War Eagle Extra has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 10 seconds. If not, visit
http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/wareagleextra
and update your bookmarks.

August 31, 2013

Auburn ekes out 31-24 win over Washington State in season opener

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. Auburn’s season opener against Washington State on Saturday was in doubt until nearly the final minute.

But when Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday’s fourth-and-five pass from Auburn’s 27-yard line sailed out of bounds with just over two minutes remaining, the outcome was sealed.

Gus Malzahn was able to celebrate in his first game as Auburn's head coach, as the Tigers pulled out a 31-24 win over the Washington State Cougars. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Gus Malzahn was able to celebrate following his first game as Auburn’s head coach, as the Tigers pulled out a 31-24 win over the Washington State Cougars on Saturday night.
(Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

The Tigers (1-0) had done just enough to hold on for a 31-24 victory to make Gus Malzahn’s debut as head coach a successful one.

“They found a way to win,” Malzahn said in his postgame press conference. “We’re committed to getting better each practice and each game, and we are.”

To say the contest went according to script would be a bit too easy, though.

The pregame thought was the Tigers would pound the ball on the ground while the Cougars would take to the air, each following their coach’s preferred method of moving the ball.

On Saturday, Malzahn’s scheme reigned supreme, as the Tigers’ 297 rushing yards proved to be more effective than the Cougars’ 344 passing yards. In an ironic twist, however, Washington State matched Auburn in terms of rushing touchdowns, with each team scoring twice via the running game.

And though the teams combined to put 55 points on the board, the second half was notable for its paucity of scoring. The final two quarters saw just nine points scored, all coming courtesy of each team’s placekickers.

The pedestrian pace of the second half scoring was a far cry from the frenetic tempo of the opening 30 minutes.

“Our coaches did a good job of adjusting,” Malzahn said. “But give (Washington State) credit. That’s a really good team.”

Things couldn’t have started much worse for the Tigers. Washington State (0-1) received to open the game, and promptly marched down the field for a touchdown. The Cougars covered the 75 yards in 12 plays, capped by Jeremiah Laufasa’s touchdown run from four yards out.

Auburn failed to match Washington State on its own opening drive, as the Tigers went three-and-out. The Tigers next possession was equally unfruitful, picking up just five yards before punting once more.

Needing a spark, a “Star” provided it. Robenson Therezie — pushed into the starting lineup in the place of starter Justin Garrett — came up with an interception on the Cougars’ ensuing drive, helping the Tigers set up shop at the Washington State 24-yard line.

Four plays later, Auburn had its first touchdown of the season, as Tre Mason ran up the middle for eight yards, dragging Washington State defenders along with him into the end zone.

But the Tigers didn’t settle for just getting an extra point: Malzahn wanted more — and the Tigers got it. Senior defensive back Ryan White ran it in for a two-point conversion to put Auburn ahead 8-7 at the 2:26 mark of the opening period.

As soon as the second quarter began, the game finally started to resemble the quick-strike scoring attacks both coaches desire. The lead changed hands four times, with two Tiger touchdowns covering 50 yards or more.

The first score went for double that, as Mason returned a kickoff 100 yards, the second such touchdown of his career and first since he had a 97-yard touchdown return against Utah State in the 2011 season opener.

Corey Grant scored on a 75-yard touchdown run later in the quarter, which was the first of his career.

Auburn football: Last-minute notes prior to kickoff

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — You’ve heard just about everything there is to know about Auburn’s season opener.

The Tigers will try to run the ball a lot. Their opponent, the Washington State Cougars, will take to the air early and often.

Now, the only thing left is kickoff.

Here are a few last-minute notes before the Tigers’ finally begin their 2013 season:

  • A few changes to the starting lineup for the Tigers: Robenson Therezie will start in place of Justin Garrett at the hybrid safety/linebacker “Star” position. Another change on defense has Columbus native Gabe Wright replacing Jeffrey Whitaker at tackle.
  • Washington State had some lineup alterations, too: Marcus Mason will start at running  ahead of Teondray Caldwell, while Cyrus Coen will start at “Sam” linebacker. Also, safety Isaac Dotson will don jersey No. 36 instead of No. 31 which was originally listed on the Cougars’ roster.
  • The temperature was 86 degrees one hour prior to kickoff, with hazy skies and little-to-no wind.
  • Finally, for those bird-watching: Nova will fly from the flag pole in the northeast corner of the stadium at the 16:00 mark on the game clock.

And be sure to check out my first on-camera appearance of the season. Apologies in advance for any awkward pauses. I’m still working myself into midseason form.

Last look: Capsule for Saturday’s game, including key matchups (and edges)

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

Who: Washington State (3-9 in 2012) at Auburn (3-9 in 2012)

When: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET

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

TV: ESPNU

Radio: Auburn IMG Sports Network (WVRK-102.9 FM in Columbus; WGZZ-94.3 FM in Auburn/Opelika)

All-time series: Auburn leads 1-0AU logo

Quick game notes: Auburn has never had a problem holding serve at home to begin the season, owning a 34-6 record all-time in opening games at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers have won six home openers in a row, with the last loss coming at the hands of Georgia Tech in 2005. … Auburn coach Gus Malzahn prefers to lean on his running game, and the stats from his stint at Arkansas State last year back him up: The Red Wolves ran the ball 56.7 percent of the time (540 rushing attempts out of 952 total offensive plays). Washington State coach Mike Leach is at the other end of the spectrum, as no team in Division I put the ball in the air more than the Cougars last season. In 12 games, Washington State attempted 624 passes, averaging out to 52 per game. …  The SEC hasn’t been friendly to the Cougars over the years. Washington State has played against the SEC six times in its history, posting a 1-5 record. The Cougars are 1-4 against Tennessee, and lost to Auburn on the road in the 2006 season opener 40-14, which marked the last time they faced an SEC foe.

KEY MATCHUPS

Washington State receivers vs. Auburn secondary

The Tigers return three starters from last season in corners Jonathon Mincy and Chris Davis alongside free safety Jermaine Whitehead. Strong safety was formerly occupied by Demetruce McNeal, but he’s no longer with the team after being dismissed following an arrest during fall camp. In his place is Josh Holsey, a former corner who moved to safety in the spring and has remained there ever since. They will line up across from a Cougars’ receiving corps that brings back players who accounted for 70 percent of their yardage in 2012. The unit’s top pass-catcher is Brett Bartolone, a sophomore. He’ll be joined by a cadre of other options in Gabe Marks, Kristoff Williams, Dominique Williams and Isiah Myers. The team is also expecting big things from junior college transfer Vince Mayle, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound physical specimen.

EDGE: Even. The Cougars might hold the advantage here when it comes to depth, but there’s only so many receivers they can put on the field at the same time. Assuming the Tigers don’t suffer any injuries in the secondary during the game, they should be fine.Washington-State-University

Washington State offensive line vs. Auburn defensive line

Most games are decided up front and it won’t be any different in tonight’s tilt. It doesn’t matter how many times the Cougars want to throw if quarterback Connor Halliday doesn’t receive enough protection to get the ball out of his hands. That’s where Washington State’s much-maligned line comes in. It allowed more sacks than any team in the country (57) in 12 games last season, but those close to the team — including beat writer Christian Caple — seem to believe they have made great strides during the offseason. The Tigers are missing their top pass-rusher off the edge, as senior Dee Ford is out for an indefinite period of time with a knee injury. That being said, it has opened the door for less-experienced players to get an opportunity, as Auburn’s two first-team ends — LaDarius Owens and Craig Sanders — are both making their first career start on Saturday.

SLIGHT EDGE: Auburn. Even with Ford out, it’s hard to give a nod to the nation’s most woeful offensive line in 2012. Expect the Tigers to be able to get pressure on Halliday with regularity.

Auburn running backs vs. Washington State’s front seven

The Tigers will try to get their ground game established from the outset. But the Cougars aren’t going to make it easy on them, as the strength of their defense lies with the front seven, led by linebacker Darryl Monroe, the team’s second-leading tackler last year. Fellow linebacker Justin Sagote started the last 10 games of last season, collecting 61 takedowns in that span. And along the line, Washington State brings back three players who saw significant action last season in Ioane Gauta, Xavier Cooper and Toni Pole to anchor its base 3-4 scheme. Auburn will try to run it right at them, with the option of handing it off to one of four players out of the backfield: Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne, Corey Grant and Peyton Barber. That’s not even mentioning quarterback Nick Marshall, who is as dangerous with the ball in his hands as any player in the country.

SLIGHT EDGE: Auburn. Even with the experience the Cougars have returning, it’s not as if their run defense was stingy last season, as they only ranked 64th in the country in that category in 2012, allowing an average of 163.4 yards per game. Given the Tigers bevy of weapons at tailback and the fact they’ll be running behind an offensive line with four starters back, this matchup ends up in Auburn’s favor.

August 30, 2013

Auburn football: Two ‘different flavors’ of spread offense to clash when Tigers face Cougars on Saturday

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala.Ellis Johnson has seen nearly every type of offense imaginable in his 30-plus years of coaching.

Auburn quarterback will spearhead Gus Malzahn's run-heavy spread attack when the Tigers host the Washington State Cougars on Saturday. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Auburn quarterback will spearhead Gus Malzahn’s run-heavy spread attack when the Tigers host the Washington State Cougars on Saturday. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

No system is an island. When coaches see something they like, they borrow the concepts to incorporate it into their own scheme. Because of that, Auburn’s defensive coordinator didn’t have a problem with people who want to label both Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn’s and Washington State head coach Mike Leach’s systems as “spread” attacks despite their differing ideologies.

“The spread to me is three or four wide receivers on the field at one time and tempo,” Johnson said. “There are all different flavors. (Leach) wants to throw the ball more; Gus wants to run the ball more. What we’ve practiced against with our own offense in some respects will prepare us very well for what we’re going to see.”

Johnson said the Tigers will probably end up playing “two or three teams” this season that share some similarities with the Cougars. No team is as heavily reliant on the passing game as the Cougars, though. In 12 games last season, Washington State attempted 624 passes, which translates to exactly 52 per contest.

“There’s no question about it — he loves to throw the football,” Johnson said of Leach. “If you allow him to establish the running back, you’re in for a long day. You can’t just take a pass-defense approach and forget about the run. They have an offensive line that’s greatly improved. They’re good players. I think their running game is going to be more effect this year. It’s something you can’t ignore.”

It won’t be the first time Leach and Johnson have squared off. In 1997, Leach was the offensive coordinator at Kentucky while Johnson served as Alabama’s defensive coordinator. That year, the Wildcats defeated the Crimson Tide 40-34 in overtime, Kentucky’s first victory in the series since 1922.

Over time, Johnson has seen how Leach’s scheme has evolved.

“They ran a lot more two-back (formations) back then,” he said. “Just as wide open, a lot of screens, a lot of scatting the backs, free releasing them. They can line up in two-back or one-back, and by the snap of the ball, it’s almost an empty set. They’re checking out of there.”

On that same token, though, Washington State will have to contend with Auburn’s running game, which boasts a plethora of options in the backfield. Ironically, Leach said he was more worried when the Tigers take to the air given what he’s seen from quarterback Nick Marshall.

“He obviously can (throw the ball vertically),” Leach said. “He did it in JC (junior college) and they were impressed with him there and he’s a real athletic guy. … He’s good and hopefully he doesn’t get it all figured out before we leave town.”

Defensively, the Cougars will run out of multiple fronts and myriad coverages, so much so that Tigers offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee wasn’t sure what to expect Saturday.

“It’s the first game,” he said. “You’re not real sure what the other team is going to do. We’ve got to be ready for whatever they throw at us and anything they could do. With us starting a new quarterback, you’d expect that. With them having (so many starters) back on the same defense with the same coordinator, I think they’d have the full arsenal of tactics that we’ve seen from them in the past.”

And their 3-9 record didn’t belie how competitive the Cougars were last season, Malzahn said. During film study, he saw how Washington State played Oregon, which ended the year ranked No. 2, to a near-draw in the first half before the Ducks pulled away for a 51-26 victory. The Cougars were even closer against Stanford, losing 24-17 to a Cardinals team that finished No. 7 in the final Associated Press poll last year.

“They’re capable, even last year, of playing good football,” Malzahn said. “I think sometimes they got behind and it kind of snowballed on them, but we’re really expecting a much-improved team.”

One thing is certain: Both teams are committed to snapping the ball as quickly as possible. With that in mind, Malzahn wouldn’t rule out possibly slowing things down if needed.

That would be the option of last resort, though.

“It just depends on what gives you the best chance of winning,” he said. “We’ll see how it unfolds.”

THE WAIT IS OVER: Predictions on games around the country this weekend

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Everyone likes making predictions.

You do. I do. It’s a fun diversion, especially when you don’t have to worry about losing any money on the outcome of the games. (Well, at least I don’t.) Each Friday afternoon, I’ll make my picks on 15 different games around the country, with scores included for each one. And yes, I’ll even pick Auburn’s game every week, too. (I’m already preparing myself for derision the first time I pick against the Tigers. Such is life.)Auburn Spring Football

Now, to the picks. (Please note that all times listed are Eastern. Thanks in advance.)

Strictly SEC

Toledo at No. 10 Florida, 12:21 p.m.

This game might sound like an easy win for the Gators on paper, but don’t underestimate the Rockets. They return three big-time playmakers in running back David Fluellen, receiver Bernard Reedy and quarterback Terrance Owens. Fluellen is undoubtedly the top threat after rushing for 1,498 yards last season. And be aware Florida will also have five starters missing from the game due to injury, with right tackle Chaz Green and right guard Jon Halapio gone as well as running back Matt Jones. Those losses don’t help a unit already lacking much of a punch.

Florida will be fortunate to escape by the skin of its teeth.

Black picks: Gators 24, Rockets 21

Rice at No. 7 Texas A&M, 1 p.m.

Most years, this game would draw little attention. Then Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel went and won himself a Heisman last year. Throw in all of his off-the-field issues since the end of last season — and the fact he’ll be sitting out the first half of this game due to “secondary violations” of the NCAA rules on allowing an athlete’s likeness to be used for commercial purposes — and anyone who calls themselves a college football fan will be following the happenings in College Station closely. Has the second half of a regular season game ever been more anticipated?

It might not be competitive, but it will be compelling.

Black picks: Aggies 52, Owls 10

Mississippi State vs. No. 13 Oklahoma State (at Reliant Stadium in Houston), 3:30 p.m.

The Bulldogs’ top three pass-catchers from last season are gone. That’s not good news knowing that you normally have to score points in bunches to beat the Pokes.

Black picks: Cowboys 41, Bulldogs 20

Louisiana-Lafayette at Arkansas, 4 p.m.

“Real American football” gets off to a good start in Fayetteville, Ark., on Saturday afternoon, but the Ragin’ Cajuns will make them work for it until midway through the fourth quarter.

Black picks: Razorbacks 34, Ragin’ Cajuns 24

Virginia Tech vs. No. 1 Alabama (at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta), 5:30 p.m.

These ain’t your grandfather’s (or your father’s) Hokies. Virginia Tech isn’t ranked and is coming off a lackluster 7-6 showing last season. The Crimson Tide, meanwhile, resemble the program people would recall during the halcyon days of Bear Bryant, which is bad news for Frank Beamer’s crew in this contest. Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler — who, you might remember, held the same position at Auburn last year — will once again “match wits” against Nick Saban and Kirby Smart.

This won’t end well.

Black picks: Crimson Tide 41, Hokies 10

Austin Peay at Tennessee, 6 p.m.

The Volunteers help Butch Jones begin his tenure at Tennessee with a ‘W.’ It only gets tougher from here, though, as they’ll have faced Florida and Oregon (on the road in both) before September is over.

Black picks: Volunteers 38, Governors 14

Western Kentucky vs. Kentucky (at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn.), 7 p.m.

My head is urging me not to pick against Bobby Petrino. But something tells me that somehow, someway, first-year coach Mark Stoops isn’t going to let the Wildcats lose this game. And for his sake, the result better not be a one-sided loss, lest he wants to hear from a fan base that will wonder why the Wildcats didn’t give Petrino — a former Louisville coach who tortured Kentucky during his time there — a chance to run their program since he was in the market for a job during the offseason.

Black picks: Wildcats 42, Hilltoppers 38

Murray State at Missouri, 7 p.m.

After an injury-plagued 2012 season, Tigers quarterback James Franklin gets back on the right track with this layup game in the season opener. Here’s another mini-prediction: Dorial Beckham-Green goes for 200-plus receiving yards and two touchdowns in this one.

Black picks: Tigers 55, Racers 14

No. 20 TCU vs. No. 12 LSU (at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas), 9 p.m.

Both teams have question marks on offense. For LSU, it’s whether running back Jeremy Hill will start after being reinstated to the team during the offseason — or will he play at all? Tigers head coach Les Miles has played coy all week. TCU still hasn’t announced which quarterback — senior Casey Pachall or sophomore Trevone Boykin — will take the field with the first-team unit. These schools have always been known for their defenses, and it should be no different this year, even with LSU losing eight defenders to the NFL after last season.

It should be a good one, but when in doubt, go with the SEC team. (It usually pays off, after all.)

Black picks: Tigers 31, Horned Frogs 20

Other National Games of Some Renown

Louisiana-Monroe at Oklahoma, 7 p.m.

As many recall, the Warhawks came within a whisker of starting 3-0 last season, dropping Arkansas in the season opener and suffering close losses to Auburn (in overtime) and Baylor (which won 47-42). They’ll push the Sooners for a half or so in this one, but “Big Game Bob” Stoops normally takes care of business in regular season games at home, posting an incredible 81-5  (94.2 percent) record since taking over in 1999.

Black picks: Sooners 52, Warhawks 24

No. 19 Boise State at Washington, 10 p.m.

Isn’t absence supposed to make the heart grow fonder? Heck, these two teams closed last season against each other in the MAACO Bowl in Las Vegas, with the Broncos coming out on top 28-26. Obviously, Boise State head coach Chris Petersen’s record (84-8 in eight seasons) is impossible to knock, but his team isn’t unbeatable. In fact, it lost its opening game last season to Michigan State. It says here that the Huskies, who return 20 starters from 2012, make that to two years in a row.

Black picks: Huskies 38, Broncos 28

No. 22 Northwestern at California, 10:30 p.m.

Sonny Dykes is an offensive whiz, as he proved last year when his Louisiana Tech squad led the nation in scoring at 51.5 points per game. In the wide-open, pass-happy Pac-12, he’s the perfect fit to turn the Golden Bears around. It just won’t happen against Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, who is 7-0 in season openers. This should be a whale of game, but the bigger question is this: Will you stay up to watch it?

Black picks: Wildcats 30, Golden Bears 27

No. 11 Florida State at Pittsburgh (Monday), 8 p.m.

Mark it down: Hueytown, Ala., native (and new Seminoles signal-caller) Jameis Winston will make a few highlight reel plays on Monday en route to leading Florida State to a season-opening victory on the road.

Black picks: Seminoles 31, Panthers 10

The Game You Really Care About

Washington State at Auburn, 7 p.m.

For those who joined the live chat on Thursday, this pick won’t come as a surprise: I predicted the Tigers will win by two touchdowns in Gus Malzahn’s debut as the head coach on the Plains. Yes, the Cougars pass-heavy attack will test a Tigers secondary weakened due to mitigating factors (Jonathan Jones’ injury, Demetruce McNeal’s dismissal). As the game goes on, however, Auburn’s physicality up front will wear its opponent down, creating holes for Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Nick Marshall to gash the Cougars for big plays.

And since everyone always asks about Marshall, I’ll say he ends with just over 300 yards of total offense: 217 passing yards (one touchdown, no interceptions) and 84 rushing yards (one touchdown).

Toomer’s Corner should be rocking.

Black picks: Tigers 31, Cougars 17

GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 5 Georgia at No. 8 Clemson, 8 p.m.

I’ve gone back-and-forth on this matchup. The teams are nearly identical: great on offense and mediocre on defense. Points should be aplenty, but I’ll take the Bulldogs in a nail-biter.

(Though if it comes down to a field goal, Georgia will likely be kicking itself — pardon the pun — since starting kicker Marshall Morgan will likely miss the game due to an offseason arrest for boating under the influence. As Steve Spurrier would point out, Morgan kept up a long tradition of Georgia players doing stupid things to get them suspended for early-season games.)

Black’s pick: Bulldogs 45, Tigers 38

Auburn football: Best of the week

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Now just one day away from Auburn’s season opener, we can look back at the week that was.

We’ll do this every Friday for the rest of the season, linking to the best quotes, stories and videos from Sunday through Thursday. It’s obviously an abridged version of the immense number of items produced during the week, but this is supposed to be a short and breezy read, hitting on (what I consider) the highlights.AU logo

Enjoy.

BEST QUOTES

Left guard Alex Kozan, on how Gus Malzahn notices things other coaches would not:

“For instance, if we were to run a zone play … most coaches would look at what their quarterback is doing, what are the running backs’ and receiver’s eyes doing. Where are their eyes? He’ll notice what the right guard’s foot placement is. Things like that. A lot of coaches will leave that up to the line coach. He’ll pull you aside 15 minutes later and say: ‘Hey, on that play, what were you doing?’ That’s impressive, I think, for any football player who has the opportunity to work with him.”

Malzahn on whether he’s placing any extra pressure on himself to win his debut game as the Tigers’ head coach:

“It doesn’t matter if it’s the first game or any game. I want us to play. I want us to do things right, to be disciplined and protect the football, play hard. It’s no different than any others, but I think it’s common sense. We’ve got a team that had great struggles last year, so definitely it’d be great to get off to a good start.”

BEST STORIES

Backup quarterback Jonathan Wallace is willing to do ‘anything’ the team the coaching staff asks of him.

The Tigers are still waiting to find a go-to receiver. Head coach Gus Malzahn said it won’t happen until one of them can ‘prove it on Saturdays’ this fall.

BEST VIDEOS

Alex Kozan (Tuesday afternoon)

Gus Malzahn (Wednesday night)

Auburn football: Season ticket sales down 4.7 percent compared to last year

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Everybody loves a winner.

That’s what Jay Jacobs is banking on, anyway. Auburn’s athletic director said Thursday that the school’s ticket sales are down 4.7 percent compared to the same point last year. The Tigers’ average attendance was 82,646 per game last season, its lowest mark since 2000.

Auburn's season ticket sales are down 4.7 percent compared to this point last year. The Tigers averaged 82,646 fans per game in 2012, its lowest mark since 2000. (File photo)

Auburn’s season ticket sales are down 4.7 percent compared to this point last year. The Tigers averaged 82,646 fans per game in 2012, its lowest mark since 2000. (File photo)

But if Auburn starts to turn things around after its 3-9 showing in 2012, Jacobs believes that number will start to trend upward again.

“Why would you want to pay a TUF (Tigers Unlimited Fund) and the price of the ticket if you know you can walk out on the street and get them?” he said. “ … We certainly expect if we’re successful on the field Saturday, we’ll probably end up selling out.”

The 4.7 percent decrease in tickets sales adds up to about $600,000 in lost revenue. Jacobs mentioned the Tigers are “at an all-time high” with premium seats. It’s the low-level tickets in each of the end zones that the Tigers are having a hard time selling.

Auburn is far from the only school dealing with a drop in attendance, though. Jacobs is a member of a committee — and one of two athletic directors — that meets with ESPN every quarter to discuss how to combat declining attendance. ESPN repeatedly expresses its feelings on the matter: obviously it cares, Jacobs said, since they want to broadcast games with sold-out stadiums.

“It’s something we talk about all the time,” he said. “What is it we can do to enhance the game day experience and get people to come to campus? Even though ESPN and the SEC TV (network) is going to generate some revenue for us, having the game on campus with a sold-out house is what college football is all about.”

The advances in technology and the ever-increasing popularity of social media have made it easier for people to stay at home and watch games on high-definition televisions.

Getting more fans to attend games is the main reason prices have remained the last two years, Jacobs said, one of the many actions Auburn has taken to try to improve game day experience.

“That’s why we (have) got to keep adding parking places,” Jacobs said. “We’re (still) not where we need to be. That’s why we’re going to have a movie Friday night at the baseball field. That’s why we’re having a lunch Friday with (head football coach) Gus (Malzahn). That’s why we’re opening up our locker room, just to make it more value added so you don’t just sit at home and watch it on television. You come to campus.”

Commentary: Don’t get caught up in ‘numbers game’ Saturday

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Forget the numbers.

Look, I know it will be hard. After all, we’ve been bombarded with them non-stop during Auburn’s offseason. It can overwhelm the mind if one stops to think about it; the list is dizzying. The statistics click by at a pace that would please Gus Malzahn.

Ryan Black

Ryan Black

Nick Marshall threw for 3,142 yards and 18 touchdowns at Garden City Community College last season.

He ran for 1,095 yards and 19 touchdowns.

The Tigers allowed opponents to rack up 420.5 yards per game on them last year.

Auburn wants to run as many plays as possible this fall — and for comparison’s sake, last season’s leader was Marshall, which had 92.8 offensive snaps per game.

It goes on and on.

But no statistic has been cited more often that the Tigers’ record in 2012: 3-9. A win Saturday against Washington State could go a long way toward finally putting last season to bed. Malzahn isn’t necessarily putting any additional pressure on himself or the team — at least not publicly.

Not that it should come as any surprise. Malzahn isn’t the type for bluster.

Even he had to admit it would be nice to begin his tenure at Auburn with a victory, though.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s the first game or any game,” he said. “I want us to play. I want us to do things right, to be disciplined and protect the football, play hard. It’s no different than any other (game), but I think it’s common sense. We’ve got a team that had great struggles last year, so definitely it’d be great to get off to a good start.”

And if the Tigers are going emerge with a ‘W’ in Game Numero Uno, it will ultimately rest with Malzahn. Two men will have a say in the offense’s play-calling. Not surprisingly, numbers come into play here, too — it’s a matter of simple subtraction.

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will speak his piece. Malzahn will think about it. And then Malzahn will decide which play to run.

Some Tigers might have to settle for being a little disappointed their number — yes, there’s that word again — isn’t called often. Since Malzahn prefers to lean more toward the run, Auburn’s receivers will have to make the most of their opportunities in the passing game.

Then again, anything beats last season. No player has said it yet, but reading between the lines, it’s easy to deduce: They loathed Scot Loeffler’s pro-style system, which produced a putrid 18.7 points per game.

Yep, more stats.

They’re just impossible to avoid.

Similarly, receiver Quan Bray tiptoed around the elephant in the room regarding Loeffler’s less-than-stellar — to put it nicely — offensive output last year.

No, that’s not Bray’s way.

Like a good company man, he chose to emphasize what he liked about the hurry-up, no-huddle scheme the Tigers will use this fall.

“We have a lot spread guys,” the junior receiver said. “For (Malzahn) to come back, it’s a great thing because we have a lot of speed on the inside and on the outside and we’ve got a lot of playmakers at every position.”

So what kind of — wait for it — numbers will the Tigers tally in the opener?

Bray wasn’t shy about giving his take. Heck, he’s already thrown a number (yes, again) out there for Saturday: He wants to see the Tigers put 70 points on the board.

A lofty goal, if nothing else. A bit misguided, but lofty nonetheless.

Anyone focusing on the Tigers’ point total Saturday is missing the point.

Call it the Reverse Grantland Rice Theory.

When people look back on Saturday’s contest one day, they won’t care how the Tigers played the game.

What will matter is whether the Tigers won or lost.

It’s a harsh truth, but numbers show no favoritism.

Unlike most statistics, it’s an adage worth remembering.

Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs says reform needed in NCAA: ‘We’ve got to get some level of deregulation’

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala.Jay Jacobs didn’t lay out a road map for how to cure the ills of the NCAA.

All he knows is that changes need to be made — and the sooner, the better.

Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs met with media members in his office on Thursday. During the meeting, Jacobs called on the NCAA to make changes to better serve student-athletes. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs met with media members in his office on Thursday. During the meeting, Jacobs called on the NCAA to make changes to better serve student-athletes. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

“We’ve got to get to some level of deregulation, and everybody’s different,” Auburn’s athletic director said in a meeting with reporters on Thursday. “We can’t treat all Division I schools as if they’re all the same. It’s not fair to everybody.”

Jacobs offered one example: He couldn’t comprehend why the Tigers aren’t allowed to provide their players with three training meals every day; under the current rules, only one meal per day is permitted. He was similarly flummoxed by the rule barring agents from talking to student-athletes who have displayed the requisite talent to play professionally.

If other students are allowed to talk with future employers, Jacobs said athletes should be afforded that same opportunity.

“If I’m in chemical engineering and I’ve got an off-the-charts GPA and I’m a junior, I can assure you that there’s some company that’s pursuing me when I graduate,” he said. “But we’re telling our student-athletes that are All-Americans that, during their junior year, they can’t talk to anybody about their prospects of employment after their senior year.”

Of course, Jacobs spoke from a position of power, leading one of the few programs in the country that turns a profit every year. Auburn set a school record for revenue in 2012, hauling in $105.9 million, which ranked fifth among SEC teams (behind Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M and LSU, respectively) and 10th overall in Division I.

But with the gap between the haves and the have-nots widening every day, Jacobs said a “remedy” needs to be discovered immediately.

“I think we’ve got to get the right people in a room and come up with some remedy, because what we have right now just doesn’t seem to work,” he said. “It’s obvious it doesn’t seem to work. I’m not sure what the remedy is. There have been a lot of things kicked around. We all have to take a thorough look at what we currently have and cast a vision as to where we need to go and find a way to get there.”

The NCAA is taking small steps toward addressing some of the criticisms Jacobs and others around college athletics — including SEC commissioner Mike Slive — have leveled in recent months. The governing body sent out a survey to athletic directors and college presidents, asking for input on how it can better serve its member institutions.

The NCAA also asked athletic directors and presidents to attend its annual convention in January.

“We’ve all got to work together,” Jacobs said. “We all have a vote, so whatever we have, we’re a part of. Things have changed and we need to try to be as far as we can to our student-athletes regardless of where they are.”

The only way the NCAA will be able to solve its problems, Jacobs said, is if it takes a look in the mirror and asks tough questions regarding how its role has evolved.

“I think the landscape is changing,” Jacobs said. “We need to look at that. Are the rules best for the student-athlete and the institution? Are they archaic? … I think we need to be open-minded enough to look at all those things. What we decided years ago — is that still OK today? Some of them may be. Some of them may not.”

August 29, 2013

Auburn football: Tigers to open 2015 season in Atlanta against Louisville, AD Jay Jacobs discusses other scheduling matters

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn hasn’t even begun its 2013 season yet, but it will start the 2015 campaign playing in one of the opening weekend’s marquee games.2015 KOG logo Aug 26  10 am

It was announced on Thursday that Auburn will meet Louisville in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, slated to be played on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015 in Atlanta. The Tigers played in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game last season, falling to Clemson 26-19.

Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said it was an opportunity too good to pass up.

“We had talked to (Chick-fil-A Bowl and Kickoff Game president) Gary Stokan to bring that to the table,” he said. “That’s how we got hooked up. They asked us about it and we said, ‘You know what, it sounds like a great matchup for Auburn.'”

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn is looking forward to the challenge as well.

“It will be a great opportunity for us to play on a national stage to kick off the college football season against a very good Louisville program,” he said. “We love playing in Atlanta at the Georgia Dome in front of our fans who live in the area or who can make the short drive to see Auburn play in a first-class event.”

Stokan was also pleased to have the Tigers returning to play in the Georgia Dome once again, especially when it meant they would face a Cardinals program on the rise under head coach Charlie Strong. Louisville begins this season No. 9 in the initial Associated Press poll after finishing 11-2 last season, capped by a Sugar Bowl victory over Florida.

“Louisville and Auburn represent two great football brands with incredible fan bases and a tradition of winning,” Stokan said in a release. “The ACC vs. SEC is a tremendous rivalry that has proven to be a recipe for sellouts, high TV ratings and close, competitive games.”

The two teams have met just once. The Tigers won that contest, beating the Cardinals 16-3 in 1974 at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala.

Louisville wasn’t the only future opponent Jacobs discussed on Thursday, though. Jacobs disclosed that the Tigers will pay their four non-conference foes this season — Washington State, Arkansas State, Florida Atlantic and Western Carolina — close to $3.8 million. Washington State tops the list, cashing a $1.15 million check for Saturday’s game.

The other totals were $1.1 million for Arkansas State, $1 million for Florida Atlantic and $525,000 for Western Carolina.

In 2015, the Tigers will host Jacksonville State. The two were originally scheduled to meet this season, but when Texas A&M and Missouri joined the SEC in 2012, Auburn cancelled the game. Jacobs confirmed the two schools agreed to a new contract, meaning Auburn still has to pay Jacksonville State $500,000 for the cancellation of this season’s game.

The Tigers’ 2014 schedule was released last week, but they are still waiting for the SEC to finalize the 2015 lineup. Since Auburn will begin that season with Louisville, Jacobs mentioned he didn’t plan on it being a one-time occurrence.

Expect to see more games versus high-quality teams going forward.

“Our philosophy has been and will continue to be, we’re going to play that 12th game as a BCS opponent,” he said, “and that’s what we have with Louisville.”