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GAME DAY, Auburn vs. NM State

Hey everyone. It's another refreshing evening of football that is sure to soothe your frayed nerves. More offensive excellence. More strong defensive work out of the gate.

I kid. I kid.

I'm here with about 60% of the fans I'd see for an SEC game. The stadium is pretty full, though.

As a personal aside: Big up to Louisville for their fine work this afternoon. I'm the only Kentucky graduate in an extended family loaded with U of L graduates and attendees.

Thanks again for your support of the HOTTEST Auburn blog on the 'net.

--------GAME COVERAGE--------

AUBU -- 55
NMSU -- 20

Final thoughts: Excellent finish for the Tigers. First half wasn't much. Brandon Cox went in for Kodi Burns in the second quarter. The offense started playing much more effectively. Brandon looked more willing to make quick decisions. You remember how he looked passive at times earlier this year? He wasn't that way today. When it was time to do something, he did it. I even saw Brandon throw away some passes. Can you imagine?

The defense made, by my count, four major pass-coverage busts in the first half. That's why NMSU scored 20 in the first half. They got shut out in the second half. Why? No busts. The line was playing more aggressively. That played into it. Still, I liked the way Wilhite, Zac Etheridge, Brock and Powers played after halftime.

I didn't see much offensive innovation. Borges said he actually scaled BACK the offensive complexity tonight. Not sure how that will play against Florida. Maybe now that Brandon showed that he can play "normally," they'll expand the offense for him this week. Or not. The coaching staff won't give up on Burns. I still expect this to be a two-quarterback system.

Rob Dunn had a horrendous drop during the second quarter. He was free on a deep post route and Cox managed to get the ball all the way there ahead of the NMSU defense. Ball hit Dunn in the hands. Dropped it. Just awful. Worst drop of the year.

Dunn made amends during the third quarter. He caught a pretty routine out route that would have gone for a 2-yard gain. Still, he kept pushing and fighting and refused to go down. He was brawling for those extra yards. This went on for like 10 seconds. The ref was standing there waiting for Dunn's knee to fall. Dunn turned it into a 6-yard gain. Not a big play in the grand scheme of things. I thought it was one of the most memorable moments of the game. That was a serious show of desire.

Sounds to me like the new linemen are going to stick. Hugh Nall, the line coach, said afterward that he wasn't happy with some of the things happening. So he changed things. I asked Borges if he thought the freshmen would play against Florida. He said yes. Nall seemed pretty optimistic. He loves the way Pugh and Ramsey go out there with a thirst for knocking someone on their butt. I think that affects playing time at Auburn more than most places. I thought the offensive line looked better as a whole. I'm not bright enough to assess Pugh and Ramsey individually.

End of third quarter: Things have picked up substantially for the Tigers. The defense had an outstanding quarter. Jae Wilhite picked off two passes. Sen'Derrick picked off a pass. Auburn's offense, led now by Cox, moved the ball pretty freely. I still contend that Ben Tate is being overexposed at 25+ carries per game. Rob Dunn and Rod Smith have played very well. Maybe they can provide some game-breaking ability.

Third quarter update: Jae Wilhite intercepted a pass with a swell drive-and-catch move. Cox still in at quarterback, where he's been since mid-way though the first quarter. Still looking pretty basic, which surprises me. Here is your OL: Ryan Pugh at LT, Ty Green at LG, Bosley at C, Chaz Ramsey at RG, Lee Ziemba at RT. Three true freshmen. Cox hits Rod Smith for an 18-yard scoring pass. Offense looks like it's making progress.

Second quarter update: Brandon Cox is in. His first drive, he fumbled a snap that prefaced an NMSU touchdown drive. NMSU led 20-14 briefly. Cox led a long drive that ended with a 1-yard run from Mario Fannin. No fumble. The drive was a real tour de force. It included seven running plays. Three went for at least 9 yards apiece.

Scoring update: DT Pat Sims scored on a 21-yard fumble return. A hard hit by Jerraud Powers knocked the ball loose and Sims had a straightforward shot at the end zone. Auburn also scored on a long pass from Kodi Burns to Rod Smith. It was the first play of Auburn's third drive. The pass was underthrown. The defender became confused while trying to play the ball. Smith adjusted, caught the ball and pulled away for a score. Not sure that counts and innovation per se, but it's more creative than inside zones over and over and over.

First two possessions: Awful. The first series was three Kodi Burns keepers. No first downs. The second series was three Ben Tate runs. No first downs. Where's the innovation? This looks like a train wreck.

Lineup changes: Freshman Ryan Pugh and Chaz Ramsey are playing at guard. RG Mike Berry is hurt. Pugh and Ramsey are splitting time in that spot. Ryan Pugh is playing for King Dunlap at LT.

News of the day, 9/21

(WAS) BREAKING NEWS: TB Brad Lester is expected to return for Auburn's game against Vanderbilt after a six-game suspension. It was an NCAA issue. If you were wondering why Auburn wasn't more open about the situation, you now have an answer. They were at the NCAA's mercy on this one.

Hey everyone. It's Friday. That means the Tigers sonn will leave for their west Georgia pre-game compound. Big week for them. New Mexico State can score points against most teams. Based on what's been happening at Auburn lately, it's reasonable to assume NMSU will score on its first or second drive.

That has happened more than 80% of the time during the past 11 games. Just sayin'.

Can Auburn's offense dig out of that hole? Probably. Can it dig out of multiple holes? That's anyone's guess. Auburn will have a clear running-game advantage, I think, with an improving offensive line and a couple of decent backs. That'll probably be enough.

Big up to YOU for visiting the HOTTEST Auburn blog on the 'net.

I've received some emails this morning already (y'all start early, I say!) about Brad Lester's situation. The issue apparently has been resolved after a nine-month wait. Not much else to say there. He's an excellent player who will make the Tigers a more potent team. Auburn probably is going to lose at Florida anyway. At least they'll have Lester back for winnable games against Vandy, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama.

FOOTNOTE: This was an incredibly tough story to follow. People were remarkably quiet about Lester's situation -- for totally legitimate reasons. Just sayin.

I talked with several fans today for a story I'm running tomorrow. They certainly weren't panicked about the team's situation. I think it's fair to say people already are looking toward 2008, but the Auburn fans I polled were pretty strong in their overall approval of Tuberville. Of course, fans and The People Who Matter sometimes have different opinions. We'll learn more about that chasm if the losing continues.

News of the day, 9/20

Hey everyone. I'm getting to business pretty directly today. Check below for that.

Thanks for breathing in another satisfying dose of the HOTTEST Auburn blog on the 'net.

Tuberville said after today's practice that he hopes to get a ruling on suspended TB Brad Lester before Saturday's game. "We'd like to get a little closure on it -- give him some idea what he's doing," Tuberville said. Lester has been practicing and is prepared to play immediately.

As someone who has dealt with this team almost every day since Aug. 1, let me say that I don't know if New Mexico State is a guaranteed win. Not at all. This could be a legitimate challenge. I'm not predicting an Auburn loss. Don't get me wrong. I'm just saying that a loss all but ensures dramatic coaching changes at season's end.

How dramatic?

Tom Dienhart of the Sporting News recently postulated that Tommy Tuberville is on fairly tenuous ground.
Tuberville has done a great job on the Plains, but a combination of a horrid start, Nick Saban's arrival at Alabama and a rift between Tubs and the Aubie fat cats could have all parties headed toward a mutual divorce.
That's not taking an NMSU loss into account. Remember that Auburn still has road games at Florida, LSU, Arkansas and Georgia ahead. There are a lot of incredibly taxing situations ahead for this team and this coaching staff.

How important does Brandon Cox look now? This team desperately needs him back to his old self. There is no evidence suggesting Cox is headed that way.

I was looking this up yesterday and was amazed. Auburn has 12 turnovers this season (only one other SEC team, Arkansas, has more than 7) and has a turnover margin of -2.67 per game. Where does that rank nationally? Tied for 117th out of 119. Only one team, Minnesota, is more turnover prone. The bottom quarter of that list is loaded with teams that will end the season under .500.

News of the day, 9/19

Hey everyone. There's definitely some tension in the air these days on the Plains, which isn't unexpected. Nobody, including coaches and players, expected these kinds of struggles so early in the season.

It's most frustrating for the defense. They have to keep hearing from coaches who say they're not accomplishing enough. Allowing 12 points to MSU is enough. Sure, the Tigers made some major mistakes on that last drive. No doubt. Still, MSU's attack wasn't exactly thriving. The margin of error for the defense is getting so small that it has to affect the players.

Allowing a field goal might be a terminal mistake these days.

This has nothing to do with Auburn, but I think it's funny. Former NFL lineman Brentson Buckner, a Clemson graduate, votes in the Harris Poll. I've mentioned this before. He posts an entry to his blog each week to provide the masses a glimpse into Buckner's mind. Here is this week's Best Thought -- a soliloquy on why Notre Dame (top 10 recruiting school) can't recruit:
“Why is this? I see two reasons. First, Notre Dame is not at the top of the list of recruits when it comes to programs challenging for the national championships. High school students are not historians. When I was a freshman at Clemson in 1989, Notre Dame was the defending national champion. They haven’t won one since and really haven’t challenged for it since I got out of school in 1993. That is 14 years ago. College football players today were between 4 and 8 years old the last time they were a factor in the national championship race."

News of the day, 9/18

Hey everyone. Practice ended around 10:15 a.m. Several players were made available afterward, though quarterbacks now are off-limits after Sunday. Interesting decision. That's one way to deflect speculation.

I forgot to post my AP poll vote on Monday. I have listed that below.

Thanks for your role in making this the HOTTEST Auburn blog on the 'net.

CB Jae Wilhite (hamstring) said today that he's 95% and plans to play against New Mexico State this weekend. Auburn will need him. The Aggies play a frenetic, pass-ish attack that will require frequent substitutions throughout the secondary. More bodies means more options. For the Pat Lee (aka Pee Lee) fans out there, he'll probably fall behind Wilhite. Still, since he's now the No. 1 nickel back, he'll start.

OL Jason Bosley said that today's practice was Auburn's best of the season. He thinks the team has turned a corner as far as accepting weaknesses and working harder to fix those weaknesses. I'd say it's almost impossible for this team to be arrogant right now.

Your weekly "Tuesdays with Tommy" segment can be found here around 1:40 p.m. Check back then.

*On the QBs: "We haven't decided who will be starting. Both will play. We're not going to have a two-quarterback system where they're in and out on every play."

*On how Kodi Burns affects the offensive line: "Most of the blocking is the same. Kodi running it is just like a tailback running."

*On Rob Dunn's punt returns: "That's been a highlight for us. Last year, he was a little apprehensive on what we were doing and how we were doing it."

*On Brandon Cox: "We have not given up on Brandon Cox. He could be at full tilt this weekend."

*On teammates picking sides in the QB battle: "There's no division. They're not taking sides. Everybody wants to win."

*On getting better: "This is going to be a good football team -- whether it's next week or four weeks from now."

*On the injuries: "Crying over spilled milk never solved any problems."

*On the team's problems:
"We've been beating ourselves. That's what's hurt the most."

*On what AU is going to do about that: "We'll make some changes. We're not really satisfied in a lot of areas."

*On the team's attitude: "If we keep the same attitude and work ethic, we'll win games this year."

*On NMSU's offense: "It's a little unusual."

*On the effect NMSU's offense will have on AU's defense: "It'll be a long night for our defense. No matter what happens, they'll be on the field for a long time."

*On his mental state: "It's been an awfully long two weeks."

Here are your top defensive producers from the Mississippi State game, followed by your overall top defensive producers. Players are given points for doing significant things correctly. They are docked points for missing assignments, missing tackles, penalties or loafing:

DT Pat Sims -- 19
SS Zac Etheridge -- 19
CB Jerraud Powers -- 17
LB Chris Evans -- 15
DT Sen'Derrick Marks -- 14
DE Antonio Coleman -- 14
CB Pat Lee -- 13

Evans -- 72
DE Quentin Groves -- 65
Coleman -- 65
Sims -- 55
Etheridge -- 46
Powers -- 39

Here are your team defensive goals for the MSU game:

Win: NO, 19-14
Allow 13 pts or less: **YES, 12
Allow 3.3 yards per carry or less: NO, 4.3
Allow 5.0 yards per pass or less: YES, 1.9
Create at least 3 turnovers: NO, 0
Allow no big plays (defined as 15+ rush or 20+ pass): NO on run (1); YES on pass (0)
Allow no TDs inside "red area": NO
Force opponent to convert less than 30% on 3rd down: NO, 44%

Also, MSU's YAC (yards after catch) number was 87

**=Seven of MSU's points came on an interception return for touchdown.

In the interest of full disclosure: Here is my AP poll ballot from this week. My ballot and those of all AP poll voters are posted each week.

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


On a personal note: I'm having some issues with my sweet Samsung HD LCD. There is some kind of lag or synchronization problem when playing Guitar Hero 2 on XBox 360. I'm always a fraction of a second late on notes. I never had this problem on my old SDTV. I tried hooking up the XBox to another LCD (an LG 42" 720 LCD) and there was no lag. I still have three weeks to return my Samsung to Best Buy. I may end up doing just that. Not having Guitar Hero 2 (and 3 in a few months) would be a deal-braker.

News of the day, 9/17

Hey everyone. Sunday didn't result in any major revelations. Tommy Tuberville said he'll wait to make any decisions about the Kodi Burns-Brandon Cox situation. I'm pretty sure they already have a plan about how they're going to handle quarterback staffing. They just don't want that information out there, so they don't talk about it.

But I will. Check below for updates throughout the day.

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

I was surprised to hear the booing on Saturday afternoon. Understand that I booed Cal Ripken in Camden Yards during his last season with the Orioles. I was in the Philly section. I was safe as a baby. My peeps are Philly fans. I'm not necessarily proud of having behaved in that manner. What I'm saying is: I can't hate on people for booing. Cox has done a lot for that program. Booing a college kid who's obviously having major problems seems wrong to me. I think he's trying to play well. He just can't.

Looks like Auburn is going to a two-quarterback system, which probably is the best short-term solution. I still think Cox can reverse course and become an efficient player again. I have a hunch. Until that point, though, it makes sense to at least have Burns ready to go. The package Auburn runs for Kodi is simple. Contending SEC teams are going to maul that kid. These little speed options won't work against the lightning-fast SEC defenses. Florida? LSU? It'll be a mess. That's why Al Borges is keeping Cox in the fold. At least he can run the full offense.

A big surprise to me so far has been the offensive line's play. I thought that would be Auburn's most glaring weakness. I wouldn't classify OL as a strength right now, but it's definitely not a problem for the Tigers. Still, Lee Ziemba sure got owned by Titus Brown during that final-drive sack. Wow.

CBS has asked for more time before making a decision about its Sept. 29 game. Auburn has been told that it will play Florida either at 4 o'clock (CBS) or 7 o'clock (ESPN) that day. CBS will make its decision sometime before Sunday.

News of the day, 9/16

Hey everyone. I'll just get right into it. Check below for information.

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

It's been a busy time for Auburn fans lately. Lots of questions coming in via the internets. The most common is: What is wrong? That's a complex answer. I don't think a singular answer exists. The coaches haven't lost the team. The offense has problems. Odd to me is that the offensive line doesn't seem to be part of the problem. Going into the season, I figured that would be the most pressing issue. It's not. I think the line has been at least adequate.

OFFENSE: Now you have a two-quarterback system with that requires two totally different approaches. There is no way that can work long term. I know Florida had some success with that last season, but Tim Tebow's 2006 role was limited. Very limited. Chris Leak was the main guy. There is no main guy at Auburn now. It's clear that Kodi Burns' playbook is very small. The Tigers will get killed if they overexpose Burns and his thin playbook. It is imperative that Cox (or Blake Field or Neil Caudle) have a significant role. Auburn has a broad offensive plan and Al Borges must be willing to play someone who can execute everything. To play Burns exclusively now is suicide.

If I see Burns running the offense exclusively, I'll interpret that as the coaching staff giving up on the season. Auburn cannot beat Florida, Arkansas, LSU, Georgia or Alabama with Burns under center the whole game. No knock on him. It's just that those defenses can handle his speed, and his lack of play diversity will undermine the entire operation. We're talking about an 18-year-old freshman who has seven weeks of meaningful college experience.

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