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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Late practice notes: PK Byrum back in good form

AUBURN, Ala. — Unlike last year, Auburn place-kicker Wes Byrum takes the field with a clear mind. His past misses don’t affect him. His mechanics aren’t racing through his mind.
It’s simply see ball, kick ball.

It’s worked well for the junior, who is 10-for-11 on kicks this year and is coming off a four-field goal performance against Tennessee that earned him SEC Special Teams Player of the Week honors.

“I really try not to think about it much at all,” Byrum said. “When I go out there, the attitude I have now is just like practice. Just go out there and kick the ball. If I’m thinking about anything technique-wise, mechanics, then that’s probably not a good thing.”

Byrum hit rock bottom last year, making only 11 of his 19 field goal attempts, including a few that cost Auburn in close games. He started anew in the offseason, able to focus only on field goals during the summer while Morgan Hull handled kickoffs.

He meets weekly with former Auburn kicker John Vaughn, the school’s all-time scoring leader who, despite making 50 career field goals, had his share of low points as well, most notably a 2005 game against LSU in which he missed five field goals.

“It’s definitely been a good thing, because he’s done it,” Byrum said. “He came in, played all four years. He’s missed before, he’s made. So it’s nice to have someone that I can (relate) with and level with on it, because he’s done it before. He knows where I’m coming from.”

Byrum only has one miss this year, a 46-yarder against Tennessee that was made much tougher after Auburn lost nine yards on the previous play. Byrum bounced back to make his next two attempts, from 19 and 22 yards, the second of which sealed the win.

“If Wes Byrum can continue kicking the way he has, it take a lot of pressure off the offense,” Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said. “Because any time you get around the 30- to 35-yard line you have a chance to score points and it is good to have that in your back pocket.”

Follow the blog on Twitter. Then read theses other notes from Tuesday's proceedings ...
  • The Tigers went 5-for-5 in their red zone scoring opportunities against Tennessee, but they weren’t necessarily happy with their point production. Auburn scored two touchdowns but wasted several opportunities to punch it in. On one series, running back Ben Tate fumbled on the edge of the goal line, although the Tigers recovered. Two plays later, Kodi Burns took a snap out of the Wildcat formation, scrambled around and tossed a perfect pass into the end zone that running back Onterio McCalebb dropped. Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn knows that kind of red zone production won’t cut it against a potent Arkansas offense this Saturday. “I think it’s what you focus on and we need to work that much harder,” Malzahn said. “We had a couple opportunities and we’re very fortunate our defense was playing extremely well. We’ve got to find a way to score touchdowns.”
  • Auburn is tied for 10th nationally in red zone efficiency, getting points in 19 of 20 possessions. The Tigers have 14 touchdowns and five field goals. (Arkansas, by the way, is a perfect 14-for-14 in red zone chances this year.)
  • Chizik didn’t give any concrete updates of a pair of injured players, dropping his usual line about the team taking defensive end Nosa Eguae (right foot) and safety Mike McNeil (leg) “day-by-day.” Eguae, a freshman, injured himself just before the start of the season, although he’s since shed the protective boot he wore to the first few games. McNeil broke his leg during a scrimmage last spring. Coaches never gave a timetable for his return. Both have redshirts available. “At what point do you say enough is enough?” Chizik said. “Or, let’s move on and take it to the next season. “Right now, I think we’re in that window where it’s too hard to say. Three weeks from now the conversation maybe different. I don’t want him to go out and play at 85 percent, because I don’t want to put a young guy in a position to not be at his best.”
  • DE Michael Goggans thinks Auburn's pass rush is going to be a huge factor this weekend, especially with big-armed Ryan Mallett under center for the Razorbacks: "It's going to be very crucial. We're just going to have to get a lot of pressure to keep the DBs safe back there. We can't just let them have every day to throw. He's got a good arm and we can't just leave our DBs out to dry. So pass rush is going to be a big key." Auburn's d-line production against Tennessee was shaky. The starting four combined for four tackles, three quarterback hurries and NO sacks.
  • The SEC is gaining some credibility as an offensive conference. Chizik has seen this kind of explosion before. Specifically, in the Big 12 last year. “It is unbelievable when you face all these high-powered offenses," he said. "The explosiveness and ability to score points makes it tough. When you look at the offenses throughout the country, it would be hard to ignore the SEC. Coach (Bobby) Petrino has always had a high-powered offense and that hasn’t changed. It reminds me of some of the offenses in the Big 12 that can score at will.”
  • Chizik has often referred to the season as a 12-round (week) heavyweight fight: “We have said since day one that the season is not different than the great fights back in the days when there were all those great heavyweights. They were 12-round fights, and you take every round one by one, like we do for our season.”
  • A lot of teams run the no-huddle offense, but Malzahn's seems a little different. "“Well, I think a lot of times when you get to the no-huddle world it’s not physical," Chizik said. "When you come to what you are conceptually trying to get done – your quick passing games or throwbacks – this is really the opposite—faster tempo, still trying to really run down the field and be physical wears on a defense that way. You have the capabilities to still be a physical downhill offense, which we said from day one, is what we needed to be able to do, win — be able to run the football and be physical doing it. You have to keep a certain mindset when the tempo gets quick in order to wear on the defense, and I think we can do that. In no huddle, you’ve got to get lined up, and you can see the defense tiring as they line up."
  • Arkansas has artificial turf. It's the first time Auburn will not play on natural grass this year. Chizik doesn't think it matters. “I don’t see why it would affect us; we have it out here in practice," he said, referring to the turf field behind the athletic complex. "And we’ll both be playing on the same surface. So, I don’t see that being an issue.”
  • Safety Drew Cole (ankle) doesn't sound like he'll be back any time soon. "Drew’s struggling a little bit trying to get healthy, he’s day-by-day," Chizik said. " I think it’s going to be a little bit.”
  • It's a homecoming for Malzhan, a Fort Smith, Ark., native who went to the University of Arkansas as a player for two years before later getting his start in college coaching on Houston Nutt's staff in 2006. This isn't his first trip back, though. "I got a chance last year (with Tulsa) to do that, so I felt that and all the distractions that come with that with friends and family asking for this and that," he said. "This is more of a business trip and the fact that I had that experience last year I think will definitely help this year."
  • Nevertheless, H-back Mario Fannin described Malzahn's mood this week like this: "He's more intense. He's more energetic, and you can tell it's a matter of he wants everything to be perfect. So we understand that."
  • Malzahn on Tuesday's practice: "It probably wasn’t up to what last week was. We’ve got to come out tomorrow and Thursday and really focus in. At the same time, we threw a lot at them. Arkansas gives you a lot of different looks and we want to make sure we’re prepared."
  • Last year's Arkansas game was the team's first without Tony Franklin as coordinator. Burns, who quarterbacked that game, remembers it like this: "The whole year was a disappointment. That game in particular, we had several opportunities to get in the end zone and for whatever reason it didn't happen. That just showed the turmoil and the stress the whole team was under. We couldn't even score on four downs from the three yard line. We have another chance this year. Everybody is excited about that."
  • Malzahn on RG Bart Eddins: "We were very proud of Bart and he will definitely give us depth and help us win games." Does that make it sound like Byron Isom might be back this week? When asked who worked at right guard today, tight end Tommy Trott just smiled and said he couldn't answer the question. Read into it what you will. We'll ask Chizik tomorrow, although I doubt we'll get a concrete answer.
  • Tennessee took two timeouts to catch its breath against the Tigers last week. Malzahn said the players love it. "They feed off it," he said. "The thing is we strained them and we pushed our kids in that area. We'd like to think we're in a different kind of shape then a lot of people. So when that hard work pays off it's a good feeling for players and it's also a good feeling for coaches to see the hard work pay off too."
  • Byrum said the camaraderie this year is much better now that Auburn is winning. "It's a lot different because you can just tell through the interaction with coaches and players, just the difference in chemistry," he said. "That was one of the big things as a staff when they came in was the team being a family. I think you can see and it's evident when you're looking at the way we talk to each other. Offensive guys were going over to defensive guys and talking to them throughout the game and congratulating them a lot. Last year you didn't see that a lot because we were struggling. The units were staying to each other and talking amongst each other. And now you see guys from all the over place -- receivers are talking to DBs, everybody's talking to everybody else."


WokDontRun said...

2005 LSU game, not the 2006... '06 was the 7-3 game at AU... The '05 game was the night game at LSU and the wind was horrible... I will never blame Jon for missing those kicks.

Andy Bitter said...

And I knew that. I just typed it in wrong. Thanks for the heads up.

AUsome04 said...

Great job Andy. I'm glad Gus got that return to Arkansas out last year. We're going to need that offense cranking this week.