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September 30, 2012

Auburn notes: WR/PR Quan Bray suspended for Arkansas game, Holland cuts curls

AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn head coach Gene Chizik suspended sophomore wide receiver and punt returner Quan Bray for at least Saturday’s game against Arkansas, the consequence for Bray’s off-field actions during the Tigers’ bye week.

Bray, 19, was arrested by University of West Georgia police Thursday after being pulled over for loud music, and being found to have a limited driver’s permit and possession of a bottle of alcohol.

Chizik praised Bray, a Troup County product, for his maturity last summer – when his mother was fatally shot in July 2011 in Lagrange and his father was charged with the murder – but maintained there were repercussions for stepping out of line.

“The reality is that Quan, for the last year and a half, has really had a lot of challenges,” Chizik said. “He’s been a great teammate, he’s been an honor roll student. I’m proud of the way in the last year and a half that he’s carried himself and the way he’s overcome a lot of adversity.

“Unfortunately, he made a bad decision this weekend, and what comes with that is consequences, so he won’t be playing in the game this week, and I’ll let you know when he’s going to be back out on the field. But it certainly won’t be against Arkansas.”

Sophomore Trovon Reed and freshman Ricardo Louis will be candidates to replace Bray in the punt return game and as slot receiver.

Bray ranks third on the Tigers with 11 catches for 82 yards. He has returned five punts for 23 yards, and had a critical fumble in Auburn’s previous game against LSU.

Bray was unavailable for comment Sunday.

“He understands that consequences happen when you make bad decisions,” Chizik said. “Every situation’s different, and I’m not going to go into the details of all of it. But he’s not going to play this week, and when he becomes able to participate, I’ll let you guys know.”

This is Auburn’s third suspension of the season for off-field run-ins, following center Reese Dismukes and wide receiver DeAngelo Benton.

“Part of our job as coaches is to help young guys grow up. That’s part of my job. In a perfect world, you don’t want any of these things to happen,” Chizik said. “But my job, as well as winning football games, is to help young guys come in here as boys at 18 and grow into men when they leave at 22. That’s what our goal is with any guys that make a decision that is not what you want. A high percentage of guys on our football team do exactly what we ask them to do.”

No overlooking: Auburn is a 10-point favorite over Arkansas, but the Tigers won’t disrespect a team which was ranked No. 8 less than a month ago.

“If we can go in there and throw the ball around, that would be a good boost for our confidence,” senior tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said. “We’re not taking them lightly – there was a reason they were picked to be in national championship contention at the beginning of the year, so we’ve got our hands full.”

Sophomore quarterback Kiehl Frazier took note of how other teams have gashed Arkansas’ 120th-rated defense, but knows this won’t be a cake walk.

“(Texas A&M freshman quarterback) Johnny Manziel did a good job this weekend, and they scored 58 points,” said Frazier, from Springdale, Ark. “But we can’t base our preparation on what they did. They have a good team, they just haven’t played to their potential so far.”

Homecoming: Freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace went back to his stomping grounds in Phenix City to watch his Central Red Devils beat East Coweta 33-31 on Friday night.

Wallace won’t redshirt this season, after his first game action a week ago Saturday when he ran three times for 15 yards, including a pair of first downs against LSU.

“It’s a lot of love. When you’re going good, people will love you up,” Wallace said. “I just have to stay humble, continue to work hard and be productive for our team.”

Fresh cut: A long time ago, linebacker Jake Holland and safety Trent Fisher decided they wouldn’t cut their hair for an extended period of time.

They settled on a year.

That was two and a half years ago.

Over the bye week, Holland had his curly locks chopped off, and plans to donate “about three or four pounds” of hair, which is currently at his home in Birmingham. He hasn’t decided where yet, either to Locks of Love or Pantene.

Holland added Fisher hasn’t yet gone to the shears.

The Hangover, Part IV: Scouting Arkansas

Who: Arkansas (1-4, 0-2 SEC) at Auburn (1-3, 0-2)

When: Saturday, 12 p.m. ET

Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451) | Auburn, Ala.

TV: ESPN/ESPN2

Radio: Auburn IMG Sports Network (WVRK-FM 102.9 in Columbus)

Line: Auburn by -9.5

What to know about the Razorbacks: When you have people outwardly wondering where this team’s collapse ranks among the all-time preseason top-10 flops, that’s not a good thing … Bobby Petrino’s ouster for knowingly misleading school officials about a motorcycle and affair with an athletic department employee led to John L. Smith being asked to lead the team on an interim basis … nothing has gone right for Smith, on or off the field. Bankruptcy, the death of his brother and multiple bizarre press appearances have been salt in the wound of seeing his team falter from a preseason No. 8 ranking to four consecutive losses, including SEC tramplings by a combined 110-10 to Alabama and Texas A&M … the Razorbacks’ total defense (510.2 yards per game) ranks 120th nationally … Arkansas did not have a sack or takeaway in getting throttled by the Crimson Tide and Aggies … quarterback Tyler Wilson, after calling out his teammates for quitting in the Alabama demolition, is actually third among SEC quarterbacks with 1,355 passing yards despite sitting out that Alabama game. With just a 54.5 completion percentage, though, Wilson is the league’s eighth-rated passer.

When last they met: Arkansas 38, Auburn 14, Oct. 8, 2011 in Fayetteville … It was a simpler time, it was a happier time for these traditionally strong programs, both ranked inside the top 15 one year ago at this time. Wilson threw for 262 yards and a pair of scores, and had no such accuracy issues last October completing 19 consecutive passes. Arkansas’ defense took care of the rest, shutting out Michael Dyer (21 carries, 112 yards, TD) in the final three quarters. Kiehl Frazier’s 7-yard TD in his homecoming briefly gave Auburn – which was 4-1 and ranked No. 15 entering the game – a 14-7 lead, but Wilson responded with his own rush TD and the Razorbacks rolled from there.

All-time series: Auburn leads 11-9-1, with the teams splitting their last ten meetings down the middle. The Tigers hold a slight 5-4-1 advantage at Jordan-Hare Stadium (they tied 24-all on Halloween 1992.) The longest winning streak in the series is three, belonging to Auburn from 2003-05. This is the 19th meeting out of 22 taking place in October.

Which Auburn Tiger is licking his chops: Quarterback Kiehl Frazier. You read correctly. Did you see what Johnny Manziel did to the Razorbacks on Saturday? If Frazier has any confidence left in that talented husk of his, he looks at this as an opportunity to kick-start his young quarterbacking career.

Who’s keeping the Auburn coaches up at night: Wide receiver Cobi Hamilton, who did go off for 303 receiving yards against Rutgers. His 118.2 yards a game check in at ninth in the country. Big test for either junior Chris Davis or sophomore Jonathon Mincy, in all likelihood, unless Auburn throws a bevy of cover 2 at Wilson.

Extra point: Both of these teams have played in a bowl three consecutive seasons (certainly a point of pride for the seniors), and while Arkansas has gone bowling 11 of the last 14 years, Auburn’s been there 11 of the past 12. No matter what, the loser of this game is in serious peril of a foreign position: sitting at home in December (though you could argue Arkansas is already there.)

-AB

Brenner: Auburn will finish with a record of …

AUBURN, Ala. — Your local meteorologist generally sticks to the 7-day forecasts for a reason.

It’s much easier trying to project what’s going to happen imminently than guessing how the weather will shake out on Thanksgiving weekend.

Football’s not much different. Even if picking the winner isn’t a breeze, we can at least fairly evaluate Auburn’s chances against Arkansas because the outlook is just six days from now. It’s easier to read our radar at this point.

But what of the Tigers’ odds against Georgia? Or at Alabama? Too far out to say, right?

Well, maybe not. Let’s give it a whirl. Especially since at 1-3, Auburn’s chances of playing in the postseason hinge on success in every single game from here until the Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 24.

Will the Tigers go bowling for the fourth straight year? Or will Auburn miss out for the second time in 13 seasons and the first time in the Gene Chizik era?

Allow us to handicap the remainder of Auburn’s schedule. Of course, the further out the game, the murkier the forecast.

PHOTO GALLERY: Spotted at LSU vs. Auburn gameday, Sept. 22

***

Arkansas (1-4, 0-2 SEC) vs. Auburn, Saturday, Jordan-Hare Stadium

Series record: Auburn leads 11-9-1 (5-4-1 at JHS).

Breakdown: At least the Tigers’ defense is playing with some confidence … even though they’re on pace to lower the bar even further from last season’s worst one-year total defense in school history. Arkansas’ defense is absolutely atrocious. Could possibly be the cure for Auburn’s offensive woes, of which there are plenty.

Forecast: Mostly clear.

Brenner pick: Auburn wins somewhat handily, improves to 2-3.

***

Auburn at Ole Miss (3-2, 0-1), Oct. 13, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, Miss.

Series record: Auburn leads 27-9 (9-2 in Oxford).

Breakdown: The Rebels are 1-18 against SEC foes since November 2009. That kind of recent history is tough to ignore, even if Mississippi’s offense has something going this year.

Forecast: Sun-splashed with a slight chance of rain.

Brenner pick: Auburn squeaks by, it’s ugly, but claws back to 3-3.

***

Auburn at Vanderbilt (1-3, 0-2), Oct. 20, Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, Tenn.

Series record: Tied 20-20-1 (Vandy leads 11-7 in Nashville).

Breakdown: It’s been a disappointing campaign for James Franklin. Very disappointing campaign. Yet it’s uncertain how much you can trust the Tigers, as they’re playing right now, to win back-to-back road games against anybody, even the meeker SEC opponents.

Forecast: Warm but overcast.

Brenner pick: Vanderbilt capitalizes on Auburn mistakes, drops Tigers to 3-4.

***

Texas A&M (3-1, 1-1) at Auburn, Oct. 27, Jordan-Hare Stadium

Series record: A&M leads 2-0 (first JHS meeting).

Breakdown: Johnny Manziel. Kolton Browning. Similar players. The Aggies’ defense is susceptible to a big play or two, but that’s about it. The guess here is the entertainment venues favor A&M, but the Tigers’ best hope is they’re simply superior at home while the Aggies scuffle without the 12th man. Here’s a caveat: as stated in the intro, a lot can happen in the next four weeks to alter this prediction.

Forecast: Partly cloudy.

Brenner pick: Auburn stuck in doldrums, falls to 3-5.

***

New Mexico State (1-4) at Auburn, Nov. 3, Jordan-Hare Stadium

Series record: Auburn leads 2-0 (2-0 at JHS).

Breakdown: These Aggies aren’t as toothy as the previous week’s Aggies. A WAC bottom-feeder, don’t expect Auburn to struggle as much as it did against ULM.

Forecast: Not a cloud in the sky.

Brenner pick: Tigers re-mount the horse, now 4-5.

***

No. 5 Georgia (5-0, 3-0) at Auburn, Nov. 10, Jordan-Hare Stadium

Series record: Auburn leads 54-53-8 (Georgia leads 14-10-2 at JHS).

Breakdown: If LSU and Georgia played on a neutral field in Memphis tomorrow … are you so sure the No. 3 Tigers beat the No. 5 Bulldogs?

Forecast: Constant showers.

Brenner pick: Similar toe-to-toe nature of LSU game, same result. Bulldogs win, Auburn’s backs to the wall at 4-6.

***

Alabama A&M (5-0) at Auburn, Nov. 17, Jordan-Hare Stadium

Series record: First meeting.

Breakdown: They’ve beaten the tar out of two opponents poor by FCS standards, and barely escaped Tuskegee — a Division II squad — 7-6 in the opening week and edged Arkansas Pine-Bluff 14-10. This is the Bulldogs’ first game ever against an SEC opponent, and first against any FBS opponent since getting beaten by Louisiana-Monroe in 2008. So yeah. It’s a nice SWAC team, but no evidence to suggest much of a threat here.

Forecast: Not a cloud in the sky.

Brenner pick: Auburn in a rout, keeps bowl hopes alive at 5-6.

***

Auburn at Alabama (5-0, 2-0), Nov. 24, Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Series record: Alabama leads 41-34-1 (Auburn is 7-1 in Tuscaloosa).

Breakdown: Bammers should still be in go-for-the-jugular mode as they chase another national championship game berth. Auburn might want to, uh, find that sixth win before Turkey Day. Just a suggestion.

Forecast: Thunder, lightning, maybe even a hailstorm.

Brenner pick: Crimson Tide plunge nail in rival’s coffin, Auburn finishes 5-7.

-AB

September 29, 2012

Pregame Pep Talk: TV guide for football, flicks

Got a hot date today.

Well, I hope it doesn’t get too hot. Shouldn’t. I can always crank the AC.

A football watcher’s paradise

Some of you will spend the bye weekend at the farmer’s market. Some of you will spend it at the park with the kids. Some of you will tailgate and get buzzed like nothing’s different … except, of course, Jordan-Hare Stadium should be a little more dormant than usual.

Not me. Those are all fine suggestions. But I’m gonna actually watch college football without worrying about deadlines for the first time this fall.

Oh, I’m sure I’ll tweet a little bit. I’m sure I’ll glean some info that will be useful going forward, which is why I consider it a semi-work day. But I do know this: I don’t plan on moving further than from my recliner to the kitchen and back.

You’re probably wondering, “But, Aaron, with no Auburn football to appease me, whatever shall I watch?” Well, maybe you’re not wondering that. Because, you know, you’re off to the farmer’s market and playground and such. But still. Work with me here.

My mission is simple: to watch the better part of ten halves in ten different college football games, and swing by for ten segments of classic movies, all in one day. Yeaaaaaah. My remote control’s gonna be hotter than Mila Kunis by midnight tonight.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your DVRs. Because I want to portray the notion that I’m actually producing something of value here, I’ll throw in my game picks.

All times Eastern Time Zone

12 p.m. ET – No. 25 Baylor at No. 9 West Virginia, FX

Why? Because I’d like to see what the fuss is about with Geno Smith. And see what it’s like in Morgantown for its first foray into Big XII play. The pick: Mountaineers 54, Bears 26

12 p.m. – Arkansas at Texas A&M, FOX

Why? Because, uh, I actually do have to work. And do some scouting work on Arkansas. Let’s see what Mr. 303, Cobi Hamilton, does for an encore. The pick: Razorbacks 35, Aggies 34

3:30 p.m. – Tennessee at No. 5 Georgia, CBS

Why? Because if the Bulldogs pound the Volunteers in their trademark well-balanced ways, I may not care whether LSU beats Towson 200-0. I’m seriously considering lifting Georgia to No. 2 in my weekly SEC power rankings. The pick: Bulldogs 34, Volunteers 7

3:30 p.m. – No. 14 Ohio State at No. 20 Michigan State, ABC

Why? Because this is the best the Big Ten has to offer these days. The pick: Buckeyes 31, Spartans 21

6 p.m. – No. 4 Florida State at South Florida, ESPN

Why? Because some believe the Seminoles are ripe for the national title game. I’ll be sure to catch the first half before it gets out of hand, just to get an idea for the eye test on Jimbo Fisher’s juggernaut. The pick: Seminoles 45, Bulls 14

7 p.m. – South Carolina at Kentucky, ESPN2

Why? Because I don’t think South Carolina’s that far off of Georgia, or LSU for that matter. The pick: Gamecocks 37, Wildcats 13

7:50 p.m. – No. 12 Texas at Oklahoma State, FOX

Why? Because This is probably the best game of the day, with potential for ‘First to 50 wins’. No other reason than that. The pick: Cowboys 51, Longhorns 49

8 p.m. – Wisconsin at No. 22 Nebraska, ABC

Why? Because … ah … well, it’s the alma mater, and ABC says it’s our top night game, and the Blackshirts always bring it in Lincoln, and … well, because it’s something to do, that’s why. The pick: Cornhuskers 24, Badgers 16

9:15 p.m. – Ole Miss at No. 1 Alabama, ESPN

Why? Because I just need visual confirmation that Alabama’s just unstoppable. Don’t smirk at Ole Miss – the offense is capable of getting something going, even in Tuscaloosa. The pick: Crimson Tide 48, Rebels 20

10 p.m. – No. 2 Oregon at Washington State, ESPN2

Why? Because I want to see whether I like Oregon or Florida State better. These are the things we beat writers can’t really evaluate on Saturdays when we’re busy with our own teams. Thanks for the idle weekend, Jay Jacobs and Gene Chizik. Throughout my college tenure, I never ever had one. The pick: Ducks 55, Cougars 12

Last week: 7-6

Track record: 24-18 

If you want a break from football … and I don’t blame you … then check out some flicks on the tube. Plenty of solid options, including these ten:

Again, all times Eastern Time Zone

9 a.m. – No Country For Old Men, USA. Maybe a little early in the morning to watch some ol’ Texas shootouts over your eggs and grits, but still, it’s an Oscar winner.

2 p.m. – The Green Mile, AMC. Rest in peace, Michael Clarke Duncan. Loved you as Frankie Figgs, and you were great as John Coffey too.

4:22 p.m. – Glory Road, Spike TV. Sigh. Can’t wait until basketball season.

4:41 a.m. – Mr. Deeds, Comedy Central. Hey, remember when Adam Sandler was funny and Winona Ryder was hot? Yeah, me neither. This will catch you up to speed.

5 p.m. – Book of Eli, TNT. Denzel Washington could star in a SpongeBob SquarePants episode and I’d be sold.

7 p.m. OR 10 p.m. – A Time To Kill, gmc TV. I have no idea what gmc TV is. All I know is this channel is showing Moesha marathon before unquestionably Matthew McConaughey’s best work, with a killer plot to match the cast (Sam L. Jackson, Sandra Bullock, Kevin Spacey, Oliver Platt, Ashley Judd, Donald and Kiefer Sutherland)

8 p.m. – Independence Day, A&E. Hope I flip over in time for President Whitmore’s “Tonight, we celebrate” speech.

8 p.m. – The Karate Kid, FX. Boy, between Texas-OK State, ID4 and the Kid, that’s gonna be a heck of a rotation in prime time.

8:03 p.m. – Aladdin, ABC Family. Don’t laugh. Favorite classic Disney movie. “Ten thousand yeeeeeeeeeeears will give you such a crick in the neck!”

9:06 p.m. – Kill Bill, Vol. 1 and Kill Bill, Vol. 2, Bravo. Uma Thurman kicks ass. You stay up to watch both movies, you’ll be crashing after bartime. Have fun!

-AB

September 28, 2012

Brenner: Tigers are better but not there yet

AUBURN, Ala. -Look, nobody gave Auburn a puncher’s chance against LSU.

The fact Auburn came within a slightly more accurate hurry-up throw to Emory Blake and another booming kick by Cody Parkey of shaking up college football’s pinnacle is a credit to the Tigers.

Bravo. Pat on the back. All is right with the world.

Except it’s not.

The defense has its strut back for the first time since preseason camp,. Let us not undermine the importance of being confident.

But that’s about as far as you can go in suggesting that losing a home game at night — even to a team as outstanding and well-rounded as LSU — is some type of moral victory.

Maybe it would be, if the final figures showed that Auburn truly went toe-to-toe with LSU. It sure felt that way based on the defense’s prowess — Corey Lemonier, Demetruce McNeal and others played their tails off — but LSU still rolled up 351 yards.

I know, right? Didn’t feel like that many. LSU had just three plays longer than a dozen yards in the final three quarters (though those three were each explosive, going for roughly 30 yards). Auburn allowed a not-too-shabby 4.1 yards per rush and LSU was 6-of-18 on third down.

And, yes, at the end of the day, LSU scored just 12 points. Three in the final 49 minutes. Usually, that’s enough to win in football.

But 351 yards is still 351 yards, particularly on your home field.

It doesn’t remove the stink of allowing a composite 419.2 yards. Remember, Ted Roof’s opponents in 2011 averaged 408.0 yards, which stands as the worst single season of total defense in the program’s history.

Currently.

And then, there’s not enough spare Revlon to slap on that swine of an offense. Encouragement in practice is fine. Rolling out a passing game with fewer forward progress than any other BCS program just won’t cut it. Neither will an inconsistent perimeter running game which has produced 35 plays of negative yardage — second-most in the country.

LSU scored three points in the last 49 minutes Saturday. Great. Auburn has scored three points in the fourth quarter this year. That’s 60 minutes of when-it-counts-most, and the offense hasn’t been counted upon at all.

So when some players were fairly content after losing Saturday and strangely boastful the day after — “if LSU’s No. 2, then what are we?”, McNeal recklessly pondered — it raised the question of whether the Tigers realize how far they have to go.

Which means head coach Gene Chizik gave a money answer when I asked it Wednesday night.

“Let me make this clear,” Chizik said. “We were really proud of the effort and the passion we played with defensively Saturday night.”

Pause. Change of tone. That being said …

“Huge room for improvement. Not even close to where we want to be in terms of executing the defenses called.”

Good call.

Aaron Brenner, abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com.

September 27, 2012

Poised QB Jonathan Wallace’s high school experience prepared him for Auburn

AUBURN, Ala. — Jonathan Wallace was enjoying the moment, running the read option offense. Just like old times as a Central-Phenix City Red Devil.

Except he wasn’t. He was wearing an Auburn Tiger uniform, playing LSU on ESPN.

Maybe for a moment, based on what his coaches asked him to do, Wallace could have harkened back to his high school days against Smiths Station or Opelika. He was dipping in and out of traffic, his presence helping open up the running game, picking up a first down here, a first down there.

And then, BAM! Craig Loston, all 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds of a heat-seeking safety for perhaps the most physical college defense in the country, reminded Wallace where he was.

“It was a good hit, I will say that,” Wallace said Wednesday. “That was my initiation to the SEC. It really brought me back to reality in a sense. But other than that, the hit felt great.”

The hit knocked the wind out of Wallace, and that was his last play of the night. But it won’t be his last play of the season — Wallace had already earned the trust of Auburn’s coaching staff, running three times for 15 yards (including two first downs) on a night where his redshirt eligibility was buried.

His preparation, his work ethic, his toughness are each reasons Wallace is playing this year. It also helps the package Auburn head coach Gene Chizik and offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler have created for their true freshman is based specifically on Wallace’s high school experience.

“Very similar,” Wallace said. “It’s pretty much the same stuff.”

He has Central coach Woodrow Lowe and offensive coordinator Ryan Nelson to thank for that, for creating a college-like culture in Phenix City.

“Coach Lowe does a good job making it like a college atmosphere,” Nelson said. “We practice in the mornings, a lot of film work after practice. As much film as we watch with these kids and talking about offense, and college teams do with the read-run game. Jonathan’s always been very good at it.”

Besides the game-week preparation, Nelson noted that the well-coached schemes in Alabama high school football helped Wallace grow up faster.

“Anytime we have that pressure period where we use multiple coverages, I was able to see that a lot throughout my senior year,” Wallace said. “That helped me understand defenses.”

Wallace has long been precocious: he was working out with the Red Devils the spring of his eighth-grade year, and when starter Darren Daniel was injured mid-season of Wallace’s sophomore year, Wallace took the reigns.

“There wasn’t much of a dropoff,” Nelson, 27, said. “Wallace stepped in the huddle and was just unbelievable. The thing about Jonathan, why he has so much poise, is because he works so hard.”

Tigers teammates have taken note of Wallace’s unnatural calmness for a freshman.

“He controls the huddle well. He has that leadership in him, in his character,” halfback Tre Mason said. “That’s just God-given. He came in ready to play, and the moment wasn’t too big for him.”

An addiction to the film room and a freakish work ethic are also credited.

“I see him working on his drop steps, throwing the ball with somebody — I knew he was going to be a great player,” sophomore right guard Chad Slade said. “He does everything the coach tells him to do no matter what, he has no mouth, no complaints about anything. He stays up here until 10 o’clock at night watching film. I believe in him 110 percent.”

Chizik has said Wallace’s on-field responsibility will range from zero to 20 plays going forward.

“He’s a very confident young guy. He picks things up well, he makes good decisions, and he’s a tough kid,” Chizik said. “All those things together gave us confidence that he could get into a game — right now, in a limited role — and be productive. And he was.”

With Auburn in a bye week, Wallace will get some time at back home this weekend after Friday’s practice, hoping to watch Central host East Coweta on Friday night.

The Tigers return to game action Oct. 6 against Arkansas, which will reveal more about Wallace’s role and whether he might air it out for the first time in a college uniform.

“I think a lot of people get the misconception of Jonathan that he’s just a read runner, and that’s not Jonathan,” Nelson said. “He’s a really good quarterback. He can deliver the football, he’s exceptional reading coverages. Read-and-run is just another part of his game.”

September 26, 2012

Auburn notes: Frazier feels increasing pressure

AUBURN, Ala. – With each passing game without thrilling the masses, Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier takes more pressure from the outside world.

With two weeks to dwell on a tough defeat to LSU, Frazier knows the fan base is growing anxious.

“I mean, yeah, it’s something that around campus, and whenever you go someplace, people will say this and that, but I don’t really take it personally,” Frazier said. “Winning, that’s the expectation at Auburn, and if you don’t do that, then people will be talking about it. So right now, we’re 1-3, so there’s a lot of people off the bandwagon, but if we do what we need to do these next couple of games, then a lot of people will get back on.”

Frazier, one of the nation’s lowest-rated quarterbacks, was even the subject of former Auburn coach Pat Dye, who told the Montgomery Advertiser Wednesday, “I don’t think he’s scared physically, but he’s scared mentally to make a mistake. Our quarterback — bless his heart — I think he’s going to be fine, I really do, but he ain’t ready to play right now. We got to go through the pain of watching him get there.”

Frazier’s body language after mistakes – as well as his follow-up drives – has led to the question of his mental game in adverse periods.

“I think he’s very tough on himself,” head coach Gene Chizik said. “When you’re a quarterback and you’re a competitor, you’re probably your biggest critic. I think Kiehl knows and he sees that there’s a lot of improvement left out there for him as well. But he’s a competitor. I think all quarterbacks are hard on themselves.”

Added Frazier: “I don’t try to dwell on it. I’ll beat myself up for a little bit, but you always have to leave that stuff in the past and go out and produce on the next drive.”

Frazier struggled early on with staring down receivers while keeping his eye on pass-rushers, something the sophomore said he has cleaned up.

“I have complete faith in my offensive line,” Frazier said. “We watched every clip, and I probably got rushed, to where I probably need to scramble, only three times in the last four games. The O-line’s doing a really good job, and it’s something I’ve got to keep working on, but it’s not as bad as it was.”

Frazier said he’s fine with Wallace’s enlarged role within the offense.

“Anything that’s good for our team, that’s good with me,” Frazier said. “Kind of did the same thing last year, and Jon did a great job in his role Saturday.”

Frazier’s next opportunity comes against Arkansas. He played at Shiloh Christian in Springdale, Ark., 10 minutes from Fayetteville.

“I think it’ll be fun just to play against the hometown. I’ve got a whole lot of family coming,” Frazier said. “I’m not going to treat it differently, I’m going to treat like any other game because it’s an SEC game and it’s one we need to win.”

Finish the job: Two weeks ago, the buzz word was ‘urgency’. On Sunday, it was ‘finish’. Auburn has been outscored 31-3 in the fourth quarter this year.

“It’s the opportunities that we have to capitalize on at the right times,” Chizik said. “That’s how you finish games. It’s been very revealing. We’ve got to continue to work and try to capitalize on the opportunities we create.” 

Holsey’s big play: After a critical pass break-up on a deep ball to LSU’s Russell Shepard, Auburn freshman cornerback Joshua Holsey has emerged on the scene on defense after previously impressing with his special teams play.

“You’re looking at the evolution of a young guy starting to learn the defense and play with confidence,” Chizik said. “That one post he stayed on top of and he didn’t have any help — that was a big play. That was one of their best receivers — if not their best receiver. The more you make those plays, because they don’t come often, the more confidence we have in them as coaches.”

Holsey could be in line for more playing time in the rotating turnstile of defensive backs.

“Just being a playmaker,” Holsey said of his role. “I do what they tell me to do, my assignment, and I try to have a good time doing it. Right now that’s coming in on the nickel package.”

You’re the man: Patrick Miller is officially the starting right tackle, having wrested the job from fellow true freshman Avery Young.

“For his first game ever starting against LSU, Patrick did a really, really nice job,” Chizik said. “He tried to play physical. He’s got room for improvement — like our whole team does. I’m very proud of him.”

Video: Jonathan Wallace on joining the offense

Thursday’s Ledger-Enquirer longform piece on Jonathan Wallace discusses his quick acquaintance to the college game based on his Central-Phenix City experience.

For now, a video interview with Auburn’s wildcat quarterback:

VanGorder’s defense seeing improvement

AUBURN, Ala. — Brian VanGorder never expected his new schemes to hit home from day one.

Four games into his first stint as Auburn’s defensive coordinator, VanGorder has remained even-keel in regards to the progress or regression of the Tigers’ linemen, linebackers and secondary.

When the defense has been ugly — like against Clemson, or the second half against Mississippi State — VanGorder has tried to soothe fears by assuring he has control of his defensive room. When it’s been impressive, like last Saturday in stifling mighty LSU into a single touchdown and field goal, he trots out the “We still have much room to grow” party line.

It’s been a process — one that has VanGorder and the majority of his troops staying patient.

“VanGorder has said he knows we might not go from the bottom of the list to first, (but) we’re working every week,” defensive back Demetruce McNeal said. “With that work being done we’re going to try to keep showing everybody what kind of defense we’re building.”

For defenders used to Ted Roof’s system the past three years, they’ve learned a few hallmarks of a VanGorder defense. Plenty of nickel defense. Dependence on the safeties to read plays before they happen. And above all else, do your job.

“We have come along as far as communication. That’s the biggest thing,” defensive end Dee Ford said. “We’re understanding the methods and learning how to play a system defense … it’s very different (from Roof). You’re not just going to say, ‘Hey, I’m playing in a system defense and now I can play faster.’ You have to watch a lot of film. You do become a more cerebral football player. You start to see things in a game.”

One concern was college kids grasping the difficulty of VanGorder’s pro-style scheme, which he employed the past four years with the Atlanta Falcons.

“Each week, they’ve grown in the details of the defense, which you have to do if you want to be good,” VanGorder said. “I think they like learning the different plans and exotics that are part of the gameplan … we haven’t gone into any games with a large package. In my mind, we’ve kept it to the point where I felt they could execute well.”

Nobody’s making excuses.

“It’s a more advanced scheme, but it’s not hard by any means,” senior cornerback T’Sharvan Bell said. “Coach (VanGorder) doesn’t hold back. He knows that we can learn it and he has faith that we can pick up whatever he throws at us. And if it’s too much, we’ll be the first to let him know that ‘Hey, Coach, this is too much. You might want to cut back on something.’”

While he wasn’t expecting any record-setting defense, the fiery-eyed VanGorder still expects more out of a defense that is ranked 86th nationally (419.3 yards per game) and is on pace to finish worse than each of Roof’s defenses.

“I wanted the process to be faster than it has been, for sure,” VanGorder said. “I’m not totally surprised based on what I saw in training camp and scrimmages.”

One of VanGorder’s sticking point is lack of turnovers — in part because opposing quarterbacks haven’t felt the need to fit spirals in tight windows. The Tigers have just one interception in four games.

Even with professional prospect Corey Lemonier and up-and-comer Ford bulldozing in as pass rushers, Auburn is still middle of the SEC pack in QB sacks.

“It’s not that we aren’t in position to make plays, but as a defense, we haven’t made enough plays,” Bell said. “We haven’t delivered. Sometimes pass break-ups aren’t good enough. Sometimes you need the interception. Sometimes you need to sack.”

Throughout the first month of the season, there have been few unkind words about VanGorder and his staff from the players. Even during his “no championship effort” rant before the Louisiana-Monroe game, Bell highly complimented their guides.

“We have a great defensive coordinator and a great D-line coach, linebacker coach, secondary coach. Our defensive staff is literally stacked,” Bell said. “They put us in a position to make plays. The change-up was a good thing. Coach (VanGorder) steered us in the right direction. We just have to finish.”

The rest of the schedule features Georgia, Alabama, Texas A&M and Ole Miss — each of which are averaging at least 36.8 points per game.

“It’s an incredible challenge. That’s how I see it,” VanGorder said. “My vision is going to be different than (the media) or the fans because I know the process well enough. It’s not going to change overnight, but we are moving in the right direction.”

Notebook: RB Tre Mason hard on himself

AUBURN, Ala. — Tre Mason has made a lot of plays for Auburn this season, but few take a costly mistake harder than him.

When the sophomore halfback found a rhythm against Clemson with a few big runs in the season opener, he fumbled the football, and in doing so coughed up momentum in a 26-17 loss. Coach Gene Chizik indicated afterward Mason was having difficulty forgiving himself for the error.

Then on Saturday, with Auburn backed up to its own end zone in the first quarter, Mason was unable to evade LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery, who dipped past left guard John Sullen and tripped up Mason for a safety — and two ultimately decisive points. LSU won 12-10.

“It was pretty frustrating, because I felt like that game would have turned around our whole season,” Mason lamented Sunday. “I feel like, you know, I’m going to step up as a team leader. I feel like I should take the blame for that. I should have found a way to get out of the end zone on that safety. I should have found any way possible, but you know, it is what it is, and we’ll only get better from here on.”

Mason is Auburn’s leading rusher in terms of carries and yards (53 for 275), and while senior Onterio McCalebb has a higher yards-per-rush (5.7 to 5.2), Mason has typically been able to avoid being brought down for a loss. Yet the safety may have put Mason in the doghouse — he only ended up with nine carries for 54 yards against LSU, after carrying 22 times against Louisiana-Monroe.

“You can’t argue with (the coaches’) plan, because that’s what they get paid to do, and you know, of course, who wouldn’t like more carries?” Mason said. “Whenever I have my opportunity, I try to do the most with it.”

Mason was pleased with the uptick in emotion Saturday, both by himself and the team in giving LSU a scare.

“That could take us a long way. It could even take us into next year, because we know what it feels like to actually play with that passion and that emotion,” Mason said

“That bitter taste in my mouth from losing that game, it’s always going to be in my mouth, you know, trying to take it out on the next opponent.”

Chipping for Charity

Former Auburn coach Pat Dye and ex-Tigers guard Kendall Simmons were on hand for the Travelers Chipping Challenge outside Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday before the LSU game at Auburn Fan Fest.

For each hole-in-one putted by fans, Travelers donated $100 to Chizik’s YouTurn foundation. $5,000 was raised, with the check presentation being handled by Dye, Simmons and Chizik’s wife, Jonna. Fans could take pictures with Dye and Simmons for their personalized cover of the game program.

Going off

Arkansas receiver Cobi Hamilton had to be one of the easiest selections in recent memory for SEC Offensive Player of the Week … and his team didn’t even win.

Hamilton cracked a conference record 303 receiving yards, hauling in ten passes and three for a score. For comparison, all of Auburn’s receiving corps has combined for 363 yards in four games.

Hamilton actually shared the weekly honor with a guy that did win a big game — South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw, who was quite good himself. Coming off a shoulder injury, and after misfiring on his first attempt of the day against Missouri, Shaw completed his next 20 passes to conclude the game in a 31-10 throttling of the visiting Tigers.

Home sweet home, no more

Arkansas (1-3) is the only SEC team which has yet to play a road or neutral game, after spending three of their first games at Fayetteville’s Reynolds Razorback Stadium and another at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

Wake-up call

Auburn is 6-2 under Chizik for morning kickoffs. Arkansas will take on Auburn starting at 12 p.m.

Hey there, Amazin’s

The 1972 Tigers will celebrate their 40th anniversary reunion two weekends from now, including a ceremony preceding the Arkansas game.

That squad went 10-1, capped by a 24-3 victory over Colorado in the Gator Bowl. Excluding a 35-7 defeat at LSU, Auburn allowed 10.6 points per victory in 1972 under Ralph “Shug” Jordan, finishing fifth-ranked in the AP poll.

Phooey, sooey

Chizik is 1-3 against Arkansas, with the lone win coming in the Tigers’ national championship season. That was a barnburner — a 65-43 triumph, the highest-scoring regulation game in SEC history, with Cam Newton accounting for 328 yards and four touchdowns.

Besides that, Arkansas has bedeviled Chizik-led teams by an average margin of 16 points.