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August 3, 2013

Auburn notes: Gus Malzahn addresses depth at H-back, updates quarterback race

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala. — After Ricky Parks was dismissed for a “violation of team rules” on Friday, Auburn’s depth at H-back took a hit just one day into its fall camp.

Following the second day of fall camp on Saturday, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn both the H-back and tight end positions will have to be reshuffled to address depth issues. (File photo)

Following the second day of fall camp on Saturday, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said both the H-back and tight end positions will have to be reshuffled to address depth issues. (File photo)

Parks came out of the spring as Jay Prosch’s backup at H-back on the Tigers’ two-deep depth chart. Gus Malzahn isn’t worried, though.

Auburn’s head coach said they’ll just have to move some players around a bit more.

“Right now, we’ve got C.J. Uzomah doing a little bit,” Malzahn said Saturday. “Obviously Brandon Fulse has done that before. We’re kind of playing around with Gage Batten and a couple of other guys. They’ll be more defined probably in the next two or three days, because that position is also a position that when you have pads on, you can properly evaluate better than you can with just helmets.”

Uzomah and Fulse also are expected to share snaps at tight end. Malzahn said the position was something the team is “still working through.” Like H-back, the tight end spot will have various players shuffled in and out to bolster the unit.

“There’s three or four guys that we’re talking about,” said Malzahn, though he declined to name specific players.

No separation in quarterback battle

Those hoping to see much of an update in the Tigers’ four-way quarterback battle will have to keep waiting. Malzahn said Saturday’s proceedings were “similar” to Friday’s, though he noted newcomers Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson looked more comfortable on Day 2.

“We’re throwing a lot at them, just from the sideline,” he said. “They’re feeling more comfortable with (the) sideline (calls). They were able to relax a little bit more and play football.”

Meanwhile, veterans Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace continued to show their command of the offense, much the way they did during spring practice.

“Any time you’re comfortable doing something and you’ve been through a spring and you kind understand what to expect and different looks (it helps),” Malzahn said. “There’s nothing like experience.”

Sunday’s practice will take on a different look than the first two days, as Malzahn said the signal-callers will “mix and match” more.

But the coach cautioned they’re still in the early stages of what figures to be a long race to decide who starts against Washington State on Aug. 31.

“We won’t throw them into the fire until we think they’re ready,” Malzahn said, “but it’ll be very quick.”

McNeal inactive for second straight practice

Safety Demetruce McNeal made progress in one area on Saturday: He put on a helmet for the first time this fall. However, just like Friday’s practice, he sat out team and position drills for the second straight day. Malzahn said he expects the team’s top returning tackler to be back at full speed “fairly soon.”

“It’s not anything major,” Malzahn said. “We just want to make sure he’s 100 percent before we get him back out there. He’s a veteran guy and has a lot of experience.”

Despite his inactivity thus far, Malzahn was confident the senior won’t miss a beat when he rejoins the secondary and attempts to capture the starting spot at boundary safety.

“He’ll have a chance to compete for playing time, just like the rest of them,” Malzahn said. “But he does have experience, and that usually helps.”

Quick hitters

Wide receiver Trovon Reed has been one of four players fielding punts at practice the first two days of fall camp. He said there haven’t been any muffs — yet. “I don’t want to jinx us,” he said. … Defensive back Joshua Holsey said he picked off a pass during practice. Wallace was the unlucky victim. “It came off a tipped ball, so I was fortunate to get a good one today,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll probably get some more to try and catch them slipping.” … Prior to Saturday’s practice, two Tigers received their bachelor’s degrees in commencement ceremonies. Defensive back Ryan Smith majored in Public Administration, while defensive end Craig Sanders was a Human Development and Family Studies major.

July 15, 2013

7 at 7: Seven questions about the Tigers this fall

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

Yes, there is still one major event to get through — this week’s SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. — before Auburn players report back to campus and preseason camp gets underway. Until that happens, however, here are seven questions (and answers) about the Tigers in the style of the War Eagle Extra’s “7 at 7″ format, as the season opener against Washington State on Aug. 31 gets closer by the day.

1. Who will start at quarterback?

Ah yes, the topic du jour surrounding the Tigers heading into the season. There are four candidates vying for the position, with two having an opportunity to stake their claim to the job in the spring (junior Kiehl Frazier and sophomore Jonathan Wallace) and two arriving this fall (junior college transfer Nick Marshall and true freshman Jeremy Johnson). Frazier and Wallace were unable to create any separation amongst themselves, exiting the spring as co-No. 1s on the depth chart. They both hold an advantage over the newcomers in the regard that they at least know some of the playbook already, but will that be enough to stave off either Marshall or Johnson?

Largely due to being the best runner of the quarterback quartet, many believe Marshall is the front-runner to capture the job. That, of course, is nothing more than pure speculation at this point. Besides, the quarterback battle will be settled where it should be — on the field — and only when the coaches believe they know which signal-caller gives them the best chance to win in 2013.

2. What’s the status of the backfield?

Tre Mason Auburn A-Day

Tre Mason headlines a deep stable of Auburn running backs headed into the fall. Photo by Todd Van Emst

When it comes to the running back position, the Tigers should be able to rest easy, with Tre Mason coming off a 1,000-yard season and both Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant having great springs. Still, it was a huge surprise when head coach Gus Malzahn revealed his two-deep post-spring depth chart and Mason was not listed as the unquestioned starter. Instead, Mason, Artis-Payne and Grant all had “OR” separating their names, being listed that way on both the first-team and second-team offense.

Then again, there are worse problems to have than worrying about how to divvy up carries between multiple talented ball carriers.

3. Who will assume the role of lead receiver?

It’s possible that the Tigers may be one of those teams without a go-to option at wideout. That’s not to say one won’t develop eventually. Between Jaylon Denson, Trovon Reed, Quan Bray, Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis, Auburn has a nice pool of hopefuls to choose from. One thing is certain: The receiving corps isn’t lacking for heirs to the throne Emory Blake vacated. (And to show just how reliant the Tigers were on Blake last season, his 789 receiving yards accounted for a whopping 42 percent of Auburn’s 1,879 receiving yards.)

4. Who replaces Philip Lutzenkirchen at tight end?

No single player will be asked to replicate the production of Lutzenkirchen. Instead, it will be a shared assignment between C.J. Uzomah and Brandon Fulse. The two complement each other well, as Uzomah is more noted for his pass-catching ability while Fulse is known as a hard-nosed blocker. But both have made it a point to shore up their perceived weaknesses, with Uzomah working on his blocking and Fulse practicing his route running. Jay Prosch (normally a fullback) may also see time at tight end as a utility blocker, and expect fellow H-back Ricky Parks to get a few reps at the position, too.

5. Can the secondary make some much-needed strides?

It’s still a shocking number any time you see it: one. That’s the number of interceptions Auburn’s secondary came away with in 2012. But there is reason to believe the secondary will be vastly improved when it steps back on the field this season. Chris Davis and Jonathon Mincy are firmly entrenched with the first-team defense at the two corner positions, and there are a handful of players — notably Joshua Holsey, Jonathan Jones, Robenson Therezie and Ryan White — behind them to lend depth to the unit.

Questions still remain at safety, though, as Holsey was moved from cornerback to boundary (also known as strong) safety in the last week of the spring after Demetruce McNeal missed the final five practices due to an undisclosed off-the-field matter. Free safety, or “field safety,” as it is referred to in coach speak, should be capably manned by junior Jermaine Whitehead.

6. What player is primed for a breakout season on offense or defense?

If you haven’t prepared yourself for it, here’s an advance warning: Justin Garrett, who shined in the hybrid safety/linebacker position created by defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson specifically for his 4-2-5 scheme, will have plenty of terrible headlines centered around his spot’s name — “Star.” As corny as it sounds, the junior is truly a “star” in the making. He drew rave reviews for his progress during the spring, and Johnson has put him in a position where his hard-hitting talents can be put to best use. Expect a few highlight-worthy hits from Garrett to make the rounds this fall.

7. Which true freshmen — if any — will push for major playing time?

It’s a toss-up between two stud defensive line prospects, with Montravius Adams at tackle and Carl Lawson at end. The pair of Peach State products were two of the top players in the country at their respective positions, and their talent may be too great to keep them from playing significant roles from Day 1. If forced to choose one as the “most likely to steal a starting job,” I’ll go with Lawson barely. It’s mainly a function of the depth chart: While the Tigers can mix-and-match between Gabe Wright, Angelo Blackson, Jeffrey Whitaker and Ben Bradley inside with relatively little drop-off, the same can’t be said at end.

Dee Ford has the left side starting spot locked down, but right end is still up for grabs. Nosa Eguae began the spring as the starter at right end, but when he wasn’t developing fast enough for the coaching staff’s liking, tackle Kenneth Carter was moved outside in the hopes that it would push Eguae to step it up.

With that in mind, don’t be surprised if Lawson comes in and nails down a spot in the starting lineup opposite Ford by the end of preseason camp.

May 1, 2013

“IT’S A DEAD HEAT”: Malzahn defers starting QB decision in post-spring depth chart | Joshua Holsey surprise first-teamer at safety

AUBURN FOOTBALL

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – When Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn listed natural cornerback Joshua Holsey as his starting strong safety out of spring football practices, that was a surprise development.

When Malzahn refused to shed any sort of light on who’s the king of the quarterbacks, that was not.

Junior Kiehl Frazier and sophomore Jonathan Wallace left April the same way they went in: listed on the same line, the dreaded “OR” designation on college depth charts as released by word of mouth Wednesday afternoon.

“We’ve not made any decisions. It’s a dead heat up to this point,” Malzahn said. “We gave them equal reps throughout the spring. Toward the end of the spring, we were able to evaluate them better.

“Both of those guys are capable of running our offense. I’ll be curious to see their progress once we get to fall camp.”

Of course, Frazier and Wallace aren’t the only options, and they might have surrendered whatever leg up they had on junior college transfer Nick Marshall and four-star prep prospects Jeremy Johnson and Jason Smith.

“Everybody coming in at every position will have a chance to start,” Malzahn said. “We feel good about a lot of these guys we signed having a chance to play.”

Malzahn has repeatedly said he’d rather name a starter sooner rather than later, but the first of May’s too soon.

“Sometimes that’s not a negative; sometimes that’s a positive and you’ve got two guys you feel like can do it,” Malzahn said. “It’s a matter of giving everybody a fair chance. The quarterback position is a key position, so you want to make sure that once you make a decision, you’re 100 percent right.

“We’ll see who gives us the best chance to win.”

In all, up to eight returning starters will be on the field in base formations. If Frazier or Marshall wins the job, they’d add to a junior class of potentially eight starters.

Tailback was another position without a true starter named: Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant will all expect carries. Mason surpassed 1,000 yards last season, but an ankle injury allowed Artis-Payne and Grant to equalize the competition.

The starting wide receivers, right now, are flanker Trovon Reed, Jaylon Denson on the outside and Quan Bray in the slot. Jay Prosch is H-Back, CJ Uzomah is tight end and a “3” receiver for spread sets will mix between Uzomah, Brandon Fulse and Melvin Ray.

The offensive line stayed the same as the second half of spring practices: Greg Robinson, Alex Kozan, Reese Dismukes, Chad Slade and Patrick Miller, left to right.

Prosch is the only senior on the entire offensive two-deep. Kozan, a redshirt freshman, would be the only rookie on the first unit.

Joshua Holsey

As for defense, Holsey was recruited as a corner and played six games in 2012 there while Chris Davis was out with a concussion.

But since Davis and Jonathon Mincy have a stranglehold on those cornerback spots, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson found a way to get Holsey on the field.

“He’s a very good tackler,” Malzahn said. “You may have two or three at the same position early in spring that you say, boy, that may be one of our best 11 guys, so … we put him at safety. He looked like a natural and just made plays.”

Holsey, who’s listed next to returning starting free safety Jermaine Whitehead, is holding down the spot vacated by Auburn’s leading returning tackler Demetruce McNeal. After missing the final five spring practices due to off-field issues, McNeal is not on Wednesday’s depth chart.

“He is going to be in the mix,” Malzahn said, adding McNeal is 100 percent in good standing. “I didn’t put him in the top two right now, but he’ll have a chance in the fall.”

Justin Garrett remains the starting “star” hybrid player, and Kris Frost (mike) and Cassanova McKinzy (will) have a bead on linebacker positions.

The starting defensive ends are Dee Ford and converted tackle Kenneth Carter, while Jeffrey Whitaker and Gabe Wright are the tackles.

That makes for up to eight returning defensive starters – all on the line or in the secondary. Ford, Whitaker and Davis are the only seniors.

“Coach Johnson really worked hard on tackling and just the base fundamentals of playing their assignments,” Malzahn said. “I really feel like our tackling improved. You saw that in the spring game. There were some good open-field tackles, and we will continue to work in that direction.”

********

10Auburn1 (2)

First-team offense

QB Kiehl Frazier OR Jonathan Wallace
RB Tre Mason OR Cameron Artis-Payne OR Corey Grant
WR (outside): Jaylon Denson
WR (flanker): Trovon Reed
WR (slot): Quan Bray
H-back Jay Prosch
“3″ receiver: Uzomah OR Fulse OR Melvin Ray
LT Greg Robinson
LG Alex Kozan
C Reese Dismukes
RG Chad Slade
RT Patrick Miller

Second-team offense
QB Kiehl Frazier OR Jonathan Wallace
RB Tre Mason OR Cameron Artis-Payne OR Corey Grant
WR (outside): Sammie Coates
WR (flanker): Ricardo Louis
WR (slot): Corey Grant
H-back Ricky Parks
“3″ receiver: Uzomah OR Fulse OR Melvin Ray
LT Shon Coleman
LG Devonte Danzey
C Tunde Fariyike
RG Jordan Diamond
RT Avery Young

First-team defense
DE Dee Ford
DE Kenneth Carter
DT Jeffrey Whitaker
DT Gabe Wright
MLB Kris Frost
WLB Cassanova McKinzy
“Star” Justin Garrett
CB Jonathon Mincy (field)
CB Chris Davis (boundary)
FS Jermaine Whitehead (field)
SS Joshua Holsey (boundary)

Second-team defense
DE Craig Sanders
DE Nosa Eguae
DT Ben Bradley
DT Angelo Blackson
MLB Jake Holland
WLB JaViere Mitchell OR LaDarius Owens
“Star” Robenson Therezie
CB Jonathan Jones (field)
CB Ryan White (boundary)
FS Ryan Smith (field)
SS Trent Fisher OR T.J. Davis (boundary)

April 19, 2013

Auburn notes: Lashlee, Johnson discuss A-Day format; Holsey works at safety; etc.

17Auburn10

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – Through all the film review and evaluation of their players, there comes a point when Auburn coordinators and position coaches can only guess who’s for real and who’s not ready.

It doesn’t count on Saturday, not in the record books. This particular A-Day, however, is about so much more than football to Auburn fans desperate to see improvement (not to mention a certain celebration over on Toomer’s Corner into the night.)

The meaning of A-Day to offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson drives to their most important task.

“A big part of this is trying to regain our edge, our confidence,” Lashlee said. “Not only do we get to evaluate the Xs and Os and all that in a scrimmage, but there’s people in the stands now. How are we going to respond?

“Every game in the SEC, there’s ups, there’s downs. You can’t get too high or too low. It’ll be good to see how everybody responds in as game-like a setting as we can get them in.”

The scrimmage kicks off at 1 p.m. CT at Jordan-Hare Stadium, televised by CSS. The fans’ curiosity for Gus Malzahn’s “New Day” campaign has translated to approximately 28,000 pre-sold tickets to A-Day, and seeing as most sales take place on gameday, Auburn could threaten to topple 2010 as the most-viewed spring scrimmage in school history.

“We feel like our fan base deserves a somewhat entertaining scrimmage,” Johnson said. “It’s on TV and we want it to be competitive, (so) we want it to be game-like in the field position, the movement, the rotation and substitution.”

Each individual Auburn player will play between 15 and 30 snaps Saturday, according to the coaching staff’s plan.

They’ll rotate in and out between the No. 1 squad (wearing white) and No. 2 unit (wearing blue), with the offense standing on the opposite sideline from the defense.

“Coach has got it split up as much as we can predict or project at this time, first units and second units on each side,” Johnson said. “We’re going to go 1s versus 2s and 2s versus 1s as much as we possibly can early in the game.”

Specifically, quarterbacks Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace will split reps with the first- and second-teams equally.

“It’s not like we’ve stacked one team over the other,” Lashlee said. “We’ve got good linemen on both sides, good skill players. It shouldn’t matter which team each quarterback’s with. They’re going to have plenty of guys to work with at all spots.”

Still missing: Senior safety Demetruce McNeal was absent from his second consecutive practice due to personal reasons. His A-Day status is uncertain.

Johnson wouldn’t speculate on McNeal’s future either way, but was earnest in demanding the Tigers’ top returning tackler sort out his issues before returning.

“Demetruce has got some off-the-field things he’s got to clear up in order to get back out there. It’s just day-to-day,” Johnson said. “So he can be ready to roll, or he may not be there.”

Hey there, Holsey: Junior Trent Fisher, who’s dealing with a bad ankle, took McNeal’s spot with the top defensive unit again, and rotated in with sophomore cornerback Joshua Holsey, seeing his first action at safety.

“We want (Holsey) to be a guy who play corner or safety, and get our best 11 on the field – heck, he may be one of those guys,” Johnson said. “We’re a little thin for the spring game and definitely need to get him wrapped up so he can go in and play safety on Saturday.”

Quality over quantity: Lashlee’s taking his time installing his base offense, instead of rushing through to more gimmicky sets.

“I would much rather come out of spring with 10 plays that we know extremely well,” Lashlee said, “against any look no matter what they’re doing – blitz, no blitz, all that – than come out of spring saying, ‘I’ve got 40 plays in, but we can’t run any of them worth a flip.”

All the right moves: Through 12 practices, “star” safety Justin Garrett remains Johnson’s brightest pupil.

“Justin Garrett’s been the best player we’ve had on defense, if you just measure all 12 full-speed practices we’ve had at this point,” Johnson said. “He’s probably made as many impact plays and has played as well as any player on that side of the ball. So that was a very pleasant accomplishment.”

Garrett was a backup linebacker last year.

“We made a personnel move that worked,” Johnson said. “They don’t always work. This one was the right move.”

April 6, 2013

Gus Malzahn leaves Roopstigo/E:60 response to administration; players focused on football

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com
@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – Hitting the midway point of spring practices leading up to A-Day, it was clear which topic Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn preferred to discuss Saturday.

Malzahn was more interested in talking about an intrasquad scrimmage Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium than the recent reports and allegations swirling around the Auburn football program, much of which centers around activity during his stint as the Tigers’ offensive coordinator from 2009-11.

“Administration has already talked about that, and we’re moving forward,” Malzahn said. “We’re concentrating on finishing the second part of our spring.”

Reporters fired five different questions at Malzahn about the Roopstigo.com report Wednesday and ESPN The Magazine narrative Thursday, ranging from accusations of NCAA violations to in-depth depictions of a designer drug epidemic during the national championship season of 2010.

Malzahn insisted “nobody” on the current roster or coaching staff has been distracted by the off-field drama, while refusing to address the university’s current drug policy or whether there was a cover-up by the athletic department while he was on the previous staff.

“Like I said, the administration took care of it and as a head coach I feel good about the way they handled it,” Malzahn said. “I support our administration and the way they handled it … if you want to talk about the scrimmage, I’d be happy to do that.”

Malzahn began his post-practice press conference saying the team ran “about a 112-play scrimmage”, focusing primarily on the run game. Malzahn saw each scholarship quarterback – junior Kiehl Frazier and sophomore Jonathan Wallace – attempt at least 20 passes.

“We mixed and matched personnel, wanted to do that on purpose. We’d like to reevaluate things after this scrimmage for the second part of spring, as far as depth charts and moving people around,” Malzahn said. “There was some good and there was some things that we need to improve on greatly.”

Different players had different viewpoints on how to handle the off-field distractions.

“That’s not even being talked about, it hasn’t even been talked about in the locker room,” senior defensive end Nosa Eguae said. “That has nothing to do with what we’re trying to do. We’re really focusing on everything we’re doing this spring, and I don’t really have anything to say about that.”

It’s a theme the Tigers are somewhat used to from last fall’s 3-9 season which also drew negative press to the team.

“It’s really hard, because there’s so much of it there,” sophomore cornerback Joshua Holsey said. “But you just try your best to not worry about it and focus on what you’ve got in front of you and that’s getting ready for this spring and getting ready for the fall.”

The new reports drum up similar attention to previous years when Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton was scrutinized by media and the NCAA – a scandal of which Auburn was eventually cleared of prospective violations.

“Yeah, it’s very frustrating because you get done with one thing, and the next, there’s something else coming up,” junior tight end Brandon Fulse said. “We’ve been like, ‘why us?’ or ‘what’s going on?’ So our heads are spinning. One thing gets done, then something else is popping up.”

Malzahn has stressed high character for his players and coaches since the day he was hired as head coach Dec. 4, which junior cornerback Jonathon Mincy said “this team has really taken heed to.”

“Those are distractions, and that’s something I don’t really try to feed into,” Mincy said. “That’s something our head coach really stressed to this team … we just want to come in day and day out and get better. We have one goal in mind, and that’s a championship.”

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

@WarEagleExtra

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

THREE STARS

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 20, 2013

Positional battles to watch: Defensive backs

This is the first of an 8-day series previewing each Auburn position leading into spring football. Tomorrow: linebackers.

Arkansas Auburn Football

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – A healthy mix of talented veterans and tasty youngsters who got plenty of playing time? Not a bad start for a couple of long-time coaching buddies to work with.

Charlie Harbison has the safeties, which means he’ll guide two entrenched starters in Demetruce McNeal and Jermaine Whitehead along with role players Ryan Smith and Trent Fisher.

Melvin Smith takes cornerbacks, leading upperclassmen Chris Davis and Jonathan Mincy while hoping to craft sophomores-to-be Joshua Holsey and Jonathan Jones into the next Johnthan Banks-Darius Slay type of pair.

As long as Harbison and Smith can do something about the Tigers’ 101th-ranked pass efficiency defense – not to mention start creating some turnovers – they’ll get along famously with fans.

Here’s a look at Auburn’s secondary, leading into spring football scrimmages:

Who’s been playing: CB Chris Davis (sr.), CB Joshua Holsey (so.), CB Jonathan Jones (so.), FS Demetruce McNeal (sr.), CB Jonathon Mincy (jr.), SS Ryan Smith (sr.), SS Jermaine Whitehead (jr.)

Who’s in waiting: CB T.J. Davis (r-fr.), S Trent Fisher (jr.), S Erique Florence (jr.), DB Jordan Spriggs (jr.), CB Robenson Therezie (jr.), CB Ryan White (sr.)

Who’s out the door: CB T’Sharvan Bell, DB Ikeem Means

Who’s in the door: DB Mackenro Alexander (Immokalee, Fla.), S Khari Harding (Edmond, Okla.), S Brandon King (Alabaster, Ala.), CB Kamryn Melton (Dothan, Ala.)

Who’s coaching ‘em up: Cornerbacks – Melvin Smith, 23rd year (18th in SEC); Safeties – Charlie Harbison, 21st year (11th in SEC)

Who’d they replace, where is he now: Willie Martinez, Tennessee

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Thoughts and musings:

- “Clown show.” It was the most entertaining, and perhaps iconic, quote of the year, coming from the mouth of Demetruce McNeal in reference to the Tigers’ 2011 defensive effort at LSU. It turned out characterizing the entire 2012 season – while McNeal was probably Auburn’s most consistent defender (when he wasn’t in the doghouse), he was rarely allowed to speak with the media, for fear of sound bites like that one.

- Jermaine Whitehead was one of just four Tigers (LB Daren Bates, WR Emory Blake and OL Chad Slade) to start all 12 games last fall.

Clemson_Auburn25_9-1-12- Erique Florence and Robenson Therezie have long been rumored to consider transferring from Auburn. Neither have done so – they’re each on the pre-spring roster and participating in winter workouts. Each were four-star recruits who would be ripe to benefit from a change of scenery in terms of the new coaching staff. So they’ll be two prospects to watch in April, especially in the spring game.

- Florence missed two 2012 games for undisclosed personal reasons, and Therezie briefly switched to running back – a move he swore was his decision and was permanent – before returning to corner.

- Chris Davis battled concussions the second half of the season. We’ll be asking him how he’s doing medically, being a hot topic in this era of competitive football.

- Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 system requires a ‘star’ defender, who requires the speed of a safety and the size of a linebacker. Look for incoming junior college recruit Brandon King to compete for that spot immediately.

- Which true freshman could play right away? Head coach Gus Malzahn said he needs a “vicious”-hitting safety, and that’s how, on Signing Day, he described Khari Harding.

Statistically speaking:

65.6 – Auburn opponents’ completion percentage in 2012, the 10th-highest mark in Division I football.

358 – passes attempted by Auburn opponents in 2012 – the 20th-least nationally.

20 – touchdown passes by Auburn opponents in 2012 – tied for 57th-least nationally.

2 – interceptions by Auburn players in 2012, tied with South Florida for the least in the country. One was by linebacker Daren Bates, the other was by occasionally-used safety Trent Fisher.

19 – interceptions by Mississippi State in 2012, led then by Melvin Smith. In the SEC, only Florida had more (20).

3 – sacks by Auburn defensive backs – one each for McNeal, Whitehead and Mincy.

6 – double-digit tackle games by McNeal, leading the Tigers. He did not register any tackles in three games – Clemson, Alabama A&M and Alabama.

90 – tackles by McNeal, just four off of Bates’ team-leading pace.

7 – tackles for a loss by McNeal, tied with Angelo Blackson leading the team.

37 – career games played for McNeal, who at times clashed with the former coaching staff. If he plays every regular season game plus a bowl game his senior year, McNeal hit the 50-game mark, one more than Daren Bates, John Sullen and Onterio McCalebb totaled.

159 – the number of solo tackles attributed to McNeal, Whitehead, Mincy and Davis, the four frequent secondary starters. That’s exactly one-third the entire team total by just those four defensive backs, which does not include another 89 by other DBs. Four of the team’s top six tacklers were in the secondary.

Good Twitter follows: The football field isn’t the only forum for a friendly rivalry between Josh Holsey and Jonathan Jones. Holsey’s @HeyItsJHolsey (4,431 followers) currently has the best of Jones’ @Jonathan_Jones2 (2,800), and both accounts showcase their owner’s personality: Holsey’s fun-loving and feisty, while Jones is more laid-back, cerebral and even philosophical when the moment strikes.

Say what? “With a 4-2-5, you’re wider. By relocating that third defensive back, it changes the dynamic of the corner … it’s all about leverage. If you’re in a 4-2-5, and you make a living in it, you’re going to play some man coverage. The reason people play the 4-2-5 is because of personnel matchup vs. the offense. The 4-2-5 allows you to cover whatever shows up.” – Melvin Smith, describing the role of cornerbacks in a true 4-2-5 package

Joshua Holsey

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

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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.

AUBURN 31, LOUISIANA-MONROE 28 (OT)

Sept. 15, 2012, SEC NETWORK

Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.

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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.

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- 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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

THREE STARS

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.