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August 26, 2013

Auburn football: Coordinators discuss positional rotations prior to depth chart release

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn has yet to release a depth chart heading into its season opener against Washington State on Saturday.

Until that time comes — it is expected to be released at some point Tuesday — which players will fill out the two-deep lineup remains a mystery. One of those positions is safety, where the dismissal of senior safety Demetruce McNeal left a gaping hole.

Senior cornerback Chris Davis (11) was one player Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson had no worries about heading into Saturday's season opener versus Washington State. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Senior cornerback Chris Davis (11) was one player Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson had no worries about heading into Saturday’s season opener versus Washington State. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Former cornerback Josh Holsey stepped in at the spot during the spring and stayed there for the duration of fall camp. With McNeal gone and barring any issues arising between now and the opener, Holsey will take the field as the team’s starting boundary safety.

As it stands, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said he was comfortable with three safeties as Saturday nears.

“You’ve got Holsey, Ryan Smith and (Jermaine) Whitehead,” Johnson said. “So I think right now, it would have to be some kind of a three-man rotation. Unless one of them got hurt, and then Kiehl Frazier will be ready to go.”

It was the same story at the two linebacker positions, Johnson said, at ease with the trio of Jake Holland, Kris Frost and Anthony Swain.

“I think Jake could move to the Will (line)backer if he had to,” Johnson said of the likely starter at middle linebacker. “Swain’s had a pretty good week of practice. I think first I’d probably put Swain on the field if he played well and did OK. If not, I’d move Jake over there. Frost and Holland are (the) only players at Mike right now.”

Johnson reiterated that view when asked whether weakside linebacker Cassanova McKinzy would stay on the field in Auburn’s dime package and shift to the middle, where he played last season.

“Cass hasn’t worked any at that,” he said. “It’s just too much for him to learn right now. When we go to dime, whatever Mike linebacker is on the field stays out there. They’re not asked to do anything outside the box. There’s really nothing they physically can’t handle, but we’ll usually leave that mike linebacker on the field. It’s about the fewest number of guys going on and off the field.”

The three-man approach didn’t stop with linebackers and safeties, though. Johnson said it also extended to cornerback, where the Tigers are content with Chris Davis, Jonathon Mincy and Ryan White. Auburn is still trying to find a replacement for Jonathan Jones, who broke a bone in his ankle in an off-field accident near the end of fall camp. No timetable has been announced for his return.

The three players vying for time in Jones’ absence all lack experience, comprised of a redshirt freshman (T.J. Davis) and a pair of true freshmen (Kamryn Melton and Johnathan Ford).

Ford in particular has continued to impress Johnson since moving from running back to cornerback following Jones’ injury.

“Johnathan’s still learning. He’s not ready yet, but he physically is the most impressive of the bunch,” Johnson said. “You never know how much improvement they can make when we restrict the game plan and cut it down for them mentally. Sometimes that hesitation and confusion can lead to playing poorly fundamentally. If we clean that up, I think he is really going to be a good player there.”

Unlike the defense, the offense has few positions still undecided.

One is at right tackle, where Patrick Miller and Avery Young split reps throughout fall camp. Young, however, started to switch between tackle and guard as fall camp came to a close. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee couldn’t find enough good things to say about the sophomore, who sat out spring practice while rehabbing from shoulder surgery.

Though the average person may not know finer points of what it takes to be an offensive lineman, Lashlee believed Young would be easy to spot even to the untrained eye.

Young’s talent stands on its own merit.

“He’s an athletic guy,” Lashlee said. “At guard he can really pull. At tackle he’s very athletic, really good in the run game. Shoot, he hasn’t done it yet, but he would probably be a really good center. He’s just a real versatile guy.”

March 24, 2013

BACK TO THE FUTURE, Part IV: All the good, the bad & the ugly from LSU 12, Auburn 10 | plus an early preview of (who else?) LSU

Auburn Tigers entrance

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. – Remember dem fightin’ words? From LSU fullback J.C. Copeland, after his team pulverized Auburn 45-10 in the 2011 season?

“After the first couple of hits, everybody was just backing up. They didn’t want to hit at all … before I got to them, they just fell down and just laid on the ground.”

The Auburn defense heard those words repeated by its coaches all week leading up to the 2012 rematch. Daren Bates, Corey Lemonier, Demetruce McNeal … these people didn’t care for that smack talk one bit.

And they played like it.

It wasn’t a victory for the home team six months ago, but Auburn’s 12-10 defeat proved the Tigers had a real SEC defense. Granted, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger was wobbly in his first road SEC start, but LSU’s running game had absolutely nothing going for the majority of a Saturday night fight at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The Auburn offense … well, that too was ineffective. So, if you like the words “field position”, this was the game for you.

Oh, and Copeland will be a senior next fall. Auburn gets one more shot at him, and LSU, in the rematch six months from Thursday night, down in Baton Rouge. A preview of that game follows our look back at last year’s nail-biter.

LSU 12 Auburn 10 Ware

LSU 12, AUBURN 10 ~ Sept. 22, 2012, ESPN

Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.

The Good

Auburn opens the game three-and-out, which includes three passes – a 4-yard loss and two incompletions. Yet, here’s what ESPN color commentator Todd Blackledge says: “I know they didn’t get a first down, but I think Kiehl Frazier looked comfortable on those first three plays.” He’s right. Frazier, who had a phone conversation slash pep talk with Jason Campbell earlier in the week, looked more poised and confident from the get-go. More on that in the first ‘Bad’ entry.

DE Dee Ford really attacked the run in this game. I wrote yesterday he’s only got two sacks in 24 career SEC games, but he did impact this football game in other ways.

On the first-quarter goal-line fumble by LSU, DT Jeffrey Whitaker was looming right on top of backup center Elliott Porter, and Whitaker was the Tiger who fell on the loose ball when Porter mistook a routine snap for a shotgun delivery.

LSU converted four of its first five 3rd-down attempts, before DE Corey Lemonier decides he’s had enough of that. Lemonier just flings quarterback Zach Mettenberger to the ground, DT Angelo Blackson falls on it, and suddenly Auburn’s got excellent field position.

Immediately, a reverse pitch to RB Tre Mason goes for 26 around left end, aided by LT Greg Robinson’s excellent block. RB Onterio McCalebb punches it in two plays later, getting Auburn right back in the game down 9-7.

This play was fun: tailback Spencer Ware, meet DT Gabe Wright’s left forearm. Wright flat-knocks Ware back, allowing a tackle for loss by LB Daren Bates … Mr. Right Place Right Time, Wright celebrates by showing his sideline two tickets to the gun show.

Gabe Wright flex

Wright later had another line-of-scrimmage pass block, getting his big left wrist on a Mettenberger throw.

Then on 3rd-and-6, Mettenberger scrambles looking for the first-down marker, but SS Jermaine Whitehead arrives first with a vicious hit. Whitehead later had some very nice tight deep coverage on a slant-and-go, forcing an Odell Beckham Jr. drop.

FS Erique Florence saw his longest action of the year on this night, absorbing a big hit from Ware, mixing it up with Copeland, and launching his body at receiver Jarvis Landry to allow his mates to arrive and make a third-down stop. Clearly, Florence is physical enough to play safety.

LSU 12 Auburn 10 TherezieCB Robenson Therezie, too. Showed good instinct and tackling ability, though a nice wrap-up on wide receiver Kenny Hilliard was negated by CB Chris Davis’ face-mask away from the play.

CB Joshua Holsey, the true freshman who broke out this game, made a g-r-e-a-t breakup on Russell Shepard in the end zone, saving a touchdown.

FS Demetruce McNeal zooms in to stuff tailback Michael Ford. Where was this physical play all year? There was just no running room inside for LSU once Brian VanGorder made some adjustments.

Coaches raved about QB Jonathan Wallace’s toughness, and he showed it in the Wildcat package, with no fear against one of the meanest defenses around and getting blown up by safety Craig Loston. 

The Bad

On 2nd and 14, Frazier targets WR Sammie Coates in stride deep down the left sideline. The perfect spiral hits Coates directly in his outstretched hands. Coates simply did not catch the football, taking his eye off it for a brief second. Yeah, he took a little tug from LSU corner Tharold Simon, but Coates beat himself up in the next week’s press conference for not coming through in a big moment – and he should have.

Another day, another bad decision by Frazier, lobbing to TE Philip Lutzenkirchen and letting his tight end get roughed up by linebacker Luke Muncie for the pick.

Copeland has his way with LB Jake Holland in the first quarter, trucking the linebacker and clearing an 18-yard run for Ford.

Ware dodges Whitehead on a draw, pinballs through Holsey and CB Jonathan Mincy for a big gain to set up Ford’s touchdown run – beating DE LaDarius Owens to the edge on a goal-to-go run. Auburn’s run defense was shaky early.

Too much dancing in the backfield, Tre Mason. LSU doesn’t play games like that.

PR Quan Bray cost his team this game when he let a low-flying fair catch go through his hands, off his stomach and into a mass of LSU Tigers at midfield. That directly led to the game-winning field goal.

LSU 12 Auburn 10 Frazier

The Ugly

Awarded momentum on LSU’s goal-line fumble, Auburn gave it right back by playing into LSU’s hands. After Robinson’s false start to cram the line of scrimmage back to the 1, Mason hesitates on a stretch play, reading the eyes of defensive tackle Bennie Logan, who’s forcing C Reese Dismukes backwards. In fact, the offensive line was pushed back into the end zone, and when linebacker Kevin Minter knocks FB Jay Prosch to the ground, Mason trips over Prosch for an LSU safety.

Frazier’s helter-skelter improvisation continues to astound, and not in a good way, when Logan’s helmet knocks the ball loose on a rare Frazier scramble. WR Emory Blake fell on it, but still. To Frazier’s credit, he had a nice response – a pinpoint throw leading Lutzenkirchen on a very H-backy route out of the no-huddle.

Doesn’t help the quarterback when RT Patrick Miller (making his first start), RG Chad Slade and TE Brandon Fulse all miss blocks on the same playaction call.

Wallace’s first-ever snap on a college football field? Spoiled by LG John Sullen flinching. False start. Frazier replaces Wallace. So much for that element of surprise.

WR Jaylon Denson, you can’t retaliate by slapping Simon. The refs always catch the second guy.

Notes and tidbits

A week after Auburn’s penalties nearly cost it a victory, LSU made its bed the same way: nine penalties, 80 yards, though none came in the final 18 minutes.

Plays to open first-quarter drives for Auburn: a quick toss to Lutzenkirchen (minus-4 yards), Mason run (minus-1), McCalebb run (minus-4), McCalebb run (minus-4). Scot Loeffler said that week picking up yards on first down was critical. Oops.

More Kiehl Frazier analysis in the final complete game he’d play: somewhere in there lurks a decent quarterback. He just needs a smoother approach – instead of looking at all times for the big play, he needs to make the smart play. Reel him in, Rhett Lashlee.

Florence had a stinger, and returned to the game. We mentioned his toughness, at least physically when he gets his chance in the game.

Lemonier recently said he’s never really played outside linebacker, but he did line up on a 3rd-and-6 standing up. Just to give LSU a different look. It worked; Mettenberger rolled right, had nothing available, and actually nailed Les Miles in the shoulder throwing it away – a ball actually tipped by McNeal.

The missed Drew Alleman field goal in the final minute which would have put away Auburn, instead giving the home team one last gasp? The field-goal unit was confused, forced to race onto the pitch for one of those Chinese-fire-drill attempts. LSU had no timeouts left, but it was a 34-yard attempt; just take the five-year penalty and let Alleman calmly kick it through instead of rushing. Oh, Les Miles, how you fail to get along with clock management.

LSU Mettenberger Dee Ford


3) Demetruce McNeal, FS. Flies around the field and finds the football.

2) Daren Bates, LB. Rolls out of bed and makes a tackle.

1) Corey Lemonier, DE. I tweeted at halftime how much money Lemonier made in the 30 minutes against LSU. Seeing as he was nonexistent the rest of his season, and he projects as a second-round pick entering the NFL draft as an underclassman, that game (two sacks, a forced fumble) in hindsight was huge for his professional aspirations.


GUS’ GAME 4: Auburn at LSU, Sept. 21, Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, La.

LSU 2012 record: 10-3, 6-2 SEC (lost 25-24 to Clemson in Chick-Fil-A Bowl)

LSU head coach: Les Miles, ninth year (85-21)

LSU returning starters (o/d): 12 (8/4)

LSU-Auburn series: LSU leads 26-20-1, including 15-5-1 at Tiger Stadium. LSU has won five of the past six meetings.

LSU-Auburn previous meeting: See above.

Notes: The Tigers lost an incredible 11 underclassmen to the NFL Draft, including six – SIX! – defenders: Logan, Mingo, Minter, Montgomery, Reid and Simon. However, LSU still has Mettenberger at quarterback, Hill and Hilliard with him in the backfield, Boone, Beckham and Landry out wide and three offensive linemen back. So that offense should be firing on all cylinders early next year, but the defense could have some question marks still lingering with the Week 4 matchup.

LSU Les Miles

March 15, 2013

BACK TO THE FUTURE, Part III: The good, the bad & the ugly from Louisiana-Monroe game, plus an early preview of Mississippi State


AUBURN, Ala. – Most teams get to start their season with a couple of cupcakes at home. For a reason. You know, get the confidence going and such.

Auburn wasn’t afforded that luxury in 2012 – part its own doing (opening with the made-for-TV Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic against Clemson), part the SEC schedule’s fault (a roadie at upstart Mississippi State).

By the time Jordan-Hare Stadium opened its gates for business, the Tigers were already frustrated and questioning themselves. And making matters more complicated, its first non-BCS opponent was coming off a seismic toppling of Arkansas, knocking the Razorbacks from the top ten to the unranked, and transforming junior quarterback Kolton Browning into the National Player of the Week and a household name.

So how did 0-2 Auburn respond? Pretty well. Just good enough, really.

As always, 2012 years in school and positions are listed for Auburn players. All ULM game photos by Robin Trimarchi, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.


Sept. 15, 2012, SEC NETWORK

Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.


The Good

– Not the most thrilling way to start this off, but Auburn’s special teams were again spectacular. Junior K Cody Parkey obviously was perfect on the walk-off field goal in overtime, and junior P Steven Clark again netted more than 40 yards on six punts, but the kick return coverage was particularly breathtaking. Freshman Ricardo Louis had two first-quarter tackles deep in ULM territory, and freshman Joshua Holsey added another in the second quarter. The Warhawks’ start position on their first three kick returns: their own 11, 15 and 7-yard-line. Tremendous work by a couple of rookies.

– Second quarter, 4th and 1 on his own 21, Clark thumps a 51-yard bouncer. No return. Ho-hum.

– Overall, the Tigers’ tackling was sharper. Junior DT Jeff Whitaker had a nice goal-line wrap, beating right guard Jonathan Gill for a stop.

– Junior SS Trent Fisher, getting the start over junior Demetruce McNeal, trusts his eyes and instincts to contain Browning on an early scramble.

1d5k4o.AuSt.70- Go ahead and hold junior DE Dee Ford, Demiere Burkett. He’ll still sack Kolton Browning.

– Junior CB Chris Davis was banged up the second half of the 2012 season, but the 2011 Chick-Fil-A Bowl defensive MVP can show up in the flat quickly. That’s an asset.

– Sophomore CB Jonathan Mincy is prone to penalties, but he should enter 2013 with this mentality: I am the best cover corner on this roster. Needs to be more physical, though.

– When he puts his mind to it, sophomore QB Kiehl Frazier throws a pretty sweet spiral.

– When he puts his mind to it, sophomore WR/PR Quan Bray has a little shiftiness to him.

– Ah, the Frazier-to-Bray-to-Frazier trick play. Good touch throw by Bray, good sturdy hands by Frazier, and great footwork along the sideline to stay in bounds and evade defensive end Malcolm Edmond who had the angle on Frazier. Sophomore TE Brandon Fulse threw a critical block to buy time for Bray, and sophomore RB Tre Mason held up his protection as well.

– Redshirt freshman WR Sammie Coates has afterburners. Just needs handy hands to go with those fleet feet.

– Oh, but he did show he can be trusted to make plays at the end of the first half. Frazier slips out of the grasp of Cameron Blakes (who, by the way, had beat junior FB Jay Prosch’s block), rolls, recovers his footing, and fires high to the end zone. The location and timing was perfect, Coates making the leaping grab to conclude the half and give Auburn a lead at intermission. A big hug from the sideline – mainly, WRs coach Trooper Taylor and sophomore C Tunde Fariyike – greeted Frazier, who looked like he couldn’t quite believe that worked.


– Run blocking was excellent. Line really held their men for longer than they needed. Sophomore C Reese Dismukes’s body blocked two Warhawks on Mason’s 1-yard TD.

– We already mentioned Ford. Let’s do so again. On 3rd down of ULM’s overtime possession, if Ford hadn’t chased down Browning on a rollout, the Warhawks’ QB had an open man who beat corner T’Sharvan Bell on the route. Could have been a much different outcome.

– Sophomore DT Angelo Blackson’s got a big paw. Game-saving paw, as it were. 


The Bad

– Penalties (seven for 65 yards) made this much more difficult than it should have been. Mincy’s pass interference on a deep ball prolonged the opening possession, resulting in ULM’s 12-play, 89-yard touchdown drive. An illegal formation – five men in the backfield – put the kibosh on what might have been a long touchdown throw to Coates (though replay would’ve been needed to confirm the catch).

CnoMs.AuSt.70- Freshman LB Cassanova McKinzy had some rookie moments in his first extended playing time. On 4th-and-goal from the 1 on that first drive, McKinzy bit on the play fake and left tight end Harley Scioneaux wide open for the fade toss. Then in the fourth, he again lost Scioneaux in end zone coverage. Room to grow (and McKinzy did, given a chance to start in October.)

– Bray was too conservative with his fair catches. Former STs coach Jay Boulware would lament this later in the season. It’ll be interesting to see if Bray retains that duty in 2013 with a new staff.

– Frazier stares down Coates on a quick post, and hits the target between the 4 and the 5. The problem is, No. 45 is ULM linebacker DaCorris Ford. Luckily for Auburn he couldn’t make the catch.

– Lightning doesn’t strike twice. In the second half, up 28-14 with the ball in ULM territory, Frazier stares down Travante Stallworth, and never saw safety Mitch Lane. Meanwhile, Emory Blake was streaking open on a deep post.

– Too many mental errors by Frazier, who also improvises a little too much for any offensive coordinator’s liking. Frazier could have avoided overtime in the closing seconds of regulation, but missed both Bray and Blake on what would have set up Parkey for a reasonable FG try.


The Ugly

– Was “KIEHL THROW THE BALL” ever trending?

– Forced to call a timeout due to what seemed like an out-of-order formation, DC Brian VanGorder absolutely lights up junior LB Jake Holland. Ford and Corey Lemonier were each lined up on the left side, though Lemonier said postgame that was apparently intentional. Either way, another miscommunication.

– A few plays later, Holland totally bites on a 3rd-and-2 playaction. Browning takes one cut, and he’s gone to the end zone. This causes Dave Neal and Andre Ware to compare Kolton Browning to Tim Tebow (they’re both left-handed and wear No. 15!) for the rest of the afternoon. (Thanks, Jake.)

– We’re still not sure why Auburn crawled into the fetal position, up two touchdowns in the second half. Only Gene Chizik and Scot Loeffler know that.

– After a quick 3-and-out, Auburn was completely unprepared for the fake punt and run. Should have known ULM coach Dave Berry was going to go you-know-what to the wall.

– Great athlete, that Lemonier. But if he jumps offsides in the NFL as often as he did his junior year, Lemonier’s going to get real comfortable in somebody’s doghouse. One of them negated Whitaker’s tackle for loss of Browning. Another one gave ULM a free first down on 4th-and-2, when Browning threw incomplete. I mean, how is that excusable?

– Holland also was whistled for pass interference in the middle, and McNeal had one on the game-tying TD drive. The seams started falling apart due to penalties. 


Notes and tidbits

Here’s a crazy what-if scenario for you:

What if Auburn blew out ULM from the get-go?

What if Auburn never needed that WR option pass from Bray to Frazier this week?

What if Auburn could have saved that trick play for the following week?

What if it worked against LSU?

What if that made the difference in what ended up being LSU 12, Auburn 10?

What if?

Just throwing that out there.


The pregame notes indicated Browning completed 32 passes to nine different receivers in the Arkansas upset. Clearly a point of emphasis for that offense, the Warhawks weren’t quite as pinball-y for an encore.

Here’s the Browning pass distribution against Auburn:

Wide receivers: 23 rec, 206 yards, TD (Leonard 7-53, Hamm 5-57, Harper 5-40-1, Maye 4-45, Cook 2-11)*

*Backup Cody Wells fired an 8-yard throw to Tyler Cain*

Running backs: 2 rec, 19 yards (Edwards 1-20, Bailey 1-(-1))

Tight ends: 3 rec, 12 yards, 2 TD (Scioneaux 2-5-2, Milton 1-7)

TOTAL: 28-for-46, 237 yards, 3 TD

Pass plays longer than 20 yards: 2


Just for comparison, Kiehl Frazier completed six passes for 74 yards and a Hail Mary TD to receivers … three completions for 40 yards to tailbacks, and one for 16 to tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen. The Tigers rushed 42 times for 255 yards and two scores.

On the telecast, Ware makes an interesting assessment of Frazier: when his feet get too far apart, he tends to overthrow. That’s correctable. Very correctable.


3) Tre Mason, RB. Why not Onterio McCalebb, he of the ridiculous 11.6 yards per carry? Because Mason’s 22 for 91 were much more workmanlike.

2) Dee Ford, DE. For making Kolton Browning’s life miserable, and that critical third-down QB hurry in overtime which blew up what might have been a TD.

1) Angelo Blackson, DT. Louisiana-Monroe’s not good at kicking things, and Blackson exploited that with a clutch tip in OT.


AUBURN Miss State

GUS’ GAME 3: Mississippi State at Auburn, Sept. 14, Jordan-Hare Stadium

#HailState 2012 record: 8-5, 4-4 SEC (lost 34-20 to Northwestern in TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl)

#HailState head coach: Dan Mullen, fifth year (29-22)

#HailState returning starters (o/d): 11 (6/5)

#HailState-Auburn series: Auburn leads 60-24-2, including 27-6 in Auburn. Tigers have won 10 of the past 12 matchups

#HailState-Auburn previous meeting: Mississippi State 28, Auburn 10 – Sept. 8, 2012

Notes: The only time MSU defeated Auburn between 2001-11 was in 2007 (MSU 19-14, at JHS), with Ellis Johnson, Charlie Harbison, Melvin Smith and J.B. Grimes on the Bulldogs’ staff. All four are now Auburn assistants … returning all-SEC picks for the Bulldogs include running back Ladarius Perkins and left guard Gabe Jackson … just like Auburn, the MSU offensive line loses just one senior to graduation … Perkins and quarterback Tyler Russell will be seniors, but there will be turnover at every other starting skill player on offense … four of State’s top six tacklers return, but both established corners (Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay) and both defensive tackles are gone.

December 25, 2012

Auburn adds Melvin Smith; Tigers’ 4 defensive coaches have 68 SEC years of experience

AUBURN, Ala. – The Christmas Day presents keep rolling in for Gus Malzahn.

Earlier today, Auburn’s head coach signed the nation’s top available junior college offensive guard to a national letter of intent.

Then Malzahn fortified the defensive side of the ball by filling out coordinator Ellis Johnson’s staff of assistants.

Melvin Smith was hired as Auburn’s cornerbacks coach Tuesday, bringing nearly two decades of SEC experience with him from Mississippi State.

“Melvin is an outstanding secondary coach and is one of the top recruiters in the Southeastern Conference,” Malzahn said. “He has a reputation for his ability to develop players and his 31-year coaching resume speaks for itself. We’re excited to have Melvin join our staff.”

Smith, 54, will have a young position to group to work with – freshman Joshua Holsey played all 12 games and started six at corner, while sophomore Jonathan Mincy and freshman Jonathan Jones also factored into the starting lineup. Junior Chris Davis, who battled concussion syndromes late in 2012, is also scheduled to return.

“I’m really looking forward to this opportunity to work for Coach Malzahn and Auburn,” Smith said. “I’ve admired Gus’ work from afar and have always loved his offenses.”

The hire likely will lock in co-defensive coordinator Charlie Harbison to lead the safeties, and Johnson will guide linebackers. Defensive line coach Rodney Garner fills out a mega-experienced group of defensive assistants.


“When we discussed this job, Gus told me that he was looking for men of character and integrity who were excellent coaches,” Smith said. “When I saw who he hired to his staff and having worked previously with Ellis, Charlie and (offensive line coach) J.B. (Grimes), I knew that’s exactly that was the type of men he was hiring. This is a tremendous opportunity for me and my family.”

Johnson, Harbison, Garner and Smith have logged a combined 98 years of college coaching experience – including 68 in the SEC alone.

For comparison, Auburn’s 2012 defensive assistants (Brian VanGorder, Willie Martinez, Tommy Thigpen, Mike Pelton) had a combined 17 years of SEC coaching experience going into the season.

Johnson, Harbison, Grimes and Smith were each on the 2007 Mississippi State team that went 8-5 with a Liberty Bowl victory. That was also the only Bulldogs team to defeat Auburn in 11 tries between 2001-11 – a 19-14 MSU win at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Smith mentored Jim Thorpe awardwinner (the nation’s top defensive back) Johnthan Banks and all-SEC second-teamer Darius Slay in 2012, one of the league’s top cornerback tandems. Smith was at Mississippi State the past seven seasons, as well as a stint from 1995-2001.

A native of Taylorsville, Miss. who grew up in Magee, Miss., Smith also coached at Ole Miss (1992-94), Alabama (2002) and Texas A&M (2003-05).

Smith graduated from Millsaps College in 1982 and earned a Master’s degree in administration from Delta State in 1992. He and his wife, Sheilah, have four children.

September 8, 2012

Auburn notes: Captain Prosch stays tough in face of emotional week

STARKVILLE, Miss. – He hasn’t even been part of the Auburn family for a full year, but junior fullback Jay Prosch can feel the love in his darkest moments.

Prosch found out right before the season opener in Clemson last week his mother, Iris, was induced into a coma, and he played anyway. Iris passed away Sunday, her funeral was Thursday in their hometown of Mobile, Ala., and he played anyway Saturday in the SEC opener at Mississippi State.

“It’s a big cloud of a bunch of different stuff going on,” Prosch said. “Overall, the way everything turned out, I don’t regret anything.”

After transferring much closer to home from Illinois to open the spring semester, and receiving a medical hardship waiver to play at Auburn immediately, Prosch led the Tigers onto the field at Davis Wade Stadium – the fifth captain alongside Daren Bates, T’Sharvan Bell, Philip Lutzenkirchen and Onterio McCalebb.

“It’s been a tough week – traveling home and trying to make it to practice, while still handling my personal business,” Prosch said. “The Auburn family and everybody has really been supportive, so that really helped me through.”

Prosch’s disposition, at the conclusion of a loss-ridden week, was pleasant considering the circumstances.

“She was on my mind, but not in a bad way,” Prosch said. “In a good way. It was nice to get away and get my mind off things. My whole family’s happy and doing well.”

Prosch took two round trips to Mobile in the past seven days – the latter along with a few teammates and coaches for the memorial service – courtesy of a team private jet.

“What they’ve done for me is unreal – the support and transportation they give me,” Prosch said. “My teammates, soon as I got back Tuesday, they were all there for me, telling me they had my back, and that means a lot to me.”

Something special: At least Jay Boulware’s got to be pleased.

The Tigers’ special teams coach doesn’t have a whole lot of corrections to make, despite Auburn’s 0-2 start.

McCalebb ran back a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown opening the second half and giving Auburn a brief 10-7 lead. Kicker Cody Parkey chipped home a 23-yard field goal, improving the Lou Groza watch list candidate to 5-for-5 on the year.

Besides McCalebb and Parkey providing all 10 of Auburn’s points, the Tigers’ special teams were again as good as could be. Punter Steven Clark averaged 40.8 yards on six punts, allowing just one 7-yard return, and Parkey marked touchbacks on all three kickoffs.

Finally, Mississippi State whiffed both its field-goal attempts, and the second was deflected by Tigers defensive tackle Angelo Blackson, recording Auburn’s first FG block since Jake Ricks against Kentucky in 2009.

Lineup shakeup: Sophomore center Reese Dismukes did get the start after his suspension was lifted earlier this week for a public intoxication arrest.

Dismukes missed the Clemson opener, replaced by sophomore Tunde Fariyike.

In the secondary, three defensive backs made their first starts of the year. Safety Demetruce McNeal and cornerback T’Sharvan Bell, who combined for 22 starts in 2011, were each re-installed at their spots, and Jonathan Mincy stepped in at cornerback with Chris Davis filling out the nickel defense.

Money down: Last week, Clemson kept extending drives with its great success on third down, something which plagued Auburn’s defense last year.

The Bulldogs were 1-for-10 on third down Saturday, showing improvement in that category. But that didn’t stop MSU from moving the chains 23 times.

“It’s all mental errors we can fix easily,” said senior defensive end Corey Lemonier, who recorded his third sack. “Starting off (at home) with Louisiana-Monroe, that’s going to be really key for us to come back and work on fundamentals.”

Pregame: Lineup changes brewing (live blog)

STARKVILLE, Miss. — The depth chart hasn’t changed on paper, but it appears to have been shaken up on the field.

Center Reese Dismukes, reinstated from a one-game suspension on Sunday, took pregame snaps with starting quarterback Kiehl Frazier, while opening-day starter Tunde Fariyike was snapping to backup QB Clint Moseley.

Fueling speculation from earlier in the week, sophomore Robensen Therezie, who has been behind in the mix at safety, was fifth in the 5-man line of running backs during warmups. He was behind (in order from start to finish) Onterio McCalebb, Tre Mason, Corey Grant and Mike Blakely.

On defense, the first-team secondary saw quite the shakeup. Cornerbacks T’Sharvan Bell and Jonathan Mincy, and safety Demetruce McNeal, were taking first-team reps after being listed as backups last week and on our Saturday depth chart distributed in the Davis Wade Stadium press box. Strong safety Jermaine Whitehead was the only defensive back who started last week and was on the field for 1st-team reps. Chris Davis should be involved on nickel packages; meanwhile, Ryan White and Ryan Smith ran with the second unit.

Also of note was true freshman Jonathan Jones, already a special teams standout, taking 2nd-team reps at cornerback.

This is all conjecture until the game goes live, but intriguing shakeup possibilities nonetheless.

The rain is starting to fall steadily in Starkville. Should make for some difficulties for the offenses, as compared to last week in the temperate Georgia Dome.

Remember to stop in at halftime and join our live chat, which will launch approximately 1:30 p.m. ET: