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March 31, 2012

Auburn knocks off Mississippi State 10-6 Saturday to even the series

Photo by Todd Van Emst

AUBURN, Ala. — Jay Gonzalez has been looking for a way to break his slump.

Perched at the top of the lineup as Auburn’s leadoff hitter, Gonzalez had been unable to get anything going in SEC play, and the lack of a leadoff presence on base was hurting the Tigers’ offensive production.

Gonzalez may be on his way out now after kick-starting Auburn’s 10-6 win over Mississippi State in the second game of a three-game series at Plainsman Park Saturday.

Auburn (16-11, 5-3 SEC) bounced back from Friday night’s loss by rolling up 12 hits and earning eight walks against the Bulldogs, and Gonzalez chipped in two hits and a walk at the top of the lineup.

“It was huge,” Gonzalez said. “We wanted to come out, jump on them early and end this game as fast as possible.”

Gonzalez came into Saturday’s game batting just .192 in SEC play, but he followed up two hits Friday night by singling in the first and scoring on a throwing error by Mississippi State catcher Mitch Slauter.

An inning later, Gonzalez laced an RBI single through the left side to score Kody Ortman and give the Tigers a 3-0 lead.

“It’s been really good for my confidence,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve been working on it a lot, I’d been pulling off a lot, and we’ve just been working on staying down.”

From there, Auburn’s offense — a team that had only scored more than four runs in a game once in SEC play — took over.

The Tigers added three runs in the third, an RBI double from Cullen Wacker in the seventh and a three-run homer from Blake Austin later in the seventh that all but put the game out of reach for Mississippi State (18-10, 3-5).

“I challenged our offense today,” Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. “I told them we’re better than what we’ve been doing, and we’ve got to be a little more opportunistic.”

Starter Will Kendall took care of the rest. Given a 6-0 lead to protect, Kendall pitched six scoreless innings before giving up a three-run Mississippi State rally in the seventh and giving way to Jay Wade.

Wade tossed two scoreless innings, gave up three runs in the ninth, and the Bulldogs briefly loaded the bases and brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth before Dillon Ortman struck out Hunter Renfroe to end the threat.

“For me, the offense scoring runs was a huge help,” Kendall said. “It gets me relaxed, gets me confident.”

Video: Kiehl Frazier, Corey Grant, Erique Florence and Clint Moseley talk about Auburn’s first scrimmage of the season

Kiehl Frazier feels extremely comfortable in Scot Loeffler’s new offense, and his comfort level is starting to pay off in a big way.

Corey Grant has impressed teammates with his speed, work ethic and ability to hit the hole, and he broke off a big run against the defense in Saturday’s scrimmage.

Erique Florence says that the defense played well, but the team still needs to avoid giving up the big play.

Clint Moseley did not participate in the scrimmage due to an injured shoulder, and he talks about dealing with the injury during the spring.

Scrimmage notes: Kiehl Frazier feels comfortable in Scot Loeffler’s new offense, Corey Grant had a big day and Kris Frost is improving

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Kiehl Frazier has spent most of the spring under heavy scrutiny from Auburn fans looking for an answer at the quarterback position.

And even though precious little information has gotten out of Auburn’s spring camp about the way Frazier’s spring has looked so far, by all accounts, the rising sophomore played well in the Tigers’ first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday.

“I feel a lot more comfortable just knowing this offense,” Frazier said. “I think I know this offense, even though we’ve only been it just two weeks, probably better than I knew Coach Malzahn’s, even at the end.”

Frazier tossed two long touchdown passes, one to Emory Blake and one to Travante Stallworth, and acquitted himself well in what was likely a showcase scrimmage.

Clint Moseley, the other quarterback with experience in the race for the starting job this spring, did not participate in the scrimmage due to a shoulder injury that continues to plague him.

On both deep plays, Frazier took advantage of missed coverages by the defense.

“Emory got deep on one, I think Erique, his eyes were probably in the wrong place or something, so EB got behind him,” Frazier said. “(The throw to Stallworth) was just kind of a play we schemed up, the defense bit on the fake and it was just a good play by Travante.”

Frazier had ice on his shoulder after practice, mainly because he’s taken a lot of reps since Moseley went down with the shoulder injury after Auburn’s second practice of the season.

“Since Clint hasn’t been throwing this past week, I’ve gotten a lot of reps, that’s kind of why my shoulders a little bit sore,” Frazier said.

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  • Corey Grant impressed in the scrimmage with his burst through the hole. On one, Grant broke free for a 35-40 yard gain before getting caught by Jonathan Mincy, who had the angle. “It was an A-gap play,” Grant said. “Jay Prosch, the fullback, he blocked his guy, the line did their job and it was right there. It was just up to me to hit the hole.”
  • Grant loves running behind Prosch. “It’s made a big difference,” Grant said. “A big, physical guy. He’s strong, big. Most guys aren’t going to overpower him.”
  • Grant also said it’s impossible to put a finger on what Auburn’s going to run on any given play. ” Coach Loeffler, he does some of everything,” Grant said. “You never know what formation we’re going to be in or anything else. His playbook is a variety.”
  • Both defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and linebacker Daren Bates said redshirt freshman Kris Frost showed some ability in the scrimmage. “He had a good practice today, good scrimmage,” Bates said. “He had a forced fumble, a couple tackles. Just from watching him in the scrimmage, it’s something he can build on when we come back and watch the film.”
  • Bates said Grant’s run reminded him of Ben Tate. “He had an explosive run that amazed me,” Bates said. “I know he runs a 4.2, but when I see him explode through the secondary, I think that was a heck of a run.”
  • Auburn, like last season, struggled a little bit on third downs. “Just knowing who we had to get and getting pressure on the quarterback and not trying to cover for long,” Bates said. “It’s something we can build on.”
  • Frazier has been impressed by Sammie Coates, who made a couple of nice catches during the scrimmage. “He’s one of the most athletic guys I’ve ever seen,” Frazier said. “Our job as quarterbacks is to get it in our playmaker’s hands, and Sammie’s definitely one of those.”
  • Coates believes he has to work on catching balls in traffic. “I made some plays I was proud of and I missed some I should have made,” Coates said. “That made me kind of mad. I did a pretty good staying on my blocks for a good little while. I dropped in-traffic passes that I have to pull in.”
  • Coates has full faith in Frazier at quarterback. ” It’s getting really good with him,” Coates said. “He’s stepping up and being that leader that a quarterback is supposed to.”
  • Coates had some good things to say about Zeke Pike, too. “He’s catching on, getting his fundamentals down, getting his footwork right. He’s looking pretty good.”
  • Clint Moseley said the injury to his throwing shoulder has affected his power. “It doesn’t have much power, as much as arm strength as I normally have,” Moseley said. “I just can’t put anything on it without it hurting. I can throw check-downs all day, and it’d be sore and hurt a little bit. But I really can’t turn it loose.”
  • Moseley has been frustrated by the injury, but he doesn’t believe it hurts him much right now. “It’s not anything I’m happy about, but, at the same time, it’s spring,” Moseley said. “Everybody is learning the offense. I don’t think any huge decisions are going to be made this spring.”
  • New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder doled out his first real praise of the spring to Auburn on Saturday. “I think there’s obviously inconsistencies right now, but I think we took a step forward,” VanGorder said. “A lot of the mechanics of our defense and the disciplines of our defense, I thought we were much better today. It looked like guys were a little bit more comfortable in understanding their assignments.”
  • VanGorder was pleased with Auburn’s physicality in the scrimmage. “I think that from our first day in pads to what I saw today, I thought that from a contact standpoint, we were much better on contact today,” VanGorder said.
  • On the other hand, VanGorder wasn’t happy about giving up big plays to Auburn’s offense. “Can’t give up explosive plays,” VanGorder said. “You know, we did that today, a couple big passes and a long run. You can’t do it and be a good defense.”
  • VanGorder also would have liked to better play on third downs. “It’s not just the idea of third down, but a third-and-three is much different than a third-and-10,” VanGorder said “So today we had a couple third-and-longs where our corners, in a cover 2, were running up the flat routes and they gave up a seven-route behind them. So if you’re practicing third-and-nine, and you’re practicing third-and-10, in those long-yard situations you train yourself as a player to develop a thought process.”
  • VanGorder singled out a few players for their work in the scrimmage. “I thought Keymiya Harrell played fast there at the end. Kris Frost was much better today. He did a better job. (Jawara White) did some good things at the Mike linebacker position.”
  • Frost’s improvement came after a tough couple of opening practices when he struggled with alignment. “He had a tough first week,” Frost said. “The last couple days he’s settled down, which in coaching you can also find out that guys that are struggling but they’re high-character guys and it’s important to them, they usually are going to get over it.”

Video: Gene Chizik pleased with Auburn’s first practice of the spring; Brian VanGorder offers praise for his defense

Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder thought his defense took some big steps forward in Saturday’s scrimmage; he singled out Keymiya Harrell, Kris Frost and Jawara White for their play.

Gene Chizik was happy with Auburn’s first practice of the spring, saying that Auburn got a lot accomplished in the indoor facility after the plan to play at Jordan-Hare Stadium was scrapped due to inclement weather.

Scrimmage notes: Corey Grant, Sammie Coates, Kris Frost impress during Auburn’s scrimmage

Photo by Anthony Hall

Auburn held its first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday.

Neither of Auburn’s first two scrimmages of the spring are open to the public or the media — obviously, the third, on A-Day, is the exception — but after talking to the Tigers’ coaches and players, we were able to glean some information on the events of the day.

  • Kiehl Frazier hit on two deep throws, one to Emory Blake and the other to Travante Stallworth. On the play to Stallworth, Frazier said the defense bit on the fake and allowed Stallworth to get behind the defense. According to a tweet from Frazier’s dad, the play covered 60 yards.
  • Frazier’s throw to Blake came at the expense of safety Erique Florence, who said his eyes weren’t in the right place and let Blake get deep.
  • Clint Moseley didn’t participate in the scrimmage at all to protect his injured right shoulder. Moseley said he can’t cut loose with it.
  • Greg Robinson didn’t play in the scrimmage, either. In his place, early enrollee Patrick Miller and Chad Slade took almost all the snaps at tackle.
  • Sammie Coates took a 10-yard throw from Frazier and turned it into a big gain by weaving his way through the defense for a big gain, although he didn’t get into the end zone.
  • Corey Grant impressed several defensive players with his speed. On one play, Grant hit the hole, cut back and blasted into the secondary for a 35-40 yard gain before Jonathan Mincy caught him on the angle.
  • Kris Frost had a solid scrimmage, making several tackles and stripped a running back at one point to force a fumble the defense recovered.
  • Robenson Therezie picked off a pass on a tipped ball into the secondary. Therezie had missed practice Wednesday, but he’s been back the last couple of days.
  • Redshirt freshman defensive end Keymiya Harrell impressed Brian VanGorder by playing fast on defense.
  • Jawara White made some impressive plays at middle linebacker, according to VanGorder.

March 30, 2012

Practice notes: Scot Loeffler installing a diverse offense, Brian VanGorder previews Auburn’s first scrimmage and Dee Ford’s back is healthy

Photo by Shanna Lockwood

Slowly but surely, new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is installing an offense at Auburn that may have more formations and looks than anybody expected.

Five days into spring practices, Loeffler believes Auburn’s offense is progressing nicely.

“We’ve made progress every single day. It’s Day Five with installation,” Loeffler said. “We’re happy with where we’re at, but we’re still improving.”

Bits and pieces of Loeffler’s offense seem to trickle out with every interview, and wide receiver Travante Stallworth added another piece to the puzzle on Friday afternoon.

A week ago, Clint Moseley said that Auburn was running a pro-style offense, but that’s only part of the playbook. According to Stallworth, Auburn’s offense will use plenty of multiple formations next season.

“I love it,” Stallworth said. “It’s so much different stuff. It’s not just shotgun, it’s pro, shotgun, pistol, we do a whole bunch of stuff, so Coach Loeffler has a great thing going.”

Loeffler expects the offense to make some mistakes during Saturday’s scrimmage — Auburn’s first of the spring — but he’s more concerned with seeing the offense’s effort and toughness in their first real work.

“We’ve put in quite a bit of information with them and they’ve done a great job,” Loeffler said. “They’re learning every single day.”

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  • Clint Moseley, who did not throw on Monday and made limited throws on Wednesday, is back to making all the throws in practice, Loeffler said.
  • Loeffler offered precious little on the progress of Moseley and Kiehl Frazier, but he did say both players have done a good job in camp so far. “It’s different for them. They’ve had great attitudes. They’re working their tails off,” Loeffler said. “Our job is one thing: it’s not how many touchdown passes, it’s not how many of this, how many of that, it’s to do our job and help Auburn win.”
  • Freshman quarterback Zeke Pike is trying to adjust to the collegiate life on the fly right now. “Any time that you make that step from being 18 years old and going to basketball games in the wintertime at you high school to all of a sudden you’re in an environment that’s demanding,” Loeffler said. “We demand that these guys do great academically, we demand that they’re on time and go to class, we demand that they do a great job with football and with Coach Yox.”
  • As far as Pike being able to make a push for playing time, Loeffler would not rule it out, although he did say it would be tough for any freshman to start right away. “I’ll never say never,” Loeffler said. “The way that I look at those guys is that they all develop at different paces. Some guys pick it up in six months, other guys pick it up in two years, some guys pick it up in their fourth year. Every guy is different.”
  • Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder wasn’t pleased with the pace of Friday’s practice. “I was hoping the tempo for the day overall would have been much better,” VanGorder said. “I think today’s install slowed them down a little bit, it was quite involved, and they just didn’t feel totally confident.”
  • Right now, the secondary is probably ahead of the rest of Auburn’s defensive roster when it comes to understanding VanGorder’s scheme. “We’re involved in installs so every day we’re getting something new. I would say our secondary is fighting, maybe doing the best job of fighting through that right now, and there’s a lot on their plate,” VanGorder said. “They are asked to do a lot on the communication end and they’ve been better this week.”
  • Although VanGorder plans to cross-train players at different spots, it can’t happen now. “The guys we’ll look to cross-train
    will be guys we see take on the new system in a quicker fashion, guys who can grab onto it and gain a comfort from the home position and carry over the same principles to another position,” VanGorder said. “Whether you’re talking about a sam linebacker or a will linebacker, and or a corner or a nickel, where there’s a lot of carry over principles.”
  • Dee Ford’s back is healthy, but he suffered a mild concussion on Monday and hasn’t practiced full-bore the last two days. Ford expects to play in Saturday’s scrimmage. As far as the back injury, he was most nervous about obtaining a medical redshirt year, which the NCAA granted. “I kinda knew my back was messed up and it was just a little tweak to be fixed,” Ford said. “The only thing was the healing process. I was scared that I wouldn’t get that year back.”
  • Like most of the defensive linemen, Ford feels extremely comfortable in VanGorder’s scheme. “VanGorder makes everything simple so we can play fast,” Ford said. “Everything is about running. Last year, we did a lot of reading. Last year as a defensive line, we had to make calls. That’s now strictly in the hands of the secondary and the linebackers. I don’t think anyone is overloaded.”
  • Ford has been impressed with his new defensive coordinator. “He’s a beast, man,” Ford said. “I love him. I’m not going to say I’m scared of him, but he has created a respect, which is needed as a defensive coordinator.”
  • Corey Lemonier said his weight’s up to 245 right now, and he’d like to play at 255 pounds. ” I feel like I’ll be better at 255. It helps me at both sides, though,” Lemonier said.
  • Like Ford, Lemonier’s completely on board with playing over the tight end. “I feel like in the NFL, you play both sides, and it doesn’t matter, and I think that gets us ready, if we’re privileged enough to go to the next level,” Lemonier said. “It kind of shows I can play the tight end, too. You know, the dirty work.”
  • Asked about the perception that Emory Blake is the only proven Auburn receiver, Travante Stallworth said the entire receiving corps is trying to produce. “Emory is a great player,” Stallworth said. “We don’t want to go single one person out. Everybody just wants to go out there and make plays.”
  • Asked to give an update on the quarterback situation, Stallworth didn’t bite. “Everybody is jelling right now trying to get the timing down,” Stallworth said. “Once we have the summer, when quarterbacks and receivers get together again, I think we’ll have the timing down.”
  • Echoing Blake, Stallworth said the offense will be multiple enough to open up opportunities for everybody. “We’re moving everybody around a lot. Nobody has one specific position,” Stallworth said. “They’re moving us around to get us different matchups with different people. Whoever has the hot hand that day will get the ball.”
  • Stallworth has been working at kick returner, too. “It’s up to Coach Boulware,” Stallworth said. “If they let me get back there, I’ll get back there.”
  • Sammie Coates has impressed with his athleticism in practice so far. “He’s a big, athletic kid. He’s just running around and making great plays,” Stallworth said. “He had a few good catches today. But he’s still learning. I think he’s going to make a great contribution this year.”

Video: Scot Loeffler, Brian VanGorder, Corey Lemonier, Dee Ford and Travante Stallworth drop by to chat after Auburn’s fifth spring practice.

Scot Loeffler believes the offense is progressing nicely as he installs Auburn’s new schemes this spring.

Brian VanGorder wasn’t pleased with the tempo of Auburn’s defense on Friday, and he said the Tigers’ installation took a little longer than expected.

Coming off of a breakout year, Corey Lemonier is putting on weight and feels comfortable in Brian VanGorder’s defense.

Dee Ford is recovering from a minor concussion suffered Monday, but his back feels fine.

Travante Stallworth has a chance to become a major player in Scot Loeffler’s diverse offense this spring.

Auburn readies for three-game series at home against Mississippi State

The SEC baseball schedule is only a couple of weeks old, but Auburn already has found the formula it needs to keep winning in the country’s best baseball conference.

Pitching and defense have kept the Tigers in close games against better offensive teams, and No. 24 Auburn has been able to generate enough offense late to open SEC play with series wins over a pair of ranked teams in Ole Miss and LSU.

That formula has its fair share of drama. Auburn (15-10, 4-2 SEC) has won three SEC games in its final at-bat, and both losses have come by only one run.

“When you get in these close games, it seems that one pitch, one play, a walk, a hit, that’s the difference,” Auburn coach John Pawlowski said.

One hitter continues to carry Auburn’s lineup.

Centerfielder Ryan Tella, who was named the SEC’s Co-Player of the Week, leads the SEC in on-base percentage at .536 and ranks second in the SEC in batting average at .438.

His power may be coming around, too. Tella blasted a two-run homer, his first of the year, against LSU last weekend.

With Tella hitting behind Creede Simpson, Auburn’s got a formidable 2-3 punch, and Cullen Wacker has been consistent enough at cleanup hitter to give the Tigers some runs at the top of the lineup.

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March 29, 2012

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

Figured the Auburn fan base would have plenty of questions after four days of spring practice, and you guys didn’t disappoint. Take a look at the chat below, which featured roster questions, predictions and more than a little speculation about the future of the SEC.

Auburn’s Kenny Gabriel ready for State Farm College Slam Dunk & 3-Point Championships at the Final Four

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Auburn senior forward Kenny Gabriel has one more chance to show off his prodigious leaping ability on Thursday night at Tulane’s Fogelman Arena as a participant in the State Farm College Slam Dunk & 3-point Championships at the Final Four, which will be televised on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET.

Gabriel, a 6-8, 209-pounder who became a fan favorite at Auburn for his leaping ability, was selected along with seven other participants for the Slam Dunk portion of the competition.

As a senior, Gabriel averaged 12.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks for the Tigers.

“It is an honor because I never thought that I would be able to be in a dunk contest for college,” said Gabriel. “I am glad that I got the opportunity to do it. I hope to go down there and win it.”

So far, Gabriel hasn’t tipped his hand on his personal Twitter account — @DaBoyKG22 — but he has been taking suggestions from Auburn fans and re-tweeting them ever since he was selected for the event.

The rest of the field in the slam dunk competition includes Duke’s Miles Plumlee, Miami’s DeQuan Jones, Clemson’s Bryan Narcisse, Wichita State’s David Kyles, Oregon’s Olu Ashaolu, Northwestern State’s William Mosley and Martin Methodist representative James Justice, who was selected as the small-school representative by fan vote.

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