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September 1, 2013

THE GRADES ARE IN: Assessing Auburn’s 31-24 victory versus Washington State

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Some good things happened for Auburn on Saturday night.

Some not-so-good instances occurred, too.

Auburn was able to celebrate a victory in its season opener against Washington State on Saturday night. But how did they fare on Ryan Black's report card?

Auburn’s Robenson Therezie (27), Tre Mason (21) and the rest of the Tigers were able to celebrate a victory after a victory in the season opener against Washington State on Saturday night. But how did they fare on Ryan Black’s report card? (ROBIN TRIMARCHI/Ledger-Enquirer)

Irrespective of the final stats or big plays they produced or allowed, the Tigers accomplished their sole objective against Washington State: They won, beating the Cougars 31-24 in the season opener. It was far from easy, though, as the game’s fate hung in the balance deep into the fourth quarter. Auburn was finally able to breath easy when Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday misfired on a fourth-and-five attempt from the Tigers’ 27-yard line with just over two minutes remaining, as his pass wasn’t close to any receiver.

Tre Mason took care of the rest. He picked up a pair of first downs to help the Tigers set up a “victory formation” and give head coach Gus Malzahn a win in his first game on the Plains.

So, in the aftermath of Saturday night, we’ll head to the report card.

This will be done every Sunday following Auburn’s game the previous day. You might not agree with the grades, but the comments section is there for a reason.

Let’s begin.

OFFENSE: B-

For those paying close attention, this is the same grade Nick Marshall gave when asked to take stock of his performance on Saturday. First, the good news: The Tigers did as everyone expected, staying committed to the ground game, totaling 297 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Auburn spread the wealth, as four different players — Corey Grant, Cameron Artis-Payne, Mason and Marshall — touched the ball at least nine times. We all knew how deep the backfield was heading into the game, and Saturday provided on-field proof of those preconceived notions.

Now, the bad news. Those who watched the game saw this coming from a mile away, and that is … (Hold on a second. Marshall just overthrew another receiver before I could finish the last sentence.) Joking aside, Auburn’s signal-caller had a solid game, at least in the realm of his decision-making and not turning the ball over. That being said, Marshall had the potential to put together an even better game through the air if he just reined himself in a bit. He overthrew countless open receivers, including three great opportunities to score on the same drive late in the third quarter. The Tigers eventually ended up punting the ball away.

On Saturday, Marshall’s misfires didn’t sink the Tigers’ hopes at victory.

It might not come back to haunt them next week against Arkansas State, either. But the Tigers can’t afford to be one-dimensional when they get into the heart of their SEC schedule and reasonably expect to win.

DEFENSE: B

Yes, the Tigers allowed 464 yards of total offense. And yes, 344 of those yards came through the air. However, they also intercepted the ball three times — one more than they had all of last season — and gave up only one passing touchdown. The reason for this grade, then, is that even though it took the Cougars 35 completions to rack up those 344 yards, they still averaged nearly a first down per completed pass, at 9.8 yards per catch.

Auburn also gave up far more on the ground than anyone would have expected; Washington State averaged right at 29 rushing yards per game last season, the lowest in Division I. Saturday night, the Cougars had nearly 100 yards more than that, finishing with 120. And after scoring only six rushing touchdowns in 12 games last year, Washington State had two against Auburn, matching the Tigers’ own total.

Finally, if not for true freshman Montravius Adams playing well beyond his years, Auburn’s push up front would have been non-existent. Time and again, Halliday was allowed ample time to look downfield and hit open receivers. If the Tigers’ pass-rush doesn’t improve dramatically in the weeks to come, they likely won’t be able to escape with a victory like they did on Saturday.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A+

There is no need for nitpicking here, especially given everything the Tigers did right. To wit: They scored on a 100-yard kickoff return by Mason. Cody Parkey had five touchbacks, with only one returned kick, which was taken back 30 yards. The senior place kicker also went 3-for-4 on his field goal attempts, only missing from 50 yards out. The Tigers also didn’t have a punt return against them. Needless to say, no unit was more stout than special teams Saturday night.

OVERALL: A

There were some tense moments, but those are to be expected. As defensive line coach Rodney Garner would say, football “is a bottom-line business.” The Tigers won Saturday night. Period.

Everything else is meaningless by comparison.

August 22, 2013

Auburn football: Six Tigers selected to coaches’ All-SEC preseason teams

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn had six players named to the SEC coaches’ preseason all-conference teams released Thursday, led by running back Tre Mason and center Reese Dismukes.

The pair was selected to the all-conference second-team offense. They were joined by kicker Cody Parkey and punter Steven Clark, who also earned second-team honors, while tight end C.J. Uzomah and defensive end Dee Ford were named to the third-team.

Junior running back Tre Mason was named to the SEC coaches' preseason all-conference second-team on Thursday. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Junior running back Tre Mason was named to the SEC coaches’ preseason all-conference second-team on Thursday. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Auburn was one of three teams — along with Kentucky and Missouri — to have no players voted to the first-team. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own players.

Mason, a junior, rushed for 1,002 yards along with eight touchdowns last season. Dismukes is a mainstay on the offensive line, making 23 starts in the past two seasons.

Clark, who hails from Kansas City, Mo., averaged 39.8 yards per punt last season, with 15 of his attempts being downed inside the 20-yard line. Parkey was Auburn’s leading scorer in 2012, converting 11 of his 14 field goal attempts and hitting all 27 of his extra-point tries.

Uzomah had seven receptions for 136 yards last year, but is expected to take on a more prominent role in the Tigers’ offense this season. Ford is the team’s top returning pass-rusher after totaling six sacks last year, but according to defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, he will miss the season opener to continue recovering from a knee injury suffered during fall camp.

August 16, 2013

Auburn football odds and ends: Gus Malzahn hopes to have starting QB in place by Monday, Jonathan Wallace progressing at holder

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — If everything goes according to plan, Auburn will know who its starting quarterback is by Monday.

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn hopes to have a starting quarterback in place by Monday. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn hopes to have a starting quarterback in place by Monday. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

And if the Tigers come to a conclusion before then, obviously, that would be even better, head coach Gus Malzahn said.

“It could be (Friday), Saturday or Sunday,” Malzahn said Thursday. “Any time before next Monday would be really good for us, but like I’ve said before, we’re not sure.”

Auburn has had 16 practices since fall camp began, holding its final two-a-day practice Thursday. The Tigers will then have their fourth scrimmage on Saturday; assuming they make a decision at quarterback after the scrimmage, that would give the new signal-caller roughly 10 practices to work exclusively with the first-team offense.

“You want as much (practice) as possible,” Malzahn said. “Ideally, it would have been a week ago, and you get three weeks, but the earlier the better.”

Quarterback isn’t the only position still unsettled with the Aug. 31 opener against Washington State drawing ever closer. That’s why Malzahn hopes to solve those battles following Saturday’s scrimmage as well.

“Well, we’ve got a lot of stuff figured out, but there’s still a few we’re trying to answer,” he said. “Obviously, that’ll be two weeks from the first game, so you’d like to have pieces of the puzzle in place.”

Special teams update: Wallace at holder, four players working at punt return

Regardless of how Jonathan Wallace finishes in the starting quarterback competition, he still might see playing time at other spots on the field.

Kicker Cody Parkey lauded the progress the sophomore has made since he began holding kicks during fall camp.

“I’m teaching him as much as I can,” Parkey said. “He’s got potential and that’s the most important thing. Ryan (White) has been doing it for three years for me. To have a solid guy behind him and watching him like Jonathan Wallace  who is willing to learn  is good. I would say he’s doing well.”

Though Wallace is White’s backup at holder, he provides another dimension by either running or passing if there is a trick play or a botched snap.

“I think that’s our theory behind it, in case something like that does happen,” Parkey said. “We want someone that can make a play instead of taking a loss on the play.”

In other special teams news, Malzahn provided a brief update on the Tigers’ punt returners.

“We’ve got three or four guys working back there,” he said. “Quan Bray, Chris Davis, Marcus Davis. Obviously, we know what Trovon (Reed) can do, so we’re giving those guys all opportunities, and there’s been a few live situations that we’ve been able to evaluate those guys.  I think they’ll be ready.”

Quick hits

Safety Demetruce McNeal practiced Thursday morning and “looked 100 percent,” Malzahn said. Hybrid safety/linebacker Justin Garrett attended practice but didn’t participate. … Three walk-ons were awarded scholarships Wednesday night: wide receiver Dimitri Reese, defensive back Blake Poole and running back Chandler Shakespeare.

August 15, 2013

VIDEO: Gus Malzahn, punter Steven Clark and kicker Cody Parkey take their time at podium

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Along with Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, there were only two players made available to speak with reporters following Thursday morning’s practice. Both were senior specialists in punter Steven Clark and kicker Cody Parkey. Each discussed the thrill of meeting Jason Dufner, an Auburn alumnus and passionate Tigers’ football fan who won the PGA Championship last Sunday, as well as what they have worked on during the offseason and since fall camp began.

Meanwhile, Malzahn talked about the physical nature of the team’s fall camp, and did a good job stone-walling reporters trying to find out information on defensive end Dee Ford’s injury.

The Tigers had a second practice scheduled Thursday night, but it was neither open to media members nor were players or coaches made available afterward. So the three videos below — which, in sum, run for just over 16 minutes — represent the extent of Thursday’s media availability.

Malzahn

Clark

Parkey

Auburn football: Specialists seek to perfect technique as season draws closer

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Steven Clark has played golf his entire life.

Senior kicker Cody Parkey said he has focused on attempts from 40 yards and longer, since all three of his misses came from that distance and longer. (File photo)

Senior kicker Cody Parkey said he has focused on attempts from 40 yards and longer, since all three of his misses came from that distance and longer. (File photo)

In fact, Auburn’s senior punter said it predated his career on the gridiron. Given the parallels between punting and golf, it was a thrill for Clark to hear from the winner of this year’s PGA Championship following Thursday morning’s practice.

And the address came from an Auburn alumnus and fervent Tigers’ football fan, Jason Dufner.

“Really my position is a lot more like golf than any other position, just as far as, you’ve got to have different clubs, you’ve got to have practice with each one, and it’s a day-to-day thing,” he said. “You know you’ve just got to keep trying to refine your craft. If I can ever win the PGA Championship with punting, that would be the best day of my life, too. Hopefully I can come back and share a little wisdom like he did today.”

Clark was disappointed when he was informed during his time with reporters that senior kicker Cody Parkey had already snapped a photo with Dufner and the Wanamaker Trophy.

“I’m going to have to do that,” he said. “I hope (Dufner) is still out there.”

As far as his punting goes, Clark actually hopes there will be more returned kicks this year. Incredibly, only five of his 70 attempts last year were returned. Clark wants to see more runbacks since it will mean he’ll get to make some longer kicks.

There’s another reason, too.

“It increases the possibility of some turnovers,” he said. “That’s probably the most exciting thing that ever happens when I’m punting — trying to run back there, and (seeing) them drop it and we end up getting it back. I don’t know how much more I can do.”

Clark said he hasn’t felt like he has had to sacrifice distance on his punts in the past seasons. Besides, if there’s one thing he’s learned, it’s not to get caught looking at statistics.

The results are the only things that matter in the end.

“I don’t really try to worry about averages as much anymore,” he said. “I had gotten caught up with that in the past and it’s something that really messes with your head trying to worry about all that stuff. You don’t do numbers. All you do is you can punt and you can only prepare yourself as best you can. That’s all you can really control.”

Parkey felt a little differently, as he admitted worrying about numbers. Specifically, he focused on his 3-for-6 showing on kicks between 40 and 50 yards last season. He went 8-for-8 from 39 yards and in.

“It wasn’t anything to do with my distance,” he said of his misfires in 2012. “I feel comfortable hitting far field goals. It just so happened that those were the ones I missed last year. I have been working on that a lot along with being more accurate. Along with hitting 55-yard field goals, you have to be hitting them straight.”

Parkey has been thankful for the team’s new indoor practice facility. Despite the wet weather this summer, it hasn’t affected his preparation.

“It’s phenomenal” he said. “Back in 2010, my freshman year, we had the small indoor (facility) and we weren’t able to kick or anything in there. Now I can do field goals and kickoffs and all that. … It works to our advantage to get out there as long and as much as we can to practice.”

Another kicker who has been able to put in work during fall camp has been Daniel Carlson. The 6-foot-5 true freshman’s “big leg” has impressed Parkey.

The senior also acknowledged the Colorado Springs, Colo., native is farther along in his development than he was at the same time of his career.

“He’s really smooth,” Parkey said, “and I think he’s going to be a good one for Auburn in the future.”

August 8, 2013

Been busy lately? Links to all recent Auburn content in one place

Auburn A-Day Jordan-Hare Stadium

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Look, we all lead busy lives.

So believe me, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if you’re not caught up with everything that has been posted on WarEagleExtra.com since Tuesday. That’s more than understandable given the prodigious production of content over the better part of 48 hours. To wit: There have been a whopping 19 items added to the blog during that span.

But there’s no reason to scroll through page after page to read every story and watch every video — especially when we’ve compiled them all right here in one handy dandy post.

Whether it’s a notebook, practice report, a player profile or a video interview — or perhaps something else entirely — you’ll find it below. (And for your convenience, each item is sectioned accordingly.)

NOTEBOOKS

8/6 — Tigers cut Tuesday practice short to focus on first scrimmage of fall

8/7 — Defense believes it won first scrimmage of the fall ‘hands down’

8/8 — Malzahn pleased with toughness of quarterbacks, disappointed with energy at Thursday morning practice

PRACTICE REPORTS

8/6 — Tigers don full pads for first time, Demetruce McNeal inactive once again

8/7 — Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes absent from first scrimmage of fall

PRACTICE VIDEO

8/7 — Quarterbacks run read-option, Cody Parkey works on point-after attempts and field goals

VIDEO INTERVIEWS, POST-PRACTICE

8/6 — Ellis Johnson hopes defenders ‘will start to polish things up’ in coming days

8/6 — Rhett Lashlee says coaching staff ‘learned a lot more’ about offense during last two practices

8/6 — Gus Malzahn: Tigers ‘very physical’ in shortened Tuesday practice

8/7 — Senior H-back Jay Prosch glad to be ‘able to hit somebody’ in first full-pads practice

8/7 — Junior wide receiver Jaylon Denson predicts newcomers at position will play ‘a lot in the fall’

8/7 — Gus Malzahn: Tigers treated scrimmage ‘just like a regular football game’

8/8 — Running back Corey Grant ‘saw a lot of positive things’ from quarterbacks during scrimmage

8/8 — Safety Jermaine Whitehead excited enough for season he would ‘play in the parking lot’ if need be

8/8 — Gus Malzahn: Film of scrimmage provided ‘some good information’ on quarterbacks

PLAYER/POSITION PROFILES

8/6 — Rhett Lashlee: Quarterbacks ‘are bringing themselves along nicely,’ but battle still far from over

8/6 — Tigers still trying to sort out playing time at linebacker

8/7 — Kris Frost fighting to establish himself as Auburn’s starting middle linebacker (w/video)

8/7 — Quarterbacks take licks and dish them out as no-contact ban lifted during scrimmage

August 7, 2013

Practice video: Quarterbacks run read-option, Cody Parkey works on point-after attempts and field goals

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — On the sixth day of Auburn’s fall camp, media members got the chance to see the quarterbacks run some read-option plays as well as the point-after and field goal units in action. Check out some video I was able to shoot. (Apologies in advance for any shakiness in the videos.)

I was able to get two different angles of the quarterbacks working on read-option plays.

Here’s the first one:

And here’s the second:

Finally, check out Parkey working on his kicks with a semi-live rush:

Auburn Practice Report, 8/7: Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes absent from first scrimmage of fall

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Reporters were permitted to watch approximately 20 minutes of practice on Wednesday, which was scheduled to be Auburn’s first scrimmage of fall camp. Here are some thoughts and observations from the media’s short viewing window on Day 6 of the Tigers’ preseason.

Auburn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes was not seen at the team's practice on Wednesday.

Auburn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes was not seen at the team’s practice on Wednesday.

  • The Tigers were set to scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium. However, a patch of bad weather rolled through the area, soaking the field and forcing the team to move to the indoor facility.
  • No doubt the biggest news of Wednesday centered around an absence — and no, it wasn’t Demetruce McNeal for once. (More on him later.) Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes was not in attendance. Though details obviously weren’t available immediately, Gus Malzahn will likely field a question about Grimes in his post-practice presser.
  • The team’s quarterbacks put blue jerseys over their usual “no-contact” orange uniforms as the viewing portion ended. Was it a possible precursor to the signal-caller’s being subject to contact during the scrimmage? We’ll see.
  •  In other quarterback notes, the quartet worked on read-option plays with running backs, doing things such as faking handoffs and getting outside the tackle box. They also tossed the ball around with each other, as Nick Marshall paired up with Jeremy Johnson while Jonathan Wallace and Kiehl Frazier comprised another tandem. (And for those interested, walk-on Tucker Tuberville also took part, throwing back-and-forth with junior wide receiver Jaylon Denson.)
  • It’s time for our daily McNeal update: The senior safety was out for the sixth straight practice, and 11th consecutive time dating back to the spring. He had a helmet and jersey on, but did nothing other than holding on to a football and occasionally flinging it around. McNeal is recovering from a minor surgical procedure caused by an infection.
  • Cody Parkey didn’t miss any of his point-after attempts or field goals. And he wasn’t kicking off a tee, as the Tigers lined up and simulated live PATs and field goals, with defenders rushing toward the ball.

Video will be posted soon.

July 18, 2013

SEC Media Days, Day 3: Tigers picked to finish fifth in West, place six players on All-SEC teams

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

HOOVER, Ala. — Prior to the final teams making their appearance at SEC Media Days on Thursday, the conference released the predicted order of finish by the media.

Auburn cornerback Chris Davis was one of six Tigers named to the media's preseason All-SEC teams. Media members also picked Auburn to finish fifth in the Western Division.

Auburn cornerback Chris Davis was one of six Tigers named to the media’s preseason All-SEC teams. Media members also picked Auburn to finish fifth in the Western Division.

And according to media pundits, Auburn will finish in fifth place in the Western Division, behind predicted champion Alabama, second-place Texas A&M, third-place LSU and fourth-place Ole Miss. Auburn was picked ahead of Mississippi State and Arkansas, respectively. In the East, Georgia was picked to repeat as the SEC Eastern champion for the third consecutive season, followed by South Carolina, Florida, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky.

As for the overall conference champion, the Crimson Tide were favored to capture it once more, picking up 182 first-place votes, with Georgia (38), South Carolina (18), Texas A&M (4) and LSU (1) being the only other teams to snag a pollster.

Despite being picked to finish fifth in the division, the Tigers were well-represented on the preseason All-SEC teams, with six players earning recognition. On the second-team were running back Tre Mason, center Reese Dismukes, defensive end Dee Ford and kicker Cody Parkey. The Tigers also had two members on the third-team in cornerback Chris Davis and punter Steven Clark.

The preseason All-SEC teams and the media’s predicted order of finish is listed below.

PRESEASON ALL-SEC

OFFENSE

First-Team
QB – Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (119)
RB – T.J. Yeldon, Alabama (221)
RB – Todd Gurley, Georgia (206)
WR – Amari Cooper, Alabama (194)
WR – Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt (106)
TE – Arthur Lynch, Georgia (148)
OL – Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama (193)
OL – Jake Matthews, Texas A&M (176)
OL – Anthony Steen, Alabama (109)
OL – Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State (88)
C – Travis Swanson, Arkansas (92)

Second-Team
QB – AJ McCarron, Alabama (67)
RB – Tre Mason, Auburn (15)
RB  – *LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State (12)
RB – *Keith Marshall, Georgia (12)
WR – Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss ( 46)
WR – Mike Evans,  Texas A&M (33)
TE – Rory Anderson, South Carolina (33)
OL – Antonio Richardson, Tennessee (76)
OL – Jon Halapio, Florida (51)
OL – Chris Burnette, Georgia (50)
OL – Ja’Wuan James, Tennessee (50)
C – Reese Dismukes, Auburn (33)     

Third-Team
QB – Aaron Murray, Georgia (52)
RB – *Matt Jones, Florida (5)
RB – *Jeff Scott, Ole Miss (5)
RB – *Alfred Blue, LSU (5)
WR – Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia (28)
WR – Jarvis Landry, LSU (19)
TE – Brian Vogler, Alabama (18)
OL – La’el Collins, LSU (37)
OL – Josh Williford, LSU (30)
OL – Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt (18)
OL – *A.J. Cann, South Carollina (14)
OL – *Zach Fulton, Tennessee (14)
C – *James Stone, Tennessee (30)
C – *Jonotthan Harrison, Florida (30)

DEFENSE

First-Team
DL – Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina (223)
DL – Dominique Easley, Florida (162)
DL – Anthony Johnson, LSU (127)
DL – Chris Smith, Arkansas (56)
LB – C.J. Mosley, Alabama (231)
LB – A.J. Johnson, Tennessee (107)
LB – Denzel Nkemdiche, Ole Miss (94)
DB – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama (203)
DB – Craig Loston, LSU (135)
DB – Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida (117)
DB – Deion Belue, Alabama (77)

Second-Team
DL – Xzavier Dickson, Alabama (49)
DL – Ed Stinson, Alabama ( 39)
DL – Dee Ford, Auburn (38)
DL – Jeoffrey Pagan, Alabama (31)
LB – Adrian Hubbard, Alabama (66)
LB – Jordan Jenkins, Georgia (64)
LB – Lamin Barrow, LSU (29)
DB – Damian Swann, Georgia (70)
DB – Andre Hal, Vanderbilt (69)
DB – Marcus Roberson, Florida (50)
DB – Vinnie Sunseri, Alabama (36)

Third-Team
DL – Garrison Smith, Georgia (26)
DL – Daniel McCullers, Tennessee (23)
DL – Alvin Dupree, Kentucky (23)
DL – C.J. Johnson, Ole Miss (22)
LB – Ronald Powell, Florida (24)
LB – Tahj Jones, LSU (20)
LB – *Trey DePriest, Alabama (16)
LB – *Avery Williamson, Kentucky (16)
DB – E.J. Gaines, Missouri (34)
DB – Charles Sawyer, Ole Miss (25)
DB – Jalen Mills, LSU (22)
DB – Chris Davis, Auburn (20)

SPECIALISTS

First-Team
P – Kyle Christy, Florida (108)
PK – Carey Spear, Vanderbilt (100)
RS – Odell Beckham Jr., LSU (74)
AP – Bruce Ellington, South Carolina (69)

Second-Team
P – Cody Mandell, Alabama (54)
PK – Cody Parkey, Auburn (71)    
RS – Bruce Ellington, South Carolina (62)
AP – Odell Beckham Jr., LSU (44)

Third-Team
P – Steven Clark, Auburn (33)
PK – Zach Hocker, Arkansas (39)
RS – Andre Debose, Florida (53)
AP – Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida (36)

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

SEC CHAMPION
Alabama – 182
Georgia – 38
South Carolina – 18
Texas A&M – 4
LSU – 1

EASTERN DIVISION
Georgia (149) – 1570
South Carolina (75) – 1474
Florida (19) – 1300
Vanderbilt – 858
Tennessee – 694
Missouri – 577
Kentucky – 331

WESTERN DIVISION
Alabama (225) – 1681
Texas A&M (11) – 1333
LSU (7) – 1324
Ole Miss – 883
Auburn – 579
Mississippi State – 516
Arkansas – 488

NOTES (provided by the SEC league office):

* – Official attendance at 2013 SEC Media Days is 1,239, a new high for the event. The previous high was 1,085 in 2012.
* – 243 voters is an all-time high for SEC media days.  The previous high was 222 voters in 2012.
* – The top two vote-getters were defensive players: C.J. Mosley, Alabama and Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina.
* – Since 2000, Arkansas’ Darren McFadden is the only unanimous selection to the SEC Media Days Team, collecting all 80 votes.
* – Alabama had the most first-team selections this season with seven.  Since 1992, the most players on a first-team were nine by Alabama in 2011 and eight by Alabama (2010) and Florida (2009).

July 11, 2013

Auburn Season Preview: Scouting Mississippi State

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 2, we begin with the Mississippi State Bulldogs, who the Tigers will face in their SEC opener in Week 3.

Who: Mississippi State

When: September, Sept. 14 Mississippi_State_Bulldogs

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

All-time series: Auburn leads 60-24-2

When last they met: There were few positives Auburn could take after leaving Davis Wade Stadium in defeat last season. Yes, the Tigers grabbed a brief 10-7 lead after Onterio McCalebb ran the opening kickoff of the second half back 100 yards for a touchdown. But from there, it was all Mississippi State, as the Bulldogs ran off 21 straight points to pick up a 28-10 win at home. And to say the Tigers’ offense was abysmal may be putting it too nicely — thorough three quarters, they compiled just 90 total yards. Most of the issues stemmed from quarterback Kiehl Frazier, who struggled mightily. He committed five turnovers by himself, tossing three interceptions and losing two fumbles. He finished 13 of 22 for 125 yards, leading just one scoring drive (a 12-play, 33-yard effort in the second quarter that ended with a 23-yard field goal from Cody Parkey), and totaling negative passing yards (minus-2) in the first half. His counterpart, the Bulldogs’ Tyler Russell, inverted Frazier’s numbers by throwing for three touchdowns and no interceptions. It was an efficient performance for Russell, as he completed 20 of his 29 attempts (69 percent) for 222 yards. It was a victory of streak-busting proportions on multiple fronts for the Bulldogs. They snapped a four-game losing streak to the Tigers, and won their SEC opener for the first time since 1999. And it marked the first win for Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen against the “big four” of the Western Division (Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn and LSU) since arriving in Starkville, Miss., in December 2008. Prior to this victory, he had been 0-12 against that quartet.

The coach: Dan Mullen (29-22 in four seasons at Mississippi State)

2012 record: 8-5, 4-4 SEC; finished in fourth place in SEC West (Lost in Gator Bowl to Northwestern, 34-20)

Total offense: 381.92 ypg (79th in Division I , 7th in SEC)

Scoring offense: 29.46 ppg (60th, 9th)

Total defense: 387.38 ypg (52nd, 8th)

Scoring defense: 23.31 ppg (34th, 8th)

2012 Year-in-Review: It was literally a tale of two halves for the Bulldogs last season. Through seven games, the Bulldogs were undefeated and riding high. Then came a 38-7 blowout loss to Alabama on the road in Week 8, and it only got worse from there. Over their final five games, the Bulldogs went 1-4, the lone victory coming against an overmatched Arkansas squad. Not that any of their five losses last year weren’t to quality teams — Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Ole Miss and Northwestern finished with a combined record of 51-15 in 2012. While it would be simplifying matters to the nth degree, it wouldn’t necessarily be false to say Mississippi State beat the teams it should have last season, and lost to the teams it shouldn’t have beat. To wit: Six of their eight victories came against teams that ended the year below .500, while the two wins versus teams above .500 hailed from non-major conferences (Middle Tennessee from Conference USA and Jackson State, which plays in the FCS).

Biggest area of concern: You can stamp the Bulldogs’ receiving unit with an enormous question mark. Mississippi State’s top three pass-catchers from 2012 — Chad Bumphis, Chris Smith and Arceto Clark — are gone. The trio combined for 141 receptions and 1,973 yards last season. So who will step in to fill the void? The most experienced returnee is junior Robert Johnson, who caught just 17 passes in 13 games. Perhaps one of the Bulldogs’ six incoming freshman receivers could be the answer, the most notable among them being four-star prospect Fred Ross from Tyler, Texas. If no one emerges to take the lead receiver role vacated by Bumphis, one silver lining Mississippi State has is a reliable target out of the backfield in LaDarius Perkins. The senior running back reeled in 19 receptions for 160 yards and two touchdowns last season.

Key returning player/unit: Russell enters this season within reach of numerous career records among Mississippi State quarterbacks after setting 11 single-season marks for the Bulldogs last year, including most passing yards (2,897), touchdowns (24), completions (231) and attempts (394). He needs just two touchdown passes to move to the top of the class at Mississippi State in that category (eclipsing Derrick Taite’s 38 from 1993-96) and 1,771 yards to become the school’s all-time leading passer (vaulting past Wayne Madkin’s total of 6,336 yards from 1998-01). One thing Russell has to improve on is consistency. He showed great form over the first seven games of last season, when he threw 15 touchdowns against one interception. But as the schedule got tougher over the final eight games, Russell’s touchdown-to-interception finished at 1:1, with nine scoring tosses balanced by nine interceptions. The senior signal-caller will have to be a steadying presence as his young receiving corps takes time to develop.

Extra point: Mississippi State will be looking to finish with a winning record for the fourth consecutive season this fall. The last time the Bulldogs pulled off the feat was from 1997-2000, when Jackie Sherrill still led the program.

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