell out of the BCS standings for the first time all season.

At least one interesting note out of the polls. All five of Auburn’s losses came to ranked teams, including four teams in the top 15, all SEC teams. At the top, at the very least, the SEC appears to be as strong as ever.

I’ll have more on Auburn after Gene Chizik’s weekly teleconference in the early evening, or if anything else breaks later today. That’s not a statement with any knowledge behind it, I’m just hedging my bets after a slew of coaching moves greeted me on Twitter this morning. For more from Chizik’s press conference and more on Auburn in 140 characters, make sure to follow the blog on Twitter.

National Rankings

Offense

  • Total offense: 104.
  • Rush offense: 40.
  • Passing yards: 106.
  • Pass efficiency: 83.
  • Scoring: 82.
  • Turnovers: 61.

Defense

  • Total defense: 78.
  • Rush defense: 99.
  • Passing yards: 48.
  • Pass efficiency: 85.
  • Scoring: 79.
  • Turnovers created: 49.
  • Turnover margin: 59.

From the other locker room

AROUND THE SEC

Emptying the Notebook: Auburn vs. Alabama

Photo by Robin Trimarchi

The more I think about this game, the more one simple fact stands out. For what Auburn’s defense has been this year, providing a touchdown off of a turnover was about what the Tigers needed to do to have a chance in this Iron Bowl. And Auburn needed a big play off of special teams, which Onterio McCalebb provided on the second-half kickoff. The offense, on the other hand, did not hold up its end of the bargain. Granted, Alabama has held plenty of teams to crazy-low total yardage outputs this season, but all the way to the end of the third quarter it was still feasible that Auburn was going to produce the lowest yardage total in Iron Bowl history.

For the Tigers, the previous low was 80 yards overall in the famous 1972 game, the game called Punt, Bama, Punt. Auburn only had 44 yards through the first three quarters, and the Tigers had to make a late push to produce the third-worst Iron Bowl offensive performance in school history.

But the other thing about this Iron Bowl is that most onlookers who have paid attention to both teams all year expected Alabama’s defense to dominate the game. When it comes down to it, both teams played to the same type they have played to all season long. Now, for Auburn, it’s time to get ready for the bowl game and start preparing for next season.

From the Sunday morning edition of the Ledger-Enquirer:

I also produced a gameline, but I couldn’t find the link online. Now Auburn fans have to sweat out what could be a bunch of changes to the coaching staff before the bowl game, presumably a shot at either the Chick-fil-A Bowl or the Gator Bowl. Right now, the team itself will be taking a break before beginning bowl practices, although Gene Chizik will have his weekly Sunday teleconference. For any Auburn news and notes I pick up, though, make sure to follow the blog on Twitter.

Four-down territory

– First down — I know Alabama is good against the run, but Michael Dyer’s lack of work in the first half made absolutely no sense to me. Dyer is Auburn’s best offensive weapon — by far — and the sophomore star only had three carries in the first two quarters. Following the game, Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said that a lot of that had to do with Alabama keying on Dyer in the zone-read option game, but Malzahn has to do a better job of finding a way to get the ball to his best player. Come to think of it, Dyer wasn’t the only talented Tiger who suffered from a lack of touches. Touchdown machine Philip Lutzenkirchen only had two catches, and Emory Blake, the most reliable receiver on the roster, had none.

– Second down – Auburn has to find a way to fix its offensive line problems before next season. Against almost every elite defense the Tigers have faced so far, Auburn quarterbacks have had very little time to throw before facing a rush that comes barreling down almost as soon as the passer sets his feet. Clint Moseley had very few opportunities to even look downfield before having to try to evade Courtney Upshaw or another Alabama pass rusher bearing down on him. Combined with the LSU and Georgia games, Auburn gave up 13 sacks in its last three losses of the season. Without time to throw, any quarterback is going to look pedestrian in the least.

– Third down – Realizing, of course, that national prognosticators are going to say Trent Richardson’s 200-yard perfomance was Heisman-worthy, I’m going to have to disagree. First of all, this is not the same defense that shut Alabama down the last two seasons. Auburn was the nation’s 98th-ranked rush defense coming into the Iron Bowl. And on top of that, Richardson was largely ineffective in the first half while A.J. McCarron passed the Crimson Tide up and down the field. Part of that is the fact that Auburn had to sell out to stop the run, but Richardson did not have to deliver a Heisman-worthy performance today to get his 200 yards. He just had to wait patiently for Auburn’s defense to tire. I don’t have a ballot, but if I did, Richardson would probably be second or third.

– Fourth down — No matter what happens to Gus Malzahn in the offseason, Auburn’s quarterback situation is going to be interesting going forward. The Tigers have three quarterbacks — Moseley, Frazier and Trotter — who are all currently scheduled to be back next season. The question is, who plays next year? Ideally, Auburn probably wants Kiehl Frazier to make dramatic leaps as a passer, or Auburn will face the same Moseley-Trotter position battle in camp next year. Whatever the case may be, Auburn has to be better at the quarterback position next season. Dyer, McCalebb and Co. have the running game nailed down. The passing game has to find a way to catch up.