War Eagle Extra has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 10 seconds. If not, visit
http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/wareagleextra
and update your bookmarks.

September 3, 2013

A farewell and a new beginning: War Eagle Extra is moving

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Nothing lasts forever.

This holds true for anything in life, and War Eagle Extra is no exception. The article you are reading is the final piece of content that will be posted to this blog. Have no fear, though. War Eagle Extra isn’t going away — it’s just moving. Yes, five years after staking out on its own, War Eagle Extra is being integrated back into the Ledger-Enquirer’s homepage.

It’s been quite a run, comprising five different beat writers (David Ching, Andy Bitter, Joel Erickson, Aaron Brenner and myself) and totaling close to 4,800 posts. Auburn is now working on its third different football coach during that span, which began in the final season of the Tommy Tuberville era, with a national title and a fired coach (Gene Chizik) bridging the gap to current head man Gus Malzahn.

Aside from the pages looking slightly different, you shouldn’t notice any variation as readers. The content won’t change. You’ll still be able to read the notebooks, features and other articles about Auburn’s football team as well as watch video of their interviews.

Don’t view this as an end as much as a new beginning.

In an ode to the blog’s past, I’m reminded how War Eagle Extra’s first reporter, Ching, ended his introductory post: “This should be a lot of fun…”

Click here to visit War Eagle Extra’s new home. Take a look around. Looks pretty similar, doesn’t it?

So join me as we begin our transition and begin to (literally) write the next chapter in War Eagle Extra’s history.

It should be a lot of fun.

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.

VIDEO: Gus Malzahn says Tigers have ‘got a lot of work to do’

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn spoke to reporters for more than 15 minutes during his weekly Tuesday morning press conference.

For your viewing pleasure, press conference has been broken into two segments.

Malzahn, Part I

Malzahn, Part II

 

ODDS AND ENDS: Notes and quotes from Gus Malzahn’s Tuesday press conference

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Defensive end Dee Ford (left knee injury) and “Star” Justin Garrett (left foot sprain), who both sat out against Washington State, were back at practice Monday. Naturally, it led to questions about their availability for this Saturday’s game.

Gus Malzahn kept his comments curt on the matter.

Senior defensive Dee Ford missed Auburn's season opener against Washington State with a left knee injury. Head coach Gus Malzahn said he was back at practice Monday, but was unsure whether the senior would be able to play this Saturday. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Senior defensive Dee Ford missed Auburn’s season opener against Washington State with a left knee injury. Head coach Gus Malzahn said he was back at practice Monday, but was unsure whether the senior would be able to play this Saturday. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

“We’re hoping,” Auburn’s head coach said.

The status of Jeff Whitaker isn’t as murky.

He’ll be out for an extended period of time after injuring his right knee and undergoing surgery last week. The senior defensive tackle was seen on crutches prior to kickoff last Saturday. At this point, Malzahn said Whitaker is week-to-week.

Contingent upon how much time he misses, Malzahn said pursuing a medical redshirt was a definite possibility.

“Hopefully we can get him back sooner rather than later but if that does happen, we’ll have that conversation,” he said. “We’ve not had that conversation yet. Jeff is a leader on our team, if not the leader, and he’s very important to us as a whole.”

Linebackers’ lack of influence doesn’t faze Malzahn

Auburn’s linebackers had a rough go of it versus Washington State – and that’s putting it lightly. The unit had only five total tackles, with four from Kris Frost and one courtesy of Cassanova McKinzy. Malzahn wasn’t worried, however.

He said it was more a function of the Cougars’ pass-happy offense than anything the linebackers did wrong.

“Sometimes when teams pass the ball as much as they did, it takes the linebackers kind of out of the game,” he said. “I think we’ll learn more as we go, the more we face running teams.”

MORE MALZAHN QUOTES

On the victory over Washington State:

“It was a big win for us. I’m really proud of our guys. They found a way to win. My biggest question was how were we going to deal with adversity, and we had quite a bit of it on both sides of the football, but they overcame it. Also, it gave us a chance to see where we’re at as a team, and that was a big question for me going into this game and our coaches. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we know that and our players know that. But the good thing is most of the things that we saw are correctable. We’re playing a bunch of young, inexperienced guys, and they’ll have a chance to improve. I’ve been saying our goal is real simple: It’s to improve each practice and each game, and so we’re going to hold true to that, and I believe we definitely can do that.”

On watching the film from the game:

“The thing about an offense is all 11 guys have to be doing their job or it gets pretty ugly. Most of our plays that we didn’t execute, it was one or two guys, but it still makes everything look really bad. I believe we’ll have a chance to get better and improve in that area.

“Defensively, it’s kind of the same thing. One or two mistakes makes you look different, too. But I’m going to tell you this: A lot of that first game was about evaluation for us. We learned a lot about our players. We thought we had ideas about certain things, and some things were exactly what we thought and some things were a little bit different.”

On how much of the Tigers’ offensive playbook was used last Saturday:

“My big thing is you’ve got to be able to adjust in first games, because you think you know how they’re going to play and then you get out there and it’s usually a little bit different. We’re just not to that point where we can have our whole playbook to adjust. We’ll get there. But we’ve got a plan, you take it in and you have tweaks off of it, but each week we’ll add more stuff and get more comfortable.”

On players that impressed him in the season opener:

Montravius (Adams) was one of them, there’s no doubt. Our secondary overall really played well. They played specifically man in the second half against some pretty good receivers, and I thought they did a good job. Trovon Reed probably graded out as high as anybody did. Didn’t have a whole lot of snaps, but he’ll have more. He did a lot of things right.”

On developing a “go-to” receiver:

We still haven’t found him, I’ll tell you that. Hopefully here in the next game or two, everything will come to light. At the same time, a lot of them weren’t given a whole lot of chances, so we need to give them a few more chances. Then I think we’ll figure out who that guy is.”

On his heated exchange with receiver Ricardo Louis on the sideline last week:

“I did? I chewed a lot of people out.”

On Tre Mason’s fumble late in the fourth quarter:

“That was a big turnover. That was a very critical play. As a coach, sometimes you just get a feel and when you’re trying to build a program, there’s certain things that as a coach you just use your instincts and you try to give a guy like that an opportunity. I know a lot about Tre from the fact that I coached him before. He’s a competitor. He was disappointed. I wanted to give him a chance to redeem himself. He did that. I think that’ll help us moving forward.”

On the possibility of running the Wildcat with Cameron Artis-Payne:

“He’s a big, strong back. He can find ways to get yards, maybe when everything’s not perfect. The Wildcat’s pretty unique because you put a guy back there and there’s a good chance you’re going to run it and he’s got some playmaking ability.”

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.”

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.”

SEC Power Rankings: Week 2

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

Not a ton of movement from our preseason rankings, as many of the opening weekend’s games went the way most predicted.

Two quick notes before getting started:SEC_new_logo

  • The rankings/receiving votes (designated by “RV”) are from the Associated Press poll.
  • Secondly, the landing spot for each team is a combination of how good I perceive each team to be in relation to the rest of the conference, with a dash of last week’s results thrown in, too. However, the former takes precedence. One example: Just because Tennessee and Missouri whupped up on tomato cans Saturday doesn’t mean they’ll rank above Georgia, which lost a tight game to a top-10 Clemson squad. Again, everything is relative.

(All games times ET)

1) No. 1 Alabama (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Virginia Tech 35-10

No, Saturday wasn’t the most convincing win Alabama has had in a season opener since Nick Saban assumed the reins of the program. It certainly didn’t come close to matching last year’s 41-14 decimation of then-No. 8 Michigan. The offense showed it needs work, and the Crimson Tide was helped immensely by Christion Jones’ punt and kick return touchdowns. But complaining about a 25-point win against a team from another major conference — especially versus a school with a winning tradition like Virginia Tech — is basically nitpicking. Then again, that’s just the absurdly-high standard Alabama is being held to these days.

Next: Idle

2) No. 6 South Carolina (1-0)

Last week: won vs. North Carolina 27-10

South Carolina jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and cruised from there. Jadeveon Clowney didn’t dominate, as he finished with just three tackles, but it’s not as if North Carolina was running it straight at him every play, either. He also looked a bit winded at times, but I’d chalk that up to the stomach virus he was reportedly battling the night before.

Hey, even Superman had kryptonite.

Next: at No. 5 Georgia (0-1), 4:30 p.m. | ESPN

3) No. 7 Texas A&M (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Rice 52-31

Johnny Football did what Johnny Football does best, Part I: create points. He threw three touchdowns (on just eight attempts) in the second half after sitting out the game’s first 30 minutes, serving his NCAA penalty for what was called an “inadvertent” violation of signing autographs during the offseason.

Johnny Football did what Johnny Football does best, Part II: create controversy. He was pulled after getting flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the fourth quarter. This followed an earlier exchange with another Rice defender, where Manziel mimicked signing an autograph. (Oy vey.)

While Manziel’s antics can easily be toned down — it’s not that hard, I swear — the bigger worry for the Aggies should be fixing their defense. Six starters on defense were suspended from playing in the first half for undisclosed violations of team rules. The unit was already a question mark heading into the season. Saturday did little to help that in the way of playing time. Needless to say, if Texas A&M gives up 31 points when Alabama comes to town on Sept. 15, it likely means the Aggies will end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

Next: vs. Sam Houston State (1-0), 7 p.m. | Texas A&M PPV

4) No. 12 LSU (1-0)

Last week: won vs. No. 20 TCU 37-27

A pretty good debut for Cam Cameron as the Tigers’ offensive coordinator: 448 yards (251 passing, 197 rushing) against a Horned Frogs’ team that prides itself on defense.Auburn v. LSU Football Action

While quarterback Zach Mettenberger’s numbers weren’t spectacular, accounting for just one touchdown and completing 50 percent (16 of 32) of his attempts, those should only improve going forward.

Next: vs. UAB (0-1), 7 p.m. | ESPNU

5) No. 5 Georgia (0-1)

Last week: lost to No. 8 Clemson 38-35

Another close loss for Georgia in a big game to begin the season. What’s new? It didn’t eliminate the Bulldogs from national title contention yet.

But a loss to South Carolina this weekend will.

Next: vs. No. 6 South Carolina (1-0), 4:30 p.m. | ESPN

6) No. 10 Florida (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Toledo 24-6

Between Jeff Driskel (finally) looking like a semi-effective SEC quarterback and backup tailback Mack Brown‘s career day, Florida’s offense didn’t resemble the unit that couldn’t score to save its life last season. (Apologies to Mike Gillislee.)

Surprisingly, a defense that ranked fifth in the country last season and had to replace eight starters and its coordinator (Dan Quinn) didn’t appear to miss a beat.

Next: at Miami (FL) (1-0), Noon | ESPN

7) RV Ole Miss (1-0, 1-0 SEC)

Last week: won vs. Vanderbilt 39-35

The Rebels finally ended their three-game losing streak to the Commodores. When was the last time any SEC team had such a run of futility against the Commodores?

Now they’ll get to enjoy a breather against Southeast Missouri State before their schedule begins in earnest, with five games in six weeks. There’s not a single “gimme” among them: at Texas, at Alabama and at Auburn before returning home to host Texas A&M and LSU.

Whew!

Next: vs. Southeast Missouri State (0-1), 7 p.m. | Ole Miss PPV

8) Auburn (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Washington State 31-24

Gus Malzahn was able to walk off the field a winner Saturday night, but judging from fan feedback following the game, Auburn supporters were expecting far more. It appears they were just echoing Malzahn’s own thoughts. “We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said in his postgame press conference, “but we’re committed to doing that.”

Translation: “I’m happy we won, but it was touch-and-go until the Cougars’ last possession. It’s going to be a long week at practice.”

Next: vs. Arkansas State (1-0), 7:30 p.m. | FSN

9) RV Vanderbilt (0-1, 0-1 SEC)

Last week: lost to Ole Miss 39-35

There was no reason for Jordan Matthews to hang his head last Thursday. The senior receiver left it all on the field, catching 10 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown against the Rebels. Even his own body couldn’t slow him down, as he went off the field for intravenous fluids early in the third quarter. It was one of the gutsier performances you’ll ever see.

Next: vs. Austin Peay (0-1), 7:30 p.m. | CSS

10) Arkansas (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Louisiana-Lafayette 34-14

It’s easy to poke fun at Bret Bielema’s expense, for far too many reasons to detail here. What’s no laughing matter is how the Razorbacks won on Saturday, easily dispatching the Ragin’ Cajuns by 20 points. Don’t let the name fool you: Louisiana-Lafeyette was coming off back-to-back 9-4 campaigns and considered the co-favorite (along with Louisiana-Monroe) to capture the Sun Belt Conference title this season.

Next: vs. Samford (1-0) in Little Rock, 7 p.m. | Arkansas PPV

11) Tennessee (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Austin Peay 45-0

Look, I know it was just Austin Peay. But considering a Pop Warner team could have scored on Tennessee’s defense last season, the Volunteers will take a shutout any way they can get it. Tennessee doesn’t care that the Governors have lost 17 consecutive road games, either, with Austin Peay’s last win away from home coming against Tennessee State on Sept. 18, 2010.

Whatever negativity you want to throw the Volunteers’ way right now will fall on deaf ears. They’re in a Kendrick Lamar state of mind: Don’t kill their vibe.

Next: vs. Western Kentucky (1-0), 12:21 p.m. | SEC Network

12) Missouri (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Murray State 58-14

Quarterback James Franklin threw for 300-plus yards for the third time in his career, finishing with 318 yards (completing 26 of 38 attempts) and three touchdowns in a little more than two quarters of work. This was different than his previous two 300-plus efforts in one respect: The Tigers actually won this time.

Toledo should provide a little better gauge of where Missouri is at this weekend, but the Tigers won’t see an SEC opponent until going on the road against Vanderbilt on Oct. 5. (Gotta get those non-conference wins while you can, I suppose.)

Next: vs. Toledo (0-1), 3:30 p.m. | ESPNU

13) Mississippi State (0-1)

Last week: lost to No. 13 Oklahoma State 21-3

It’s hard to come up with any positives for the Bulldogs. They went just two of 16 on third-down conversions. They racked up only 333 yards of total offense. Starting quarterback Tyler Russell left the game in the third quarter after taking a shot to the head and did not return.

The loss just continues the downward trend for Dan Mullen’s squad: Since starting last season 7-0, the Bulldogs are 1-7 in their past eight contests.

Next: vs. Alcorn State (1-0), 3:30 p.m. | CSS

14) Kentucky (0-1)

Last week: lost to Western Kentucky 35-26

Welp, that went about as horribly as the Wildcats could have scripted it for their opening game under Mark Stoops. Not only did they lose to the Hilltoppers — led by former Louisville and Arkansas head coach and noted motorcycle enthusiast Bobby Petrino — but they were thoroughly outclassed by their Sun Belt foe. Western Kentucky scored on three of its first four possessions, with each covering 75 yards or more.

One silver lining: Basketball season is getting closer every day. So there’s that.

Next: vs. Miami (OH) (0-1), Noon | Fox Sports

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 football: Postgame Quote Roundup

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — As promised, here are postgame coaches from both Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn along with assorted players.

Note: These quotes are a collection of quotes from my own interviews as ones sent out by Auburn’s media relations department. This isn’t everything, but I’m not sure a post of (a guesstimated) 4,000 words would get read all the way through. So consider this an “abridged” compilation.

Malzahn

Opening Statement

“First of all I’m very proud of our team, they found a way to win. I’ve been preaching really since we’ve been here how we’re going to handle adversity and we’re going to stick together. I really feel like there was a lot of adversity out there, we made a lot of mistakes, some of them critical, but our guys found a way to overcome them. I’m very proud of our defense. They got us three turnovers and had two fourth down stops late especially after the offense turned the ball over you know late in the game. Special teams I thought played well. We had the big kick return to give us back momentum, but overall I’m very pleased with our team, they found a way to win. We talked about our goals, we’re getting better after each practice and getting better each game, we’ve got a lot of work to do but we’re committed to doing that.”

On the defense:

“They did a very good job adjusting. Our defensive coaches did a great job adjusting. I’m telling you that’s a pretty good football team, they had most of their guys back from last year. They got their coaching staff back, one of the better offensive coaches in all of college football, so our defense did very good with adjustments.”

On Robenson Therezie:

“He played really good. He played a lot of snaps out there and he was tired but he found a way, especially with that one in the endzone late, it was one of the critical plays of the game.”

On Justin Garrett:

“You know it’s kind of been one of those things where it was a game-time decision. We decided to hold him out, but Therezie came through and played well. “

On Montravius Adams:

“I’ll tell you what, Montravius is a big athlete, but he’ll improve each game and you know freshmen, what usually happens is they’ll improve each game.”

On Nick Marshall:

“You know, there were a couple things communication wise we’ll get better on but overall I liked the way he handled himself; he protected the football and that’s hard to do. They were showing him a lot of different looks and trying to disguise some things but he protected the football.”

On Marshall’s nerves in the first quarter:

“Yeah I would say so, that’s expected. I think a lot of our guys had jitters starting out and he calmed down after the first series or two. I think we had some drops early that probably didn’t help either, but he settled down and I think the game settled down for him.”

On Corey Grant:

“Corey can really run and I think everybody saw that today. He’s got speed that’s comparable to Onterio McCalebb and we just need to find ways to get him the ball.”

On possibly challenging Jonathon Mincy’s interception:

“I thought about that, it was close. You know a challenge —you usually want to make sure that I’m pretty sure and I wasn’t pretty sure, it was a bang bang deal. I know they review everything upstairs, but there was a little bit of talk and I decided not to challenge it.”

On overthrown passes:

“Sometimes it takes a while when you’ve got a quarterback for four weeks trying to get timing with everything; they should get better as we come. I thought there was one that was close —I didn’t really get a great look at but the one in the endzone, it was close. We’ll just keep working.”

On his message at halftime:

“Well you know in the second quarter I think at one point we ran only about four plays. I think there was about four or five minutes left, but we had ideas and, like I said, we didn’t want to put him in a bad situation tonight. We wanted to try and protect him and learn more about him. Just to be completely honest we learned a whole lot about our team. I told our team before ‘hey we want to know where we’re at’ and obviously I think you all saw we made some mistakes, but the good thing is most of them are correctable.”

On defending Washington State’s offense:

“I would say average. I think our execution was average at best. You’ve got to give them credit, they had a good scheme and they’ve got some good players, but our execution was average at best.”

On using the entire playbook:

“We had a plan coming in, a specific plan we tried to stick to it.”

On Tre Mason at the end of the game:

“Yeah, he fumbled the football, but Tre is a veteran guy and I just told him we’re going to give you the ball back and get confidence in you and we gave it to him and he finished the game out.”

On Montravius Adams:

“Yeah, he was in the backfield a lot. He was in the quarterback’s face a lot, there wasn’t a whole lot of that, but he was definitely one of the guys that was.”

On Jeff Whitaker not playing

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

On winning:

“I’m just so proud of our guys. You know they went through a storm last year and they really bought in with what our coaches have asked us to do. This is kind of one of those moments that you’re very happy for them. I’m very happy for our coaches and really our Auburn fans. Our fans deserve to win and we have a chance to get better I mean we’re not there. I think everybody knows that, but we have a chance to get better and I’m really enjoying coaching these guys.”

On the two-point conversion:

“You have certain plays and you run them or you don’t. We just try to put pressure on the defense as much as we can. I thought it was a pretty good momentum builder there, at least early in the game.”

On possibly running an onside kick:

“You know we thought about all kinds of stuff. We didn’t actually call it in the game, but we thought about it and talked about it.

On not going for it on fourth down:

“There was a lot of talk and if I knew more about our guys I may have gone for it. I just felt at that time in the game — you know we’re learning. I learn about our guys at practice and every game, but you learn more in games and so in the future if there’s a high percentage of us getting it, we’ll do it. I wanted to but didn’t feel like I could pull the trigger right there at that time in the game. It’s very hard but we’ve got a good punter, a very good punter, one of the very best in the country but the timing wasn’t right.”

On whether anything surprised him:

“No not really, my big deal was adversity and my head was on a swivel. I wanted to see how we handled it, that was my big question but I didn’t see heads down and all that pouting. I saw some bright eyes, I saw our guys hustling on and off the field no matter what the score was and I’m proud of our guys for that.”

On freshman defensive linemen:

“I think they gave us some energy, I think you saw we were rotating a lot of defensive linemen in, and all of them played and all of them played significantly. I mean they are good protecting and that quarterback is a very solid guy.”

On defensive interceptions:

“Well they found a way to win. You know I felt like our defensive players, secondary made some really good plays at critical times and I think offense was a little bit hit and miss, but we made some plays when we had to and there’s a couple we’d like to have back. I mean the reverse pass and some thinks like that, pass protection broke down, but you know I think we’ll have a chance to be solid in both areas if we keep improving.”

On Marshall at halftime:

“Nick’s a calm guy; he didn’t say much. He’s just real calm and he was wanting to know where the adjustments were and you know he really handled himself well.”

On this game benefiting team film

“Oh there’s no doubt. You could take the first half and there’s all kinds of things we can teach — the second half too, at the end of the game, and everything that went down to the end.”

On celebrating his first win:

“I think you can be very proud of our team. I hope our team really is able to enjoy their night, they’ve earned it, but then we move on to next week. The challenge is getting better and correcting the mistakes, getting better in all phases.”

On Arkansas State’s offense:

“You know they’re a very good team; we’ll have to play better than we did tonight. They’re a very good team and I know they will be very well prepared.”

Nick Marshall

On his nerves:

I was kind of nervous on the first drive. But then after the first drive I started getting comfortable.

On halftime adjustments

“We had a game plan coming into the game, so at halftime we didn’t really make that many adjustments. We just stuck to our game plan.”

On his overthrown passes:

“They were) mistakes. but they can be corrected.”

On whether it was timing issues:

It wasn’t timing. I just put too much on them.

On his second half performance:

“I did well. I did protect the ball, and that’s really what the game is about – protecting the ball and (commit) no turnovers. So I thought I did great in the second half.”

On what Malzahn said to the team at halftime: 

“He really just told us to keep doing what we’re doing and stick to our game plan. We weren’t really worried about throwing the ball much. Just stick to the game plan and try to get the victory.”

On whether anything WSU’s defense did surprised him:

“Yeah, Washington State is a good team. They were flying around the ball. They made plays, so it was great to come out with a win.”

On whether the game slowed down for him:

“It has slowed down for everybody. I think (after) halftime it slowed down and I felt more comfortable after that.”

On things to improve upon next week:

“Not too much. Just get better. Me and my team just go out there and get better.”

 On returning to the SEC:

“It means a lot. The SEC is the highest competition level, and that’s what I (consider) myself. … I just like being in the SEC.”

On Corey Grant’s speed:

“Yeah, he showed (his speed) off. He came in with his head on straight and ready to play. He made plays on his feet, too. He can run.”

On the defense:

“The defense stepped up big for us tonight and we didn’t have any turnovers, but the defense went out there and balled out today and got us turnovers. It allowed (the offense) to execute.”

On committing no turnovers:

“Coach Malzahn told me before the game started just to protect the ball and I did that to (the) best (of my ability).”

On which overthrow hurt the most:

” The one I threw to Ricardo. I overthrew him just a little bit.”

On what grade he would give himself:

“I’d say like a B-minus. I did good,  but I know I can get better each day.”

Cornerback Chris Davis

On the importance of getting a hand on the ball:

“It’s very, very important. Everybody knows last year in the secondary we only had one interception and we started out this game with three. That’s huge and hopefully they’ll keep coming.”

On his pass breakup on in the fourth quarter:

That was a good play. I think it was a momentum-builder to put the game away and let our offense milk the clock some.

On returning punts:

“That’s what I’ve been waiting on.”

On what he thinks about punt returns thus far:

“I’m enjoying it pretty well. I’m trying to do whatever to help the team win.”

On him being ‘fearless’ when returning the ball:

You’ve got to be.”

On whether he wished he had returned punts earlier in his Auburn career:

“In high school, I was an athlete, and coming here that was one thing I wanted to do: I wanted to return punts and kicks. I just thank Coach (Malzahn) for giving me the opportunity to do that.”

On his mind-set on punt returns:

“When the ball is punted, I just look down the field at the coverage and see if anybody left their man free and see how much room I’ve got if I catch the ball or if I need to fair catch it. And Quan (Bray) actually told me, ‘Be aggressive with the punt returns’ and that’s what I went out and did.”

On the difference between the first and second half for the defense:

“We just stayed together as a defense. Coach Malzahn always says, ‘Take it one play at a time’ and that’s what we tried to do. He tells us how we’re going to act when adversity kicks in. Me being the senior, I just tried to walk up and down the sideline to motivate the team.”

On what he attributes his personal improvements to:

“I’m having fun. I’m having fun again playing football.”

On whether it’s frustrating to face an offense like Washington State:

“It’s not, because going into the game, Coach (Malzahn) told us they were going to complete a couple of passes. You’ve just got to have a ‘next play’ mentality and that’s what we did.”

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.