ATLANTA – We can only glean so much out of hearing secondhand from players and coaches on how practice is going.
Finally, some visual evidence for the media and fans to actually evaluate the 2012 Auburn football team and its forecast.
Overall, after watching Auburn lose an opportunity-rich 26-19 game to Clemson Saturday night, my thinking is this: the potential is there for Auburn to be a pretty good football team with a better season than last. The question is, how quickly the Tigers fulfill that potential? Will it be in the next week before SEC play, or not until after taking lumps against Mississippi State, LSU and Arkansas?
I have some quick-hit conclusions, based on a mere 60 minutes of action. They’re listed here in order of relevance to Auburn’s ultimate success.
- Kiehl Frazier might have sounded confident to his teammates and positive afterwards. He’ll just need some time to show it.
The leash is still on, folks. A lot of talk surrounded Auburn’s ability to get in the red zone and subsequent inefficiency to get any further … well, go back to the second quarter, when Clemson led 13-7 and Frazier drove Auburn 60 yards down to the Clemson 15. On 3rd-and-12, Auburn called a timeout (this was just after the Trovon Reed catch out of bounds), reasonably to draw up one decent shot at the end zone. The play call? A clearly designed checkdown in the flat to Onterio McCalebb, who’s much better in space at midfield than in the red zone, and a loss of five yards. Settled for a Parkey field goal. That’s not lack of execution; that’s taking a young guy out of a spot to make a play. The full playbook’s not quite open 100 percent. Yet.
Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen thought Frazier made some good throws. True. A couple of bombs to Lutz and Emory Blake kept the game close, since those two plays essentially produced 10 first-half points. But other than that, Frazier was off-target and a little wobbly on his delivery, and with that, you get 11-of-27 for 194 yards. Nice yards-per-completion, but not much else.
And we’ll have to wait for Frazier to put the “dual” in “dual threat”. He rushed nine times, and was sacked for double the lost yardage as he gained, finishing with minus-9 yards.
Cheer up, fans of Frazier. Consider that in Tajh Boyd’s first two games of extended action (concluding the 2010 season as a freshman), he was 23-for-41 for 185 yards, and rushed 11 times for minus-17 yards. Both losses. So it takes time.
- It was a semi-awkwardly posed question, which Gene Chizik fouled off: “Coach, did you think Clemson was capable of rolling up 528 yards on your defense?” “Well, I didn’t really think about how many yards they would get or we would give up.”
No, teams aren’t putting numerical figures on these kinds of things, just like Clemson wasn’t interested in how many points it gave up to West Virginia in the bowl game. But just as Dabo Swinney couldn’t avoid the embarrassment of yielding 70 points to the Mountaineers, Chizik can’t dodge the fact that allowing 528 yards – even in a dome, even with a new secondary and defensive coordinator, even with one linebacker still getting his sea legs back from injury and another taking a first-quarter stinger to the left shoulder – is 528 yards regardless.
Tajh Boyd is going to make a lot of ACC defenses look amateurish this fall. Andre Ellington (although 231 yards is disappointing even if it’s Adrian Peterson) has wheels and used his veteran guile to stay on his feet for that 68-yard scamper. DeAndre Hopkins was basically Sammy Hopkins Lite, and for all we know he’s the real deal.
But … but … 528 yards. Back to the drawing board, Coach VanGorder. Other than the defensive line getting great pass penetration, everything else – run gaps, 3rd-down inefficiency, and oh, that arm tackling – needs work, and fast.
- Dee Ford will be a household name by the end of September.
- Two of the four leading tacklers for Auburn: Ryan Smith and Jermaine Whitehead. Starting safeties. 23 tackles between them. Ryan White and T’Sharvan Bell also had seven each at cornerback. Gotta keep the runners in the front seven there, defense.
- Daren Bates is a tough man. I counted three times he came out nursing his left shoulder, which he said afterwards was just a stinger. Still got 11 tackles and the pick. He should be healthy going forward, but while his missile-like launches make for some big hits and nice plays, he’s got to wrap up so as not to miss more tackles. Who knows if the shoulder impacted that.
- Tre Mason might not have a game like that every week, but he sure added an excellent complementary piece to Onterio McCalebb. Gene Chizik said afterward nobody felt worse about the drive-killing fumble than Mason himself. But for an opening statement, Mason sure kept Mike Blakely (1 carry, 2 yards) on the bench best he could.
- Cody Parkey … ya done good. 4×4 FG and touchbacks galore. Keep it up. But he understands this is it for the domes. Say hello to wind again next week. Steven Clark also punted well. Special teams will be solid.
That’s all I got for now. I’m in New York the next two days, but copy will still be filed by me and others here on WarEagleExtra.com. I’ll be back Tuesday. Enjoy your Labor Day weekend.