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July 13, 2013

Auburn Season Preview: Scouting Florida Atlantic

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

With the 2013 season drawing closer by the minute, it’s never too early to begin taking a look at Auburn’s opponents in the coming campaign. On Day 4, we continue with the Florida Atlantic Owls. The Tigers will host the newly-minted Conference USA representative in Game No. 8 this season.

Who: Florida Atlantic

When: Saturday, Oct. 26

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

All-time series: Auburn leads 1-0Florida_Atlantic_Owls01

When last they met: Florida Atlantic had nothing to be ashamed of the last time it left Jordan-Hare Stadium just two years ago. Yes, Auburn won 30-14, but the Owls made the defending national champion work for it — for at least one half, anyway. The Owls intercepted Tigers quarterback Barrett Trotter on the first play of the contest, converting the turnover into a field goal to take a 3-0 lead at the 11:36 mark of the opening period. Auburn scored 10 straight points, but Florida Atlantic was able to get one more field goal on the board to trail only 10-6 heading into the locker room. Tigers defensive back Jermaine Whitehead effectively sealed the victory for the home team when he stepped in front of a pass from Owls quarterback Graham Wilbert and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown to push their lead to 17-6 with 13:32 to go in the third quarter. The Tigers put 13 more unanswered points on the board in that quarter to take a 30-6 advantage into the final stanza. The Owls scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but the game was long decided by then. Though the Tigers came away with the ‘W,’ their offense struggled throughout, gaining just 315 yards, eight more than the Owls (307), a squad that came into the contest averaging just 92.5 yards per game offensively.

The coach: Carl Pelini (3-9 last season in first year at Florida Atlantic)

2012 record: 3-9, 2-6 Sun Belt Conference

Total offense: 350.67 ypg (98th in Division I, 9th in Sun Belt)

Scoring offense: 20.50 ppg (105th, 9th)

Total defense: 406.08 ypg (70th, 4th)

Scoring defense: 30.83 ppg (84th, 8th)

2012 Year-in-Review: After starting out 1-6, which included losses to both Georgia and Alabama, the Owls showed signs of improvement once conference play began. Florida Atlantic was able to beat both Troy and Western Kentucky in the season’s second half to carry some positive vibes heading into Pelini’s second year on the job. But on the downside, the Owls can throw away any information they compiled about their Sun Belt Conference rivals, as they switched their conference affiliation during the offseason. Florida Atlantic will begin competing in Conference USA this fall. The move is a double-edged sword for the team, though. Financially, it’s a fantastic decision, since more money will begin flowing into FAU’s athletic department. But from a competitive standpoint, this hurts FAU, at least initially. The C-USA will be much tougher top-to-bottom than the Sun Belt was, so don’t expect the Owls to be in the mix for a bowl for at least one more season, maybe two.

Biggest area of concern: No one has any idea who will be in the lineup at the most important position on the field: quarterback. Wilbert, a two-year starter, left a three-way quarterback battle in his wake. The three candidates — Stephen Curtis, Jaquez Johnson and Melvin German III — are equally green. Only Curtis has thrown a pass in a game before, appearing in five games last season in mop-up duty. In his 10 attempts, he completed four passes for 37 yards. Curtis’ scant experience didn’t give him a leg up on the other two, however, as Pelini said German III was the favorite to win the job following the team’s spring game. Pelini’s proclamation came with a caveat, though, as he insisted the starter would not be named until the fall.

Key returning player/unit: Whoever ends up winning the quarterback job can be thankful he’ll have a pair of weapons to throw to in senior tight end Nexon Dorvilus and junior wideout William Dukes. Dorvilus, a Miami native, led the team in receiving touchdowns last season with five. He caught 30 passes last season for 301 yards, and had multiple receptions in nine of the Owls’ 12 games last season en route to being a second-team All-Sun Belt Conference selection. Dukes was even better, posting team-highs in receptions (63) and receiving yardage (979), while also being named to the all-conference second team. He recorded five or more receptions in all but one game, setting a season and career-high with nine, which he did twice, against Western Kentucky and Louisiana-Lafeyette, respectively. With this receiving duo at their disposal, and another year of seasoning to get comfortable with Pelini’s spread attack, the Owls should be able to improve upon their mediocre showing in 2012.

Extra point: Since capturing bowl victories in consecutive years (2007 and 2008), the Owls have not been back to the postseason. In the past four bowl-less seasons, FAU has posted a 13-35 overall record.

PREVIOUS ENTRIES

Washington State

Arkansas State

Mississippi State

December 9, 2012

Brenner: This might be Shiloh Southeast, which makes Kiehl Frazier an early favorite to return as starting QB

AUBURN, Ala. –Here’s a to-do list for Robin Williams.

1) Grow a beard, quickly.

2) Fly to Atlanta, take the Groome Transportation shuttle direct to Auburn.

3) Ask the nearest official in the football facility to show you to the film room, where Jonathan Wallace will undoubtedly be found studying tape (now that final exam week is over.)

4) Have a seat.

5) Soothe young Wallace: It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.

It’s not your fault.

Look, it’s not like Wallace was put on this earth to run Scot Loeffler’s offense. He wasn’t. Neither were Kiehl Frazier or Clint Moseley.

All tried it. None executed it — Auburn scored 81 points in eight SEC games, and its average of 235.1 yards in conference games were lowest in all of Division I. In a related story, Loeffler and the previous assistants are now polishing resumes.

The Tigers desperately needed to get back to a spread offense. Hiring Gus Malzahn to replace Gene Chizik emphatically proved that.

But the subsequent appointment of Rhett Lashlee (or Gus Jr., if you will) — which in hindsight should have been more blatantly inevitable — hammers it home.

This is the Gus Bus. Those who possess a very particular set of skills in this scheme will thrive. Those who don’t, well, there’s the door.

Say hello to Shiloh Southeast.

Lashlee has never managed a major-college offense before, but starred at the small parochial high school in Springdale, Ark., and is now Malzahn’s protégé, his right-hand-man, his finest student of the hurry-up no-huddle. What makes you think Frazier won’t be given every opportunity — repeat: every opportunity — to similarly shine?

College football is not fair. It is a business. Auburn did and should do what’s best for Auburn.

It’s just ironic that we’ve reached this point where Kiehl Frazier will be given every opportunity to become a star … because of Kiehl Frazier’s crumbling-star act a few months ago.

It wasn’t all Frazier’s fault. But let’s face it, he operated Loeffler’s traditional playbook about as well as he could run a 10K in high heels … even though he was the presumed guy throughout spring, summer and early fall.

When the season ended two weeks ago, I assessed the 2013 starting quarterback question as follows: four-star recruit Jeremy Johnson, 40 percent chance. Wallace, 30 percent. Junior-college transfer to be named later: 29 percent. Frazier or Moseley: 1 little percent.

Now? Is it insane to call Frazier a mortal lock?

Frazier, like Wallace, is a great kid with athletic potential who needs the right situation. He just wants to play football, in the SEC or anywhere else.

Barrett Trotter chose not to play his senior year because of a change in offensive philosophy. Gotta wonder if Moseley, a strong-willed vocal leader and decent game manager, will ponder the same route.

On the surface, shouldn’t Wallace be given a fair shake? To be fair, he was baptized by blowtorch by the two teams that dazzled in the SEC Championship Game and may well be the top two squads in the country.

No, Wallace wasn’t a Shiloh Saint. But he, too, ran Malzahn’s go-go-Gadget-go offense from afar at Central-Phenix City, and Malzahn was instrumental in recruiting Wallace to the Plains before he left for Arkansas State. The locker room, at this moment, belongs to Wallace, starter of the four most recent games.

Hate to portray Frazier as the villain. It can’t be overemphasized that he’s a quality kid. But this smells like a sports movie to me.

How does it end for Wallace? “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” with him bucking the odds?

Or are we looking at Good Will Hunting?

Aaron Brenner, abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

December 5, 2012

Price: Malzahn success hinges on spread

ROBIN TRIMARCHI rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Former Auburn offensive coordinator, and now Tiger head coach Gus Malzahn begins his press conference Tuesday. 12.04.12

By Kevin Price

Auburn announced the hiring of Gus Malzahn Tuesday afternoon, bringing the spread offense and one of its biggest believers back to the Plains.

“This is a homecoming for me, and I look forward to being reunited with the Auburn family,” Malzahn said.

Chizik hired Malzahn as his first offensive coordinator in 2009. A year later, Malzahn and quarterback Cam Newton, the prototype quarterback for the spread offense, led the Tigers to a national championship with a record-setting offense.

Without Newton in 2011, the Auburn offense slipped and the Tigers fell to 8-5. Most of the reason for the offense’s decline was that the Tigers didn’t have a quarterback who could properly run the offense.

Kiehl Frazier was recruited to Auburn by Malzahn. But Frazier, who was a freshman in 2011, never seemed to grasp the spread offense. Clint Moseley and Barrett Trotter were just not cut out for it.

Chizik believed that to win consistently in the SEC he had to dump the spread, and that meant bidding good-bye to Malzahn. Chizik didn’t fire Malzahn, but he certainly wasn’t going to raise a hand to try and stop him from leaving, for what turned out to be Arkansas State.

Perhaps Chizik’s fate was sealed the moment he brought in Scot Loeffler in as offensive coordinator to replace Malzahn. The offense, under Loeffler, looked downright inept most of the season. The Tigers finished 3-9 and winless in the SEC for the first time since 1980.

While the Auburn defense was lousy as well, most of the blame for this past season fell — and rightfully so — squarely on Chizik and Loeffler.

At the time Malzahn left, it appeared he was tucking his wounded pride and heading back home to Arkansas, where he had been revered as a high school coach. It seemed he could have had a much better job than Arkansas State, a member of the Sun Belt Conference.

But maybe he knew something would open back up on the Plains, and it did as Chizik was fired less than two weeks ago.

Malzahn did what he needed to do as a head coach at Arkansas State to make him a candidate for a step up. His team went 9-3, won the Sun Belt title and earned a bid to the GoDaddy.com Bowl.

It appeared that Auburn zeroed in on Malzahn and Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart from the outset of the search. At various times in the past few days, either Malzahn or Smart was the leading candidate, according to published reports.

Much like the hire of Chizik, there are doubters about Malzahn and the spread offense. There is still a question of whether it can win long-term in the SEC. The answer to that question will determine whether this a happy homecoming or not.

Kevin Price, 706-320-4493, kprice@ledger-enquirer.com.

October 9, 2012

Auburn notes: Jay Prosch pumped for carries; Miller, Young battle at right tackle (w/ videos)

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s starting quarterback for Saturday’s game at Mississippi has not yet been determined, coach Gene Chizik said at his Tuesday press conference.

Sophomore Kiehl Frazier, the Tigers’ starter the first five games, was yanked at halftime of last Saturday’s 24-7 loss to Arkansas in favor of junior Clint Moseley.

“We’re going to go ahead and kind of go through the week, and we’ll see what is the best decision,” Chizik said. “Both of them did some things Saturday that were good, and both of them did some things that obviously we’d like to take back.”

During Auburn’s 1-4 start, Frazier has completed 54.4 percent of his passes for 664 yards, throwing for just two touchdowns against eight interceptions. He was sacked four times in the first half by the Razorbacks.

His 99.40 quarterback rating is the lowest among 13 qualified SEC passers.

In 2011, Moseley replaced Barrett Trotter as Auburn’s starter after the first seven games. Moseley started the Chick-fil-A Bowl but departed in the first quarter due to an ankle injury.

Moseley has prior success against the Rebels. In his second career start last season – and first at Jordan-Hare Stadium — Moseley completed 12-of-15 passes for 160 yards and four touchdowns in Auburn’s 41-23 victory.

Moseley completed 13-of-21 passes, hitting Emory Blake from 21 yards out for the Tigers’ only score Saturday. He added two picks, his first career multiple-interception game, and was sacked four times in the second half by the Razorbacks.

Chizik and offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler insisted it won’t be a game-time decision. “I think it’s (based) a lot on the comfort level with the game plan that we’re implementing and how they’re executing that,” Chizik said.

Frazier and Moseley halved first-team reps in Tuesday’s two-hour, full-contact practice.

“Tuesday and Wednesday are the two big practice days for us, and we can usually tell exactly what we want to do at that point,” Chizik said, “so that’s how we’ll manage it.”

Bray update

Sophomore Quan Bray’s suspension was lifted after one game, and the Troup County product returned to practice Sunday night.

Bray was arrested by University of West Georgia police and spent a night in jail Sept. 27 after the 19-year-old was pulled over for loud music from his car and being found to be in possession of a limited driver’s license and a bottle of liquor.

Chizik said Bray will play Saturday, but his role hasn’t been determined. He started the first four games at slot receiver and punt returner, and Trovon Reed was shaky in the latter position against Arkansas.

“We’re going to see where he fits,” Chizik said. “He’s going to have to work his way back into whatever role he gets for Saturday.”

Bray hasn’t been made available to the media since his arrest.

Prosch pumped

Talk is cheap, but Chizik and Loeffler have each indicated junior fullback Jay Prosch, a former All-American at Illinois, will see his playing time increase as they refocus an pro-style identity on offense.

“It’s great to hear,” Prosch said. “I’m happy about that.”

Prosch logged his first carry in an Auburn uniform Saturday. He had two rushes for nine yards as an Illini, but those plays were a backward lateral and a direct snap on a fake punt.

“It was amazing. That’s the first handoff I’ve taken since high school in a game,” Prosch said. “I wish I got more than three yards, but it’s a start.”

Right tackle woes

Patrick Miller remains the starting right tackle on Auburn’s depth chart, over fellow rookie Avery Young, despite Miller’s struggles against Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers Saturday. But the competition is ongoing.

“There’s no such thing in this program as a player not being evaluated,” Loeffler said. “They’re both true freshmen battling their rear end off against the greatest defensive ends in the country. So they’re learning and they’re going to keep fighting.”

Rebels’ QBs muddled

Mississippi quarterback Bo Wallace had a very tough Monday, both on and off the football field.

Earlier in the day, Rebels coach Hugh Freeze told reporters Wallace would start Saturday against Auburn, but would be yanked without improved play. After guiding Mississippi (3-3) to a 2-0 start, the sophomore from Pulaski, Tenn. has seen his completion percentage (61.6) and yards per attempt (7.8) dip over the past month.

But then, Monday night, Freeze tweeted that Wallace’s sister, Baylee, was in a car accident. Freeze told reporters Tuesday she broke her neck, but had movement in all her extremities and doctors believe she’ll make a full recovery.

Wallace was in a team meeting Tuesday, but was “a little distant at the start”, according to Freeze.

This will be Auburn’s first opponent with a somewhat unsettled quarterback situation. Junior Barry Brunetti, Wallace’s backup, has played in all six Mississippi games, completing 70.4 percent of his passes and rushing for 161 yards on 32 carries.

“Each quarterback has their own trait,” Tigers junior linebacker Jake Holland said. “You just prepare for both quarterbacks.”

August 24, 2012

Brenner: Tips for Frazier’s success

AUBURN, Ala. — The first time Kiehl Frazier was pressured in the pocket as Auburn’s freshly named starting quarterback, he handled the rush with poise and good decisions Thursday night.

By the pocket, we’re referring to a comfy chair in the Rane Room at the athletic complex, Auburn wallpaper adorning the stand behind Frazier, and about a dozen cameras and 20 reporters in front of him — though at the time, to Frazier, it must have seemed like 100 and 1,000.

It wasn’t quite the same as an SEC linebacker bearing down on the sophomore from Springdale, Ark. However, the questions were peppered with similarly pressing intensity.

How did you celebrate today, Kiehl?

Did you talk to Clint Moseley, Kiehl?

What does this mean for the team, Kiehl?

Frazier said all the right things, to his credit. He was recruited into a spread offense by Gus Malzahn, but he’s transitioning well with the pro style attack under Scot Loeffler. He has been good friends with Moseley the competitor, and he will remain good friends with Moseley the backup. He’s happy with the decision but still paying full attention to Clemson.

Nothing inflammatory, nothing boastful, nothing to take away from the rest of the Tigers as they prepare for a prime-time event to open the 2012 season a week from tonight against the ACC-bred Tigers.

That’s good.

What will be even better is if Frazier goes out and validates the coaching staff’s trust in him, the middle child in terms of age for Auburn’s set of quarterbacks.

Run, Kiehl, run. He averaged a suitable 4.3 yards on 76 carries as a true freshman in the wildcat. So if Loeffler lets him, perhaps Frazier will reach triple digits in attempts and, if his legs and blockers let him, flirt with 500 rushing yards.

Lead, Kiehl, lead. He clearly owns the respect of his teammates because of last year’s performance, and on Thursday Loeffler dared to drop the Tim Tebow comparison. (Relax, Auburn fans. The context wasn’t in terms of ability so much as being part of an offense for all four years of eligibility.)

Learn, Kiehl, learn. Loeffler’s playbook looks like advanced calculus compared to Malzahn’s, of which Frazier was only asked to run a portion as a rookie.

All of those mechanics and intangibles are important. If I may make a suggestion, there are two areas Kiehl Frazier must shore up if this offense wishes to return to the league’s elite:

Completion percentage. We all remember Cam Newton’s touchdowns and freakish athleticism and flair for the comeback and perfectly-crafted smile. Here’s a hidden gem about Cam: his .661 efficiency stands as the school record for a career, albeit over one season. (His 2010 campaign was fourth all-time for a single year.) Then last year, the incompletions piled up – Barrett Trotter was yanked for his 55 percent completions, and Moseley was a mild improvement at best. The few times Frazier did sling it (which was 12), seven were caught. Problem is, two were by the other team. Simplistic as it sounds, the offense can’t flow that way. Throw the ball where your backs, ends and receivers can catch it, Kiehl.

Red-zone conversions. The final year of the Tommy Tuberville era was the last time Auburn stayed home for bowl season. The Tigers were dead-last in the SEC in red-zone scoring, getting points on a ghastly 57 percent of opportunities inside the opponent’s 20-yard-line. That figure hiked to 95 percent in Chizik’s first year, and has actually declined in each of the past two seasons (86 percent with Cam, and 84 percent last year). Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason are still home-run threats, but the key is, don’t make Cody Parkey a busy man once you smell pay dirt unless it’s worth one point, not three. Oh, and don’t turn it over, Kiehl.

Third-down chances. Auburn was third and first in the SEC on money down in 2009 and 2010. Eighth last year. Again, regression. Your move, Kiehl.

No pressure, kid. We’ll see what you’ve got soon enough.

October 9, 2011

Trotter Uncertain About Role Moving Forward

● Quarterback Barrett Trotter didn’t have many words to describe his performance against Arkansas. “Pretty bad,” he responded when asked how he played against the Razorbacks.

Head coach Gene Chizik said earlier in the day that Trotter was still the starting quarterback, but he didn’t entirely close the door to the possibility of making a change at the position.

“If they do there’s nothing I can do about it anyway, so we’ll see.” Trotter commented. “I don’t think so. Who knows?”

● Wildcat quarterback Kiehl Frazier, a freshman from Springdale, Ark., scored his first collegiate touchdown on a seven-yard rush late in the first quarter. He finished with 13 carries for 54 yards, but threw two picks on just four passing attempts.

Frazier was critical of himself on Sunday night talking to the media, but he showed a positive attitude and said it was a strong learning lesson throwing the interceptions.

“It definitely helps just to see what the defense does, to see how they react and just seeing myself,” Frazier explained. “How to use my eyes with the safety and how Tramain Thomas went over there to pick the ball off. Just seeing all of the little things I need to do to get better.

“I think I’m a lot better now, and I got a lot better just from yesterday just seeing myself throw those passes and making those mistakes,” he added.

Frazier had plenty of friends and family on hand as he made the trip back to his home state.

“There was a bunch,” he said. “I had to get tickets from everybody. I had like 20 tickets. Then there were other friends and family that were able to make the game, so it was good to be able to see them again.”

● Eltoro Freeman had his best game in a long, long time and was extremely vocal about it on Sunday.

● Below is video of defensive coordinator Ted Roof following Sunday night’s practice.