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GAME DAY, Auburn vs. K-State

Hey everyone. It's finally time to get some answers about this team. I'm at Jordan-Hare Stadium for full, SMOKIN' coverage here on the HOTTEST Auburn blog on the 'net. Newest updates first.

Watch the game responsibly.


Auburn 23, Kansas State 13: What a drive. Cox made some great decisions. The touchdown play was outstanding. It was a play-action situation with flood routes to the left. Too many receivers over there for KSU to handle.

Then another touchdown! Quentin Groves forces a fumble and Antonio Coleman returns it 34 yards for a score. Auburn's fortunes just took an abrupt turn. Wow.

Middle of the fourth quarter: Auburn has a chance to win this game, but the offense refuses to improve. Cox is having a terrible game. He's playing as poorly as he did against Georgia Tech in '05. He's making mental mistakes. Also, where is Mario Fannin? I know Tommy Tuberville said he was going to lean on experienced players early in the season. Fannin can run away from some people. Ben Tate clearly cannot. Just something to think about. Cox, by the way, is 12-for-24 with two interceptions.

Fourth quarter begins: Auburn is 2 for 11 on third-down conversions. Really not good. At this point, I have to start working on items for our Sunday print edition. My stories are due around 11 p.m., so I have to get working. I'll update as conditions merit.

Thanks for watching along with me.

Kansas State 13, Auburn 9: Rob Dunn gave Auburn great field position with a 57-yard punt return. The offense gained zero yards. Nothing. Ben Tate gained four yards on first down. Sack on second down. Incomplete pass on third down. Cox went down hard on his right shoulder. He's been diagnosed with a bruised shoulder. He's expected to return.

Auburn's second and third possessions of the second half: The Tigers have nothing now. It's clear that Cox doesn't have it. Ben Tate tried to bully his way through with a string of draws during the third possession. It works to a degree. He broke off a few decent run. It's just that the holes don't open consistently. I don't see how Auburn is going to pull out of this funk. It's going to have to be Cox. He's the third-year starter. He needs to make some plays.

Kansas State 13, Auburn 6: Kansas State isn't even running. They just pass, pass, pass. It's working. At one point during this drive, the Wildcats ran three reverses in a row. Freeman still is working on the periphery and Auburn can't get to him. CB Jae Wilhite is out now as well.

Kansas State 10, Auburn 6: Kansas State's scoring drive required six plays. Four of them went for at least 13 yards apiece. Auburn's defense had been dominating to that point. KSU made a nice adjustment by asking Freeman to roll out. Auburn was pounding him in the pocket with powerful bull rushing. Allowing Freeman to create on the flanks negates the Tigers' strength up front. Tray Blackmon is out right now with an ankle injury.

Auburn's first possession of the second half: That was quick. Cox was intercepted on a deep pass intended for Rob Dunn. That's two or three really bad reads by Cox. He doesn't look very good tonight. The offense simply isn't playing very well at all. Can't really pinpoint one problem, though.

Halftime: I'm still here. I have to do stuff for the print edition during halftime. I'll continue with the blog updates momentarily.

Auburn's fifth possession: Just awful. Terrible. Ben Tate breaks off a long gain that comes back on a holding penalty. Then a sack. Then a second sack. Terrible blocking up front. KSU is getting aggressive with its weak-side linebacker. Auburn is slanting toward KSU DE Ian Campbell to help support Lee Ziemba and Mike Berry over there. So that's leaving the weak side open. Auburn has to get that fixed before Cox gets killed.

KSU's fifth possession: Still nothing. The Wildcats got a first down. Then it went flatline. The key play came from Pat Sims, who batted a third-down pass. That's a pretty advanced task. He was pushing his blocker backward. By keeping his head up and paying attention, Sims knew when to throw his right arm up. He's playing with that fire Auburn coaches cherish.

Auburn 6, Kansas State 3: Good drive by Auburn in some ways. The team is gaining yards easily on its side of the 50-yard line. A screen pass to Ben Tate went for 22 yards. A nifty floating pass from Cox to TE Gabe McKenzie went for a 16-yard gain. Yet when it's time to get tough closer to the goal line, the Tigers are faltering. Settled for a field goal.

KSU's fourth possession: Nothing. I can't tell if Auburn adjusted to those drag routes because KSU can't get to that point. Pat Sims broke free and forced a worthless pass. A running play was stuffed. Then a delay. Then an incomplete pass. Auburn is overpowering the Wildcats up front.

Auburn 3, Kansas State 3: Started with a bang -- 55-yard pass from Cox to WR Rod Smith. He was wide open in the seam. Things seemed to stall at the KSU 9 when Auburn was flagged for delay of game. The call was reversed because the game clock began at 15 seconds rather than 25. Tuberville was all over that. Tate converted his second chance at that 4th-and-1, which has the drive alive at the KSU 6. Auburn settled for a 20-yard field goal.

Defensive update: Auburn hasn't fixed the drag-route problem yet. Added pressure up front is causing major problems for KSU right now, though, which is making a mess of those drag-route plans.

Auburn's second possession: Not much better. Brandon Cox didn't show much there. He made a nice third-down pass to WR Prechae Rodriguez to convert early in the drive. Cox was off on a pass to Tommy TE Trott that could have gone for more than six yards. Cox looked off Rodriguez on third down, he was open, and instead tucked it. Awkward decision. The play went for a loss. Things aren't clicking yet.

Auburn's first possession: Ben Tate gets the first carry of the season, off right guard for five yards. Then came two incomplete passes. Not a great start for the Tigers' offense. Too early to draw any substantive conclusions. I expect to see more running during the next few drives. Auburn has a pretty clear advantage up front. I think so, anyway. I'm not the biggest Tate fan in the world, but he can play.

KSU 3, Auburn 0: KSU converted three of its four third-down situations on that drive. Two of those conversion plays went for big yardage: 13 and 17. Not much pressure applied up front. KSU QB Josh Freeman looks like he's ready to play. He was sharp on that drive. Auburn must find a way to control the flats better. KSU's receivers are open out there.

6:46 p.m.:Kansas State wins the toss, elects to receive. Auburn defending the north end zone. I'm totally on board with the video board, so to speak. Now they're using the whole board and it's really outstanding. I'm sure everyone in the stadium is happy about this.

6:30 p.m.: No changes have been made to Auburn's starting lineup. Well, Ben Tate is the No. 1 tailback. You knew that already. Freshman Zac Etheridge is starting at safety ahead of senior Eric Brock. They were co-leaders coming into the game. Also, the pre-game eagle flight (Nova was the designated aviary star) has been canned due to weather. It's really comin' down out there.

6:20 p.m.: They're playing "Have You Ever Seen The Rain?" now ... as the raindrops fall with a fury. I'm sitting directly across from the students. They sign the chorus quite loudly. I like Creedence Clearwater Revival like this.

6:10 p.m.:Not raining yet, but the skies north and east of the stadium look ominous. A downpour is imminent.

6 p.m.: Brad Lester, suspended tailback, is not participating in pre-game workouts. Tackle King Dunlap (left ankle) is out there. Chris Slaughter, rail-thin wideout, looks awkward in the No. 23 jersey. He needs a single-digit number. The two-digit number envelops him.

5:50 p.m.: They're playing "Baba O'Riley" by The Who right now. One of my favorite songs ever. Thanks to my peeps in Game Operations.

5:35 p.m.: OK. Update on the video board. Much better now. They went full-screen mode on the eagle and handler. MUCH better. Brighter than Arkansas' board. Sharper, too. The problem is that Auburn, most of the time, is dedicating only a portion of the screen to live images. The other 35% of area is filled by stats, scores and graphic advertisements.

Just got some stats on the board.
*2,200 sq. feet. (30' x 75')
*1,800 x 720 resolution (HD)
*The "live action" window is 25' x 46'
*cost $2.9 million
*Auburn is one of only two colleges with HD boards. Texas is the other.

5:15 p.m.: I'm here at the stadium now. The new video board in the south endzone looks great as expected. I'll have to see how Auburn uses it during the game. My preliminary opinion is that Arkansas' board is a little better.

It was great to see Auburn and KSU fans partying together in front of the stadium. The KSU kids seemed unusually cool. A few offered me beer. I'd never imbibe prior to blogging on a HOT blog like this one, of course. I also ran across former Auburn center Cole Cubelic, who is a relatively svelte dude these days. He now teaches physicians how to operate new equipment.

News of the day, 8/31

BREAKING NEWS: Brad Lester suspended indefinitely. See below for details.

Hey everyone. Auburn is off to its pre-game compound in LaGrange, Ga., to prepare for Saturday's game. They stay there to escape the campus hubbub. It also gives coaches the ability to monitor the kids more closely. Gotta keep the partying to a minimum on Fridays, you know.

Nothing else to discuss about Brad Lester. We'll wait and see.

I'll be doing a segment on Mobile's WNSP (105.5 FM) at 3:25 p.m. today. The broadcast also is streamed live over the internet. Neal McCready and I go way back. We worked the Auburn beat together from 1998-2002. He now is an influential columnist, radio personality and philosopher. Neal was a valuable competitor back in those days because Auburn fans saw the two of us as The Negative Guys. At least Neal took some of the heat off me. Now we're in an era, it seems, where many beat reporters are seen as anti-Auburn. I won't unleash a big rant here, but it's silly to believe newspaper writers are pushing agendae.

Why the LSU picture today? It was funny to me. I knew LSU would win that game -- we all did -- but I had no idea it would be that bad. I'm still not sure about that offense, though.

Thanks for seeking another fulfilling dose of the HOTTEST Auburn blog on the 'net.

As expected, tailback Brad Lester has been suspended indeinitely for what coach Tommy Tuberville said is an "unresolved academic issue." The coaching staff has no idea when Lester will return. It's up to the people who are investigating the situation.

The message boards are on fire right now. Many Auburn fans are upset.

I would be, too, if I was an Auburn fan. For a different reason. I think Auburn's other tailbacks can carry on and produce without Lester around. Ben Tate is a quality back. Carl Stewart is a quality back. I think Mario Fannin is a quality back who could be great. I don't anticipate a major loss in tailback productivity.

What I find surprising is how long this whole thing has taken. The incident that currently has Lester sidelined is the same issue that led to his Cotton Bowl suspension. That was eight months ago. Surely there was a discovery period between the incident and the initial suspension. That was at least two weeks. So we're up to a grand total of nine months, and there still is no resolution. That's astonishing.

From the Kansas State camp, here's a story from today's editions of the Kansas City Star. Paul Finebaum, a nice man and excellent reporter who acts like an ass on the air, is making more friends. As always.

Check out this quote from K-State wide receiver Daniel Gonzalez:

“You think about Auburn, you think big team,” he said. “Great players. Good defense. Just like anybody else thinks. When people hear Auburn, they think they’re not human, or they are like machines or something. We’re going to go out there and test them, and see what they’ve got.”

News of the day, 8/20

Hey everyone. Morning practice today. We're now to a point where Auburn won't release news about Brad Lester until game time. Tommy Tuberville, even if he were to discover something substantive today, probably won't disclose it until after the Kansas State game. No need to give the Wildcats time to adjust their defensive approach.

Of course, as Tuberville might say, anything could change.

Thanks for visiting the HOTTEST Auburn blog on the 'net.

Kansas State wideout Deon Murphy, a junior-college transfer, is talking big about KSU's trip to Auburn this weekend.

“We’re going to do some prime-time things in that game,” he said.

Since the game is in prime time, I guess anything either team does can get the prime-time label.

As an AP poll voter, I get a lot of email from promotional people. Schools. Publicists. Most of qualifies immediately for the trash folder. One email I LOVE reading comes each week from former Carolina Panthers lineman Brentson Buckner, a Columbus, Ga., native, who votes in the Harris Poll for some reason. He (or his publicist) assembles a lot of words each week explaining Buckner's weekly vote. It's brilliantly inane. The guy is really into college football. Check it out.

He has Auburn at No. 15, which seems reasonable.

As an aside, I'll be publishing my AP Poll votes each Monday morning in the Advertiser.

Here is my preseason poll:

1. Southern Cal
2. LSU
3. West Virginia
4. Virginia Tech
5. Oklahoma
6. Texas
7. Louisville
8. Michigan
9. Hawaii
10. Georgia
11. UCLA
12. Wisconsin
13. TCU
14. Missouri
15. California
16. Florida State
17. Auburn
18. Texas A&M
19. Florida
20. South Florida
21. Ohio State
22. Penn State
23. Rutgers
24. Oregon
25. South Carolina

Yep. Seventeen. I'm totally willing to advance Auburn if it rips through Kansas State and South Florida. I'm sure I was the high voter on Hawaii. When they go undefeated and sneak into a BCS bowl, remember where you heard it first.

Here's a little season primer for you all. Highlights from the 06 Iron Bowl.


News of the day, 8/29

Hey everyone. Auburn held a practice tonight that began on the practice fields and ended at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The team worked in shoulder pads and helmets -- frequently referred to as "shells" -- and actually did some light hitting.

The next hit will be against Kansas State.

Thanks for taking another DECALESCENT dose of the HOTTEST Auburn blog on the 'net.

Tuberville said Wednesday night that he still considers Brad Lester to be the Tigers' starting tailback. A few faithful blog readers, The Sizzle Hizzles, have been asking about the reasons behind Lester's situation. I know it's related to the academic problems that prefaced Lester's suspension from the Cotton Bowl. You might ask, as some have, about why something that led to a suspension in 2006 remains unresolved right now. I don't have a satisfying answer on that. People who examine things like this apparently are quite thorough.

Tommy Tuberville said he'd know more after this weekend. It's a really perplexing situation that can't be discussed in any detail because of student-privacy laws, which I support. I think Lester is an outstanding back. If he's out, that hurts Auburn. Still, I think Mario Fannin will be an outstanding back. We have to see what he does against opponents. Based on what I've seen on Fannin, he'll soon be capable of supplying Lester-like production.

Jeffrey Martin, the Kansas State beat writer in Wichita, writes today that the Wildcats are having issues of their own along the offensive front. A rotation hasn't been established. Only two guys are proven starters. You think Auburn's defense is getting just a little excited about this?

I'll be blogging from the Auburn-Kansas State game beginning at 5 p.m. Saturday. Come peep the HOTTEST game-day goods around.

News of the day, 8/28

Hey everyone. Practice ended around 10:30 a.m. Tommy Tuberville held his weekly press conference at 1 o'clock. He briefly address the looming questions about Brad Lester's status, which has been a hot topic on the message boards for a few weeks. No meaningful answers gleaned today from the head coach. You know what that means? Keep speculating about the issue! The answer comes Saturday night at 6:48. That's when No. 1 makes a statement either way.

UPDATE: Official depth chart released. See below. Only minor surprises.

Thanks for taking yet another SIZZLING dose of the HOTTEST Auburn blog on the 'net.

Auburn's tailbacks were off-limits to the media today; an odd development. This is the last day this week that players are available for interviews. Auburn rarely makes anyone off-limits. Especially on a Tuesday, which is the program's designated interview time. Surprising to say the least. Lester also wasn't available during Sunday's interview period.

Tommy Tuberville was asked at his press conference about Lester's status. The coach's answer was intriguing. He said Lester remains the team's top option at tailback, but added that anything could change. Tuberville used vague language throughout his response. Draw your own conclusions.

Recall that Lester missed the Cotton Bowl because of an academic issue. It appears that the same academic issue is at play right now. It's unclear how or when the situation will reach a resolution.

Asked about wideouts who can be game-breakers, Tuberville cited Rod Smith, Prechae Rodriguez and Rob Dunn. Tuberville noted that Rodriguez is tall and caught some passes last year. I've been saying for a while that all the talk about Brandon Cox being a star is moot unless someone emerges as a go-to passing option. Who is it going to be? Dunn and Chris Slaughter, to me, have the most game-breaking potential. I like Smith. I think he's a good player. He's not a star. He's a reliable guy. Reminds me of Jeris McIntyre.

DE Quentin Groves on Kansas State DE Ian Campbell: "Ian Campbell, the defensive end for K-State, is my exact opposite. He's white, I'm black. He's fast, I'm slow." Always good for a laugh, that No. 54.

Today was my first trip to Sewell Hall's cafeteria, the preferred dining area for football players, since its summertime renovation. Wow. The school has spent approximately $150,000 to upgrade serving equipment, lighting, flooring. There are four 50-inch HDTVs on the walls. It's a really nice place now. It sure didn't used to be.

Three Auburn freshmen who were sharing jersey numbers with veterans have gained their own identity today.

WR Chris Slaughter now is 23 (formerly shared 2 with Aairon Savage)
S Mike McNeil now is 26 (formerly shared 5 with Tommy Trott)
P Ryan Shoemaker is 21 (formerly shared 4 with Zac Etheridge)

Here is the first official Auburn depth chart of the season:

QB: Brandon Cox, Blake Field
FB: Carl Stewart, Danny Perry
TB: Brad Lester, Ben Tate -OR- Mario Fannin, Stewart
X (split end): R. Smith, James Swinton
W (slot receiver): R. Dunn, Tim Hawthorne -OR- Terrell Zachery
Z (flanker): Prechae Rodriguez, Slaughter
TE: Cole Bennett, Tommy Trott -OR- Gabe McKenzie
RT: Lee Ziemba, Antwoin Daniels
RG: Mike Berry, Chaz Ramsey
C: Jason Bosley, Ryan Pugh
LG: Tyronne Green, Byron Isom
LT: King Dunlap, Andrew McCain, Oscar Gonzalez

DE: Quentin Groves, Antonio Coleman
DT: Josh Thompson, Jake Ricks
DT: Pat Sims, Mike Blanc, Zach Clayton
DE: Sen'Derrick Marks, Mike Goggans
OLB: Merrill Johnson, Courtney Harden
MLB: Tray Blackmon, Chris Evans
OLB: Craig Stevens, Bo Harris
LCB: Jerraud Powers, Pat Lee, Walt McFadden
RCB: Jae Wilhite, Zach Gilbert
SS: Eric Brock -OR- Zac Etheridge
FS: Aairon Savage, Mike McNeil

K: Wes Byrum, Graham Sutter
P: Ryan Shoemaker, Patrick Tatum
KOR: Brad Lester/Mario Fannin, Pat Lee/Ben Tate (they work in twos)
PR: Robert Dunn, Chris Slaughter, Mario Fannin

ANALYSIS: I was pretty close. Ramsey at RG is a surprise because that's Leon Hart's slot. He hasn't practiced enough lately with the bum ankle. Slaughter as the No. 2 flanker is a bit of a surprise, just because some coaches seem so adamant that he isn't ready. You know who really isn't ready? Montez Billings.

Brock and Etheridge bracked at SS is a little surprising. I thought Etheridge was ahead. Zach Gilbert? I thought he was destined to become a second-team nickelback.

News of the day, 8/27

Hey everyone. Auburn is off today. Practice resumes Tuesday morning. I expect that to be a busy day. The coaching staff will release its depth charts, which usually include some surprises. I'm going to venture my guess on the defensive side of the ball below.

Thanks for checking out today's SIZZLING information from the HOTTEST Auburn blog on the 'net.

Here's my take on Auburn's defensive depth chart. Let's see how close I get.

Quentin Groves
Antonio Coleman
Antoine Carter


Josh Thompson
Jake Ricks


Pat Sims
Mike Blanc
Zach Clayton

Sen'Derrick Marks
Mike Goggans


Craig Stevens
Bo Harris
Brent Slusher

Tray Blackmon
Chris Evans

Merrill Johnson
Courtney Harden

Jerraud Powers
Pat Lee


Zac Etheridge
Eric Brock

Aairon Savage
Mike McNeil


Jae Wilhite
Walt McFadden

I suspect WR Montez Billings won't be ready for the Kansas State game. I'm very interested to see who plays in that spot. My gut (and the head coach) tell me it'll be Chris Slaughter, but Al Borges quickly mentioned James Swinton as a potential player there. Swinton is the team's No. 2 "X" right now, but can play multiple positions. I don't think the coaching staff agrees on what needs to happen here. The team is holding some coaching summits today. These kinds of differences will be ironed out.

News of the day, 8/26

Hey everyone. I'm back from a short hiatus at our Gulf-side retreat. Gotta get away sometimes. I won't be getting away again for a long while, so I made sure to savor my evenings along the Destin shoreline.

Back to work. Auburn has completed its long Sunday workout. The top stories include the playing rotation at wideout (Tuberville said Chris Slaughter will play against Kansas State), the tailback rotation (Borges said he isn't sure how he'll distribute carries) and the fact that King Dunlap missed most of practice with a troublesome left ankle.

Read on for more sizzling information from the HOTTEST Auburn blog on the 'net.

Receivers coach Greg Knox said Sunday that (surprise!) he hasn't yet identified his top six receivers. Still, offensive coordinator Al Borges said the first-team group is set with Prechae Rodriguez, Rob Dunn and Rod Smith. Montez Billings (hamstring) hasn't practiced in three weeks. I have to believe that Chris Slaughter is going to start the season at No. 2 "Z" receiver behind Prechae. Tommy Tuberville said tonight that Slaughter will play against Kansas State.

LT King Dunlap (left ankle) practiced in a limited capacity Sunday. Dunlap said after practice he didn't see the need to talk about his ankle injury because "as far as I'm concerned, it's 100 percent." Andrew McCain and Antwoin Daniels split snaps at left tackle on Sunday. It's unclear to me how serious Dunlap's injury is. I can't get a good read on it.

Borges said Sunday that he's "not committing to anything" when it comes to his tailbacks. There has been a sense for weeks that junior Brad Lester isn't a slam-dunk pick to be the No. 1 guy. Borges said running backs coach Eddie Gran was talking up Carl Stewart as an option at tailback today. Borges said experience is critical early in the season. Maybe Ben Tate and Stewart against Kansas State? I have no idea what to expect from Lester.

The team practiced for 2.5 hours today. It was a grinder. Auburn took Saturday off and will do the same on Monday, so coaches felt there was a need for some serious work. The Tigers' next practice comes Tuesday morning.

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