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Monday, September 7, 2009

Practice notes: Auburn offense thrilled with debut

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s offensive players had an extra bounce in their step Monday, laughing and joking in ways they didn’t as the 2008 plummeted downhill.

It was a welcome change.

“I thought having that first win was good for everybody, just to get a good taste in their mouth starting off the season, having a new coaching staff there and having a lot of question marks,” quarterback Chris Todd said. “I thought it was a good solid win to start out.”

The Tigers gained 556 yards of total offense in a 37-13 season-opening win against Louisiana Tech on Saturday, their most since 2005. They finished last season ranked 104th nationally in total offense.

“What’d we punt, twice? Wow,” left tackle Lee Ziemba said. “Usually our punter is about tired after the game. That’s really nice to come out there and move the ball and to win a game against a solid La. Tech team.”

Auburn was especially effective on the ground, gaining 301 yards behind an offensive line that added considerable bulk in the offseason.

“It was nice to see them wear down a little bit,” said Ziemba, who is 30 pounds heavier than last year. “We don’t see it against our defense in practice much because they’re right in shape with us, running that every day. It was good to see the other guy bending over and putting his hands on hips, tired.”

Auburn was hardly perfect. Both Ben Tate and Darvin Adams lost fumbles in Louisiana Tech territory, and guard Byron Isom was flagged for holding on one play when the Tigers were in solid scoring position. But that’s nit-picking.

“I think it was as smooth as I’ve ever seen for a first game,” Ziemba said. “It’s a good building point.”

Follow the blog on Twitter. Here are some other notes and quotes from Monday ...
  • Freshman running back Onterio McCalebb was honored as the SEC Freshman of the Week after rushing for 148 yards and scoring a touchdown Saturday. McCalebb, who prepped last year at Hargrave Military Academy, became the first Auburn freshman to have a 100-yard rushing game in a season opener since Bo Jackson ran for 123 yards against Wake Forest in 1982.
  • McCalebb’s linemen, who cleared the way for Tate to gain 117 yards as well, were happy to see him get recognized. “No matter what level you’re playing at from Pee Wee on, the running backs are going to get their name in the paper and you’re not,” Ziemba said. “That’s the way it is. I’m proud of Onterio and I’m proud of Ben. You feel like you’ve done your job out there.”
  • There was a lot of good stuff from players on McCalebb, so much, in fact, that I'm turning it into a feature story for Wednesday's paper. But here's a sample about McCalebb's knack for talking trash from cornerback Walt McFadden: "He's a big talker. He'll let you know what he's going to do. When he's feeling it, he knows it's going to happen. When he says something, I know he's going to do it."
  • McFadden didn't think he interfered with the Louisiana Tech receiver in the first quarter. He also didn't think he see that kind of animated reaction out of coach Gene Chizik. "Oh man, at first I thought he was coming at me," McFadden said. "I tried to hurry up and run to the other side, but eventually he had my back. He ran at the referee and that's when I started saying, 'Yeah, yeah, referee,referee , take that.' But he has my back. He spoke with me after the play, he even spoke to me today, he went over there and re-watched it and telling me it was just a good play, a bad call, but we've got to live with those plays sometimes."
  • DeAngelo Benton and Emory Blake, Auburn’s two most-touted freshman receivers, didn’t have much of an impact in Saturday’s opener. Neither receiver caught a pass and were only targeted on a few occasions in limited playing time. “We had a couple situations trying to get them the ball in the game,” Todd said. “That was their first game — a totally different atmosphere than in high school. They were getting adjusted to that. They’ve been doing some really good things, especially in fall camp. I think as we go along, they’ll get a lot more opportunities for us to get them the ball.” Starters Terrell Zachery and Adams had all seven of the catches by Tigers receivers.
  • Mario Fannin on his muffed punt: "That was pretty much my first game doing it. The ball just popped off my shoulder pads. That was basically because of me. I kind of went back up towards the ball. In practice this week I’m going to work on it and get more comfortable with it." He thought Auburn lost possession after he dropped it. "That was my fear," he said. "I tried to grab it before it kind of popped out but it was too late and I got hit. All I could think about was I hope we got the ball back because I would have felt real bad."
  • We got a lot of good stuff on LB Adam Herring too, which I plan to write in a feature story later this week. His roommate, Ziemba, was impressed Herring was able to play 50-plus snaps after missing almost all of the previous nine months with a heel injury. "In a week of practice you don't see that pretty often," he said. "That's pretty remarkable."
  • Todd said his surgically repaired throwing shoulder felt fine after Saturday’s game. “My arm feels fresh,” he said. “We still take it easy on days we’re supposed to take it easy. It felt pretty good. The ball was spinning pretty well the other night, so the arm’s holding up pretty good.”
  • Todd felt good during the game too. "It was nice to be able to put the ball where I wanted to," he said. "When you're out there and you don't have to think, 'Am I going to get the ball there?' it kind of helps you in your timing and it helps you get more comfortable and get more confident with your balls and stuff. ... A lot of times, especially last year, I'd see stuff open but then I'd have to think or second-guess myself and maybe don't throw it or you do throw it and it gets there late. It's nice. I think it actually helped me to go through that because sometimes I'd throw stuff earlier than I might have just to hit the windows and now I can put the ball where I want to and it helps. It reminds I can fit some things in there that maybe I couldn't last year.
  • Todd said it felt good to celebrate a touchdown throw for once, even if it meant having to spring 93 yards down the field to celebrate with Zachery. "I was actually really tired," he said. "I got to the sideline and I sat down and got like three or four cups of water. I was racing down after that one. That was pretty fun."
  • This will be an element of tomorrow's story, but Todd thinks Tate and McCalebb complement each other well. "Ben's a big, powerful back -- a hard-nosed runner -- and he's fast, too," he said. "Onterio, on the other hand, is really shifty and he gets around on some edges. There were some times in the game where the defense played really good and he just kind of beat some guys with speed. I think Ben was there to pick up some really big first downs for us. He helped us get out of the end zone there before we had that big play to T-Zach. That was really big. They both complement each other really well and allow us to do some different things in different situations."
  • With Kodi Burns’ success as the quarterback in the Wildcat formation, H-back Mario Fannin said he is no longer working there.
  • Plenty of Auburn's defenders played almost the entire game, but they don't mind. "I'll play every down," LB Josh Bynes said. "It doesn't matter to me. You get tired. As the game keeps going and you think about defending the end zone, it's very motivating. You just want to keep getting after it every snap you can."
  • One quick men's basketball note: Auburn got a commitment from Knoxville (Tenn.) Fulton High shooting guard Jalen Steele, according to AuburnSports.com. The 6-foot-2, 165-pound Steele averaged 21.3 points per game and led Fulton to its second straight Class AA state championship last season. He is Auburn’s second commitment for 2010, joining forward Heath Houston of Powder Springs, Ga.
  • And finally, Auburn's players had some funny answers to how they reacted to their 3-2 win last year at Mississippi State.
  • "When you look at it, a win is a win, but a 3-2 score," Todd said. "It's not too much to brag about. We're hoping to put up a few more points than that, but Mississippi State's got a really good team and a really good defense, so we're going to have to come out with a really good gameplan and really be on the ball. They're going to come out firing and we're going to have to do the same thing."
  • Did Bynes take pride in that game? "You've got to be proud of it. 3-2? Defensively, you've got to be proud. Of course not the score. If you can hold a team to two points, that's all you need. That's what you want to hear. Two points? You're doing your job defensively." But did he celebrate it? "It was kinda awkward," Bynes said. "A win is a win, but we were like: 3-2? They got the L, we got the W. That's all that matters."


Simmons B. Buntin said...

Maybe we'll have a better sense after the Mississippi State game, but watching the Louisiana Tech game, I was really impressed with how the coaches adjusted during the game. I always felt, since the 2004 season, that we'd get a lead and desperately cling to it: like we didn't have that killer instinct. But Saturday's game demonstrated both that our coaches can coach on the fly, and that they're not satisfied with changing the tempo to grind out a win. Looking at teams like Florida and USC, I'd say that's critical to success.

Keep at it, and War Eagle!

Jason Crawford said...

I agree Simmons...hopefully we'll have more of a "go for the jugular" attitude with this offense than the previous ones under Tubs.

When kids sense their coaches are coasting, they begin to coast themselves. (See the OSU-Navy game)