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March 24, 2013

Positional battles to watch: Quarterbacks

This is the fifth of an 8-day series previewing each Auburn position leading into spring football. Tomorrow: offensive line.

Photo by Todd Van Emst

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – Gotta have a quarterback in order to win football games. At least that’s what the papers and talk shows and contemporary wisdom says.

Why, just look at the teams playing in the national championship last year: gobs and gobs and gobs of passing yards, right? Uh … not exactly. Notre Dame ranked 72nd in the category, and Alabama 76th, in 2012.

Of course, AJ McCarron led the most efficient passing offense in the country, but the Crimson Tide also attempted the 114th-most throws. High-flying Oregon was 7th in passer rating.

Everybody else honored with a BCS berth? Further down the bench, like major-conference champions Florida State (13) and Kansas State 25). Some were much further: Rose Bowl foes Wisconsin (62nd) and Stanford (73rd) had their quarterback struggles, Florida dominated the SEC with the No. 69 passing game (118th in passing yards!), and Notre Dame got by with the 75th-rated pass offense.

Oh, and it’s tough get hung up on true dual-threat guys. Only two of the nation’s top 10 rushing quarterbacks – NIU’s Jordan Lynch and K-State’s Collin Klein – went bowling in the BCS.

Convinced the quarterback’s an overrated position?

Don’t go that far. One last set of stats to consider: Alabama threw 31 touchdowns, just three interceptions. Seven of the other nine BCS squads had better than 2-to-1 TD-INT ratios, and Notre Dame and Kansas State weren’t far off from that mark.

Auburn – yes, this is ultimately about the Tigers – threw eight touchdowns and 15 interceptions. That was the second-worst ratio in Division I football.

So what did we learn? Gunslingers need not apply. Especially in Gus Malzahn’s offense, which favors the quick routes and misdirections far more than flinging it downfield on a wing and a prayer.

By the way, Arkansas State’s figures last year under Malzahn: No. 12 in passer rating, No. 6 in TD-INT ratio (25-5).

Auburn’s starting quarterback doesn’t have to be Johnny Manziel. But vast, swift improvement is inevitable and, frankly, crucial to the resurrection of this program.

Here’s a look at Auburn’s quarterbacks, leading into spring football practices:

3Auburn12

Who’s been playing: Kiehl Frazier (jr.), Jonathan Wallace (so.)

Who’s out the door: Clint Moseley

Who’s in the door: Jeremy Johnson (Montgomery, Ala.), Nick Marshall (Rochelle, Ga.), Jason Smith (Mobile, Ala.)

Who’s coaching ‘em up: Rhett Lashlee, 3rd year (1st in SEC)

Who’d they replace, where is he now: Scot Loeffler, Virginia Tech

Thoughts and musings:

- So let’s talk about Kiehl Frazier. Upon reviewing game tape from his 2012 season, he really did have his moments when it was clear a decent quarterback leered inside that athletic 6-foot-2, 226-pound body of his. Primarily, his greatest demon was his inability to read coverages against slow-developing routes, leading to sacks, scrambles and scatterbrained throws into throngs of multiple defenders awaiting the almighty pick.

- Please don’t forget: Kiehl Frazier isn’t just familiar with the Gus Malzahn offense. He was born to play in it. When Rhett Lashlee was tabbed to be Malzahn’s right-hand man – Lashlee is really just an older version of Frazier – it almost seemed like Frazier himself was sidled up to the hiring committee as they went about replacing the previous staff, which spent the first half of 2012 trying to squeeze what they could out of the true sophomore.

- What should Frazier fine-tune this month? Soak up everything Lashlee says. Work on accuracy. Shed the fear of taking a big hit. Regain the undying respect of the locker room. And finally, get his edge back. One of Malzahn’s favorite mantras probably pertains more to nobody else but No. 10.

- Ah, and yes, Jon Wallace returns. The Central-Phenix City product’s teammates looooooove him. His intangibles struck everybody in his presence – his work ethic, desire to learn, ability to accept whichever role the coaches asked of him. He’s got that ‘it’ factor, which is why he’ll succeed in college and in life.

- Can’t completely ignore his shutouts against Georgia and Alabama, his lone two SEC starts. Not like Frazier was much better against Mississippi State, LSU and Arkansas, but still. Wallace had something going with CJ Uzomah and a few others against Texas A&M’s prevent defense. The next step is becoming part of an all-encompassing passing package tailored to Wallace’s skills.

- What should Wallace fine-tune this month? To borrow three of his favorite words, “just keep working.” He doesn’t have the obvious natural gifts other quarterbacks bear, but he’s got what it takes to force the coaching staff to look his way. If he puts on a little bit of size without hindering his athleticism, that would help his cause. If the coaches would like to keep a Wildcat package handy, Wallace is the man for that job.

- Quick rundown of the three fall QBs: Nick Marshall could be the most athletic person on the entire team next season, but his 25 interceptions at Garden City CC last year are a red flag. He should be motivated, though, given second life in the SEC. Jeremy Johnson’s the centerpiece of the future, and would be a dark horse to wrest the job in his first of four years. Jason Smith is perceived to project better as a wide receiver, but that kid has proved doubters wrong before. Don’t forget about him at QB.

NickMarshall

Statistically speaking:

139.6 – Jonathan Wallace’s passer efficiency in 2012, setting an Auburn freshman record – barely ahead of Jason Campbell’s 139.41. If Wallace had maintained that rating all by himself through the whole season (unlikely, but still), the Tigers would have ranked 44th nationally, instead of 96th.

99.87 – Kiehl Frazier’s passer efficiency in 2012. Better than only two FBS teams. No bueno.

57.2 – Pass completion percentage by the team. Wallace was even with that mark, Frazier was below it at 53 percent.

67.9 – Ryan Aplin’s completion in 2012, under the tutelage of Malzahn and Lashlee.

0.79 – Average net yards per rush for Frazier and Wallace, which does include sack totals. Throw in the total of 7 passing touchdowns (one, by the way, was by Quan Bray), and by no statistical measure was the quarterback position competent.

33 – Yardage on Bray’s TD toss to Frazier on a trick play against Louisiana-Monroe.

6-9-122-2 – Completions, attempts, yards and touchdowns for Wallace when thrown into the fire against Texas A&M. Granted, the Aggies were playing prevent defense, but it was still an impressive performance for the rookie’s first extended action.

Good Twitter follows: We’ve already dropped their handles earlier this week, but here they are again: Kiehl Frazier (@KiehlFrazier10) and Jonathan Wallace (@JWall_4). Frazier took a break from Twitter during the season, but he’s back now and the dude looooooves his fútbol.

Say what? “I mean this, it may sound like coachspeak – I really want to give them a fresh start. To me, the first day is day one. I don’t care what happened. I really don’t … I look at it as 15 days to find out what is our ceiling, how high can we go with these guys? We’re going to install it like we always have, it’s fresh to them, it’s brand-new to Jonathan, it’s probably going to seem brand-new to Kiehl after a major difference of what was done last year. So we’re going to get after it and kind of let the chips fall where they may.” – Lashlee

6 Comments

  1. Would it be fair to say if Marshall or Smith don’t win the starting job at QB they will both be moved elsewhere? Hate to think about either of them being the backup at QB when their playmaking ability is desperately needed elsewhere. Thanks for the great position previews.

    Comment by mark — March 24, 2013 @ 12:28 pm

  2. Hey Mark, glad you like them. I do think that’s a reasonable assessment – Marshall absolutely could be worked in at DB or even WR, whereas Smith, again, is perceived to project better at WR … even though he and the coaches insist he’ll get a fair shake at QB. Both have the athletic ability to contribute at one of the other 21 positions on the field.
    Thanks for reading.
    AB

    Comment by Aaron Brenner — March 24, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

  3. KF scared us all last year, beginning with the Clempson game. Not getting rid of the ball, taking sacks and making bad decisions. It still is amazing that we were in that game well into the 4th qtr. I am hoping Lash and Gus will get the maximum from KF this year. A 6 win season will be a huge improvement.

    Comment by easyedwin — March 24, 2013 @ 7:24 pm

  4. Whatever they do,it should be an improvement on last year.

    Comment by John Scavens — March 25, 2013 @ 2:05 pm

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