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GAME DAY, Auburn vs. MSU

It's game day again, Finally. There are a lot of questions to be answered by Les Tigres de Tuberville today. I don't see how Mississippi State is going to score points against this Auburn defense. That lessens pressure for the AU offense, which probably is a good thing considering how bad they looked last week.

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


MSU wins, 19-14: OK, well, Auburn isn't going to finish 8-4 this season. Nope. Here are the things, good and bad, that really stuck out to me on Saturday.

  • What's up with the MSU draws? That last one that converted a 3rd-and-12 was really bad. Auburn never made an adjustment on those plays.
  • Kodi Burns has some good things about him, but I don't think he's a winning SEC quarterback yet. I mean, yea, he hasn't won an SEC game. You know what I mean. Auburn can't play him and expect to win every week. No way. Too many weaknesses and the offense is too simple with him in there.
  • Rod Smith was the only WR doing anything productive. Where are the other guys?
  • Another bad day for LT King Dunlap. This time, he missed 3/4 of the game with a hyper-extended elbow. It didn't seem like he was having a good day even before the injury.
  • Mario Fannin fumbled again. That's three in two games. Carnell Williams had three in his entire college career. Tuberville said he'll keep playing Fannin because he has to. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Time of possession update ...

1st Q:
MSU -- 9:16
AUB -- 5:44

Since then:
MSU -- 11:47
AUB -- 18:13

Third quarter ends: Mississippi State had 105 yards in the first quarter. Two quarters later, they have 179. I'd say Auburn has made some useful adjustments. The offense is more incremental with Burns in there. I don't see a lot of opportunities for big plays. Still, this is better than Cox throwing interceptions. This may move slowly, but it moves forward for the Tigers. Al Borges much prefers that.

Defense coming along: Auburn's defense had a few lulls early in the game, but those days are over. The line is pushing forward. The defensive backs are making plays. I don't understand why Will Muschamp's defense sputters during the first quarter every week. They make up for it with strong play (for the most part) from the second quarter on. This week is no different. MSU can't get much accomplished on offense right now.

Fannin fumbles again: Fannin fumbled on a little run off right guard. The MSU guys know he's fumble-prone and they really claw at that ball. Legally, of course. I doubt we'll see much more of Fannin today. At some point, the coaches have to start worrying about how these problems affect his mental approach.

Auburn leads 14-13 at the half: Burns engineered touchdown drives with Auburn's final two first-half possessions. He looks great in a way. He is not a dynamic offensive player right now. Auburn is running this shotgun speed-option formation most of the time with Burns in there. They fake a handoff and Burns either keeps or the tailback goes with it. Burns attempted only two passes in the first half. Still, he's fast and he's making thoughtful option decisions. He's an advanced runner.

Auburn scores a TD!: Auburn is running these shotgun options and they're really messing with MSU. Tate took one of those option handoffs and scored from 28 yards out. It was the best run of Tate's career. Also of note: King Dunlap is out, presumably because of ineffectiveness. He allowed that sack on Burns that led to a first-quarter fumble.

7:00, 2nd: Auburn's defense is playing with more aggression. The offense isn't. I think the schemes are so simple with Burns in there. He has made significant improvement since the last time I saw him play (in two-a-days), but that doesn't change the fact that he's 18 years old.

13:00, 2nd: I think Auburn's defense is getting affected by all these offensive struggles. They're not as stout up front as I expected. I know MSU is playing a higher level today. No doubt about that. But I don't see the same kind of discipline from AU's defense right now. They look frustrated.

End of 1st quarter: Burns was hit as he threw on a third-down play, and it was ruled a fumble. So that's three TOs in three possessions so far. A swell performance. I haven't seen Auburn's offense this bad since the 2003 loss at Georgia Tech. Just terrible. Of note, MSU quarterback Mike Henig (Montgomery native) is out with a broken hand.

Some 1st Q stats:
Auburn has 45 yards in 12 plays. Three turnovers.
MSU tailback Anthony Dixon already has 49 rushing yards.

MSU, 10-0 Holy cow. Kodi Burns is in. WOW. I cannot believe this. Cox has been intercepted twice, I know, but I just can't believe they did it. Burns' tour of duty was two plays -- a pair of keepers. He gained nine yards. Cox came back in on third down. Then Burns came back in. They're running an option attack with Kodi. This took a long time to install. They've been planning this.

12:59, 1st: OK, Tray Blackmon didn't start as indicated. They're going with Evans and Courtney Harden. Blackmon is on the sideline in full uniform. Let's see if he plays.

5 min. to kickoff: Chris Evans at WLB for Merrill Johnson (shoulder)
Tray Blackmon at MLB for Evans (switched positions)
Pat Lee at LCB for Jae Wilhite (hamstring)
Eric Brock at FS for Aairon Savage (ankle)
Rob Dunn at "Z" receiver for Prechae Rodriguez (coach's decision)
Tim Hawthorne at "W" receiver for Rob Dunn (switching positions)

22 min. to kickoff: Tray Blackmon was just announced as a starter at linebacker, as was Chris Evans. I guess that means one of them will play for injured weak-side linebacker Merrill Johnson. I predicted on Thursday that Blackmon wouldn't play. Oh well.

35 min to kickoff: Great day for football. In the high 70s. Sunny. The field still is wet from the rain last night, so it's brighter than usual. Really reflecting that water. It's so easy to tell it's an 11:30 game outside the stadium. Parking spaces are easy to find. Tailgating tents are sporadic. Hard to get enthused in the morning.

News of the day, 9/14

Hey everyone. I hit a pretty significant milestone yesterday, logging my 200th blog post. The last six weeks have been the best, though, because this has become a really enjoyable enterprise. You all have been great. Thanks for all the great questions and interest.

Not much going on today. The team will head for its pre-game compound in west Georgia this afternoon. Curfew is 9 p.m. Auburn's game against Mississippi State kicks off Saturday morning at 11:30. It's broadcast on the Lincoln Financial Sports network. You know where to find it.

I have some updates below. Check 'em out.

Thanks for graciously swallowing another dose the HOTTEST Auburn blog on the 'net.

I'll be blogging from the Mississippi State game beginning at 10:15 or so. I haven't really honed my in-game coverage yet. I'm not happy with the way things have gone during the first two games. I'll try to make things more presentable this time.

Tommy Tuberville was fairly interesting on "Tiger Talk" Thursday night. I heard a portion of the show. He gave a non-committal answer on Kodi Burns, simply saying that he knows fans are enthusiastic about anybody who might make this offense better. The coach offered no direct denials of Burns' boosted role. He did mention that Burns has made a lot of progress during the last month. I found that answer pretty interesting.

I mentioned this in the notebook (linked above), but I'd forgotten about Tristan Davis until yesterday. He broke a toe during two-a-days and has been in a boot since then. He's supposed to be back at practice in a limited role fairly soon. I think he'll be back for the Vanderbilt game on Oct. 6. He was really impressive during those early days of camp. Davis is a physical freak. He's built like a fire plug, but he's really fast. He's faster than Mario Fannin over a 40-yard distance. Fannin is a shade quicker between the tackles. Davis would be playing right now if he wasn't injured.

I'm sure by now you've seen some of the things Tuberville said about Sly Croom and the job he's doing at MSU. I'll provide a transcript of the comments below. What was most notable about this rant is that it wasn't provoked by a question. This wasn't a response to someone asking about Croom's job security. I think Tuberville saw this as a chance to get one more dig at Jackie Sherrill, who was Croom's predecessor. Tuberville and Sherrill have a long history of disrespect and bad tidings.

I know Sylvester and I just hear all the things said about him even in the preseason about hot seat. If Sylvester Croom is on the hot seat then we need to look around and check ourselves. Here's a guy that came in and took over a program that was dismantled, out of control, that needed some leadership in their football program, and bring some dignity and character back to it. He has definitely done that.

I'm proud to say I'm a friend of his. He's worked very hard and done it the right way. He didn't come in the first year and skirt the rules and try to throw a team together to win. He's looking out for those young guys. He's doing it the right way.

My two kids, growing up, if he stays there long enough, I'd love for them to play for him because he's the type of guy you want to coach your kids.

It's going to take him a while longer than three or four years. When you take over a program that was in the shape that one was in when he took it over, I'm sure he's got a 10-year plan in. A lot of people, sometimes, don't wait for 10 years. That's their fault. When you take over a program like that you need opportunities to get that thing intact. He's done a great job.

News of the day, 9/13

Hey everyone. I took some time off this afternoon to handle this TV situation that I've been facing for a while. I'd been sitting on a gift card for too long. It was time to boogie and, yes, I occasionally stop thinking about football to focus on other aspects of my life.

I got a 40" LCD 1080p Samsung. Big up to readers Patrick Peters and Tommy Godwin, whose advice I ultimately took. Thanks to everyone who provided ideas. I had to eliminate plasmas because they were too reflective. I really wanted the Pioneer, which wasn't reflective. I couldn't get the price into a sports writer range.

Now that I have a sweet new television rockin' the house, I'm back on the football tip. Check below for more million-dollar insights.

Thanks for taking time to assess the HOTTEST Auburn blog on the 'net.

Auburn practiced this morning and two injured players (S Aairon Savage and LB Tray Blackmon) again were participating fully. Their status has been upgraded to "probable" by coach Tommy Tuberville. I predicted zero MSU points during an interview with Max Howell this morning. If Blackmon plays like he usually does, I may have to dip MSU's forceast into negative numbers.

Isn't it odd that LT King Dunlap, the most experienced player on Auburn's offensive line, has been the lowest-graded player in both games so far? I've been on some radio shows lately with hosts who want me to disparage the offense -- these things are obvious after about 20 interviews -- but the offensive line is actually a very encouraging element for the Tigers. Surely Dunlap will increase his production to usual levels soon. Then Auburn adds three young guys making quick improvement (G Mike Berry, G Tyronne Green and RT Lee Ziemba) and a shrewd center in Jason Bosley. Blocking will be a strength by mid-season.

News of the day, 9/12

Hey everyone. Another day, another blog for you Auburn fans who are going crazy about the team. I did three radio shows yesterday. The questions were astounding to me. You'd think Auburn was in some kind of free fall right now. I hate sounding like a sunshine pumper because I'm not, but I do not believe Auburn is in free fall at all.

Read below for more on that.

As always, thank you for making this fine editorial product the HOTTEST Auburn blog on the 'net.

First things first. I think Kodi Burns has a real chance to participate. The coaches are playing this one close to the vest. I don't think anyone will know what's going to happen until Saturday. My best guess, based on the factual information I have, is that Kodi will get a chance to play if Brandon Cox struggles again. If Cox goes out there and commands the game like he has in the (increasingly distant) past, then I think Al Borges lets Cox keep rolling. I'm 100% positive that something is going on. The MSU game may not allow us to see what's been designed, but I'm positive something has been designed.

I personally don't see why Burns is creating such a buzz. Neil Caudle is a more refined quarterback right now. He also was a hyped recruit. He also is new to casual Auburn fans. He also has a strong arm. It's probably not as strong as Burns', but Caudle can burn a defense with the deep ball. I've seen it happen against Auburn's defense many times. If Caudle hadn't gotten hurt in the first fall scrimmage, you wouldn't be hearing much about Burns right now. It'd be a Cox-Caudle conundrum. Caudle is an underrated property right now. He was cleared for contact on Sunday. I think he'll be up to speed before long.

Another frequent email topic is Mario Fannin. Yes, he's a stud. Yes, I agree with the coaches' decision to bench him after the second fumble. Coaches must trust the players on the field. Fumbles irk assistant coach Eddie Gran like no other. It's telling to me that Fannin wasn't griping about being sent to the bench. He knew it was coming. He knew he deserved it.

Tuberville fielded questions about the backup situation during the weekly SEC teleconference. He reiterated his position that Blake Field is Auburn's backup. Tuberville also said (as he has before) that he's hoping to redshirt Burns this season. He's been pretty staunch on this throughout. It's just that I heard a different story from some players yesterday. I tend to believe them more in this situation because they're (usually) more unfiltered.

Here's what Tuberville said: "We haven't given up on the thought of Kodi being a player this year for us. He's a couple of plays with injuries away from being possibly even our starter. We have a good quarterback in Brandon. Brandon is our quarterback. Blake Field is No. 2. When you get to No. 3, it's either Kodi or Neil Caudle."

News of the day, 9/11

Hey everyone. It's 9/11, which will be a confusing date for all of us for the rest of our lives. Hard to believe that was six years ago.

On to less significant but more enjoyable topics ...

Auburn held a nearly two-hour practice this morning. I think there was a lot going on there, but the media isn't permitted inside. Let's just say there are many questions to be asked of Tommy Tuberville at his 1 o'clock press conference. See below for details.

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

Looks like the Tigers may do something different at quarterback. Backup Blake Field threw out a surprising "no comment" when asked if the team was making changes. Then wideout Rob Dunn indicated that Kodi Burns, the freshman quarterback, apparently was taking on a more high-profile role with the offense today. Needless to say, Tuberville will be fielding a lot of questions about this situation soon. I'll run my "Tuesdays With Tommy" segment here around 1:30. Check back then for up-to-the-minute details.

Here are your weekly "Tuesdays With Tommy" quotes.

*On Auburn in general: "This team needs work, obviously, in some areas."

*On Brandon Cox: "Brandon Cox is our quarterback. He will be our quarterback. I'm proud of him."

*On the team's emotional state: "The attitude is great."

*On punter Ryan Shoemaker: "Ryan is out this week. We have all confidence in Patrick Tatum."

*On kicker Wes Byrum: "Byrum could kick off this week."

*On the USF loss: "We've lived on the edge for three years. This one got by us."

*On MSU coach Sly Croom: "If Sylvester Croom is on the hot seat, we need to look around and check ourselves. Here's a guy that came in and took over a program that was dismantled, out of control, that needed some leadership in their football program, and bring some dignity and character back to it. He has definitely done that."

*On the job Croom has done: "He brought some dignity back to that program."

*On Tray Blackmon: "I don't want him to go unless he's full speed. There's no reason."

*On Merrill Johnson: "Merrill, he's probably doubtful."

*On moving some WRs around: "We're moving some guys around to different positions to get some better matchups."

*On not being a "riverboat gambler" after wasting the final 30 seconds of regulation time against USF: "I'm a gambler, but I'm not that much of a gambler. You've got to pick and choose. We ran the ball to see if we could get something. After we didn't get much, I pulled the plug. That wouldn't be gambling. That would have been suicide."

Here are your top defensive producers from the USF game, followed by your overall top defensive producers:

LB Chris Evans -- 45
DE Quentin Groves -- 33
DE Sen'Derrick Marks -- 31
CB Jerraud Powers -- 22
FS Eric Brock -- 21

Evans -- 57
Groves -- 57
DE Antonio Coleman -- 51
Marks -- 41
Brock -- 31

Here are your team defensive goals for the USF game:

Win: NO, 23-26
Allow 13 pts or less: NO, 26
Allow 3.3 yards per carry or less: YES, 3.3
Allow 5.0 yards per pass or less: NO, 5.37
Create at least 3 turnovers: NO, 0
Allow no big plays (defined as 15+ rush or 20+ pass): NO on run (3); NO on pass (3)
Allow no TDs inside "red area": YES
Force opponent to convert less than 30% on 3rd down: YES, 27%

Also, USF's YAC (yards after catch) number was 130

News of the day, 9/10

Hey everyone. Auburn is off today, but that doesn't mean you won't be getting fresh information here. Tommy Tuberville will be in Montgomery speaking to the quarterback club this afternoon. I was there. Not much new to report, though I will do so down below.

Thanks for accepting another satisfying pull off the HOTTEST Auburn blog on the 'net.

Tuberville reiterated his faith in Brandon Cox today. He said Cox's problems are a result of particularly bad things happening when he makes a bad decision. So the inference is that Cox isn't making more mistakes than before ... it's just that each one is more detrimental. It's an interesting approach.

Tuberville spoke on Sunday (and again today in front of TV cameras) of possibly taking the redshirt off some players. He's speaking specifically about LB Joshua Bynes and CB Ryan Williams. I pressed him on this issue after the cameras left, and he presented this more as an emergency measure. If Tray Blackmon (ankle) can't play against Mississippi State, that leaves Chris Evans as the only available MLB. Bynes is the No. 3 MLB. Auburn will practice Bynes more rigorously to prepare for that unlikely scenario. The hope is to preserve Bynes' redshirt. Same for Williams, who is playing behind Jae Wilhite (hamstring) at CB.

I made a point yesterday that several emailers didn't seem to understand. Losing to South Florida does not put Auburn in exclusive company. That's a top-25 team with some real players. That team will cause problems for Louisville, Rutgers and West Virginia this season. I can't believe that I'm telling rabid Auburn fans to ease up because I generally enjoy misguided anger, but it's a little out of hand. I don't think Auburn is in free fall. They just need to play another quarterback. If Cox had zero turnovers during the first two games instead of FIVE, the team would be 2-0. Cox is the main problem right now. I'm not sure there are other major problems in progress right now. Well, I won't argue against people who say the play-calling isn't good.

Here is my AP football poll for this week. I added Georgia Tech and Arkansas this week. I dropped Auburn and Michigan. I really like the top six teams. There's a pretty wide chasm after that. Penn State and Florida are wild cards. I can't tell with them just yet.

Note that I bumped LSU ahead of Southern Cal. LSU has accomplished more to this point.
Also note that I dropped Hawaii from 8 to 15. I had them too high. Struggles at La. Tech cast major doubt in Hawaii's legitimacy, and I dropped the Warriors accordingly.

The AP publishes my ballot and those of other voters each week. They haven't updated the list since last week. I'm sure they will soon.

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

News of the day, 9/9

Hey everyone. It'll be a long day of reaction an analysis about what exactly happened to the Tigers on Saturday night. Keep in mind that I had South Florida at No. 18 in my poll prior to the game, so it's not like Auburn lost to Appalachian State. So I think it's outrageous to start demanding a complete overhaul -- as some fans have advocated.

With that said, there need to be some significant changes made. See below for reaction.

Thanks for stopping by for another hit off the HOTTEST Auburn blog on the 'net.

In his mid-afternoon press conference, Tommy Tuberville said he is not inclined to make any changes at quarterback. He said the Tigers will stick with Brandon Cox. Remember, though, that Brandon's strength is supposed to be mental excellence. Yet he's the guy with five turnovers in two games. I think something is wrong with Brandon. His regression is undeniable. Offensive coordinator Al Borges will be talking in the next hour. I'm anxious to hear what he has to say.

UPDATE: Borges said Brandon played "OK." Also, Borges said the offense looked better on film than it did in person. I'm just reporting what he said.

Tuberville didn't sound particularly optimistic about the injury situations facing safety Aairon Savage and linebacker Tray Blackmon. Both players missed the USF game. Their availability for this week's game against Mississippi State is in doubt. Chris Evans played almost the entire game in Blackmon's stead (he's the only middle linebacker left) and that's probably a bad thing for Auburn. Not that Evans is a bad player. He's a good backup. He's overexposed when asked to play 80 defensive snaps plus his usual special-teams work.

UPDATE: D.C. Will Muschamp said he fully expects Savage and Blackmon to play this week. Whom to believe? Your call.

Al Borges, asked about making some offensive changes this week, responded thusly:
If you've got weapons, you've got to find some way to use your weapons, period. That's what we're exploring right now. We're trying to find a way to get the ball to some guys that can help us score some touchdowns. That's our job.

UPDATE:After talking to players, it appears that Chris Slaughter and Tim Hawthorne were bumped up to the first-team offense today. Slaughter plays flanker and Hawthorne plays slot receiver with Rob Dunn. Apparently, Dunn was playing outside with Rod Smith today at split end. Slaughter was splitting first-team reps with Prechae Rodriguez.

Auburn's MVP so far? It has to be freshman kicker Wes Byrum. The kid has connected on 6 of 7 field-goal attempts. He has great range. Byrum's only miss was a 47-yarder against Kansas State.

A little trivia. TE Gabe McKenzie now has touchdown catches in consecutive games. Who was the last Auburn tight end to accomplish that feat?

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