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BEFORE THE GAME: SEC CHAMPIONSHIP EDITION

By | Talent Columns, Uncategorized | No Comments

November was quite a month for Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, and he capped it off by knocking out the reigning, defending, heavyweight champion of the SEC.

I watched Saturday’s Iron Bowl with Auburn fans, hanging on every play. Watching your team play against Alabama is like driving in a car that you’re certain is about to break down; it’s difficult to get comfortable, let alone confident, because every snap of the ball could bring the disastrous play that changes the game.

As Auburn built its lead, though, people slowly realized what they were seeing. Auburn wasn’t just winning on the scoreboard; it was outplaying Alabama at its own game. Alabama couldn’t run the ball, Alabama couldn’t get stops on third down that would allow its defense to leave the field, and Alabama couldn’t convert when it faced third down on offense. Once Auburn had regained the ball with a twelve-point lead in the fourth quarter, Alabama’s goose was cooked. There would be no miraculous rally, there would be no historic collapse. 26-14.

Now, as Malzahn and the #2 Tigers head to Atlanta, the stakes only get bigger. A win over the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game will send them to the College Football Playoff for the first time in team history. A team that seemed dead and buried after a loss to LSU on October 14 is now just as alive as anyone else, and a coach who had seen his tenure become unsustainably turbulent weathered the storm with expert precision.

When Alabama had the ball, Auburn’s defensive line was consistently disruptive. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts is deadly when he’s able to utilize his legs to buy himself additional time to find receivers, but Auburn’s ferocious pass rush was able to pressure him throughout the game. When Hurts was able to get rid of the ball, he rarely found open receivers. Alabama is typically able to impose its will to the degree that third downs are manageable, but it simply couldn’t keep drives alive.

When Auburn had the ball, it did an excellent job of keeping the Alabama defense off-balance by mixing up its passes and runs. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham ran the ball, running back Kerryon Johnson threw the ball, receiver Ryan Davis caught everything thrown his way, and the Auburn offensive line provided enough push to allow plays to develop to their fullest potential. Stidham’s passes gave his receivers an opportunity to gain yardage after the catch. After a fumble ended a red-zone possession in the first quarter, the Auburn offense made practically no mistakes.

It completes a remarkable turnaround; Malzahn teams were so prone to surrendering big leads and so frequently beaten by highly ranked opponents that Auburn fans were despondent after the team blew a 20-0 lead in Baton Rouge. Sure, Malzahn could recapture the confidence of his fanbase by rallying the team and defeating Georgia and Alabama for the first time since 2013, but how likely did that seem.

Seven weeks later, here they are. In Atlanta. One win away from a spot in the playoff.

WHAT TO WATCH:

–          Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson injured his ribs in the second half against Alabama, and his availability for Saturday is in question. How ready will he be? If not, will Kam Martin or Devan Barrett receive additional playing time?

–          Georgia’s offensive line was beaten soundly in the first meeting between these two teams, and quarterback Jake Fromm took a pounding. Have they been able to figure out a better way to attack Auburn’s defense in the last few weeks? Is there a better way?

–          Auburn has leaned on kicker Daniel Carlson all season, and his ability to help convert drives into points has proven invaluable. If Saturday’s game is closer than the first, and it all boils down to a Carlson attempt, Auburn should feel good about its chances.

PECK’S PICKS (LAST WEEK 1-4, YTD 40-33)

–          STANFORD +3.5 VS USC: The USC defense is still suspicious against the run, and Stanford’s offense has come around in the last few weeks. PECK’S PICK: STANFORD +3.5

–          OHIO STATE -6 VS WISCONSIN: The Buckeyes have pulled themselves off the mat after getting blown out by Iowa and look to clinch a playoff spot by overwhelming the Badgers. PECK’S PICK: OHIO STATE -6

–          TCU +7 VS OKLAHOMA: The Sooners look to take the nation’s best offense into the playoff and burst Alabama’s bubble in the process. PECK’S PICK: OKLAHOMA -7

–          NORTH TEXAS +11 VS FLORIDA ATLANTIC: Lane Kiffin took a moribund program and turned them into a force to be reckoned with. PECK’S PICK: FAU -11

–          GEORGIA +2 VS AUBURN: Georgia will be ready to compete, but Auburn is just too good for them at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. PECK’S PICK: AUBURN -2

Enjoy the games!

Dan Peck
Co-Host, THE DRIVE (4-6PM, ESPN 106.7 FM, ESPNAU.com)
Host, AFTER THE GAME (Immediately following Auburn University football games, Wings 94.3 FM, WingsFM.com)
http://www.twitter.com/DanielAllenPeck
DPeck@aunetwork.com

The SEC Report Players of the Week 10/2/17: Week 5

By | ESPN 106.7 News, Uncategorized | No Comments

Another week of college football is in the books, so let’s take a look at The SEC Report’s Players of the Week.

Noah Gardner:

Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama, 66-3 W vs. Ole Miss

12-19 197 YDS 2 TD, 10 CAR 101 YDS 10.1 YPC 1 TD

After his performance Saturday night, Jalen Hurts has people mentioning him in the Heisman race once again. With three total touchdowns and 298 all-purpose yards, Hurts showed why he is the most dynamic QB in the league.

 

Otaro Alaka, LB, Texas A&M, 24-17 W vs. South Carolina

9 TKL, 7 SOLO, 2.0 SKS, 5 TFL

Otaro Alaka roamed the field with a purpose against South Carolina. The statistic that stands out to me is the five tackles for loss that contributed to the Aggies’ defense holding the Gamecocks to only 17 points. His ability to create negative plays transformed this Texas A&M defense from one that struggled against Arkansas to one that was the difference in a tight game against South Carolina.

 

 

JJ Jackson:

Lamical Perine, RB, Florida, 38-24 W vs. Vanderbilt

15 CAR 58 YDS 3.9 AVG 3 TD, 1 REC 17 YDS

Lamical Perine carried the ball 15 times and picked up 58 yards on the ground. While those numbers might not be that significant, Perine scored three touchdowns. Florida’s running game hasn’t been that great so far this season, but Perine changes that Saturday in the Gators 38-24 win over Vanderbilt.

 

J.R. Reed, LB, Georgia, 41-0 W at Tennessee

3 TKL, 2 SOLO, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 FR

J.R. Reed had three tackles, including one for loss in the Bulldogs 41-0 win over Tennessee. Reed also contributed to the dismantling of the Volunteers by recording an interception and recovering a fumble.

 

 

Painter Sharpless:

Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia, 41-0 W at Tennessee

7-15 84 YDS 1 TD 1 INT, 7 CAR 20 YDS 2.9 YPC 2 TD

Jake Fromm’s passing statistics don’t jump off the page, but he led the Bulldogs to a 41-0 rout over Tennessee. With one passing touchdown and two on the ground, Fromm has aided Georgia in a surprising albeit successful transition as Jacob Eason’s backup to now front man of a surging Georgia squad.

 

Tray Matthews, DB, Auburn, 49-10 W vs. Mississippi State

3 TKL, 1 SOLO, 1 INT

Tray Matthews recorded an interception and three tackles in Auburn’s dominant performance against Mississippi State. His experience and vocal presence has helped lead Auburn’s defense this season as one of three teams to allow 14 points or less per game.

Days to Auburn Kickoff: 18 Kodi Burns

By | Auburn University News, ESPN 106.7 News, Uncategorized | No Comments

18 days until Auburn football kicks off the 2017 season.

Today we recognize a notable number 18; Kodi Burns.

Burns played quarterback and wide receiver for Auburn from 2007 until 2010. Burns started seven games at quarterback during the 2008 season. Burns was a wide receiver for Auburn’s 2010 SEC Champion and National Champion team. Burns caught a 35 yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton in the 2010 National Championship game against Oregon.

In February of 2016, Burns was named wide receivers coach for Auburn and again work under head coach Gus Malzahn.

War Eagle Kodi!

Kodi Burns

Days to Auburn Kickoff: 33 Will Hastings

By | Auburn University News, ESPN 106.7 News, Uncategorized | No Comments

Only 33 short days until Auburn football!

Today we honor a notable number 33; Will Hastings.

The Little Rock, Arkansas native went to Pulaski Academy before arriving on Auburn’s campus in the fall of 2015.

Hastings tallied 2,040 receiving yards in his high school senior season, becoming just the second receiver in state history to gain 2,000 yards in a season.

Hastings appeared in two games in 2015 and had one kickoff against LSU. The kicker-turned-wide receiver appeared in 11 games in 2016. The first touchdown of his career came on a 29-yard catch against Arkansas State. Six of 11 catches in 2016 gained first downs.

2017 will be the junior season for Will Hastings.

War Eagle Will!

SEC Media Days Recap Three: Alabama Has Arrived

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Nick Saban

Day three of SEC Media Days featured Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky and Texas A&M. Here is what stuck out to me throughout the day.

 

Alabama:

One word to describe Alabama’s media day: impressive. The 2016 SEC Champions not only handled themselves with confidence but were articulate as well. Often times the personality of the head coach will show itself in the players, and Alabama was no exception to the rule.

Senior offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman talked about how Alabama has been able to maintain their level of success.

“There’s a lot of hard competitors on our team, and with Coach Saban, we focus on the process,” Bozeman said. “We push every day and we try to be 1-0 at the end of every week. We try to do things that other people don’t want to do or can’t do.”

“We just push it, break down barriers and knock down walls,” Bozeman said.

Nick Saban echoed the same sentiment when talking about their loss in the national championship last January.

“We’re always trying to self-assess to see what we need to do to get better,” Saban said. “I want to learn. I don’t want to waste a failure.”

It’s about the fundamentals and doing things the right way for Saban and the Crimson Tide. Calvin Ridley spoke about what was different about this upcoming year’s Tide team.

“Coach Saban preaches leadership, and the leadership on this team is pretty good,” Ridley said. “We have some guys who are buying in right away, and now we have to get the younger guys to buy in and we will be a good team.”

 

Missouri:

Quarterback Drew Locke feels like he is an underrated quarterback in the SEC. Despite only having won four games last season, Locke believes he is as good as anyone in the conference.

“Numbers aren’t enough,” Locke said. “You need to produce and win football games but I do believe that I have all the skills and all the same things that anyone else does in this conference if not better.”

Head Coach Barry Odom believes that Locke has a chance to be a “special player” at the quarterback position. Nonetheless, he wants to see him improve in certain areas of his game as well.

“I want him to know he doesn’t have to get it all in one throw, and he understands that,” Odom said. “We’ve got to become more consistent as an offense and that starts with him as well.”

Locke threw for 3,399 yards, 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season.

 

Kentucky:

The theme for Kentucky this offseason has been the question of if they are ready to compete for the SEC East crown. Day three was no different.

Head coach Mark Stoops was asked how close they are to contending.

“You never know,” Stoops said. “You guys covered this league for a while. I remember a few years back, I believe the team that won both sides didn’t win a league game the year before.”

Stoops isn’t worried about the rest of the league. He is concerned with the preparation of his team alone.

“We are not concerned about the rest of the league,” Stoops said. “I know this about the league, the league’s not backing up. Nobody we’re playing is backing up. We’re certainly not backing up.”

“We’re worried about us getting better to put us in a position to contend each and every week,” Stoops said.

Kentucky finished 2016 with a 7-6 record and a TaxSlayer Bowl defeat to Georgia Tech. Their bowl appearance last season was their first since 2010. The Wildcats return 17 starters from their 2016 squad.

 

Texas A&M:

Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M came into the day with a lot of the focus on his job security. Having won eight games for three straight years and not quite meeting expectations in those seasons, Sumlin has one of the hotter seats in the SEC. According to him, that won’t affect the way he coaches his team.

“And so whatever’s said, whatever the conversation, whatever’s written, it’s not going to affect how I do my job,” Sumlin said, “And it’s not going to affect my day-to-day operation.”

Texas A&M Athletic Director Scott Woodard made comments on “The Paul Finebaum Show” while attending the SEC spring meetings in Florida that put Sumlin on the hot seat.

“Coach Sumlin knows he has to win,” Woodard said. “He has to win this year. He has to do better than he has done in the past.”

The quarterback situation is unique for Texas A&M heading into this season as it is clearly a decision between experience or potential. Jake Hubenak returns to compete with redshirt freshman quarterback Nick Starkel and freshman quarterback Kellen Mond.

Sumlin was asked about the quarterback situation heading into camp.

“Not really a front-runner right now,” Sumlin said. “I think I know that all three guys are really capable.”

Days to Auburn Kickoff: 73 Lee Ziemba

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Only 73 short days until Auburn football!

Today we honor a notable number 73; Lee Ziemba.

The Rogers, Arkansas native went to Rogers High School before arriving on Auburn’s campus in the fall of 2007. Ziemba holds the Auburn record for consecutive starts at 52 as he started every game of his career. Ziemba became the sixth lineman in AU history to win the Jacobs Blocking Trophy in 2010. Ziemba was a staple on the Auburn offensive line throughout his career and a big part of the offense that became the first AU team to ever rush for 300 yards or more in six straight SEC games during the 2010 season. He was a member of the 2010 SEC Champion and 2010 National Champion Auburn team.

Following his graduation from Auburn, Ziemba was selected by the Carolina Panthers in the seventh round of the 2011 NFL Draft.

War Eagle Lee!

Lee Ziemba

Days to Auburn Kickoff: 78 Darius James

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We are now 78 days away from kickoff to the 2017 Auburn football season and today we honor current Auburn Tiger, #78 Darius James. The Killeen, Texas native attended Harker Heights High School and was selected to play in the 2013 Under Armour All-American Game. In 2014, James began his college career playing for the University of Texas and competed in 6 games, but decided to transfer to Auburn after the season. James began his Auburn career in 2016 and played in all 13 games. He became the starting left tackle for the last 8 games of the season. War Eagle Darius!

 

Darius James