AUBURN, Ala. — The first time Kiehl Frazier was pressured in the pocket as Auburn’s freshly named starting quarterback, he handled the rush with poise and good decisions Thursday night.
By the pocket, we’re referring to a comfy chair in the Rane Room at the athletic complex, Auburn wallpaper adorning the stand behind Frazier, and about a dozen cameras and 20 reporters in front of him — though at the time, to Frazier, it must have seemed like 100 and 1,000.
It wasn’t quite the same as an SEC linebacker bearing down on the sophomore from Springdale, Ark. However, the questions were peppered with similarly pressing intensity.
How did you celebrate today, Kiehl?
Did you talk to Clint Moseley, Kiehl?
What does this mean for the team, Kiehl?
Frazier said all the right things, to his credit. He was recruited into a spread offense by Gus Malzahn, but he’s transitioning well with the pro style attack under Scot Loeffler. He has been good friends with Moseley the competitor, and he will remain good friends with Moseley the backup. He’s happy with the decision but still paying full attention to Clemson.
Nothing inflammatory, nothing boastful, nothing to take away from the rest of the Tigers as they prepare for a prime-time event to open the 2012 season a week from tonight against the ACC-bred Tigers.
What will be even better is if Frazier goes out and validates the coaching staff’s trust in him, the middle child in terms of age for Auburn’s set of quarterbacks.
Run, Kiehl, run. He averaged a suitable 4.3 yards on 76 carries as a true freshman in the wildcat. So if Loeffler lets him, perhaps Frazier will reach triple digits in attempts and, if his legs and blockers let him, flirt with 500 rushing yards.
Lead, Kiehl, lead. He clearly owns the respect of his teammates because of last year’s performance, and on Thursday Loeffler dared to drop the Tim Tebow comparison. (Relax, Auburn fans. The context wasn’t in terms of ability so much as being part of an offense for all four years of eligibility.)
Learn, Kiehl, learn. Loeffler’s playbook looks like advanced calculus compared to Malzahn’s, of which Frazier was only asked to run a portion as a rookie.
All of those mechanics and intangibles are important. If I may make a suggestion, there are two areas Kiehl Frazier must shore up if this offense wishes to return to the league’s elite:
Completion percentage. We all remember Cam Newton’s touchdowns and freakish athleticism and flair for the comeback and perfectly-crafted smile. Here’s a hidden gem about Cam: his .661 efficiency stands as the school record for a career, albeit over one season. (His 2010 campaign was fourth all-time for a single year.) Then last year, the incompletions piled up – Barrett Trotter was yanked for his 55 percent completions, and Moseley was a mild improvement at best. The few times Frazier did sling it (which was 12), seven were caught. Problem is, two were by the other team. Simplistic as it sounds, the offense can’t flow that way. Throw the ball where your backs, ends and receivers can catch it, Kiehl.
Red-zone conversions. The final year of the Tommy Tuberville era was the last time Auburn stayed home for bowl season. The Tigers were dead-last in the SEC in red-zone scoring, getting points on a ghastly 57 percent of opportunities inside the opponent’s 20-yard-line. That figure hiked to 95 percent in Chizik’s first year, and has actually declined in each of the past two seasons (86 percent with Cam, and 84 percent last year). Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason are still home-run threats, but the key is, don’t make Cody Parkey a busy man once you smell pay dirt unless it’s worth one point, not three. Oh, and don’t turn it over, Kiehl.
Third-down chances. Auburn was third and first in the SEC on money down in 2009 and 2010. Eighth last year. Again, regression. Your move, Kiehl.
No pressure, kid. We’ll see what you’ve got soon enough.