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July 14, 2013

7 at 7: A sleepy Saturday before the coming storm at SEC Media Days

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

I’m a straightforward person.

If I say something, I mean it. Not that it should set me apart from anyone else. I’d hope people would be direct with me, the same way I would treat them. Why might I bring up my blunt nature, you ask? Because of a comment I made at the end of Saturday’s “7 at 7″ edition, of course. To wit, I promised today’s version “will return to its normal length” after a compressed variation ran Saturday.

Thankfully, it looks like I’m going to be able to hold up my end of the bargain. At the same time, there was an unfortunate paucity of news coming out of the Auburn beat Saturday. (And yes, there were more important matters unfolding in the non-sports world, such as the jury reaching a verdict in the George Zimmerman trial and a fire engulfing Trinity Presbyterian Church in Opelika.)

So why the slow news day on the Plains?

One could point to the most obvious reason: It’s still the summer. But we’re just two days away from the season starting full-blast, with the circus that is SEC Media Days making its annual pilgrimage to the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala.

Just call Saturday a calm day before the coming storm of the season close at hand.

(And as luck would have it, AUTigers.com’s Jason Caldwell happened to tweet out a perfect picture on Saturday that captures this feeling.)

On to the links!

1. As was noted a couple of times above, Tiger-related happenings were scarce on Saturday. War Eagle Extra, however, still delivered two more opponent previews in Texas A&M and Florida Atlantic. If you were busy, get caught up and give ‘em a read today.

2. I thought AL.com’s Brandon Marcello was done with his series chronicling Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s time in Arkansas, where he was a high school coaching savant. I was wrong. Marcello penned another entry to the series on Saturday, and as every other one has been, it’s a read worth your time.

3. The AuburnTigers.com duo of Charles Goldberg and Phillip Marshall hit Malzahn’s induction into the Arkansas High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame hard. Goldberg deftly handled a nice feature from the ceremony, while Marshall gave his own perspective on Malzahn’s accomplishment with a column.

4. SEC Media Days has had quite a few memorable moments since it first began in 1985. But since those humble beginnings, it has, shall we say, grown just a bit? Colleague Seth Emerson of The Telegraph in Macon looks back at five of these unforgettable moments from recent years.

5. Staying with an SEC theme, some of you may remember Isaiah Crowell. Some of you may not. The Columbus native and Carver High School alumnus was the SEC’s Freshman of the Year in 2011 at Georgia after rushing for 850 yards and five touchdowns in 12 games. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story; Crowell ran into trouble on the field (seemingly a new, nagging injury every week of the season) and off it (reportedly failing a drug test which caused him to be suspended for Georgia’s game against New Mexico State that year) after arriving as the crown jewel of the Bulldogs’ 2011 recruiting class, which was dubbed “The Dream Team.”

Of course, Crowell is an afterthought to most now.

He was dismissed from Georgia in June 2012 following an arrest in Athens, Ga., on three weapons charges, two of which were felonies. (The charges were dropped in April, with Athens-Clarke County assistant D.A. James Chafin stating in the dismissal document that  “the state would be unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this defendant actually possessed the weapon or even knew it was there.”) Georgia moved on — the Bulldogs had a pretty talented pair of freshmen running backs last season, you may have heard — but so has Crowell. He enrolled at Alabama State last season and joined the Hornets’ football program. After starting slowly, he finished last season rushing for 842 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Alabama State coach Reggie Barlow, who was in Columbus on Saturday for a Coaches Caravan event, told the Ledger-Enquirer’s David Mitchell that he has been pleased with what he has seen from Crowell since the running back first stepped foot in Montgomery.

6. I know it seems like the various members of the Robertson clan of “Duck Dynasty” fame are everywhere — and I mean everywhere — these days. Needless to say, it’s understandable if some of you are sick and tired of hearing about the bearded duck callers. But if you’re not, check out Jase Robertson’s (he’s the one who isn’t in charge Duck Commander, and as such, the more laid-back of the two more highly-visible brothers) two-day visit to Huntsville, Ala., on Friday and Saturday. If you prefer to just read some highlighted quotes, you have the option. If you want the meatier story version, well, that can be arranged, too.

7. You already know the drill. As has become custom — inasmuch as something can become a custom after only five articles — we end today’s “7 at 7″ with a fun story in the sports world. And this is one of my favorite so far. It even has an Auburn angle!

Tigers assistant sports information director Wes Todd got married on Saturday. But instead of going with your typical program, he put his SID cap on and got creative: He printed out a “game notes package” any person who has frequented a press box would recognize immediately.

I mean, just look at this thing:

BPE-lafCEAAK1GG.jpg large

Tell me that isn’t the coolest wedding program you’ve ever seen. It’s absolutely glorious. In fact, it went semi-viral (at least among college football writers and others heavily invested in the sport) and was picked up by CBS Sports’ “Eye on College Football” blog.

Ironic that on one of the slowest-moving news days you’ll ever see for Auburn, one of its SID steals the headlines.

How apropos.

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.

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September 27, 2011

Recapping Gene Chizik’s press conference

Auburn head coach Gene Chizik has come and gone for his weekly press conference. Here’s what he had to say:

  • “A great challenge for us this week. An SEC road trip. We’re looking forward to the challenge and getting back out there today and getting better as a football team.”
  • On RB Marcus Lattimore: “He’s everything that we saw he was coming out of high school. He’s explosive, he’s fast, he’s got great vision. And he can get there in a hurry.” Also a threat as a receiver. “He brings pretty much everything to the table.”
  • Why was Auburn so good at slowing him down last year? “Really, it was a numbers game.” Said Tigers will need to be physical up front, get off blocks with the front four and get their LBs to fit gap.
  • WR Trovon Reed is out with a shoulder injury. Chizik said they’ll evaluate him on a weekly basis from here on out. His injury doesn’t sound good.
  • Quan Bray is going to be the one who gets more playing time in Bray’s spot. He’ll return punts.
  • On the offensive line: “We’ve got to continue to improve up front. … It’s not schematically. We’ve got to produce better.”
  • On how good South Carolina is passing it: “I think it’s pretty well-documented.” Praised Steve Spurrier‘s history of throwing the ball. “The big plays are really going to be the emphasis to us.” Also said USC has a good screen game.
  • On not getting Lattimore in recruiting: “I don’t worry about the ones we don’t get. I worry about the one we do get. He’s a great young man.”
  • On Kiehl Frazier: “I think he’s been growing as far as knowledge of the game. He’s been getting interaction on the field. The experience, as we all know, there’s no substitute for it.”
  • No change in quarterback pecking order.
  • On getting Mike Dyer involved more: “We’ve got to run what the defense is allowing us to run.” Said you can’t run into a 9-man front.
  • “We still have a long season. We’re only a third of the way through it. And you’ll see young guys grow as different circumstances unfold.”
  • John Sullen and Jonathan Evans both have a chance to play this week. Onterio McCalebb is OK too.
  • CB Chris Davis doesn’t sound like he’s in that boat. “He’s day-by-day,” Chizik said.

September 25, 2011

Late night notes: Five Auburn regulars who missed FAU game day-to-day this week

Auburn did not take precautionary moves with the five regulars who didn’t play Saturday against Florida Atlantic. It took necessary ones.

“It was not to keep anybody out,” Tigers head coach Gene Chizik said. “It was because, health-wise, they needed to be out.”

Cornerback Chris Davis (head, ankle), linebacker Jonathan Evans (shoulder), defensive end Dee Ford (undisclosed), tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen (ankle) and right guard John Sullen (undisclosed) did not play against the Owls for injury reasons.

Davis, Evans and Ford did not even dress. Considering the opponent and the schedule that lies ahead, it figures that anyone of borderline health right now would be held out.

Auburn got beat up during the game, too. Running back Onterio McCalebb appeared to take a hit to the head on a fourth quarter run, needing help off the field.

Punt returner Trovon Reed hurt his shoulder on the Tigers’ final punt return. Tight end Brandon Fulse also had to leave the game briefly.

McCalebb and Fulse were at post-game interviews, suggesting they are OK. Reed has declined to do interviews all season, so although he was not present afterward, it is no indicator.

“We’re going to continue to evaluate exactly where they’re at,” Chizik said. “Again, that’s going to be a scenario where we’ll probably know more toward the end of the week. You can group those guys with the rest of them.”

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Lots of interviews tonight. Here are more notes and quotes:

  • The Tigers knew Lutzenkirchen wasn’t going to play in Saturday’s game, so they went about preparing offensive linemen Blake Burgess to play as a blocking tight end. His thoughts after one game in the No. 86? “Coach says I look good in an eligible number,” Burgess joked.
  • The sophomore played mostly on the outside in Auburn’s unbalanced Wildcat formation, supplying an extra blocker for the run-first formation. The Tigers first tried the backup center/guard there early last week, with plans on using him later this year. That schedule got moved up, though. Burgess runs routes before and after practice, although he doesn’t think any passes are coming his way. “The last time I touched the ball, I was a second grader playing fullback because I was the largest player on the team,” Burgess said. “So it’s exciting and definitely a change of pace. But anyway I can help this team, that’s my job.”
  • Quarterback Kiehl Frazier threw his first career pass Saturday, although the freshman knows he probably shouldn’t have, considering the coverage. “I was so nervous going in,” he said. “I had two options so even though it was double-covered, I had to try to get it in there. It was definitely fun to get my first pass, though.”
  • It continues to be a slow process for Frazier, who was in for only a handful of snaps against Florida Atlantic, which was still more looks than he’s had all year. Frazier hasn’t gotten any first-team work in practice, but he continues to be brought along, getting about half his reps in the base offense and half in the Wildcat. Out of the Wildcat, he’s run four times for 33 yards, with a long of 15. Will that be his role the rest of the season? “Whatever coach (Gus) Malzahn thinks,” Frazier said.
  • Auburn is to the point of the season where freshmen who haven’t played likely won’t to preserve their redshirt year, barring an unforeseen injury that would thrust them into the lineup. “Off the top of my head, I would say that’s accurate,” Chizik said.
  • Nine freshmen who are eligible to play this season fall into that group — defensive linemen Keymiya Harrell and Jabrian Niles, linebackers Kris Frost, Chris Landrum and Anthony Swain, wide receiver Sammie Coates and offensive linemen Christian Westerman, Greg Robinson and Thomas O’Reilly.
  • Defensive coordinator Ted Roof was asked one thing he thought the Tigers made the most strides in. His response? “Tackling. We made some individual tackles in space that we didn’t make the week before. And the yardage after missed tackles was decreased as well. Anytime that happens, that’s a positive thing.”
  • South Carolina, with running back Marcus Lattimore and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, has some weapons. Auburn did an OK job of containing Lattimore last year (he had 127 yards on 30 carries in two games). Jeffery torched the Tigers in the first game (8 catches, 192 yards, 2 TD). Here’s Roof’s recollection: “Oh, yeah. I remember him. He what, caught 23 balls against us the first time we played? I know exactly who he is. But you know if that’s not clicking they can give it to Lattimore over and over again.” More on these two in Tuesday’s newspaper story.
  • How do you tackle Lattimore? “We’re going to make sure we get more than one person on them because just one guy isn’t going to bring them down,” cornerback T’Sharvan Bell said.
  • DT Jeffrey Whitaker goes way back with Lattimore. They were both recruited to Auburn two years ago and played in the All-American game together. “I look at Marcus like a relative,” Whitaker said. “That’s how I look at Marcus. We’ve been knowing each other and we talk from time to time. The deal is — when you go to a relative, you don’t put your mind into hate. If my brother walked into this room and we had to compete right now, it doesn’t mean I hate him. I’m going to try to take his head off. At the same time, I don’t hate him. I have love for him. It’s a competitive matchup.”
  • DE Corey Lemonier had his best game of the year, with 6 tackles, 2 TFLs and his first sack. He said it’d had been frustrating taking his pass rushing moves that worked in practice and not having them work in the game. “I tell you what, he was much more active this week, much more sudden,” Roof said. “I thought that he cut it loose this week and it was good to see him cut it loose.”
  • CB Jermaine Whitehead said he got “lucky” when he jumped the route for the interception he returned for a touchdown. Once he got it, it was a great feeling. “I looked in front of me, and I ain’t seen nothing but the white lines and the crowd,” he said.
  • Whitehead, a true freshman who dabbles in the nickel and out wide at corner, has been making strides. “My confidence is definitely going up, just every rep, every situation,” he said. “Coach is trusting me more. He lets me make my mistakes and, even in film when we’re watching, makes me call my own mistakes out. I’m growing a lot from that.”
  • The offensive line didn’t have a great game against FAU, failing to establish the run and having protection breakdowns that led to quarterback Barrett Trotter taking some hits. Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes didn’t yell at his line Saturday. As for Sunday … “It was a little different mood today than it was last night,” left guard Jared Cooper said. “There’s a lot of things we’ve got to get fixed. Coach Grimes does a good job of telling us in a way that keeps everybody upbeat, keeps us encourage not just a beat us into the ground kind of deal.”
  • The biggest problem up front remains communication. “It’s something that you always hear people talk about chemistry on the offensive line,” Cooper said. “And that’s something that doesn’t just pop up overnight. That’s something you have to build. With a different group, I think that’s something we’re still in the process of doing.”
  • This stretch coming up will tell a lot about Auburn. The Tigers play at No. 10 South Carolina, at No. 18 Arkansas, at home vs. No. 12 Florida and at No. 1 LSU. Cooper said Auburn had a saying a couple years ago: October Victories Equal Respect, or OVER. “That’s something we’re going to have to carry with us this week,” Cooper said. “October is by far our toughest month. I’m sure it is for a lot of people. It’s going to be a grind.”
  • T-Bell had a good take on it: “It’s going to separate the men from the boys. Hopefully I don’t have no boys fighting next to me because it’s going to be tough in October. We’ve got a lot of guys … and that’s why they come to Auburn, for this long stretch we’ve got. I don’t think anybody is going to shy away from the challenge.”

Recapping Gene Chizik’s teleconference

Gene Chizik had his weekly teleconference today. Here’s a quick version of what he had to say:

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  • “It was pretty much what I saw last night, post-game. I feel like offensively we didn’t play well at all. Defensively I feel like we played better in some areas.”
  • Better defensive things: three turnovers, turned one into a score, slight improvement on third downs. “Overall, at least I think there was some improvement there.”
  • “Offensively, I feel like we struggled for pretty much the whole night.”
  • Among the offensive problems: pass protection, wide receiver drops. Said things were “below-average.”
  • USCe coach Steve Spurrier called his offense “putrid” against Vanderbilt. Chizik refrained from commenting: “I’m not going to comment on adjectives.” (Yes, he actually said that.)
  • “Right now there are not a lot of options other than us getting better every week.”
  • Chizik said guys who didn’t play were out because they were injured. That includes Chris Davis, Jonathan Evans, Dee Ford, John Sullen. Said it will be “day-by-day” with all of them.
  • Onterio McCalebb and Trovon Reed (shoulder) are in that same boat.
  • Auburn did a good job of containing USC RB Marcus Lattimore last year: “It’s hard to contain him, as we know. But last year is last year and this year is this year.”
  • On Jermaine Whitehead: “He’s been a bright spot.” Likes that he can play nickel, corner, special teams.
  • Said Whitehead is working in direction of being more physical. “He’s very aggressive and doesn’t shy away from contact.”
  • On how big of a step the defense made: “I don’t think any question it was a step in the right direction. It wasn’t a step backward from the last time they were on the field.”
  • Said Auburn could have had two more picks on the night. Were in the right position.
  • Chizik called the tackling better. “When our guys put themselves in bad positioning is when you’re seeing bad tackles.” Said the ones they missed yesterday was when they took bad angles. “Definitely better but not where we want it to be.”
  • On the defense: “They worked their butt of last week. They took it to heart and worked to be a better defense last week.”
  • Was it DE Corey Lemonier‘s best game? “Not even close, yes.  First time in four games I’ve seen him look like he should look.”
  • On LaDarius Owens: “It’s been a slow process for him. … I thought he showed some flashes of being a better football player than he was a month ago. This is hopefully a little bit of a confidence boost of him.”
  • On how the o-line issues affect the offense: “We haven’t done anything different than what we’ve done the last three years.”
  • Said Auburn will continue to rotate on the d-line. “As physical and brutal as the next five weeks can physically be, there’s really going to be no option there.”
  • Barring an injury situation, will any of the freshmen play who haven’t played this year? Chizik said off the top of his head, probably no.
  • Is o-line the biggest concern? Chizik said consistency is. “It’s not one group over another group. It’s inconsistency in a lot of parts of the offense.”
  • The bubble screen hasn’t been too successful this year. “I think there’s multiple things.” Said bad passes, drops, people not blocking on the perimeter have been problems. Said it goes back to the consistency issues.
  • “It’s not rocket science to us. It’s not rocket science to Gus (Malzahn). Got to block better. Got to catch balls better.”
  • Still of the mindset that Mike Dyer should get more carries.
  • Texas A&M is in the conference. “It’ll be a great addition.”

September 24, 2011

Final: Auburn beats FAU 30-14, does little to inspire confidence heading into SEC slate

My East Coast deadlines don’t make writing game stories like this enjoyable. But it does force me to get my stuff out quicker. Here’s the game story that’ll appear in tomorrow’s paper:

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AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn finally sprang to life Saturday night, shaking off a lethargic first half to pull away from lowly Florida Atlantic for the 30-14 victory everyone expected.

It did nothing to quell fears that the team is not nearly ready for the brutal SEC schedule that lies ahead, however.

The Tigers (3-1), who entered as 31- to 32-point favorites, put things out of reach with a 20-point third quarter, completing their 11th straight win at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

But it did little to erase the memory of a listless first half during which FAU played Auburn neck-and-neck and a final score that, victory or not, was far closer than expected.

“All the way around, I thought it was a very below-average football game,” Tigers head coach Gene Chizik said. “From the beginning to the end, and it never got better.”

Barrett Trotter threw for 178 yards and two touchdowns, Mike Dyer ran for 68 yards and Emory Blake added 78 receiving yards a score, but it was hardly a joyful atmosphere afterward.

The underlying problems that plagued Auburn the first three games remain, an uneasy thought for a team about to plunge headfirst into an SEC stretch that features ranked foes South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida and LSU.

Florida Atlantic dropped to 0-3 but, after being outscored 85-3 in losses to Florida and Michigan State to start the season, played much more competitively than anyone thought.

Linebacker Cory Henry intercepted Trotter on the first play from scrimmage, setting up a 39-yard field goal by Vinny Zaccario that matched the Owls’ point total all season and gave them a 3-0 lead.

Auburn came back with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Trotter to Blake. A Cody Parkey field goal made it 10-3, but the Owls hung with the Tigers the rest of the half.

Zaccario’s second field goal, a 43-yarder, trimmed the lead to six. At halftime, Florida Atlantic, which had averaged a mere 92.5 yards its first two games, trailed Auburn in yardage only 155-153.

“We’re all laying an egg right now,” Chizik said at halftime.

Order was restored in the second half, although only by the minimum amount.

Auburn freshman cornerback Jermaine Whitehead, who Chizk praised for coming on in recent weeks, stepped in front of a Graham Wilbert pass early in the third quarter, returning it 25 yards for a touchdown and injecting much-needed life into the lifeless Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd 82,249.

Things fell into place after that. Onterio McCalebb scored on a perfectly executed 51-yard screen pass to make it 24-6.

Auburn’s defense finally arrived in the third quarter. Neiko Thorpe tracked a deep ball nicely for an interception that led to the first of two Parkey field goals that gave the Tigers a 30-6 lead after three quarters.

Still, concerns remain. FAU, which had managed a mere 185 yards of offense in the first two weeks, finished with 307 yards, far fewer than the 534.3 Auburn had allowed on average this season, but still too many considering the competition.

The Owls entered the game last nationally in third-down conversions (2-for-23) but converted on 6 of 14 opportunities Saturday, continuing to expose a season-long weakness for the Tigers.

FAU had one first down against Michigan State two weeks ago. It had 20 Saturday.

Offensively, Auburn still lacked consistency. After a week in which coaches pledged to get the ball more to Dyer, who was second in the SEC averaging 119.3 yards per game entering the weekend, the sophomore had only 14 carries for 68 yards.

While that workload is expected to increase against SEC competition, the Tigers still didn’t seem to find the identity that offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has sought, finishing with 315 yards, their lowest output this season.

Auburn ran for 137 yards against a defense allowing nearly 200 a game. Trotter hit big on the screen pass to McCalebb but still didn’t stretch the field with many downfield attempts. He also took a few hits, getting sacked three times.

“A lot of times, I felt like Barrett was running for his life tonight,” Chizik said.

Making matters worse, McCalebb and receiver Trovon Reed both got digned up in the fourth quarter, needing attention from the trainers. Chizik had no updates on their status afterward.

Overall, it was an ugly win.

“You saw it,” Chizik said. “It just wasn’t a very good performance all the way around.

“But we scored 30 points, we won the game, and we’ll build on all the positives and get all the negatives corrected.”

Halftime: Lethargic Auburn leads FAU 10-6

AUBURN, Ala. — After one half against Florida Atlantic, Auburn certainly doesn’t look like a team that’s ready to plunge into SEC play.

The Tigers lead the Owls 10-6 after a lethargic first half at Jordan-Hare Stadium, their final non-conference game before a run of league games that features South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida and LSU.

Barrett Trotter and Emory Blake hooked up for a 10-yard touchdown that accounts for the Tigers’ advantage but there have otherwise been few highlights against what is considered to be one of the weaker teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

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Auburn barely out-gained FAU, which had scored three points and averaged 92.5 yards in its first two games, finishing with 155 yards to the Owls’ 153.

FAU struck early after linebacker Cory Henry intercepted Trotter on the first play from scrimmage.

The Owls got one first down — matching their total against Michigan State two weeks ago — before Vinny Zaccario made a 39-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.

Blake’t touchdown grab made it 7-3 and extended his streak with a touchdown catch to seven games, one shy of the school record held by Terry Beasley.

Cody Parkey made a 41-yard field goal before Zaccario matched with a 43-yarder, keeping Auburn’s lead only four points at 10-6.

Trotter is 10-for-16 with 88 passing yards. Running back Mike Dyer, who coaches said would have a larger role, has eight carries for 33 yards.

Running Auburn-FAU pre-game blog post

You’re looking LIVE at a very empty Jordan-Hare Stadium, site of today’s Auburn-Florida Atlantic game. I expect there to be more people at kickoff.

It’s another gorgeous day for football and tailgating, so I can’t imagine you’re at a computer right now. But I’m sure you have access to smart phones. So here’s today’s game advance if you haven’t read it yet, and here’s a link to yesterday’s matchups blog post.

I’ll be updating this post with pertinent information leading up to gametime, so check back. Also, follow the blog on Twitter for running commentary/insight/bad jokes throughout the contest.

Back with more in a little bit. In the meantime, here’s today’s program cover, featuring walk-ons Davis Hooper, Chandler Brooks, Chris Humphries and Ashton Richardson. It’s titled “The Road Less Traveled.” It does not feature any players covered in mud, for reasons I can’t explain.

UPDATE, 3:45 p.m.: We’ve got pre-game minutia, as usual.

  • The teams have never met on a football field, so you’re seeing a first.
  • Auburn is favored by anywhere from 31 to 32 points. That’s a lot of points to give for this defense, not that I condone gambling.
  • Although the Tigers’ winning streak was snapped at 17 games last week, they’ve still won 10 straight at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the 10th longest streak in school history.
  • Mike Dyer, who everyone claims will have a bigger role in the offense, is averaging 119.3 rushing yards per game, second in the SEC.
  • Auburn is 22-4 in home games at night since 2000.
  • Head coach Gene Chizik is 11-1 against non-conference opponents at Auburn, his lone loss coming last week at Clemson.
  • Auburn is the only team in the top three in the SEC in punting (2nd), kick return average (2nd) and kickoff coverage (2nd).
  • WR Emory Blake has a touchdown catch in six straight games, two shy of the school record held by Terry Beasley.
  • Chizik and FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger are two of 10 active head coaches with a national championship on their resume. The other eight? Alabama’s Nick Saban, LSU’s Les Miles, South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, Texas’ Mack Brown, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, Penn State’s Joe Paterno, Arizona State’s Dennis Erickson and UT-San Antonio’s Larry Coker.

UPDATE, 4:53 p.m.: Some lineup nuggets today, all of which are probably injury related. Brandon Fulse will start at tight end for Philip Lutzenkirchen, Chad Slade will start at right tackle for Brandon Mosley and Jonathon Mincy will start at left corner for Chris Davis.

Lutzenkirchen and Davis both had to leave the Clemson game after getting banged up. Lutz appeared to hurt his ankle. Davis took a knee to the head and later had his ankle rolled up on.

I can’t think of any reason for Mosley to be out other than an injury. Certainly Auburn wants a full, healthy roster before a tough October stretch against SEC competition.

UPDATE, 5:06 p.m.: Auburn has passed out a correction: Slade is starting at right guard for John Sullen, not for Mosley, who presumably will start at right tackle still.

UPDATE, 5:22 p.m. : Davis and LB Jonathan Evans are not dressed out. Lutzenkirchen hasn’t been in the stretching lines or on the sideline. Not sure his deal.

CB Jonathan Rose and FB Ladarious Phillips, who missed last week’s game for a violation of team rules, are both dressed out.

UPDATE, 5:40 p.m.: Backup center Blake Burgess is wearing No. 86 instead of 63 today. Does this mean Auburn plans to use him as some type of H-back/tight end? Not sure. Maybe they did this because of Lutzenkirchen’s condition. We’ll see.

September 23, 2011

Auburn-Florida Atlantic: Who has the edge?

Time for the weekly matchups post. I’m sure you’re all been on the edge of your seat waiting for this one.

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Florida Atlantic at Auburn

  • Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.
  • When: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
  • TV: FSN
  • Records: Florida Atlantic 0-2, 0-0 Sun Belt; Auburn 2-1, 1-0 SEC
  • Series: First meeting

FAU passing game vs. Auburn secondary

The one good thing on quarterback Graham Wilbert‘s resume is that he hasn’t thrown an interception. But he hasn’t thrown for many yards either, just 122 in two games. FAU’s leading receiver, Nexon Dorvilus (great name), has four catches for 57 yards, so it doesn’t appear the Owls will be going deep on Auburn. The Tigers are trying to regroup in the secondary after giving up 386 yards and four passing touchdowns to Clemson last week. CB Chris Davis got banged up twice in that game but should be a go Saturday night. We’ll see if Auburn simplifies things like it said it will, going with a more man-to-man look. Edge: Auburn.

FAU running backs vs. Auburn linebackers

Alfred Morris is a pretty good running back, having run for 2,320 yards and 18 touchdowns the previous two seasons. But the holes just aren’t there for him this year.  He’s run 24 times for 37 yards in two games, a 1.1-yard average. Auburn’s linebackers haven’t been great, although Daren Bates is starting to get in on more plays. He had 12 tackles against Mississippi State and 10 against Clemson. Jonathan Evans (shoulder) has been day-to-day all week. His status for Saturday is up in the air. Edge: Auburn.

FAU offensive line vs. Auburn defensive line

The Owls’ starting line has a season’s worth of starts under its belt, with all five players up front have made at least 12 starts. But they haven’t been too sharp so far, allowing five sacks. FAU’s running backs have a 1.04-yard average, which means they aren’t getting much room to run. Auburn’s defensive line has struggled. The group has two sacks through three games and isn’t supplying the kind of pressure Auburn fans grew accustomed to last year. Jeffrey Whitaker has done OK, according to defensive line coach Mike Pelton, but Angelo Blackson (4 tackles, 1.5 TFLs) has impressed in limited playing time. It might be time for the 6-foot-2, 325-pound freshman to get more snaps. Edge: Auburn.

Auburn passing game vs. FAU secondary

Quarterback Barrett Trotter‘s lofty completion rate came back to earth against Clemson. The junior completed only 50 percent of his passes and threw an untimely pick near the end zone in the fourth quarter. Auburn fans have to be wondering what happened to Emory Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen last week. Blake’s only catch, a 36-yard touchdown, came in the first quarter. Lutzenkirchen, a strong red zone threat with five touchdowns in his last seven games, didn’t have any catches, or many targets for that matter. Look for both to be prominently involved. Safety Marcus Bartels leads a young FAU secondary that ranks 95th nationally against the pass (2585. ypg). Bartels is four tackles shy of being the program’s all-time tackle leader for defensive backs. Edge: Auburn.

Auburn running backs vs. FAU linebackers

More Mike Dyer? That’s what the coaches are saying, although it would be surprising if the Tigers trot him out for a 20-carry day in a game that should be decided by halftime. Dyer had only 16 carries last week, but he had 151 yards and two touchdowns, with runs of 52 and 45 yards. Onterio McCalebb hasn’t thrived as an every-down back, which means freshman Tre Mason, who is 20 pounds heavier than McCalebb, could have an expanded role. The Owls have switched to a 3-4 defense this year, mostly because they have been able to find quality linebackers over the years. David Hinds (17 tackles, 2 TFL) and Andrae Kirk (12 tackles 1 TFL) rank second and third on the team in tackles. Edge: Auburn.

Auburn offensive line vs. FAU defensive line

The Tigers have been able to establish the run the last two weeks after struggling in the opener, but the line had some communication breakdowns in pass protection that led to Trotter getting clocked a few times last week. Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes didn’t say if any new guys would play this week. It might be the cutoff point for players like Greg Robinson and Christian Westerman, with two straight road games coming up and four ranked SEC opponents on the schedule. Those aren’t great times to get your feet wet at the college level. This game might be. Defensive tackle Jared Givens is centerpiece on FAU’s three-man front. (The game notes say he squats 815 pounds.) The fifth-year senior has only one tackle this year, though. It was a sack for a loss. Edge: Auburn.

FAU return units vs. Auburn coverage teams

Willie Floyd has a 26.0-yard average on 10 kick returns this year, with a long of 53. As for punts, FAU hasn’t forced many. The Owls don’t have a punt return this year. Auburn hasn’t had to cover many kickoffs. Kicker Cody Parkey has 12 touchbacks in three games. The Tigers had 13 the two previous years. Punter Steven Clark has been coming on. He has a 43.2-yard average, 23rd nationally, and nine of his punts have been downed inside the 20. Edge: Auburn.

Auburn return units vs. FAU coverage teams

Kick returner Tre Mason had a quiet day against Clemson, with four returns for 63 yards. He’s still averaging 29.4 yards a return. Look for him to bounce back. Also, coaches have been encouraged by Quan Bray in the return game. Punt returner Trovon Reed has caught the ball well but has made some bad decisions. He retreated to catch a ball in the end zone against Clemson and only returned it to the 4, a major no-no. FAU hasn’t been good at covering punts (97th nationally), although punter Mickey Groody has been decent this year.  He finished fifth nationally last year with a 45.8-yard average. Edge: Auburn.

Kickers

Parkey is 3-for-3 this year with long of 43, although he looks like he could be good from 50-plus. Vinny Zaccario has FAU’s only points this year ,a 27-yard field goal against Florida. He missed his other chance, a 34-yarder. Edge: Auburn.

Coaches

Two national championship coaches will be on the field Saturday. Only one is at the top of his game, though. Gene Chizik will have his work cut out for him getting his young team to fix all the mistakes it has been making the first three weeks, but he’s only nine months removed from a national championship. He’ll figure it out. FAU’s Howard Schnellenberger is winding down a Hall of Fame career. He built Miami into a force in the early ’80s, winning a national title in 1983. And he’s built FAU’s program from the ground up, the only coach in the football team’s 11-year history. The 77-year-old is 57-65 at FAU and led the team to the Sun Belt championship in 2008, only its second year at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. The Owls haven’t had a winning season since 2008, however, and don’t seem primed to do so this season. He’s retiring at the end of the year. Given all he’s accomplished, its unfortunate that things are sputtering to an end. Edge: Auburn.

Prediction

It’s not going to be close, but it’s not going to be about the result. It’s going to be about fixing mistakes for Auburn, which has to get things right before a brutal October schedule that includes games at South Carolina, Arkansas, vs. Florida and at LSU. I don’t think auburn will be able to magically fix everything that has plagued it defensively in a week’s time, so I’ll give the Owls a touchdown in this game. But the Tigers will roll. Prediction: Auburn 56, Florida Atlantic 13.

September 22, 2011

Read the replay of today’s Auburn chat

Big thanks to all of those who stopped by for today’s live chat. We went 78 minutes, even though it’s Florida Atlantic week. We’ll do it again next week at the same time. If you missed it, read the replay below.

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