Auburn Tigers: Jeremy Johnson

AUBURN, Ala. -- When Avery Young was spotted at right guard in practice this week, there was speculation and rumors running rampant across the Plains. The questions began trickling in. What did it mean for the left tackle battle? Are Shon Coleman and Patrick Miller both going to start? How about Chad Slade? Had the senior lost his job?

Not so fast.

“I want to make it very clear, we've not made any changes to our offensive line,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said Thursday. “I really don't know why people think that. We're doing at offensive line the same thing we're doing at receiver, the same thing we're doing at running back and everywhere else, [we’re] mixing and matching people.

[+] EnlargeAvery Young
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsAvery Young has been taking reps at guard, but that doesn't mean that he's moving there permanently.
“Avery Young may get some reps at right guard. That doesn't mean he's not playing right tackle. That doesn't mean Chad is not playing at right guard. And sometimes we may put Chad at left guard and take [Alex] Kozan out and give him a blow.

“What happens if Chad Slade goes down in the middle of the season. What are we going to do then? Or what happens if Alex Kozan goes down. What are we going to do then?”

The spring is for experimenting with players at different positions and seeing what you have. It’s meant to build depth in case of an injury or a suspension during the season, but it’s not the time for coaches to change up the depth chart. The season opener is still over four months away.

Just because junior college transfer Xavier Dampeer has been working some at center with the first group, it doesn’t mean that All-SEC center Reese Dismukes is in danger of losing his job. The staff just wants to find a quality backup and a player who can take over once Dismukes has graduated.

“It's just all about how we manage the reps,” Lashlee said. “We've done it at wideout. We've even done it at quarterback some. Jeremy Johnson needs to get some reps with the older line at times. So like I said, we're not going to make any decisions on depth chart in the middle of spring.”

There might be uncertainty on the offensive line or at spots such as running back and wide receiver, but the strength of the Auburn offense is how deep it is.

The Tigers have three capable running backs battling for the No. 1 job this spring, and two more are expected to join the fold in the summer. The wide receiver position is as deep as any on the roster with the entire corps returning and the addition of D'haquille Williams, the top juco player in the country. With Nick Marshall at quarterback and Johnson behind him, they are set at a spot where most teams still have question marks.

So no, Young’s move to right guard isn’t permanent. It doesn’t mean that he won’t start there at some point during the season, but for now the move is meant to build depth and improve an offensive line that’s already considered one of the best in the SEC.

SEC's lunch links

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8
The SEC has been pumping out internet memes lately. Over the weekend there was Gene Chizik staring down his daughter's prom date. Then during Monday night's basketball national championship game, rapper Drake's many sports allegiances (Kentucky among them) were on display. Oh, and the kid Cats lost to UConn and then acted like they'd never heard of the NBA draft.

Let's swim back into the friendlier waters of SEC football, shall we?

SEC lunchtime links

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
Spring storylines abound this week around the SEC. Let's take a quick spin around the league to see what's happening.
Sean WhiteTom Hauck for Student SportsSean White is getting acclimated to Auburn's workout plan while finishing up high school in Florida.

Auburn is loaded at quarterback with Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson, but that doesn’t mean the coaches aren’t excited about incoming freshman Sean White, an ESPN 300 quarterback from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who earned MVP honors at the Elite 11 competition and the Under Armour All-American Game.

We caught up with White to talk about the upcoming season, how he fits in Gus Malzahn’s offense and who he has winning it all in basketball.

I know you’ve been watching the tournament. What are your thoughts so far?

White: It’s been good. There’s been a lot of close games, fun to watch. I haven’t been doing too well (with his bracket), but that’s OK. There’s always more games, so we’ll see how it goes.

What do you think of Auburn’s new basketball coach, Bruce Pearl?

White: I think it’s awesome. I know he was a great coach at Tennessee. He had them going deep in the tournament. I know he’ll do the same thing at Auburn because Auburn is a great place. I think they were just waiting on a real good coach to come in because they have a beautiful gym and everything like that. I think he’s going to do a great job there.

Getting back to football, Auburn started spring practice this week. What are your expectations for the upcoming season?

White: My expectations are high. I think that we have a lot of guys back, especially on offense. We lost a couple guys, but the majority of people are back and defensively I think we’ll be even stronger than we were last season. Teams are going to be looking for us. We’re going to have a bigger target on our back, but I think we’re going to be ready for that. We’re going to work hard in the summer like they’re already up there working hard in the spring. We’ll be ready for everybody’s best shot.

They ran a lot last season. Something like 73 percent of the time. When you get there and it’s your time, do the coaches plan to throw it more?

White: When Coach Malzahn recruited me, he said he adapts his offense to what the quarterback can do. With Nick at quarterback, he’s obviously an unbelievable runner with the ball, so on offense they used his running ability on a lot of plays. The next quarterback that steps in, whether it’s me or someone else, he’s just going to adapt the offense to their strengths and fit it to what they can do well. I think that’s why he’s so successful. Pretty much every quarterback he’s worked with, he’s had success with.

Malzahn is known for his hurry-up, no-huddle offense. How do you feel about running it?

White: I feel really comfortable because in high school, it wasn’t quite as fast as Auburn runs it, but we ran a no-huddle offense, so I’m used to going fast and getting as many plays in as possible. I’m excited to get to Auburn, run it more and play for Coach Malzahn and his system that’s worked for years. Words can’t describe how excited I am.

I have to ask you about the proposed 10-second rule. Obviously it didn’t go through, but what did you think when you saw that?

White: It was pretty obvious that the teams that were for putting in a 10-second rule were teams that ran a small, methodical, pro-style offense, so they were obviously going to try and slow down some of the teams that were beating them with the fast-tempo offenses. They want to play slow. They want to play methodical. So they were trying to get the rule changed, but there’s no evidence that going fast is affecting player safety. I don’t see the NCAA making a rule to change anything like that, so I think Auburn will just be going as fast as ever.

What’s your plan between now and when you enroll? What are you working on?

White: I’m just down here in South Florida throwing. They gave me the huge workout book so I can get accustomed to what they do and the workouts they do. So I’ve been doing those workouts down here over at the school weight room. I’ve been doing speed training and everything just to get myself physically ready, so when I move to Auburn, I’ll be ready to go.

Lastly, who do you have winning it all in the NCAA tournament and why?

White: I like Virginia. I’ve been watching a couple games of them this year. They don’t have any weaknesses. They can score, rebound, do it all. And they’ve been battle-tested in the ACC. I think that’s the best conference in basketball.

SEC lunchtime links

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
Yes, it's that time of year where the talk is centered on the hardwood and brackets, but don't forget, spring football and pro days are in full swing, so there is still much to talk about on the gridiron. A sampling of news, notes and nuggets from around the SEC today:
This is Part III of a weeklong series predicting what changes are ahead for Auburn this spring.

AUBURN, Ala. -- In 2013, Auburn ran it 72 percent of the time. That means for every time they threw a pass, they ran it three times. That’s closing in on teams such as Air Force, Georgia Tech and Navy, and yet, the Tigers don’t run a triple-option offense -- not a traditional one, anyway.

Even Gus Malzahn, a run-first head coach, would say his Auburn team ran the ball a lot last season. In fact, no team he has coached at the college level has run that much. The closest would’ve been when he was AU’s offensive coordinator in 2010 and the Tigers ran 69 percent of the time, but traditionally, his teams have had more of a 60-40 split.

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Shanna Lockwood/USA TODAY SportsSammie Coates returns after leading Auburn with 42 receptions for 902 yards and seven touchdowns.
So to say that Auburn will be more balanced on offense in 2014 isn’t exactly going out on a limb.

Tre Mason, the SEC’s leading rusher, is gone. Greg Robinson, the league’s best run-blocking offensive tackle, left after his sophomore year. And Jay Prosch, arguably one of the nation’s top blocking fullbacks, played his last game against Florida State.

It’s still Auburn, though, and Malzahn is still the coach which means the Tigers are going to run it more often than they throw it. You can take that to the bank. However, don’t be surprised if the split on next year’s team is closer to 60-40 as opposed to 70-30.

How’s this for a prediction? Quarterback Nick Marshall will average at least 10 more passing attempts per game next season. That’s 27 for those counting at home.

Too many? Keep in mind that Auburn has its top four receivers back including Sammie Coates, the team leader with 42 catches for 902 yards and seven touchdowns. Marshall will also have tight end C.J. Uzomah, his go-to target down in the red zone, at his disposal.

But the real reason isn’t Coates or Uzomah. It’s the addition of the top 2014 junior college player in the nation, wide receiver D'haquille Williams.

From his RecruitingNation scouting report: “[Williams] has terrific tools and phenomenal ball skills/body control to consistently make plays even when covered. Possesses premier, immediate impact ability, but still must learn little nuances of the position.”

The incoming star has already enrolled and could be the team’s No. 1 wide receiver by the end of the spring. If nothing else, he and Coates should form a receiving tandem that’s as good as any other in the SEC. How can you not throw to that?

This will also be Marshall’s first spring practice with the team, and the emphasis will be on his improvement as a passer.

“He throws the ball well,” Malzhan said after the season. “I think the big thing is just getting his timing down with him and his receivers. And probably just giving him a little more freedom now that he will know the offense even better.

“Week to week, you have a game plan. It was good for him having that 30 days [prior to the BCS title game]. I think you could see that in the passing game. We’re looking forward to spring.”

Malzahn will also have Jeremy Johnson this spring, an asset he didn’t have a year ago at this time. The backup quarterback, considered a better passer than Marshall, threw for 422 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman. He could be in for a bigger role this coming season as the staff looks to find news ways to get him involved.

Ultimately, Auburn will still be a run-first team, but if the Tigers wants to play to their strengths and utilize all of their weapons, that means a more balanced offense on the Plains in the fall.

Room to improve: Wide receiver

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
Editor’s note: This is part four in a weeklong series looking at Auburn’s top five position groups with room to improve.

AUBURN, Ala. -- With Nick Marshall back, Jeremy Johnson waiting in the wings and four-star QB Sean White expected to arrive this summer, quarterback is one position that Auburn doesn’t have to worry about. If anything, it will be improved from last season as Marshall will have a chance to go through spring practice for the first time.

The key will be his development as a passer, though. He led all SEC quarterbacks in rushing last year, but if there’s an area where he can improve, it’s throwing the football.

“We will see where we’re at with the talents around him,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “We really feel like we can be effective in the passing game and we can be more balanced, but at the same time, we’re going to play to our strengths.”

The strengths last year included Tre Mason and a dominant offensive line. It didn’t include a consistent crop of wide receivers. If Marshall wants to take the next step as a quarterback, it’s on the receivers, old and new, to step up and play better.

[+] EnlargeSammie Coats
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAuburn's Sammie Coates might not be a prototypical go-to wideout, but he will likely be Nick Marshall's top target this fall.
Battling for No. 1: It was a breakout year for Sammie Coates. The sophomore had 42 catches for 902 yards and seven touchdowns after catching just six passes the season before. He might not be your typical go-to wide receiver, but he had a connection with Marshall that can’t be taught. He’ll be leaned on heavily again this season. After Coates, there are a handful of receivers who have potential but have yet to play to their abilities. Ricardo Louis is the perfect example. He showed what he can do against Georgia, catching four passes for 131 yards and a touchdown, but the next week he had just two catches for negative yards. The talent is there, but can he put it together? The biggest surprise last year was the play of freshman Marcus Davis. He wasn’t highly touted coming out of high school, but he made some clutch catches during the season and finished third on the team in receptions (23).

Strength in numbers: With Quan Bray, Trovon Reed and Melvin Ray all back along with the three players mentioned above, there isn’t a lack of options at wide receiver for Auburn. Bray was second on the team with three touchdown receptions, and Ray caught his first touchdown on the biggest stage, the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. The Tigers also have a pair of talented freshmen -- Tony Stevens and Dominic Walker -- who hope to improve from Year 1 to Year 2. They were both ranked in the ESPN 300 when they signed last February. The biggest boost could come from the return of Jaylon Denson. The junior was starting for the Tigers until he tore his ACL in game four against LSU. Denson wasn’t known as a pass-catcher, but he was as good a downfield blocker as they had on the team.

New on the scene: It’s fair to say that Auburn’s best wide receiver hasn’t even been mentioned yet. He hasn’t played a down for the Tigers, but D'haquille Williams has the size, skill and potential to emerge as the go-to guy in a crowded group of receivers. He was the top junior college player in the country, he enrolled in January, and assistant coach Dameyune Craig tabbed him as a player who could make a Jameis Winston-like impact when he gets to the Plains. High praise for a kid who has yet to catch a pass yet, but he’s not the only newcomer who could make an early impact. ESPN 300 athlete Stanton Truitt is thought to be the fastest player in Auburn’s 2014 class, and even if he doesn’t break the rotation at wide receiver his first year, he could help the Tigers in the return game.

Five things: Auburn-Alabama

November, 30, 2013
The RVs started rolling into Auburn last week. They’re expecting close to 150,000 people on campus for game day. There’s a reason why the Iron Bowl is the best rivalry in college football. Here are five things to watch from Saturday’s Alabama-Auburn game.

The first five minutes: After the Georgia game, Auburn defensive end Dee Ford was already talking about the Iron Bowl. He said the first five minutes would be crazy, but then it’s time to go play football. He was right. But the first five minutes will still be critical for both teams. The atmosphere will be electric. The players will be amped. It’s important for Alabama not to fall behind early, but it’s just as important for Auburn to use the crowd without getting too excited. The Tigers still need to stick to their game plan. Gus Malzahn is one of the best at scripting the first couple of drives, but it’s up to the players to execute. Who will draw first blood?

Best on best: Auburn leads the SEC in rushing, averaging 320 yards per game. Alabama is tops in the conference against the run, giving up just 91 yards per game on the ground. Something has to give. If recent history repeats itself, the Crimson Tide could have the advantage. In 2010, Cam Newton and the AU offense averaged 323 rushing yards per game coming into the Iron Bowl, but they finished with just 108 yards against Alabama. The Tigers ran for a measly 78 yards in 2011. But don’t expect Malzahn to deviate from his game plan. He has three capable running backs and the best running quarterback in the SEC. He’ll likely run it until it works.

Johnson’s impact: With that (above) said, Auburn is going to have to be able to throw the football if it wants to knock off the Tide. Nick Marshall might not be the league’s most accurate passer, but he’s more than capable of getting the job if needed. However, don’t be surprised if freshman signal caller Jeremy Johnson sees a bigger role on Saturday. He’s the better passer of the two, and although the stakes are high, he might be called on to try and take advantage of a secondary that has looked vulnerable at times. There’s no telling how much Johnson will actually play, but it’s another wrinkle that Alabama’s defense has to be ready for.

Getting to AJ: If Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron has a monster game against Auburn, he could become the frontrunner to win the Heisman Trophy. Newton locked up in the Heisman in 2010 with his second-half heroics against Alabama in the Iron Bowl. But Auburn isn’t about to let McCarron have his Heisman moment inside Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday. The Tigers know they need to stop Alabama’s quarterback if they want to win, and it starts with getting pressure on him. Ford is one of the top pass rushers in the SEC with nine sacks on the season. He will be the catalyst, but the whole defensive line needs to step up and play well.

The fourth quarter: As important as the first five minutes will be, the fourth quarter is when the game will ultimately be decided. Auburn had been one of the better fourth-quarter teams, specifically on defense, but that wasn’t the case against Georgia its last time out. The Tigers gave up a three-touchdown lead in the final 12 minutes and would’ve lost if not for the Hail Mary from Marshall to Ricardo Louis. That can’t happen against the Tide. The goal for Auburn should be to keep it close and then do what it’s done all year -- find a way to win. Alabama might be favored, but if it’s close in the fourth quarter, anything can happen.

1993: The forgotten Iron Bowl

November, 27, 2013

It's easy to understand the hype for this year's matchup of No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Auburn. But imagine a game so huge that it sold out two stadiums at the same time.

It's the 20th anniversary of the 1993 Iron Bowl, one of the most unusual matchups in the rivalry's history. That year, defending national champion Alabama was 8-1-1 heading into a matchup with 10-0 Auburn.

But since Auburn was on probation, the game at Jordan-Hare Stadium would become the only battle between the Tide and the Tigers not shown on national television since 1981. And fans clamored to watch it: tickets for that game ($500) were more expensive than they are today ($300).

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Courtesy Bryant Museum Alabama fans who couldn't get to the '93 Iron Bowl in person watched on the stadium screen at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
As a result, 47,421 tickets were sold at Bryant-Denny Stadium to see the game via simulcast -- to watch a game on an empty field, on a video board that's nowhere near the size or quality seen in stadiums today. It's widely hailed as the only game ever to sell out two stadiums. But in actuality, Bryant-Denny Stadium seated many more; it just didn't make sense to sell more tickets with the limited sight angles.

Whatever hype is being generated now might pale in comparison to the platitudes surrounding the game two decades ago. Not many broadcasts have ever started off like Auburn’s did that day.

"At a remote outpost in frozen South Korea, an Army sergeant tunes his radio to the Armed Forces Network to listen as he pulls guard duty along the DMZ," Auburn announcer Jim Fyffe said. "A Selma native in Fairbanks, Alaska, is hosting a listening party today with his friends, who will hear the game via telephone, all decked out in orange and blue. A sellout crowd of 85,000 will watch in person, while 44,000 more, who scarfed up all the available tickets, will view a closed-circuit telecast in Tuscaloosa, making this the only game to sell out two stadiums at one time.

"It impacts the lives of just about everyone who lives here or ever has. If your team wins, seashells and balloons. But losing means a whole year of pure agony. It's the annual meeting between Auburn and Alabama. Hello again, everybody. War Eagle! from Jordan-Hare Stadium."

Yet despite its lore, in many ways, it's the forgotten Iron Bowl. Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix, the hero of the game, has lost pieces of it over the last two decades. Former Auburn coach Terry Bowden has, too. And like any good story, its legend has grown thanks to the limited amount of people who saw it.

[+] EnlargePatrick Nix
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesPatrick Nix knows making a big play in the Iron Bowl is something that will last forever.
But Nix's story carries a message. If current Auburn backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson is listening, Nix says to be ready.

"Someone asked me the other day if this kind of game can make or break somebody, and I think I'm living proof that it can,” Nix said. “You don't know if it's going to be Jeremy Johnson, or it's going to be a backup DB who comes in and makes an interception, or a defensive end that's down the line and makes a crucial sack. You don't know who it will be in a game like this and who will be remembered.

"That's what makes this game so special and this rivalry so special is that it is that big and everyone knows exactly where they are when things like that happen."

Nix is speaking from experience, particularly his time coming off the bench for Auburn in the 1993 Iron Bowl. He came on for the injured Stan White and led a remarkable comeback that sealed the Tigers’ undefeated season.

He has talked about the game countless times, but now, 20 years later, he can't seem to recall who said what and when.

All Nix remembers of that November afternoon is the blasted fourth-and-14 play after White went down with a knee injury. Oddly enough, Nix remembers exactly where his helmet was -- under the bench where a grad assistant left it, just in case. And he can recall fondly how he lobbied his coaches to go for it. Bowden, Auburn's first-year head coach, finally had to tell him to shut up and run the play that very few actually saw, yet everyone professes to remember.

"The story has been exaggerated over the years," Nix said. "One time it's me throwing the winning pass, a last-second pass and all this kind of stuff, and none of that was true. It was the middle of the third quarter and we were still losing.

"There's been a lot of talk of 'Nix to Sanders,' and it all starts with that '93 game."

"I'll be honest with you: I probably gave a great speech because I was so excited, but I don't remember," said Bowden, now the head coach at Akron. "I'd like to think I gave a speech that had an impact on the players, but I've given too many that I thought were great but didn't do much. If I did, I'm glad that I did, but over the years, this being the 20th anniversary, too many pregame speeches have run together."

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Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesJordan-Hare Stadium will play host to this year's Iron Bowl, but which team will create a lasting memory?
It's funny, Nix explained, that so many fans remember the touchdown he threw to Frank Sanders as the winning play -- a beautiful lob pass down the near sideline just shy of the goal line -- when in fact it only pulled Auburn within two points. It took a field goal and a late touchdown run to seal the victory.

"The hard work paid off," said Nix, who has gone on to lead the football program at Scottsboro High (Ala.). "The coaches knew how hard I prepared for that moment, never knowing it was going to be like that. And when it came, I took advantage of it."

"When I put Patrick Nix in, his arm's not so strong that he could throw the takeoff to the field side, so I flipped my formation and put Frank in the boundary," Bowden said of the famous touchdown pass. "Well, you see Antonio Langham start to come halfway across the field before he waved himself off. The other cornerback was good, but Antonio was a first-rounder. Well, I always wonder if Frank could have out-jumped Antonio."

A replay of the broadcast can be found online, but for those at the center of the game, some memories have faded in the last 20 years.

"There are a bunch of stories I've heard about where people were when I completed that pass against Alabama," Nix said. "Probably the craziest one was that someone was at a funeral and they were riding in the procession in the car. They were one of the pallbearers and they all wouldn't get out of the car at the funeral because of the fourth-down play. All the pallbearers stayed in the car listening to the radio, and then when it was completed the car just went crazy, rocking and everything. They all had to get out of the car and be very solemn and they were all trying to control themselves at a funeral.

"It's a different rivalry, a different deal and people don't always act quite sane over it. But it's a lot of fun."

Five things: Auburn-Tennessee

November, 9, 2013
AUBURN, Ala. -- The last time Tennessee beat Auburn was back in 1999, when Tee Martin was still the quarterback. The Tigers have won five straight in the series, including a 26-22 victory in Knoxville four years ago. They're hoping to make it six in a row with a win on Saturday (Noon ET, ESPN).

Quarterback play: Auburn controls its own destiny in the SEC West, while Tennessee is fighting just to make a bowl game. The teams aren't that far apart from a talent standpoint, but the reason for the disparity could be attributed to the quarterback position. The Tigers have been steady. Junior college transfer Nick Marshall has been a difference maker, and when he's been hurt, freshman Jeremy Johnson has been able to step right in and run the offense. Meanwhile, the Vols have used three different signal callers this season. Freshman Joshua Dobbs has shown flashes since taking over the job, but he'll have to play his best game yet to beat Auburn.

Red-zone defense: For a defense, it's not always about how many yards you give up. It's about how many points you give up. That couldn't be more true for both Auburn and Tennessee. The two defenses have struggled in terms of yards allowed, but when it comes time to make a stop, nobody has been better, outside of top-ranked Alabama. The Tigers and Volunteers rank No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in the SEC this season in red-zone defense. If Tennessee wants to keep it close Saturday, it has to keep Auburn of the end zone when the Tigers get inside the 20.

30 points or more: Auburn suffered a minor hiccup on the road at LSU early in the season, but since that game, the offense has been rolling. The Tigers have scored at least 30 points in their last five games, and when they score 30 or more, they're tough to beat. In fact, Auburn has won 84 straight games when scoring 30 or more, a mark that goes back to 1996. Both Marshall and Johnson have played a major role in the efficiency of the offense, but it starts with a rushing attack that's ranked No. 1 in the SEC, averaging 306.2 yards per game.

Forcing turnovers: Auburn had two interceptions all of last season. Through the first nine games, the Tigers already have recorded 10 picks this season, and they're among the SEC leaders with 15 turnovers. It's a defense that has been both active and opportunistic. On Saturday, winning the turnover battle will be key. Tennessee has committed only one turnover in its two SEC home games -- an upset over South Carolina and an overtime loss to Georgia. But on the road, the Vols have committed 11 turnovers in three games. Auburn would like to buck that trend, but it also has to be careful against a UT defense that has forced 18 turnovers on the season.

Rise and shine: It will be a bit strange for Auburn when it takes the field Saturday morning. Gus Malzahn's team has played all but one game at night, and this will be the earliest kick all season for the Tigers. To prepare, Malzahn encouraged his players to go to bed 30 minutes earlier than they normally do each night this week. They're hoping to keep the same routine prior to the game, but it will be uncharted waters for this year's Auburn team. In the past, the Tigers have struggled with early games.

What we learned: Week 10

November, 3, 2013
The stats from Saturday’s game are pretty similar, if not in favor of Arkansas. The Razorbacks had the ball nearly 10 minutes longer than Auburn. They were only outgained by 20 yards (366 to 346), and they were 9-of-16 on third downs. Still, the game never felt close as Auburn cruised to a 35-17 victory on the road.

Here are three things we learned from the Tigers’ win.

Two can play that game: Bret Bielema wanted to establish the run early for Arkansas, but somebody forgot to tell him they also have to play defense. The SEC’s top rushing offense gashed the Hogs for 233 yards on 46 carries, good for an average of more than five yards per carry. Auburn running back Tre Mason was the star. He finished with 32 carries for 168 yards and four touchdowns. In the end, the Tigers sent a message to Bielema and Co. that they can play their own version of “normal American football.” It doesn’t matter the formation. It doesn’t matter if it’s hurry-up. They’re still going to run it down your throat.

The shoulder is fine: It really was a game-time decision, but Nick Marshall got the start at quarterback for Auburn on Saturday. He was just 2-of-3 for 8 yards in the first half, but he showed no ill effects of the shoulder injury he suffered last week when he connected with Sammie Coates for 88 yards and a touchdown. It was the Tigers’ longest play from scrimmage this season. Marshall finished 7-of-8 through the air for 118 yards and the lone touchdown. He also rushed for 59 yards on nine carries. Backup Jeremy Johnson took a few snaps in the second half and completed his only pass attempt of the game for 15 yards.

Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers: The overall stats might have been comparable Saturday, but the biggest discrepancy came in the turnover column. Auburn forced three turnovers -- not to mention the goal line stand early in the fourth quarter -- and yet, the offense didn’t give up the ball up once. The Tigers only scored one touchdown off the three turnovers, but for the season, they have now outscored their opponents 59-10 in possessions following a turnover. This is an Auburn defense that has shown it will give up yards, but it will also make a play when needed. Something can be said for that.

Five things: Auburn-Arkansas

November, 2, 2013
Auburn is currently riding a four-game winning streak, and the Tigers have gained at least 600 yards in their last three games. The only other teams to have a similar streak this season are Baylor and Oregon, two of college football’s most prolific offenses. Auburn hopes to continue the streak this weekend when it visits Arkansas.

Here are five things to watch from Saturday’s matchup with the Razorbacks:

Nick Marshall's status: The Auburn quarterback injured his shoulder in the first half of last week’s win over Florida Atlantic. He’s been able to practice this week but remains questionable for Saturday’s game. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said it would likely be a game-time decision between Marshall and freshman signal-caller Jeremy Johnson. The staff pulled the redshirt off Johnson last month against Western Carolina, and he responded. He’s played significantly in two games, throwing for 393 yards and six touchdowns. Still, if Marshall can play, Malzahn will likely go with his starter. He’s the better runner of the two.

The Batman formation: There was a lot of controversy this week between Malzahn, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and the game tape. The play in question was out of a formation Auburn lines up in during extra points, called the “Batman” formation. Holder Ryan White, who was a quarterback in high school, starts in the shotgun, and he makes the call whether or not they go for two or kick the extra point. On the season, Auburn is 2 for 4 on 2-point conversions. It will be interesting to see what the Tigers do when they score their first touchdown Saturday.

A quarterback’s nightmare: If there’s one thing both Auburn and Arkansas do well, it’s get to the quarterback. Both teams have 20 sacks this season, tied for second in the SEC behind Missouri. The Tigers’ pass rush has greatly improved with the return of senior defensive end Dee Ford. After missing the first two games due to injury, Ford has recorded six sacks in his six games back. He’s among the top 10 in sacks per game. Meanwhile, the Razorbacks have two of the league’s top pass rushers. Senior defensive end Chris Smith leads the team with six sacks, while his counterpart Trey Flowers has four. The quarterbacks will have to watch their back.

Freshman phenom: Through the first five games, Arkansas running back Alex Collins led the SEC in rushing. He’s tapered off some in the last three games, but he’s still one of the more dangerous backs in the league. Auburn struggled against LSU’s pro-style, power offense back in September, and the Razorbacks will try and emulate the same game plan come Saturday. Expect a heavy dose of Collins and fellow running back Jonathan Williams. The Hogs’ duo has totaled 1,409 yards rushing and eight touchdowns this season.

Clutch Tigers: Auburn would rather not have to come back or play a close game into the fourth quarter, but it’s not out of the question when you play on the road in the SEC. If the situation were to present itself on Saturday against Arkansas, the Tigers have proven they’re more than capable of coming through in the clutch. Auburn is 4-0 this season in games decided by eight points or less, including come-from-behind wins against Washington State, Mississippi State and Texas A&M. The most notable was the Mississippi State game, when Marshall led the Tigers on a game-winning drive in the final two minutes.

SEC Saturday roundup

November, 2, 2013
This could be moving day in the SEC East. At minimum, we'll be able to trim one team from the list of contenders for the division title.

We know today's marquee game between longtime rivals Georgia and Florida -- both 4-3 overall and 3-2 in conference play -- is an elimination game in the division race. Whoever wins still must get some help to overtake Missouri atop the division standings, but the loser will be relegated to playing out the string after absorbing its third SEC defeat of the season.

Meanwhile, fresh off its first loss of 2013, Mizzou (7-1, 3-1) faces one of its trickier remaining tests in league play. The Tigers will host Tennessee (4-4, 1-3), which gave Georgia a run for its money before falling in overtime and then beat South Carolina. It's tough to tell what to expect from the Volunteers today, however, as they're coming off a resounding loss against Alabama and will start freshman Joshua Dobbs at quarterback since Justin Worley injured his right thumb in the loss to the Crimson Tide.

The Tigers' mental state is also a source of curiosity after they suffered their first loss of the season last week in painful fashion.

The division race was essentially over if they simply held on for a win over South Carolina. Instead, they blew what seemed like a comfortable lead, allowing Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw to come off the bench and lead his team to 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to force overtime. Then at the end of the second overtime, Mizzou kicker Andrew Baggett banked a 24-yard field-goal try off the left upright, giving South Carolina a 27-24 win and the Gamecocks (6-2, 4-2), Bulldogs and Gators reason to believe they can still catch the Tigers in the East race.

Missouri must lose at least once more for any of them to have a shot, however, so count on the Tigers' division mates to root passionately for Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Texas A&M when those teams face Mizzou over the next several weekends.

It's unlikely that today will shed much light on the Western Division race, although Mississippi State (4-3, 1-2) could throw a monkey wrench in South Carolina's plan to run down Missouri -- and push closer toward bowl eligibility -- if the Bulldogs are able to pull an upset today at Williams-Brice.

Auburn (7-1, 3-1) hopes to remain a game behind top-ranked Alabama (8-0, 5-0) in the West standings if the Tigers can earn a victory at Arkansas (3-5, 0-4). The Razorbacks have often looked horrible during their five-game losing streak -- including a 52-7 loss to South Carolina and a 52-0 loss to Alabama in the last two games -- but Fayetteville has sometimes been an unpleasant host to Auburn teams. Arkansas has won its last two games against Auburn there and four of the nine meetings since it joined the SEC in 1992.

Making matters worse, Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall could be a game-time decision because of a shoulder injury, which means freshman Jeremy Johnson could be pressed into service. Johnson was impressive in Auburn's nonconference wins against Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic, but playing at an SEC rival's stadium is a completely different animal -- and that could be a situation to watch closely today.

We'll likely have to wait until next Saturday to see if there is any movement in the West standings, once Alabama and LSU -- both idle this week -- square off in Tuscaloosa and Auburn makes a road trip to face Tennessee in Neyland Stadium.

For now, the focus is on the East and the logjam that could still occur if Missouri struggles to regain its composure following last weekend's implosion. The Tigers still have the upper hand, but the three preseason division favorites are right behind them in the standings, hoping to see them stumble again.

Here's a rundown of today's full SEC schedule:
Mississippi State at South Carolina, 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC TV
Georgia vs. Florida, 3:30 p.m., CBS
Auburn at Arkansas, 6 p.m., ESPN2
Tennessee at Missouri, 7 p.m., ESPN
Alabama State at Kentucky, 7:30 p.m., CSS
UTEP at Texas A&M, 9 p.m., ESPN2

What to watch in the SEC: Week 10

October, 31, 2013
World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail PartyKevin Liles/USA TODAY SportsTailgaters fill the parking lots in Jacksonville with a sea of red and black, orange and blue.

Here are 10 things to watch in the SEC this week:

1. All eyes on Jacksonville: Don't look now, but the battle formerly known as the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party has some intrigue. Georgia has been decimated by injuries, but Mark Richt continues to send Aaron Murray out to play each Saturday, giving UGA a chance to win. Murray has hung in despite the fact players are dropping like flies around him. If he gets a third consecutive win over rival Florida, it might make it all worthwhile. Florida has dealt with its own set of injuries, but more problematic is the Gators' offensive ineptitude. Quarterback Tyler Murphy will have to find a way to score some points on Saturday. But for two teams with so many problems, whichever gets out of Jacksonville with a win is still in the SEC East race. Missouri's loss last weekend breathed new life into both squads.

2. Can South Carolina keep it up? It would be classic South Carolina to come out on Saturday against unranked Mississippi State and play down to the competition. It's happened so much lately that we've come to expect it. After winning a thriller on the road last weekend against Missouri, the Gamecocks are on upset alert. Without Connor Shaw's fourth-quarter return, South Carolina loses to Missouri by two touchdowns. If he can't start against Mississippi State, will Steve Spurrier's offense sputter again? You have to like Shaw's leadership, and after all he's done you have to believe he'll play on Saturday and play well.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonMissouri redshirt freshman Maty Mauk is likely to make his third career start against Tennessee true freshman Josh Dobbs, who will make his first start.
3. Missouri rebound: That was a hard pill to swallow. Missouri was undefeated and ranked in the top five of the BCS Standings at this time last week. Then South Carolina hit the Tigers with a brutal rope-a-dope, pulling Shaw off the bench, down 17 points, for the fourth-quarter comeback. It took two overtimes and a missed field goal for Missouri's perfect season to come to an end. But Gary Pinkel's squad is by no means out of the SEC East race. A win against Tennessee would keep the Tigers in the driver's seat. But watch out for the Vols, who beat South Carolina earlier in the month.

4. Josh Dobbs: Speaking of Tennessee, keep an eye on the true freshman quarterback. Butch Jones burned his redshirt this past weekend, bringing him off the bench in the second half against Alabama. The athletic Dobbs provided a spark to a Vols offense that couldn't move the football to save its life. His ability to get outside the pocket and buy time helped the receivers, and his speed and elusiveness allowed him to pick up yards with his feet. It's too early to say he's won the starting job, but watch closely because a good game against Missouri could propel him to such status. We could very well be looking at Tennessee's future under center.

5. The SEC East race: The field in the SEC East will narrow this weekend. The loser of the Georgia-Florida game is likely out of it, and neither Missouri nor South Carolina have sure-thing wins on their plates. It may appear that no one wants to win the division and be forced to play Alabama in the conference championship, but someone's got to do it.

6. Manziel health watch: The Johnny Manziel watch never ends. But no, I'm not talking about monitoring his off-the-field behavior this time. No, there's still some concern over whether the defending Heisman Trophy winner is healthy. He injured his throwing arm late against Auburn and played well this past weekend against Vanderbilt. But with Texas A&M facing an overmatched UTEP team Saturday, should he play?

7. Bielema versus Malzahn: Boy, did we see a rivalry form at SEC media days when a pair of first-year coaches in the SEC, Arkansas' Bret Bielema and Auburn's Gus Malzahn, traded barbs about the safety of the no-huddle offense. Malzahn said he thought it was a joke. Bielema said he wasn't a comedian. It was awesome. Their rivalry was born that day, and this week it sprouted leaves as Bielema accused Auburn of altering the game film it sent to Arkansas in preparation for this week's game between the two programs. The issue even prompted a response from Auburn to the SEC. Man, the Malzahn-Bielema postgame handshake is going to be fun.

8. Jeremy Johnson: Every time Nick Marshall goes down at quarterback for Auburn, Johnson steps right in and doesn't miss a beat. Both times the freshman has played significant reps, he's won SEC Freshman of the Week honors, first against Western Carolina and then last weekend against Florida Atlantic. With Marshall officially "day to day," according to Malzahn, expect the focus to shift to Johnson again.

9. The trainer's table: Playing an SEC schedule will catch up with you. We're starting to see injuries pile up around the league recently as the fatigue of playing physical games week in and week out builds. Tennessee is turning to a true freshman quarterback in place of Justin Worley (injured thumb). Missouri senior quarterback James Franklin is questionable, leaving backup Maty Mauk in a weird state of limbo. South Carolina, meanwhile, is hoping Shaw can continue to play the part of Superman and keep coming back from injury. Oh, and let's not forget Jeff Driskel's prolonged absence at Florida. If another SEC quarterback goes down, we'll have to start calling it an epidemic.

10. Who isn't playing: Give Alabama and LSU credit because they know how to make a schedule. The rivalry game between the two schools isn't until Nov. 9, so they're taking the week off. But unfortunately for the rest of the SEC, those teams' bye weeks leave the league to play without two of its best. Where's the fun in that? We're even deprived of seeing Hugh Freeze and his up-tempo offense at Ole Miss. The SEC East is busy this weekend, but the West is noticeably boring.

Planning for success: Auburn

October, 31, 2013
There’s quite a bit of uncertainty surrounding Auburn’s quarterback situation leading up to Saturday’s game at Arkansas. The status of starter Nick Marshall is still up in the air after he suffered a shoulder injury last week against Florida Atlantic. He’s been able to practice this week, but head coach Gus Malzahn said it could be a game-time decision.

“He’s a tough guy, but like I said, it’s day-to-day,” Malzahn said. “We’re hopeful.”

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertAuburn quarterback Nick Marshall practiced this week, but will he be recovered enough from a shoulder injury to return to the starting lineup against Arkansas?
If Marshall can’t go, the Tigers will turn to freshman Jeremy Johnson. The former ESPN 300 recruit has played twice this season -- against Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic -- and earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors both times.

Regardless of whether Marshall plays, the dual-threat quarterback will likely be more cautious with his body in the future. The initial injury occurred when he used his shoulder to throw down a defender before going out of bounds. The Auburn coaches have encouraged him to avoid those types of plays in the future.

“He’s a great competitor,” Malzahn said. “There’s no doubt. You’d rather have to pull him back than have to prod him on. He’s a great competitor, he’s a tough guy, we’ve just got to be a little bit smarter next time we are in that same situation.”

What Auburn needs to do to win: It doesn’t matter who’s at quarterback -- Auburn needs to continue to establish the run. The Tigers lead the SEC in rushing, and although they face an Arkansas defense that has had success getting to the quarterback, the Razorbacks have struggled against the run. Marshall is clearly the better runner of the two Auburn quarterbacks, but Johnson is athletic in his own right and has shown improvement with the zone-read. Defensively, Auburn needs to be ready for a dogfight. Arkansas will try and run it right down their throat, using running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. But, if Auburn can jump out to a big lead early, it would make it difficult for the Razorbacks to come back.

Players to watch

OT Greg Robinson: Auburn’s offensive line doesn’t get much credit, but it’s been one of the top units in the SEC this season. Not only do the Tigers lead the league in rushing, they’re among the top three in sacks allowed. Robinson will have his hands full with Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith, but it’s important he keeps his quarterback upright.

DB Robenson Therezie: This is type of game that was made for Therezie. He’ll be asked to come up in run support and do what he does best -- hit people. Through eight games, he’s tied for the team-lead in tackles. It also might be a little more personal for Therezie when he goes up against Collins, a fellow South Florida native.

"I haven't heard it, but since you told me that, it really doesn't do much. That's the way we run the ball, and that's our offense, so we've just got to stick with it." -- Corey Grant on Bret Bielema’s criticism of the hurry-up, no-hudde offense


ESPN 300 Ranking Motivates Byron Cowart
After a recent rise into the top 10 overall, defensive end Byron Cowart of Armwood (Seffner, Fla.) joins ESPN's Matt Schick to discuss recruiting and the new ESPN 300.Tags: Byron Cowart, Armwood, ESPN 300, RecruitingNation, high school football recruiting, Matt Schick