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August 30, 2013

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

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Forget the numbers.

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

Ryan Black

Ryan Black

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

He ran for 1,095 yards and 19 touchdowns.

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

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

It goes on and on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep, more stats.

They’re just impossible to avoid.

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

No, that’s not Bray’s way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call it the Reverse Grantland Rice Theory.

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

What will matter is whether the Tigers won or lost.

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

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

August 14, 2013

With quarterback career behind him, Kiehl Frazier embraces new role at safety ‘100 percent’

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Kiehl Frazier isn’t sure when it happened, exactly.

Kiehl Frazier won't be throwing passes anymore, as the former quarterback made the decision to move to safety earlier this week. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Kiehl Frazier won’t be throwing passes anymore, as the former quarterback made the decision to move to safety earlier this week. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

The precise date and time, in this case, isn’t important. It’s the thought that counts. And at some point before Auburn’s fall camp began — maybe two weeks prior, Frazier believed, give or take — it started to cross his mind he might not be cut out to be a quarterback. Yes, the same player who started the first five games at quarterback last season for the Tigers and returned as the team’s leader in passing yardage (753) no longer considered himself fit for the position.

He trudged on nonetheless, competing with the other three signal-callers — Nick Marshall, Jeremy Johnson and Jonathan Wallace — fighting to win the starting job. But when Frazier met with head coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee on Sunday to discuss how the reps would be split at quarterback for the coming week, the junior knew it was the right time.

“We kind of came to a mutual decision that it would be best for me and best for the team to for me to move to safety,” he said after the announcement first surfaced on Monday. “That’s something that I’m really going to embrace, and going to try to have fun with and try to help the team out.”

Frazier didn’t break the news himself; that was Malzahn, who was the first to meet with reporters following Monday’s practice. He said the move was an idea Frazier came up with on his own

The coaching staff played no part, aside from ceding to his wishes to shift to safety.

“I go way back with Kiehl relationship-wise and have a lot of respect for him,” Malzahn said. “He wants to do whatever is best for our team and we need help back there.”

Frazier was the first to note how confounding it appears to those on the outside. Take a quick look at his resume coming out of high school in Springdale, Ark., stuffed to the brim with quarterbacking feats. The accomplishment that stands above the rest reads, “USA Today’s National Offensive Player of the Year,” which Frazier captured in 2010.

Three years later, he’s a safety.

How does that happen?

Cliche as it sounds, Frazier said his heart wasn’t in it anymore.

“It was just something that I’ve been contemplating and thinking about,” he said. “I think I did well enough to put myself in a position to be the quarterback, but that’s something I felt like you have to be all in, 100 percent.”

Anything less than full commitment, Frazier said, would be unfair to his teammates. That’s why he’s focused on working his way into the rotation at safety, which he played in high school.

“Some schools even wanted me to play safety in college — a lot of West Coast schools and Northeast schools,” he said. “So it’s something that I’m familiar with, not that I’ve played it a lot. There’s going to be a transition period, but something I feel that I can do very well at.”

He’s already found a mentor in Kodi Burns. The former Tiger went through a similar position change himself four years ago, moving to wide receiver after Chris Todd was named the starting quarterback. And Burns flourished in his new role, contributing to Auburn’s national-title winning squad in 2010.

What was the best advice Burns imparted upon him?

“Just make the best out of any situation. Do what you want to do,'” Frazier said. “Football isn’t forever — what I’m doing right now is what I’m getting my education in. It’s something I feel like I can do well in. Whatever I do, do it to the fullest.

Aside from picking up the defense’s schemes and calls, a few other alterations had to be made. He changed his equipment, and decided to add a visor to his helmet “to try to look cool out there.” Jersey No. 10 went out the door as well. Since linebacker LaDarius Owens already had the number, Frazier changed to No. 25.

Following his first practice at safety Monday, Frazier was pleased with his performance.

“That was my first time hitting in practice and being physical and being live for real,” he said. “So I thought it went really well.”

Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has already talked with him, Frazier said, happy to welcome an addition at safety, one of the thinnest units on the team.

Johnson’s counterpart, Lashlee, still couldn’t get over Frazier’s altruism when he met with media members after Tuesday morning’s situational scrimmage.

“I’m not sure if I’ve ever been more proud of a young person I’ve coached than I am of Kiehl right now,” he said. “Because you know, when you look at the quarterback position, I tell those guys all the time it’s unfair, but it’s reality. When you win, you get way too much credit, and when you lose, you get way too much blame. He went through some stuff that not a lot of people go through, and I couldn’t be more proud.”

The adversity Lashlee was alluding to shouldn’t be difficult to discern. He was referring, of course, to the struggles Frazier and the Tigers went through in 2012, when they limped home to a 3-9 record. Throwing his old coaching staff under the bus or regretting last season? Not Frazier’s style. He admitted he felt comfortable in then-offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler’s scheme at the outset of last year — it was something he had been training for his whole life, after all, back when he was still set on being a quarterback. But as the season started to unravel, his confidence and comfort level began to wane.

Now 2012 is nothing more than a teaching tool for Frazier and the rest of his teammates who returned this fall.

“I didn’t play well last year and that’s something that’s kind of set in stone,” he said. “I can’t go back and change it. … Everything that happened last year, I wouldn’t take it back because that’s something that the team learned from.”

Despite the hard times last season brought, Frazier said he never thought about quitting. It’s the same mind-set that helped him reach his decision to switch to defense.

That’s why Frazier didn’t contemplate transferring, either.

He loves Auburn — everything about it — too much to leave.

“Whenever I committed to Auburn, I committed for four years, maybe five — however long I stay here,” Frazier said. “I love the city of Auburn. I love the college.  And no matter what we went through last year, it was a learning experience. But my love for Auburn never left.”

August 2, 2013

Quan Bray: Auburn’s receivers embrace doubters ‘sleeping on us’

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala. — It’s not fun being ignored.

Quan Bray isn't surprised Auburn's wide receivers are being overlooked entering the fall. The junior's goal now is to change people's minds.

Quan Bray isn’t surprised Auburn’s wide receivers are being overlooked entering the fall. The junior’s goal now is to change people’s minds.

But Quan Bray is well-aware why people have little regard for he and his fellow receivers heading into the fall. How highly are people supposed to think of a team coming off a 3-9 season, after all? Throw in the fact the Tigers lost Emory Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen, their top two options in the passing game last year, and the minimal buzz surrounding the wideouts is to be expected.

Bray wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I feel real good,” he said. “I think a lot of people are sleeping on us and that’s what we need.”

Bray devoted much of his time this summer to develop his leadership skills. Along with fellow receivers Trovon Reed and Sammie Coates, Bray believes there is a core group the rest of the unit can look to for advice.

“It’s time for us to step up and be the guys everyone expects us to be,” he said.

Newcomers Marcus Davis, Tony Stevens and Dominic Walker have infused the receiving corps with a burst of energy as well.

“They came in and are real hungry right now,” he said. “Playing behind guys like T-Reed and Sammie and knowing we’re ready to eat, I think they’re real competitive.”

For any problems the new wideouts might have with the offensive playbook, they have a veteran in Bray as familiar with Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense as any player on the Tigers’ roster.

“We can let (the young receivers) know what’s coming so when it hits them it won’t be a surprise,” he said. “It’s definitely a big asset to help us to do the right things for them.”

Bray certainly feels more at home with Malzahn’s scheme than the one he was in last year. He made no bones about feeling out of place in offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler’s pro-style attack, noting that when he was originally recruited to play for the Tigers, it was in a high-octane spread offense.

“We had to adjust to things (to Loeffler’s offense),” he said. “We did in some sense, but it didn’t show off. For (Malzahn) to come back with the spread offense and the players that we have, it’s the right fit.”

The sense that things have been recalibrated and are as they should be was embodied during the Tigers’ summer workouts. Bray said there was a stark difference between this summer and the year before. Everything moved “a lot faster,” not a surprising bit of information given Malzahn’s up-tempo tendencies. But the easiest way to differentiate between this summer and last was to simply look at attendance.

For one reason or another, players didn’t put forth more than the bare minimum during last summer’s workouts.

“The difference in ordinary and extraordinary is ‘extra,’ right? I don’t think a lot of guys bought in,” Bray said. “We’ve bought in to what Malzahn is doing. And definitely (strength and conditioning) Coach (Ryan) Russell. He’s definitely motivating a lot of guys to be the best they can be.”

Russell’s approach with Bray had two emphases. First, Bray worked on his strength as part of a strict weight-lifting regimen. Secondly, he wanted to get quicker, perfecting his footwork through ladder drills.

In those endeavors, Russell succeeded, as Bray believes he’s in the best shape of his career. And he’ll need to be, as the junior expects to once again be back fielding punts in addition to his pass-catching responsibilities. He might even add some kick return duties on top of that.

“I’m trying to be the all-purpose back of the year,” he said.

But above all else, Bray wants to force people to recognize him as a formidable threat at receiver, and for that to extend to the rest of the unit. People haven’t afforded the Tigers that respect on reputation alone. It’s something that will have to be earned this fall.

All that’s needed is for one of them to set it in motion.

“Us as receivers, we’re like brothers,” Bray said. “This really is a brotherhood. In that room, if one of us is working, all of us are working. If one of us is catching balls, we’re all watching balls. We stick together.”

July 30, 2013

4 at 4: Counting down the days until real, live football gets here

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala. — Two days.

Just two more days until Auburn players report. Three days until fall camp opens. And we’re just a month away from the season kicking off, when the Tigers welcome the Washington State Cougars to Jordan-Hare Stadium on Aug. 31. It seems so close — and it is. But the closer it gets, the more anxious I am for it to finally begin. Of course, coaches, players and fans share in the excitement of a coming season every bit as much as media members do.

Ellis Johnson

Ellis Johnson

It reminds me of something defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said when he sat down for an interview with beat writers exactly one week ago today. In fact, it was the very first thing Johnson was asked: “How ready are you to get things started?”

It was a simple question, but the veteran coach gave a wonderfully detailed answer.

“We’ve kept away from them so much during this time of the year, and although they never leave, it’s not like the old reporting dates in the old days where they used to go home for the summer and you couldn’t wait to see them when they got back. At the same time, it’s still a time when you can get your hands back on them and get back on the field and get rolling again. You kind of get in these days right here, I can’t stand them. I either want to go back on vacation or I want to start practice. That in-between time is kind of hard to hold yourself back.”

Believe me, Coach, we all feel the same way.

In the meantime, let’s hit on a few small items in today’s edition of “4 at 4.”

1. A few tweets regarding myriad former members of Auburn’s football program have made the rounds on Twitter in the last 24 hours. The first, as was discussed in this space Monday, was in reference to former Tigers running back Michael Dyer. According to this tweet from Drew Deener, the play-by-play voice of the Louisville Cardinals, Dyer has not yet joined their program, per head coach Charlie Strong.

Speaking of head coaches, former Tigers head man Tommy Tuberville has not returned to Auburn since 2008, if this tweet from CBS Sports national college football reporter Jeremy Fowler is taken as fact.

It would probably be smart for former offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler to stay away from Auburn for a few years, too. Take a look at some of the comments he made at the Roanoke Valley Sports Club on Monday night, which were tweeted out by former War Eagle Extra beat writer Andy Bitter, now covering Virginia Tech football for the Roanoke Times and Virginian-Pilot.

Needless to say, the current offensive coordinator of the Hokies didn’t think very much of the hand he was dealt last season.

Oh, and he thinks Nick Saban is smart. (Then again, what is he supposed to say when he couldn’t put a single point on the board against Alabama’s defense last year?)

Not surprisingly, it didn’t take long for an Auburn player to respond, as backup center Tunde Fariyike did the honors — with an edge.

And how about one more Fariyike tweet to top it off?

2. Gus Malzahn will be making his last stop on the 2013 Tiger Trek this evening. It will be in Montgomery at Riverwalk Stadium starting at 6 p.m. ET. James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser has all the details for those who might be interested.

3. At the risk of possible Johnny Manziel overload, I cannot recommend this article by ESPN The Magazine senior writer Wright Thompson enough. While reading it, I went through every emotion possibly toward “Johnny Football.” Anger. Pity. Fascination. Bewilderment. (One thing I must note about the story: It contains some graphic language and subject matter.)

Frankly, all you really need to know is that Thompson wrote it — for my money, one of the top sports journalists in the country without question. Read it for yourself and see how you feel about Manziel. Maybe it will cement your preconceived notions about him. Or maybe you’ll end up feeling differently about the 20-year-old lightning rod known as much for off-the-field controversies as his incredible on-the-field accomplishments.

4. Just in case you’re in Auburn this weekend, take heart: Parking will be free.

Via the Opelika-Auburn News article: “In conjunction with this weekend’s sales tax holiday weekend and Auburn University’s semester break, the Auburn City Council has suspended parking meter operations in downtown from Aug. 3-20.”

Most importantly, for you fellow football-lovers out there, yes, fall camp will have already started by this weekend.

March 30, 2013

Back to his roots: Cool, confident Kiehl Frazier relieved to be back in his comfort zone

AUBURN FOOTBALL

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – Kiehl Frazier had his pick of several mentors and other trusted members of his support system during the most melancholy six months of his life.

Down the stretch of a dismal 3-9 season in which he lost his starting job, it was then-offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler.

“Even whenever they put Clint (Moseley) in, when they put Jon (Wallace) in,” the junior quarterback said, “he said, keep your confidence. You can be a good player.”

Once the offseason began, Frazier’s father, Robin Beach, and high school coach, Josh Floyd, did their best to champion his spirit.

“He says, you’re a winner,” Frazier said of his dad’s repeated message. “You’ve been a winner your whole life. So you can still be a winner. Go be a winner.”

Recently, a fellow classmate has filled that role as well. Every time he enters Jordan-Hare Stadium – which he did for the first time in spring practice pads Saturday – Frazier walks by a statue of that famous student.

“Cam (Newton) would be around all the time, and now he’s here at school,” Frazier said. “He’s like, forget about last year. This is the offense I did well in, you can do well in it too.”

It was small-school Arkansas competition, of course, but Frazier wasn’t named USA Today’s National Player of the Year for his polite demeanor. It’s hard to say whether Frazier forgot who he once was – a blue-chip product deemed the future of the program, the heir to King Cam’s throne – but getting benched after just nine woeful halves of football had to chip away at his confidence.

Right?

“No. It hasn’t,” Frazier insisted. “I know I can be a good quarterback in this league. It’s just something that I’ve got to step up and do it.”

Frazier said he never considered transferring. But when head coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee were summoned back to the Plains less than ten days after the firing of their predecessors Gene Chizik and Loeffler – who favored a slower, traditional pro-style attack – Frazier couldn’t help but beam.

“This is an offense that I’m a lot more comfortable with,” Frazier said. “Really, when I got recruited, this is what I was expecting to run what I got to Auburn. So it’s good to get back to it.

“It’s going to be fun.”

Sophomore Jonathan Wallace, the only other scholarship quarterback in spring practices, played in a similar spread attack at Central High School in Phenix City. He and Frazier are re-learning their comfort level, after a year in a completely different system.

“That’s the thing about it, we have to be fast,” Wallace said. “That’s why (Malzahn’s) putting the emphasis on it. That’s going to be our edge, playing fast and doing things right. We’re not fast enough right now. We’re going to get there.”

During his first meeting with reporters since Oct. 6, the day he lost his starting job at halftime of a Week 6 home loss to Arkansas, Frazier’s three buzz words Frazier were “mental toughness” and “confidence.”

“It’s definitely been tested. I’ve never won only three games in a season in anything,” Frazier said. “You never want to sit on the bench, especially if your team’s losing. I had to grow mentally, and my confidence just had to stay.”

These days, while Newton finishes off his degree during his offseason from the Carolina Panthers, the former Heisman Trophy winner makes a point to chat with a younger version of himself.

While Newton hasn’t been available to reporters since his return to class, Frazier estimated they see each other “2-3 times a week”.

“Every time,” Frazier said, “he’ll say, hey, you know what, keep your head up and keep going.”

AUBURN FOOTBALL

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 12, 2013

How much do Malzahn’s assistants bank? Just a little bit less than their Auburn predecessors, and less than Tennessee & Arkansas staffs

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – As much experience and star power Auburn’s esteemed group of assistant football coaches bring to their new school, it’s still a less pricey bunch than its predecessors and a couple of conference rivals.

Former head coach Gene Chizik ($3.5 million) led a nine-man staff with annual salaries combining for $3.635 million, which translated to the sixth-most expensive coaching crew in America per USA Today’s salary database.

New head coach Gus Malzahn ($2.3 million) has hauled in big names like seasoned defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson ($800,000), Auburn lettermen Rodney Garner ($500,000) and Dameyune Craig ($350,000), and former recruiting coordinators Charlie Harbison ($425,000) and Tim Horton ($250,000).

The nine new coordinators and position coaches will make approximately $3.41 million, according to figures obtained through Open Alabama Financial Reports. Adding Malzahn’s deal, the total price of Auburn’s 2013 coaching staff settles in at roughly $5.71 million.

That would mean Malzahn’s assistants bring in $225,000 less per year than the previous staff.

Gus Malzahn 9

Auburn has yet to release official contracts for seven co-coordinators and position coaches, despite the other three SEC institutions with new regimes (Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas) doing so in January.

Tennessee and Arkansas, led respectively by Butch Jones and Bret Bielema, are paying their entire staffs (head and assistants) more than $6 million, while Kentucky’s price tag for Mark Stoops and company is just under $4.7 million.

Rich Bisaccia, who was hired Jan. 3 to coach Auburn running backs and special teams, banked $38,044 for three weeks of work before leaving to coach the Dallas Cowboys’ special teams. The NFL coaching veteran stood to make half a million dollars this year had he stayed.

Bisaccia’s spot was replaced by the promotion of Scott Fountain from support staff to an on-field coaching position, though Fountain does not appear to have received a raise from last year’s $210,000 salary based on the financial report.

29-year-old offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee’s salary is $350,000. The staff is completed by offensive line coach J.B. Grimes ($275,000) and cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith ($250,000).

The Tigers’ ten coaches have been in college coaching for a combined 197 years, including 99 in the SEC in some capacity.

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Of course, Auburn University still owes hefty buyouts to Chizik and his assistants after firing them in early December. Via their contracts, any income earned through coaching, broadcasting, publishing media or any other type of football-related endeavors through the expiration of those contracts will be subsidized from Auburn’s financial commitment.

Chizik and ex-assistant head coach Trooper Taylor remain unemployed, though Chizik was part of ESPNU’s National Signing Day coverage as a guest analyst.

The other eight Chizik assistants have found full-time jobs: defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is coaching New York Jets linebackers, Scot Loeffler (offensive coordinator) and Jeff Grimes (offensive line) are at Virginia Tech, Tommy Thigpen (linebackers) and Willie Martinez (defensive backs) are with Tennessee, Curtis Luper (running backs) is at TCU, Mike Pelton (defensive line) is with Georgia Tech and Jay Boulware (special teams/tight ends) made his way to Oklahoma after initially being hired by Wisconsin.

Some but not all of their new contracts have been released. Based on Open Alabama Financial Reports released for the month of February, those eight coaches figure to subtract upwards of $1.5 million per year from Auburn’s buyout as long as they remain employed.

Chizik’s buyout, which opened at $7.7 million when he was terminated Nov. 25, will be paid in monthly installments through Dec. 31, 2015. The Loeffler, VanGorder and Taylor buyouts last through June 30, 2014, while the other six assistants are off the books on June 30 of this year.

February 11, 2013

Auburn notes: Let the QB games begin, Pro Day on March 5, ‘All You Can Eat’ hoops night

Jonathan Wallace

AUBURN, Ala. – Let the water-cooler talk and barroom debates begin.

Auburn’s quarterback position was a nightmare last fall, so it’s never too early to begin dreaming of who will fulfill the lead passer position in Gus Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee’s QB-friendly offense in 2013.

The incumbent is sophomore-to-be Jonathan Wallace, a Central-Phenix City product who started the final four games and set an Auburn freshman record for passing efficiency (139.60.)

Another returner is junior Kiehl Frazier, Auburn’s 2012 passing leader with 753 yards in five starts and a disciple of Malzahn’s playbook at Shiloh Christian in Springdale, Ark.

Wallace and Frazier are joined by three new signees last Wednesday: Carver four-star recruit Jeremy Johnson, Garden City CC gunslinger and former Georgia defensive back Nick Marshall, and McGill-Toolen athlete Jason Smith from Mobile.

“We’re going to give all three of those guys a shot at quarterback, and they’re all very talented at that position,” Malzahn said on national signing day Wednesday. “As you’ve all seen in the past, the dual-threat type guys that can do a lot of different things – and keep plays alive – can be very successful with what we do.”

Malzahn referred to Johnson as “one of the centerpieces offensively” of this 2013 class, which includes Smith, three solid running backs and four more receivers.

“I think it’s perfect for Jeremy Johnson,” Fox Sports South and Scout.com national recruiting analyst Chad Simmons said of Malzahn’s offense.

“We saw last year, the personnel just didn’t work with what Scot Loeffler wanted to do with that offensive scheme. I’m not sure Johnson would have been good in that system either … when you have a kid like that who’s used to playing in that 4- or 5-wide, 1-back or zero-back offense, Jeremy’s good with mobility. If Jeremy ever was looking around, I think when Gus Malzahn got the job, his looking was done. He knows he’s a perfect fit for that system.”

Simmons went on to call Marshall a “high-risk, high-reward type of player”, referring to Marshall racking up both touchdowns and interceptions through the air.

“Nick’s one of the best I’ve probably ever covered from an athletic standpoint,” Simmons said. “He definitely as a quarterback will sling it around. In high school, some compared him to a kid like Charlie Ward – the type of kid that can run the ball, that can throw the ball, that can make all the different plays you look for in a quarterback. But he also has trouble reading defenses, and takes maybe a little bit too many chances than he should, trying to force the ball in there.”

And then there’s Smith, who was presumed to shift over to wide receiver near the end of his recruitment. But Malzahn explicitly referred to Smith as a quarterback multiple times Wednesday.

“He’s electric. He’s got phenomenal skills,” Malzahn said. “He can do a lot of different things. We’re very excited about Jason.”

Pro Day on March 5

Two weeks after they let scouts get a good look at their skills at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, former Auburn defensive end Corey Lemonier, tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen and tailback Onterio McCalebb will do it again with some home-field advantage at Pro Day on Tuesday, March 5.

That trio will be joined by old teammates wide receiver Emory Blake and offensive guard John Sullen. It’s not yet known whether linebacker Daren Bates will be in attendance.

Lemonier has been projected to be drafted anywhere from late in the first round to the fourth round. Lutzenkirchen is looking to be taken in the middle rounds, while the rest of the ex-Tigers are holding out hope to hear their name called in the seventh round, or get a phone call in free agency.

Save room for seconds … and thirds

Ladies and gentlemen, start your metabolism.

Auburn Arena is running a promotion Wednesday night for the Arkansas-Auburn men’s basketball game, tipping off at 9 p.m. ET. For fans who purchase an “All You Can Eat” seat for $25 in the 200 level, unlimited concessions will be provided including hot dogs, burgers, nachos, popcorn, pretzels and soft drinks.

This is also an “All Auburn, All Orange” game, as fans are encouraged to wear orange. For those who watch from home, it will be televised by CSS.

January 25, 2013

Auburn notes: Loeffler, Grimes still owed buyout money; another juco commits to Tigers

AUBURN, Ala. — Virginia Tech released its salaries Friday for newly-hired coaches Scot Loeffler and Jeff Grimes, still receiving monthly paychecks from Auburn after being fired at the end of the 2012 season.

Andy Bitter of the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot divulged Loeffler’s eventual annual salary will reach $400,000 and Grimes will be paid $265,000. However, each man will make $150,000 annually from their new employer until their Auburn contracts expire.

Since Grimes’ deal ends June 30 of this year, and Loeffler’s on June 30, 2014, that means Auburn can deduct approximately $300,000 from its original buyout for its former offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.

Loeffler’s Auburn salary was half a million dollars, while Grimes’ had been $400,000.

Six-pack of jucos

Reports surfaced Friday that linebacker Kenny Flowers will give Auburn a third commitment this offseason from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College.

Hutchinson coach Rion Rhoades told multiple outlets of Flowers’ decision, which would have him joining former teammates Devonte Danzey and Ben Bradley on their way to the Plains.

The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Flowers is a three-star prospect and 247sports.com’s No. 3-rated inside linebacker. Originally from Lilburn, Ga., he previously committed to Texas A&M in November, but backed out when he could not enroll early.

Danzey, an offensive guard, and Bradley, a defensive tackle, are already enrolled at Auburn and ready for spring practices.

Flowers would be Auburn’s sixth commitment from a junior college player.

January 18, 2013

Notebook: OL Shon Coleman granted a sixth year of eligibility, after battling leukemia

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Photo by Todd Van Emst

AUBURN, Ala. – Shon Coleman will get his chance to fulfill a complete football career at Auburn.

A 6-foot-6, 302-pound offensive lineman from Memphis, Coleman was granted a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA Friday. He essentially receives two medical hardship waiver years for battling leukemia during the 2011 and 2012 football seasons.

“This is great news for Shon, who has been through a lot medically during the last few years,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. “He has been courageous in his fight and we look forward to him returning to the football field. We’re also very appreciative of the NCAA staff for their understanding of his situation and granting him his sixth year.”

Coleman, 21, was diagnosed in the spring of 2010 with leukemia and underwent treatment at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, and while he was cleared by doctors for limited practice at the end of spring drills, he did not see the field last season.

Coleman was listed on the season’s final depth chart as the backup to tackles Greg Robinson and Patrick Miller.

He was a four-star recruit in the class of 2010, named a first-team all-state honoree by the Mississippi Association of Coaches his senior year at Olive Branch High School. Coleman participated in the 2009 Alabama-Mississippi All-Star game and 2010 Army All-American Bowl.

Landing on their feet

More than half the 2012 Auburn assistants have taken jobs at other Division I colleges, which is good news for the university as its final payouts continue to subsidize.

Earlier this offseason, linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen and secondary coach Willie Martinez landed at Tennessee, while offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler grabbed the same position at Virginia Tech and special teams/tight ends coach Jay Boulware was hired at Wisconsin.

Within the past week, Loeffler brought former Auburn offensive line coach Jeff Grimes with him to Blacksburg, as dictated by the Hokies’ official web site.

Local newspaper reports have ex-Auburn running backs coach Curtis Luper heading to TCU – where his son, Cameron Echols-Luper, recently switched his verbal commitment out of Auburn High School – and defensive line coach Mike Pelton stopping off at Georgia Tech under Ted Roof, Auburn’s 2011 defensive coordinator.

Those six assistants had a combined 2012 salary of more than $2.1 million. Per their Auburn contracts, whatever salaries they earn from their new institutions will be docked from their buyouts.

The remaining unemployed members of Auburn’s fired staff: head coach Gene Chizik, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and wide receivers/assistant head coach Trooper Taylor.

Three Tigers play Saturday

Tailback Onterio McCalebb, left guard John Sullen and linebacker Daren Bates started a combined 30 games their seniors seasons at Auburn.

None are projected to be selected highly – if at all – in this upcoming April’s NFL Draft, but they get a chance to impress some scouts today at the inaugural Raycom College Football All-Star Classic at Montgomery’s Cramton Bowl. The game begins at 3 p.m. ET and will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network.

McCalebb, Sullen and Bates will suit up for the ‘Stars’ squad, coached by former NFL head coach Jim Bates. They’ll take on the Stripes, led by Dan Reeves.