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Thursday, April 18, 2013

A-Day Preview 2013: It’s a New Day

On Saturday April 20, 2013, Auburn fans will get their first glimpse at the 2013-2014 football team. But this year’s A-Day feels even more special than usual. First, there’s a new regime on the Plains…well, sort of. Gus Malzahn returns to the team he won the national championship with in 2010 as the offensive coordinator, but this time as a head coach. Although many Auburn fans (including myself) were skeptical of the hire at first, it seems like almost everyone has hopped aboard the “Gus Bus.” Second, it’s a bittersweet day for Auburn. After the spring game, everyone will gather at Toomer’s Corner for the final rolling of the fabled Auburn Oaks. Because of the final rolling is after the game, attendance for A-Day is expected to be much higher than last season. Needless to say, it feels like this weekend is going to a special one on the Plains. Before the stands of JHS are filled with eager Auburn fans on Saturday, let’s take a look at some of the key storylines going into A-Day 2013.

It’s the biggest question mark going into the fall: who will start at quarterback for Auburn next season? The two frontrunners are obviously Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace. Frazier began the season under center for Auburn, before being replaced by Clint Moseley, who was subsequently replaced by Jonathan Wallace. However, all signs point to Kiehl Frazier having a bounce back year. After playing in an uncomfortable pro-style offense in 2012 under former offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler, Frazier returns to his natural offensive scheme: the spread offense. Frazier was recruited by Gus Malzahn to run this offense, and Kiehl has reportedly lost weight to better manage the quick tempo that Gus brings to the table. Despite this, Frazier has struggled in his Auburn career in protecting the football, decision making, and pocket presence. Whether Kiehl can fix these issues in the spring will go a long way to determining whether or not he starts the season again in 2013.

Scott Loeffler once said in 2012 that he would never consider starting Jonathan Wallace. After Auburn got off to one of its worst starts in program history, Loeffler’s stance changed. Wallace started the final four games of the season for the Tigers after Clint Moseley got injured, and the true freshman did not disappoint. Wallace provided an offensive spark for an otherwise stagnant Auburn offense, setting the Auburn record for QB efficiency with an average of 139.60. Although Wallace was impressive at times last season, his physical limitations may hamper his chances of winning the starting job. The two wildcards at QB for the Tigers are Jeremy Johnson and Nick Marshall. Johnson, the Carver High School quarterback was Mr. Football for the state of Alabama in 2012. Many people believe he could be the quarterback of the future for Auburn, but would Malzahn be willing to start him as a freshman? Meanwhile, Nick Marshall comes to the Plains from junior college, looking for a chance to be named the starter as well. Remember the last quarterback to come to Auburn straight from junior college? (hint: he has a statue outside of Jordan-Hare). Could Marshall follow in Cam’s footsteps and become the immediate starter? Clearly it’s going to be an intense battle at quarterback for Auburn in the next few months.

Blame it on the lack of production from the offense which kept the defense on the field. Blame it on new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. Blame it on the youth and inexperience of last year’s squad. Blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-alcohol (Jamie Foxx voice). Whatever or whomever you blame Auburn’s defensive failures from last year on; the problems need to be fixed…immediately. If Auburn doesn’t fix its defense, all of the expected improvements in the offense will be for not, and Auburn will be a bottom feeder in the SEC for a second consecutive year.

Enter new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. Johnson had a disastrous season last year as a first year head coach with Southern Miss, but he has a strong reputation as a successful defensive coordinator in the Southeastern Conference. Johnson will bring a multiple defensive package to the Plains, highlighted by a base 4-2-5 defense. Johnson wants to bring the physicality and aggressiveness that built Auburn’s defensive reputation over the years, which will be no easy task considering how poorly the Tigers played in 2012. Auburn has several holes on defense, starting with linebacker. Senior Darren Bates has left for the NFL draft, leaving Coach Johnson with a relatively thin linebacking core. Jake Holland, Cassanova McKinzy, and Kris Frost lead the charge at the position, but all three will have to really improve their play for Auburn to be competitive next season. Cornerback was a big problem for Auburn under Brian VanGorder, as the Tigers only managed two interceptions last season. Winning the turnover margin goes a long way towards success in college football, and more takeaways for the Tiger’s defense could be a great equalizer for Auburn in 2013. Auburn has a deep rotation of defensive tackles and ends, but with Corey Lemonier leaving the NFL draft as well, Coach Johnson needs someone to step up and be a leader for the defensive front next season. Finally, according to Coach Johnson the most impressive player in the spring so far has been Justin Garret. Garret is the front runner to play the hybrid “star” safety/linebacker position in the 4-2-5 package. With Darren Bates graduating, Auburn needs an aggressive player to set the tone for the defense and Justin Garret just might fill that role.


Gus Malzahn is an offensive guru…there’s no debating that. But can Coach Malzahn, who has an expanded role that reaches beyond just the offense, fix this horrid Tiger attack and make Auburn competitive again? If you’re hoping to get an answer from watching the offense on A-Day, don’t get your hopes up. It’s unlikely that Gus will reveal any major schemes or plays so that his SEC foes don’t get a preview of what to expect in 2013. One thing you can expect on Saturday is a faster tempo. Much faster. There were many reports that Gene Chizik “limited” Gus Malzahn’s offense while he was the Tiger’s offensive coordinator from 2009-2011. If that’s the case, expect a very new offensive scheme for Auburn next season. If you want a sneak preview, I’d recommend checking out some film from Arkansas State last season, a team that averaged 34.9 PPG, good enough for 26th in the nation. It’s going to be a difficult adjustment for these Auburn players, who ran a slow-paced pro-style offense last season, but based off the athletes on the roster, it’s a much better fit for Auburn. Plus, if the Tigers have any chance of beating Alabama, they need to have a quicker tempo. You aren’t going to beat the Tide at their own game (power football). If Auburn wants to take down the Tide in 2013, the blueprint lies in the tape from the Bama-Texas A&m game last season. The best way to wear down the best defense in the country is by running as many plays as possible…simple as that. And with Gus Malzahn at the helm in Auburn, and to the delight of most Auburn fans…we can expect a lot of plays. And a few wrap around draws as well. 

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