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September 3, 2013

Auburn football: With breakout game behind him, Corey Grant hungry for more (w/video)

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — It took until the game ended for Corey Grant to finally realize what he had just accomplished on the field last Saturday.

Junior running back Corey Grant scored on a 75-yard touchdown last Saturday against Washington State. He also finished as the Tigers' leading rusher, with 146 yards on just nine carries. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Junior running back Corey Grant scored on a 75-yard touchdown last Saturday against Washington State. He also finished as the Tigers’ leading rusher, with 146 yards on just nine carries. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

He had just finished off a tour de force performance, running for a game-high 146 yards on nine carries against Washington State. It was the type of game Auburn’s junior running back admitted once doubting he could achieve.

Who’s to blame him?

His circuitous, frustrating path to Saturday would do little to boost anyone’s confidence. His Opelika, Ala., upbringing wasn’t able to keep him rooted around Auburn following his prep career, as he committed to arch-rival Alabama in the summer of 2009.

“It was a tough decision,” he said. “I loved (then-Auburn offensive coordinator) Coach (Gus) Malzahn and his offense.”

It was a decision he would come to regret. Yes, part of the reason he committed to the Crimson Tide was because the team promised to take advantage of his skill set, predicated on the blazing speed that made a two-time state champion in the 100-meter dash and a one-time state winner in the 200 meters.

But the other factor had nothing to do with football: He simply wanted to get away from home.

“So I did that,” he said. “Then I realized that it really wasn’t for me.”

He spent one season with Alabama, taking a redshirt in 2010 before transferring to Auburn. Once he joined the Tigers, however, he had to sit out yet another season to satisfy the NCAA’s rules on transfers.

In 2012, he finally saw the field, though it was solely in mop-up duty.

That’s why Saturday meant so much to him.

“Everybody always says hard work pays off,” he said. “I see that it does.”

Grant flashed the speed that made him a high school track star in the second quarter, taking a handoff around the left side and racing untouched for a 75-yard score. Nearly three years had passed since his last touchdown — which, he recalled, came when he was still an Opelika Bulldog — and he was ready to revel in the moment. It was a celebration deferred, as the play was reviewed to make sure he didn’t step out of bounds. Grant didn’t have to worry, as the touchdown stood.

Let the pandemonium begin.

“It was exciting,” he said. “My teammates know what I’ve been through. For me to do that and for us to do that together, it was an exciting moment.”

Left tackle Greg Robinson couldn’t contain his excitement, either.

“Really, when he broke off to the sideline I was cheering him on,” he said. “They all knocked him down in the end zone, but he felt good about it and it’s good for the hard work to pay off.”

Malzahn was also pleased Grant showed his stuff against Washington State. Not that it came as any surprise to him.

“I was here before, and I knew what he could do,” Malzahn said. “But he wasn’t eligible that year. You saw him on the scout team. He’s got a chance to really help us (this season).”

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee echoed Malzahn’s thoughts. The coaching staff had seen everything he could during spring practice, which carried over into fall camp. One aspect of Grant’s game revealed itself Saturday that even Lashlee didn’t see coming.

“He (made) some cuts that were impressive that maybe we didn’t know he could do,” Lashlee said. “His speed is definitely a weapon for him. As you were able to see on Saturday, he helps us have a potential one-play drive or a guy who can make those explosive plays and flip the field and help you get chunks (of) yardage.”

Perhaps the most impressive part of Grant’s explosiveness?

He hasn’t lost his lightning quickness despite putting on 30 pounds of muscle since high school.

“I actually feel a little bit faster,” he said, noting the last time he ran the 40 he was unofficially timed at 4.29 seconds. “Working with (strength and conditioning) Coach (Ryan) Russell, he knows what he’s doing and he helps us a lot with our speed – (especially) maintaining your speed as you get bigger.”

The added strength will be an asset when he has to face off against some of formidable defenses the SEC has to offer as the season progresses. He shied away from any talk of being “an SEC-type running back” just yet. It’s only been one game, after all.

Those are the types of designations that only come with time, and only on the basis of multiple games like he put together Saturday.

“Hopefully I can prove that later in the season,” he said.

Auburn football: Gus Malzahn defends Nick Marshall’s passing, says offense’s performance was ‘below average’

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn didn’t think Nick Marshall played too well last Saturday.

But he didn’t believe his first-time signal-caller was terrible, either. As most things in life are, it was somewhere in the middle.

Auburn quarterback finished with just 99 passing and no touchdowns on Saturday, completing 10 of his 19 attempts. Gus Malzahn defended his signal-caller on Tuesday. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Auburn quarterback finished with just 99 passing yards and no touchdowns on Saturday, completing 10 of his 19 attempts. Gus Malzahn defended his signal-caller on Tuesday. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

With the benefit of going back and watching film, Auburn’s head coach had a fuller perspective on Marshall’s first start as a Tiger.

“It (was) pretty average,” Malzahn said. “Our expectations, you know, he’s only been here four weeks  but still our expectations are high. The No. 1 thing he did was protect the football, and that can’t go overlooked.”

Malzahn didn’t dispute Marshall had to battle his nerves for the early portion of the season-opening contest against Washington State. No, he didn’t make the right decision every time,  noting Marshall’s “eyes wandered in other places” on certain instances. The coach believed Marshall eventually steadied himself, though.

“He had jitters, there’s no doubt,” Malzahn said. “And that’s to be expected, to come in and play quarterback and everything. He started settling down toward the end of the game and that will help him moving forward.”

While he may have established a rhythm as the offense’s leader by game’s end, one area where Marshall seemed to misfire time and again was on deep passes, overthrowing multiple open receivers. Malzahn said not every incompletion could be laid at the feet of his quarterback.

“The first one they actually had us covered and I think he was just throwing the ball away. It may have looked like he overthrew, but he’s really throwing the ball away,” Malzahn said. “I thought that was a good play at the time. The one to Ricardo (Louis) was very close. It’s within a couple of inches there. He throws the deep ball extremely well and I think the more that he does it, the better he’ll get. The intermediate passes (that require) touch, that’ll come as we go too.”

To render a verdict on Marshall’s career after one game would be a mistake, Malzahn said, since the coaching staff is still gathering information about the quarterback as much as he is memorizing the playbook.

“We’re learning Nick as we go, too,” Malzahn said. “We’re learning what he’s comfortable with, what he’s not comfortable with, how he reacts in certain situations. With each game, our comfort zone will get better and better.”

Malzahn took umbrage with people who wanted to point to Marshall’s passing stats and cite that as proof of a poor performance. Leaping to his quarterback’s defense, Malzahn said the only number that mattered was Marshall’s record standing at 1-0.

“Here’s the thing about a quarterback,” he said. “They usually get too much credit and they usually get too much blame. In our offense that holds true just about every week. The people around them have to be in the right spot and execute. It all works together. It’s a whole.”

And the sum of its parts was far from a well-oiled machine last week. After breaking down and grading the offense, Malzahn said it worse than he initially believed.

“It was below average now that I watched the film,” he said. “Like I said, (the mistakes are) correctable and we got to execute. We got to do what we’re supposed to do and it takes all 11 and that’s not easy. But it’s not easy to win either.”

VIDEO: Coordinators Rhett Lashlee and Ellis Johnson discuss their respective units

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s two coordinators — Rhett Lashlee (offensive) and Ellis Johnson (defensive) — had a lot to say Monday night. So much, in fact, that we had to split each of their press conferences into two videos apiece.

The videos are provided below.

Lashlee, Part I

Lashlee, Part II

Johnson, Part I

Johnson, Part II

Auburn notes: Rhett Lashlee disappointed with offense, Ellis Johnson discusses Justin Garrett’s status

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala.Rhett Lashlee didn’t offer any false praise Monday night.

Auburn’s offensive coordinator said his unit has a long way to go. About the only positive he could take from Saturday’s season opener was that the Tigers came out on top of a 31-24 decision against Washington State.

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said his unit isn't close to playing to the level the coaching staff expects this fall. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said his unit isn’t close to playing to the level the coaching staff expects this fall. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Other than that, Lashlee said looking at the film was rough.

“I just felt like every time we had a chance to really put some distance between us and them (we didn’t do it), whether it be missing a deep ball or having a touchdown called back for a penalty,” he said. “We could have gone up 11 or 14, but we just sputtered and didn’t take advantage of those moments. That’s not good enough. We have to be in those positions in the future where we’re in a position to kind of separate ourselves. We have to press forward and get some distance between ourselves and the opponent.”

Yes, Lashlee conceded the offense “made enough plays” to seal the victory. Yes, some of the mistakes could be attributed to first-game jitters. That didn’t excuse a late turnover by Tre Mason, however, which gave Washington State one last chance to tie the game following Robenson Therezie’s interception in the end zone on the Cougars’ previous possession.

Those are the types of miscues, Lashlee said, that must be corrected soon.

“We’re not where we want to be yet. There’s no doubt about that,” he said. “We’re making strides.”

To get to where Lashlee and head coach Gus Malzahn want them to be, the Tigers will have to meet the coaching staff’s goal of running at least 80 offensive snaps per game. Saturday, Auburn had just 65. Multiple factors played a hand in that, Lashlee said.

Take the Tigers’ one-play drive in the second quarter, when running back Corey Grant dashed 75 yards for a touchdown. Or take another play earlier in the same period when the offense never had a chance to take a snap, since Mason returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score.

There was another area the Tigers controlled where they simply didn’t produce.

“We’ve got to stay on the field and convert third downs more,” said Lashlee, alluding to Auburn’s 4-for-13 showing. “If you don’t convert third downs, you’re not going to stay on the field and get more plays. If you don’t get those third downs converted, you’re (not) going to get your tempo going.”

Johnson talks about Garrett’s absence

Ellis Johnson was disappointed “Star” Justin Garrett wasn’t able to play Saturday.

But he was far from surprised the junior didn’t suit up.

“His foot has been just sort of a strange thing,” Auburn’s defensive coordinator said. “It’ll feel good one day and all of a sudden he’ll turn on it the wrong way and the strain on it comes back in.”

If it was necessary to play him, Johnson said Garrett would have been on the field. That being said, Johnson acknowledged it meant Garrett likely wouldn’t have been “full-speed” physically or mentally to play at the level expected of him.

That’s why the coaching staff was more than happy to give Garrett more time to heal.

Besides, they had the utmost faith in his backup, Therezie.

“We just felt like Robenson was playing really well,” Johnson said. “The only problem is he probably had to play too many snaps.  He was on every coverage team in special teams, and he played every defensive snap almost to about the end of the fourth quarter. We had to try to get him off the field, give him a blow. That was the only thing.”

As to when Garrett will return?

Johnson had didn’t announce a timetable, deeming the Georgia native’s status as “day-to-day.” Given how well Therezie played Saturday — hauling in two interceptions and tying for the second-most tackles (seven) on the team , which earned him the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Week award on Monday — Johnson was asked whether the two “Stars” could eventually see the field together in the team’s base 4-2-5 formation.

“We’re probably not at a point of figuring something out like that right now,” he said. “We’d just like to get (Garrett) healthy. It’s been frustrating. We talked about the player being one of our most dynamic players in the spring, and there’s no production on the game film, and it’s been going on for two years now. So we’d like to get him healthy, get him on the field and find out if he can play. We’ll have to cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Johnson: Frazier has ‘leveled off’ at safety

Quarterback-turned-safety Kiehl Frazier has earned nothing but high marks since switching to defense during fall camp. Coaches and teammates alike noted how quickly he had picked up the defensive’s schemes and concepts. He had even progressed to the point he was listed on the Tigers’ two-deep depth chart entering last Saturday’s game, pegged as the backup to Josh Holsey at boundary safety.

His growth has finally hit a wall, though, as Johnson said Frazier has “leveled off” in the last week.

“Right now, he’s not comfortable where to line up and what to do,” Johnson said. “It’s not  a physical issue. He’s shown in drills and a couple of scrimmages he can tackle when he gets in the right place, but right now it’s not coming too clearly for him. Hopefully, another week of practice that light will turn on and he’ll get better.”

Quick hits

Johnson wasn’t ready to say whether defensive end Dee Ford could be back for Auburn’s SEC opener, which will see them host Mississippi State on Sept. 15. “That’s a medical decision. We’re certainly not good enough to hold anybody that can be a great player on a given day,” he said. “But right now it’s all on rehabilitation and when they’re ready physically.”

September 2, 2013

Auburn football: Despite three interceptions in opener, Tigers’ secondary far from satisfied

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Football isn’t a game that lends itself to correcting failures overnight.

Auburn's Robenson Therezie (left) celebrated with running back Tre Mason (right) following the Tigers' victory on Saturday. But Auburn's secondary wasn't pleased snagging only three interceptions on Saturday. (ROBIN TRIMARCHI/Ledger-Enquirer)

Auburn’s Robenson Therezie (left) celebrated with running back Tre Mason (right) following the Tigers’ victory on Saturday. But Auburn’s secondary wasn’t pleased snagging only three interceptions on Saturday. (ROBIN TRIMARCHI/Ledger-Enquirer)

Normally, it’s a process, taking multiple games — if not a whole season — before one can fairly judge a team’s merit in any single area.

Consider Auburn’s secondary an exception, then.

The Tigers’ defensive backs heard about their paltry 2012 interception total (one) nearly every day of the offseason. That single pickoff came from safety Trent Fisher, who returned it for a touchdown in Auburn’s effortless 51-7 victory against Alabama A&M. The Tigers had only one other interception last season, courtesy of linebacker Daren Bates.

Auburn’s secondary showed how last year was where it should be in its season opener on Saturday: in the past.

Auburn came up with three interceptions against Washington State signal-caller Connor Halliday, eclipsing last year’s total in the span of a single contest.

The sterling performance served dual purposes: It was a weight lifted off the shoulders of the entire unit as much as a needed shot in the arm.

“It was great,” said safety Josh Holsey, who had one of the three thefts. “It makes us feel more comfortable about ourselves and it lets other team know you can’t just come over here and toss the ball around on us.”

The sophomore then explained how the play unfolded from his vantage point.

“I tried to go get it as high as I could,” he said. “I really didn’t think (Halliday) was going to throw it because I was right there. When I saw it, I just ran up and tried to get it at its highest point.”

Holsey’s one interception was doubled by Robenson Therezie, who picked off a pair of passes, both at crucial times for the Tigers. His good work didn’t go unrecognized, as the SEC named him the league’s Defensive Player of the Week on Monday.

And to think he accomplished the feat in his first start as a collegian.

Despite being asked to replace A-Day MVP Justin Garrett at the the Tigers’ hybrid “Star” position, Therezie didn’t blink.

In fact, he said didn’t even think about it.

“Oh, I didn’t feel the pressure at all,” he said. “I knew we had to execute. We have really good backups, and I just wanted to stay in the game. It was my first start, ever, in college football, and I just wanted to stay on the field.”

On his first pilfer and Auburn trailing 7-0, Therezie grabbed a tipped pass at the Tigers’ 48-yard line and returned it to the Cougars’ 28-yard line. Four plays later, Auburn was in the end zone for the first time in 2013.

His second interception was even more critical. With the Cougars just eight yards away from the end zone and down 31-24 with 4:57 to go in the final quarter, Halliday threw a fade route toward the right corner of the end zone. It never made it to his intended receiver, as Therezie jumped up and snatched the ball out of the air, dashing Washington State’s last scoring threat in the process.

Head coach Gus Malzahn was visibly pleased with Therezie, highlighting the Fairburn native’s effort in his postgame press conference.

“He played really good,” Malzahn said. “He played a lot of snaps out there and he was tired but he found a way, especially with that one in the end zone late.”

Once a team tastes success, though, greed tends to set in.

That’s why the Tigers couldn’t care less about the three interceptions they collected.

Instead, disappointment reigned supreme.

“They’re in the frame of mind now they’re not frustrated that they didn’t get any,” defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said. “They’re frustrated that they didn’t get more, which is the way you want it.”

Auburn football: Robenson Therezie named SEC Defensive Player of the Week

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — No one can say Robenson Therezie didn’t make the most of his first career start.

Junior Robenson Therezie had the best game of his career on Saturday, intercepting two passes (one seen above) and tallying seven tackles in Auburn's 31-24 victory over Washington State on Saturday night. On Monday, the SEC selected him as the league's Defensive Player of the Week.

Junior Robenson Therezie had the best game of his career on Saturday, intercepting two passes (one seen above) and tallying seven tackles in Auburn’s 31-24 victory over Washington State on Saturday night. On Monday, the SEC selected him as the league’s Defensive Player of the Week.

Replacing the injured Justin Garrett at Auburn’s “Star” hybrid linebacker/safety spot, the junior snagged two interceptions against Washington State. Not only did they mark the first two pickoffs of his career, but they matched the Tigers’ total from all of last season.

On Monday, the SEC recognized Therezie’s accomplishment, selecting him as the league’s Defensive Player of the Week.

Therezie’s first interception came on a tipped pass at Auburn’s 48-yard line in the opening period. He returned it to Washington State’s 24-yard line, and four plays later, the Tigers scored their first touchdown of the season.

His second interception was an even bigger grab, as he made a leaping catch of Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday’s pass from the Tigers’ 8-yard line with 4:46 to play to maintain Auburn’s seven-point lead.

Therezie had seven tackles (six solo, one assisted), tied for second-most on the team with Ryan Smith.

It’s the first time an Auburn defender has been honored as the SEC Defensive Player of the Week since defensive end Corey Lemonier was honored for his performance against Florida in October 2011. In that game, Lemonier had a team-best six tackles, three tackles-for-loss, two sacks and four quarterback hurries, helping the Tigers hold the Tigers to just 194 yards of total offense. He shared the award with South Carolina free safety D.J. Swearinger, who had 12 tackles and an interception.

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.

Auburn notes: Robenson Therezie plays like a ‘star,’ Montravius Adams impressive in debut

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala.Robenson Therezie was a late entry into Auburn’s lineup on Saturday, being inserted at the team’s hybrid safety/linebacker position known as the “Star.”

Junior Robenson Therezie had the best game of his career on Saturday, intercepting two passes (one seen above) and tallying seven tackles in Auburn's 31-24 victory over Washington State on Saturday night.

Junior Robenson Therezie had the best game of his career on Saturday, intercepting two passes (one seen above) and tallying seven tackles in Auburn’s 31-24 victory over Washington State on Saturday night. (ROBIN TRIMARCHI/Ledger-Enquirer)

Therezie then went out and played like one.

He picked off two passes in Auburn’s 31-24 victory on Saturday, becoming the first Tiger since Josh Bynes in 2010 (against Arkansas) to tally two interceptions in a single game. What made the feat even more impressive is that the junior didn’t have an interception to his name prior to kickoff.

And he didn’t just excel in the passing game, also finishing as the Tigers’ second-leading tackler — behind only Jonathon Mincy’s eight takedowns — on Saturday, tallying seven tackles (six solo, one assisted).

Though he was tasked with filling the void left by Justin Garrett — the team’s A-Day MVP — Therezie said he didn’t place any additional expectations on himself to perform.

“Oh, I didn’t feel the pressure at all,” he said. “I knew we had to execute. We have really good backups, and I just wanted to stay in the game. It was my first start, ever, in college football, and I just wanted to stay on the field.”

Therezie pilfered his first pass in the opening period off Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday, snagging the ball at the Tigers’ 48-yard line and taking it back to the Cougars’ 28-yard line.

The only thing Therezie didn’t do right when recalling the play?

He forgot what number teammate Jake Holland wore.

“I was trying to get to the flats, but No. 2 didn’t spot (it),” he said, though Holland sports jersey No. 5. “It was fast and I ended up right by him and there was a tip ball and I got to it.”

Auburn didn’t let the turnover go to waste, as it scored a touchdown four plays later.

His second interception was perhaps even more important. With 4:57 remaining, the Cougars were on the Tigers’ 8-yard line, looking to score a touchdown to knot the contest at 31-all. Halliday took the snap and fired the ball toward the right corner of the end zone.

Therezie was there, though, making a leaping grab on a pass intended for receiver Ricky Galvin to thwart Washington State’s last scoring opportunity of the game.

The magnitude of the moment wasn’t lost on the Miami native.

“I had to make a big play there,” he said. “We knew as a defense they were going for the end zone right there and we communicated the right read and I made the play.”

Coming off his best game as a Tiger made Therezie appreciate Saturday even more, especially in the light of his career up to this point, which has seen him shift around from position to position without a real home.

“It was very different. I felt great,” he said. “I felt like I got back to my old self, because I was kind of lost for two years. Now I feel good.”

Adams ‘thankful for the opportunity to make an impact’

Montravius Adams didn’t have an inkling he would be on the field for so many snaps on Saturday.

The true freshman defensive tackle showed out, ending with two tackles (one for loss) and notching the first sack of his career in a pasting of Halliday in the second quarter.

“I’m just thankful for the opportunity to make an impact this first game,” he said.

He introduced himself immediately, as the sack was his first play of the game.

“I didn’t want to let the team down,” he said. “At the snap of the ball, my only focus was to push down the quarterback, and I did.”

In a statement that will likely induce headaches for opposing offensive coordinators later this season, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn believes Adams only scratched the surface of his abilities on Saturday.

“Montravius is a big athlete, but he’ll improve each game,” he said.  “You know freshmen — what usually happens is they’ll improve each game.”

A first half full of ‘firsts’

“First” stood for far more than the opening 30 minutes of play at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday.

It also was a statistical achievement for many of Auburn’s players. Along with Therezie, four other Tigers made their first career start: quarterback Nick Marshall, left guard Alex Kozan and defensive ends Craig Sanders and LaDarius Owens.

Like Therezie, safety Josh Holsey notched his first career interception on Saturday, making a leaping grab of a wayward Halliday pass on the final play of the opening period.

The Tigers’ special teams had its share of firsts as well: Ryan White pulled off a feat that hadn’t occurred for Auburn in seven years in the first quarter, as he scored on a two-point conversion. It was the first time the Tigers had successfully converted a two-point try since doing the same against Alabama in 2006.

Junior Corey Grant scored his first touchdown as a Tiger in emphatic fashion, scampering 75 yards in the second quarter, which gave Auburn a 22-21 lead with 6:18 remaining before halftime.

Injury updates

Malzahn updated the status of both Garrett and defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker in his postgame press conference — to an extent, anyway.

He didn’t get into specifics of either player’s absence, but explained the reasoning that was behind each of them sitting out Saturday.

“You know it’s kind of been one of those things where it was a game-time decision,” Malzahn said of Garrett, who sprained his foot in the Tigers’ second scrimmage of fall camp and was initially expected to play Saturday. “We decided to hold him out, but Therezie came through and played well. ”

While Garrett should be back soon, the same couldn’t be said of Whitaker. The senior from Warner Robins — who was replaced by Gabe Wright in the starting lineup — was seen on crutches prior to kickoff.

“Jeff’s going to be out for a while,” Malzahn said. “He had a procedure done last week and so he wasn’t able to play. … We’ll see when he gets back.”

Quick hits

With the win, Auburn improved to 93-26-2 in season opening games all-time and 96-15-3 in home openers. … The Tigers have now won 78 consecutive games when scoring 30 or more points and 294-4 overall. Auburn’s only loss against a non-SEC foe when scoring 30-plus came in 1979, when it lost to Wake Forest 42-38. …  Washington State scored two rushing touchdowns on Saturday. In 12 games last season, they totaled just six scores on the ground. … Cody Parkey’s 47-yard field goal in the second quarter was a career-long for the senior from Jupiter, Fla. … Auburn’s undefeated 1993 squad was honored in a pregame ceremony as part of its 20-year reunion.

August 30, 2013

Auburn football: Best of the week

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

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

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

Enjoy.

BEST QUOTES

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

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

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

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

BEST STORIES

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

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

BEST VIDEOS

Alex Kozan (Tuesday afternoon)

Gus Malzahn (Wednesday night)

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

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Forget the numbers.

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

Ryan Black

Ryan Black

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

He ran for 1,095 yards and 19 touchdowns.

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

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

It goes on and on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep, more stats.

They’re just impossible to avoid.

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

No, that’s not Bray’s way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call it the Reverse Grantland Rice Theory.

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

What will matter is whether the Tigers won or lost.

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

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