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August 30, 2013

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

March 1, 2013

BACK TO THE FUTURE, Part I: The good, the bad & the ugly from the Clemson game, plus an early preview of Washington State

AUBURN, Ala. – Alrighty. Here we go. A look back at the football game Auburn played six months ago tonight, and how these lessons from the film room apply to next season. We’ll do this each Friday from now until the end of May.

Allow me to reiterate: obviously, last year stunk. I saw it myself. This is a way to utilize what we’ve learned about the returning Tigers and how they’ll fit in with the 2013 team, which is why you won’t read a ton of elaboration on guys who are gone (T’Sharvan Bell, Emory Blake, etc.) It also won’t overrate how particular schemes played out, because, again, those coaches are gone. Out with the old, in with the new, for sure. This is just applying the old players to new schemes.

OK, no more disclaimer. Let’s get started. And don’t forget to read below for a (very) early look at Auburn’s season-opening opponent, Washington State.

Clemson_Auburn2_9-1-12

 NO. 14 CLEMSON 26, AUBURN 19 ~ Sept. 1, 2012, ESPN

Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic, Georgia Dome, Atlanta

The preview | The review

The Good

On Clemson’s opening possession | DE Dee Ford destroys two blocks, and races down quarterback Tajh Boyd for the sack. Already an impact player.

On Auburn’s opening possession | for their first snaps in Auburn uniforms, FB Jay Prosch puts a nice lead block on free safety Xavier Brewer, and LT Greg Robinson pancakes defensive end Corey Crawford, springing RB Onterio McCalebb for 5 yards.

For their first boots as juniors | K Cody Parkey knocks a touchback, and P Steven Clark skies one 45 yards producing a fair catch. They’ll do.

For his first carry | RB Tre Mason picks up five yards after contact. Already, he’s showing he’s a tough guy to bring down.

For his first touchdown | QB Kiehl Frazier. Playaction. WR Emory Blake. Boom.

Coaches will later point out RT Avery Young not just once, but twice rerouted defensive tackle Grady Jarrett from touching Frazier, allowing Kiehl time in the pocket to deliver a perfect spiral 57 yards downfield on the money.

Frazier elatedly leaps into Mason’s arms on his way down the field. It was far and away his happiest moment of the season. (Only his 33-yard TD catch and Hail Mary throw against ULM even kind of compare.)

On the final play of the first quarter | LB Daren Bates gets a sack, following up a controversial exchange you’ll read about in a moment. I bet a lot of Auburn fans assessed after the first 15 minutes, “It’s gonna be a good season.”

On its own 1-yard-line | Mason goes 40 yards in two carries, both with Prosch clearing a path. However, Mason then fumbles at midfield, popped loose by defensive tackle Josh Watson when Tre doesn’t protect enough with his left arm.

Late in the first half, 2nd and 10 | With Clemson on Auburn’s 41 threatening to open up its lead, a total team sack snuffs the threat. CB Chris Davis and LB Jake Holland draw O-Line blocks, which allows DT Gabe Wright to apply pressure. When Boyd has to improvise, DE Corey Lemonier has time to wrap him up from behind. The LB-CB blitz blew up Clemson’s home-run play call.

On Bates’ interception to start the fourth quarter | Wright was the one following the ball outside the trenches. He leaps, keeping his hands up and cutting off Boyd’s passing lane, forcing Boyd to throw behind tight end Sam Cooper, causing the pick.

Mason didn’t take long to show how he’s a hybrid back – he’s sleek yet powerful, he’s got quick burst yet he’s durable. Looked like a college version of Steven Jackson. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be an elite back in this new system going forward.

Clemson_Auburn23_9-1-12The Bad

On Kiehl’s first 3rd-down snap | There he is, watching the rush. Flips wildly to Mason, which he can’t grab, and Auburn goes three-and-out. This became, as they say, a thing.

When Boyd has to come out after losing his helmet | backup quarterback Cole Stoudt comes in on 2nd and 12. Stoudt, no real threat to throw, hands off on a zone draw to tailback Andre Ellington, who breaks FOUR tackles – FS Ryan Smith, Lemonier, Davis and SS Jermaine Whitehead in order – for a 15-yard pickup. Inexcusable.

Auburn DBs backpedal on a couple 3rd-and-longs | allows Clemson receivers to roam. DC Brian VanGorder’s stance was his secondary wasn’t prepared for press coverage.

On 2nd and 12 in the red zone | WR Trovon Reed completely lost track of his feet in the back of the end zone. Frazier’s throw was fine, but Reed didn’t keep his toes in bounds, negating the TD. Auburn would settle for three.

On the offensive line | Robinson did have the pancake on that Blake TD, but he also had a false start and a fatal-timed hold in the red zone.

The Ugly

Can’t believe I forgot about this play in hindsight | Boyd scrambles, DE Nosa Eguae forces a fumble tackling him in traffic, and Wright recovers. The refs initially rule Auburn ball. Somehow, it’s overturned, when it’s judged Boyd’s knee was down first. Upon replay, it looked like Boyd bobbled the football before his knee touched the turf, or at least it was too close to overturn. Even ESPN play-by-play man Brad Nessler seemed to disagree, saying, “Well, there’s our opinion, and then there’s the one that counts.” Then the refs even needed another delay to properly set the sticks. Bad exchange all around which could have allowed Auburn to grab some swagger.

On Ellington’s “flip-and-fly” run for 68 yards |Holland flat-out lost his grip on Ellington. CB Jon Mincy stutter-stepped, expecting Holland to take care of the job himself, and failed to cut off the angle, allowing Ellington to spring free. A huge momentum swing.

On Auburn’s opening possession out of the halftime locker room | there’s 12 men in the huddle once, and a timeout is later called to regroup. Unnecessary miscommunications, which you could certainly attribute to the first game with a new system.

Ugly on Clemson’s part | too many dropped balls. Shot themselves in the foot.

Clemson_Auburn8_9-1-12Notes and tidbits

Kiehl Frazier assessment | at best, he was poised and in control; at worst, he was a little inaccurate in his first spotlight appearance. Plenty of playaction and playfakes were called for him; though he wasn’t quite comfortable running downfield, he did have one nice scramble, sacrificing his body to pick up a first down. Give it a B-plus effort.

CB Ryan White and Ryan Smith opened the season in the starting lineup on defense. No, really. Look it up. Smith was said to be someone who “gets it”, as far as VanGorder’s complex playbook. Smith made a curious decision to leap toward Ellington on a sweep, instead of plugging a gap or wrapping up, and Ellington went for 45 yards. Both Ryans soon lost their starting jobs, even though White led the Tigers with 12 tackles that night.

Kick return coverage starters | Parkey, Davis, Josh Holsey, Jaylon Denson, Craig Sanders, Ikeem Means, T’Sharvan Bell, Anthony Swain, Jon Jones, Jon Evans, Demetruce McNeal. Only Means, Bell and Evans were seniors.

Clemson’s first quarter | 29 plays, 127 yards (4.34 yards/play), 11:43 possession

Auburn’s first quarter | 7 plays, 78 yards (11.14 yards/play), 3:17 possession

However, Auburn led 7-3.

Fourth quarter | Ellington 8 rush, 80 yards; Boyd 6 rush, 49 yards. They rushed for six first downs together (three for Ellington, three for Boyd), including three on third down. Defensive breakdowns, not being able to contain the run (particularly Boyd), stopped Auburn from stealing this game.

THREE STARS

3) Cody Parkey. Four for four on field goals, including a 46-yarder, is what you’re looking for.

2) Daren Bates.  A sack, an interception and sideline-to-sideline coverage even with a stinger. Gutty performance.

1) Jay Prosch. He had one hell of a game, the final time his mother watched him play football. Recovered a Kiehl Frazier fumble in the final minute to keep the game alive, and made Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason look really, really, really good.

Clemson_Auburn3_9-1-12

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GAME 1: Washington State at Auburn, Aug. 31, 2013, Jordan-Hare Stadium

A LOOK AT WASHINGTON STATE

2012 record: 3-9, 1-8 Pac-12

Head coach: Mike Leach, second year (@Coach_Leach)

Returning starters (o/d): Wazzu 19 (10/9)

Base formations: Offense – 4-WR spread | Defense – 3-4

Wazzu-Auburn series: Auburn leads 1-0 (preseason fourth-ranked Tigers won 40-14 in 2006 opener at JHS)

Notes: Auburn is 92-26-2 in season openers, with the Clemson loss breaking a six-game winning streak … Washington State was one of three BCS conference squads in 2012 to rank outside the top 100 both in scoring offense and scoring defense (Kansas, Colorado) … Auburn is 7-3 all-time against the Pac-12, while Wazzu is 1-9 all-time against the SEC … six of Auburn’s last nine season openers have been televised by the ESPN family of networks.

December 9, 2012

Official: Charlie Harbison named Ellis Johnson’s co-defensive coordinator

AUBURN, Ala. — Continuity has been the name of the game for new Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn as he goes about filling his staff.
 
Offensively, he already brought in his right-hand-man Rhett Lashlee as offensive coordinator and former Auburn quarterback/receiver Kodi Burns.
 
Defensively, it was coordinator Ellis Johnson’s turn Sunday.
 
Charlie Harbison, 53, will join Auburn’s staff as co-defensive coordinator, bringing with him recruiting chops and plenty of experience coaching alongside Johnson.
 
“Charlie is an outstanding coach and recruiter and we’re excited to have him join our staff,” Malzahn said. “He’s very familiar with Coach Ellis Johnson, having coached together on two different staffs, which will be a tremendous asset to our defense. He is a true professional and one of the class guys in college coaching.”
 
The first position coach added to Malzahn’s staff, Harbison, 53, spent the past four years as Clemson’s co-defensive coordinators and DBs coach. He will assume the same duties at Auburn.
 
“I’m looking forward to joining Coach Gus Malzahn’s staff at Auburn,” Harbison said. “Having coached against Auburn on several occasions, I’m very familiar with the great success and tradition associated with the program. This is a tremendous opportunity for me and my family.”
 
Harbison coached the Alabama secondary from 1998-2000 and returned to lead receivers in 2003-06.
 
Johnson has been defensive coordinator with Harbison on staff leading DBs for six total years together in three different places - 1995-96 at Clemson, 1998-2000 at Alabama, and 2007 at Mississippi State.
 
In 21 years of coaching, Harbison has spent 12 working with defensive backs – he played the position himself at Gardner-Webb – and nine overseeing wide receivers.

AuburnUndercover.com and TigerIllustrated.com (Clemson’s Rivals.com web site) first reported the staff addition Saturday night.  

No. 14 Clemson, which defeated Auburn 26-19 in both teams’ 2012 opener,  is preparing for the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against No. 8 LSU on Dec. 31 in Atlanta.
 
The Tigers’ pass defense statistics this year – considering Clemson’s high-tempo offense, which increases each game’s amount of plays - ranged from slightly above-average to slightly below-average. Clemson’s points allowed (24.9) ranks 47th nationally, but total yards (411.3) ranks 74th. Opposing quarterbacks completed 57.9 percent of their passes (tied for 43rd), while their pass efficiency (132.41) ranks 62nd.
 
The only Auburn regular in the secondary lost to graduation is fifth-year senior T’Sharvan Bell. Meanwhile, junior Chris Davis, sophomore Jonathan Mincy and freshmen Joshua Holsey and Jonathan Jones are slated to return at cornerbacks, as are junior free safeties Demetruce McNeal, Trent Fisher and Ryan Smith and sophomore strong safety Jermaine Whitehead.

November 28, 2012

Eight SEC players named AFCA All-America

Eight SEC players were named All-Americans Wednesday by the American Football Coaches Association, including an eye-popping six defenders.

And the conference could have made it even more, except for the coaches pushing for a couple of key Clemson players.

Alabama led the charge with linebacker C.J. Mosley, cornerback Dee Milliner and offensive guard Chance Warmack. But top center Barrett Jones was supplanted by Clemson snapper Dalton Freeman.

Texas A&M landed a pair with defensive end Damontre Moore and offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, though Heisman candidate Johnny Manziel – a redshirt freshman – was outvoted at quarterback by Clemson veteran Tajh Boyd.

Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, LSU safety Eric Reid and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney rounded out the SEC’s hefty representation on the defensive side of the ball.

Here’s a link to the entire 2012 AFCA FBS All-America team.

September 7, 2012

Brenner: Glass half-full or half-empty?

AUBURN, Ala. –Quarterback Kiehl Frazier didn’t sulk or cry. Defensive end Corey Lemonier was upbeat, laid-back. Head coach Gene Chizik was matter-of-factly critical, yet reasonably encouraged.

Auburn’s collective mood in the underbelly of the Georgia Dome last Saturday night following the Tigers’ 26-19 loss to Clemson can be described as, “well, we fought hard, we lost, and we move on to fight another day.”

There was no panic. No gritted teeth. Not even a whole lot of lamenting, on a night where missed opportunities ruled the night, and the team wearing orange with an experienced quarterback happened to be the first and final team to cash in.

What does it all mean? These things can be hard to peg.

Is it true that Clemson is going to go and win double-digit games again, that Tajh Boyd and Andre Ellington aren’t done dropping 500-plus yards on defenses, that Auburn is a young team with a raw signal caller and a new defensive scheme — all of which will rapidly improve?

Possibly.

Is it reasonable to believe mental errors are going to be a chronic issue, that the Tigers know this year is more about rebuilding than contending, that they’ll be happy just with going bowling somewhere, anywhere?

Maybe.

Here’s where I buy what the coaches are selling: we learned a heck of a lot more about where the Tigers stand from competing with and ultimately losing to a top-notch opponent, than we would if they bashed an FCS martyr.

Even better: we’re not the only ones who got an education. The coaches did, too, which makes the “biggest improvement comes from week one to week two” argument hold more water than usual. It all depends on what Chizik, offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder do with it.

This is a solid second chance to make a first impression, against Mississippi State. Those who think Frazier will instantly get better because those first-game jitters are out of the way might wanna go ring a cowbell constantly for three hours in a small room, then multiply that by 55,000 and understand what the sophomore will face Saturday in Starkville.

Playing in the Dome was a tenacious environment. Playing in a true road stadium against a ticked-off conference rival who has a personal ax to grind with Auburn won’t exactly be a bucket of laughs.

Nobody likes being 0-1. 0-2 is a much deeper hole to dig out from, even if Jordan-Hare workers have yet to tear the first ticket stub.

The coaches insist most the issues Saturday are fixable. The players are optimistic they’ll clean up their mistakes.

There’s a chance Auburn simply lost to a superior team and will embark on their great season starting now, and there’s a chance it’s going to be an up-and-down campaign flirting with the land of 6-6.

Your guess is as good as mine.

-AB

September 2, 2012

The Morning After: So what did we learn?

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.

-AB

Clemson 26, Auburn 19: One-stop shop for stories, videos

GAMER | Boyd, Clemson outlast Auburn in field-goal fest

ATLANTA — Auburn’s defense could only bend without breaking for so long.

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd made Auburn pay with both his arm and his legs, sparking a 26-19 comeback victory and surviving Kiehl Frazier’s last-gasp effort in front of a Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic-record 75,211 fans at the Georgia Dome.

“Defensively, we couldn’t get off the field. They’re a very explosive offense with a quick tempo,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “The quarterback is extremely talented.

“We had our chances, but they made the plays and we didn’t.”

No. 14 Clemson (1-0) clinched back-to-back victories versus Auburn (0-1) for the first time since 1950-51.

Both teams seemed allergic to the end zone for awhile, but Auburn’s defense also couldn’t find the sideline, particularly on third down — Boyd and his Tigers converted 8-of-17 tries, including a couple of runs by Boyd and Andre Ellington on the final clock-killing drive.

*************
NOTES | Clemson hogs the ball, deep D-line shows process, etc.
ATLANTA — Time of possession was Auburn’s enemy for the first four games of 2011, and the Tigers struggled with the statistic again in their 2012 opener.

In its first four games last year, Auburn allowed Utah State, Mississippi State, Clemson and Florida Atlantic to run an average of 84.8 plays — 91.0 per in the first three — while snapping 59.5 times itself.

Those four Auburn opponents maintained control for an average of just under 36 minutes.

Third-down efficiency was a culprit — those four foes converted 41 of 69 chances on the money down. However, Auburn managed to go 3-1 in the stretch.

The woes continued into Saturday, when four of Clemson’s first six drives were prolonged nine plays or more, and a fifth garnered 85 yards and a touchdown in just three snaps. Clemson was 5-for-10 on third downs in the first half, right about the same rate of conversion for Auburn opponents all last year.

Read the rest here: http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/2012/09/02/2184953/auburn-football-notes-tigers-still.html

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Videos: Gene Chizik | Kiehl Frazier | Corey Lemonier | Philip Lutzenkirchen

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Next up: Auburn (0-1) at Mississippi State (1-0), Saturday, noon ET

September 1, 2012

Video review: Chizik, Tigers react to defeat

Head coach Gene Chizik | “Defensively, we couldn’t get off the field. They’re a very explosive offense with a quick tempo. The quarterback is extremely talented. We had our chances, but they made the plays and we didn’t.”

Quarterback Kiehl Frazier (11-27, 194 yards, TD, INT; 9 rush, -9 yards) | “It’s not a talent issue. Just penalties, bad snaps, bad throws, bad reads … so we’ve got to go and work on that before we start conference play next week.”

Defensive end Corey Lemonier (9 tackles, 2 sacks) | “We’re going to watch film and see the mistakes – missed tackles, misfits … we take it personally.”

Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen (4 catches, 71 yards) | “We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot in the red zone, especially in our league.”

Halftime chat: Clemson 13, Auburn 10

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Pregame video preview:

Pregame Pep Talk: It’s baaaaaaaack

I don’t think I’d give a shabby pep talk to a locker room of fired-up football players, but I’ll leave that to the likes of Gene Chizik, Derek Dooley, Will Muschamp and friends.

Welcome to my first ever SEC Pregame Pep Talk. I’ve adopted this format from my previous gig, and now I’m proud to translate it to Auburn and SEC football.

This will be a picks-oriented weekly column. I’ll try not to drone on, but at the same time try to be thorough in previewing the Saturday of football ahead.

Be part of our live chat at halftime of the Auburn-Clemson game | Click Here

Three X-Factors when Clemson has the ball

#10 Tajh Boyd, 6-1, 225, jr., QB, Clemson. If Kiehl Frazier ends up having the kind of career Boyd is having, I think Auburn fans will be happy with that. Especially since Boyd is on a trajectory to just keep getting better.

#19 Charone Peake, 6-3, 200, so., WR, Clemson. Somebody’s got to fill in for Sammy Watkins, and Peake’s a similar profile. He’s blazing fast, and as Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said, a “very, very talented player. You could see the confidence grow this summer.”

#5 Jake Holland, 6-1, 241, jr., MLB, Auburn. Holland will likely be Boyd’s spy, looking to shadow the dual threat wherever he goes. Holland is hungry to start making an impact after missing the second half last year to injury, and what a perfect setting to get started.

Three X-Factors when Auburn has the ball

#23 Onterio McCalebb, 5-11, 173, sr., RB, Auburn. We’ve talked a lot lately about how Kiehl Frazier will fare, the young offensive line, the emerging receivers opposite Emory Blake. The running backs have been a quieter group. If McCalebb can get into a groove and move the chains, and catch the football and make something happen on several checkdowns, that will calm Frazier down. I look for upwards of 20 touches for McCalebb tonight (maybe a couple more on kickoffs), and he’ll need over 125 all-purpose yards for Auburn’s offense to keep up with its high-octane counterpart.

#73 Greg Robinson, 6-5, 311, fr., LT, Auburn. Tunde Fariyike and Avery Young got the ink as they start unexpectedly on the offensive line. It’s been presumed for awhile Robinson would get the nod at left tackle, and with Reese Dismukes suspended, while John Sullen and Chad Slade will provide the leadership, G-Rob will be counted upon as the anchor.

#12 Stephone Anthony, 6-3, 235, so., MLB, Clemson. Pretty much everything I said about Holland and spying. Same deal. 

Three players you should watch since I can’t be at every game today

#8 Zach Mettenberger, 6-5, 222, jr., QB, LSU. Your turn, kid. Finally. Not exactly the cream of the crop competition in North Texas, but still, have fun getting your feet wet.

#10 AJ McCarron, 6-4, 210, jr., QB, Alabama. Says his shoulder is as healthy as it’s ever been. If tonight ends up in a shootout, we’ll find out.

#16 Denard Robinson, 6-0, 197, sr., QB, Michigan. If you really have to ask … um, hi, welcome to this thing called college football season.

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GAMEDAY PICKS

Buffalo at No. 6 Georgia
Bowling Green at No. 23 Florida
Southeast Louisiana at Missouri
Jacksonville State at No. 10 Arkansas
North Texas at No. 3 LSU
Central Arkansas at Ole Miss
Jackson State at Mississippi State

Please.

Brenner picks: The SEC home teams

No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 2 Alabama (Cowboys Stadium), 8 p.m. ET, ABC

I think Denard Robinson has to go off for 400 total yards to give the Big Ten’s prohibitive favorite a chance to upset the SEC powerhouse. I say Denard gets there. And the defending champs still prevail

Brenner picks: Crimson Tide 35, Wolverines 32

GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 14 Clemson vs. Auburn (Georgia Dome), 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

There’s a chance Kiehl Frazier is the next coming of, uh, Denard Robinson. There’s a chance Corey Lemonier, Daren Bates and the Auburn defense has this all figured out under Brian VanGorder. There’s a chance Cam Newton just turns anything he touches to gold, including last night’s pregame speech to his former teammates.

And then there’s a chance Auburn will just need time to grow together, and won’t quite be able to utilize the slight home-field advantage against a team which learned an awful lot about winning last year and is sick of hearing “West Virginia just scored again” jokes.

Brenner picks: Orange Tigers 28, Blue Tigers 27

That’s all for the Pep Talk. Now go out there and start things off on the right foot.

-AJ