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August 2020

Three goals for Auburn in 2020

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The 2020 football season is rapidly approaching. It promises to be unlike any other before. With under four weeks until Auburn’s first game, the Tigers are fully invested into fall camp. Defensive end Big Kat Bryant recently said he is “taking it day-by-day.” That may be a good strategy for the players, but the coaching staff must prepare the team for this unique season with worthy endgame results in mind. Tigers! Assemble! With questions surrounding the offensive and defensive line, linebacker depth, running backs, etc., here are three goals that Gus Malzahn and his coaching staff can begin to focus on for the upcoming season.


1. Balance on offense:

First, at quarterback, Bo Nix. He needs to make good decisions – with his arm and his legs – and the second year quarterback will be poised for a breakout season. At running back, a crowded group has the versatility and potential to dominate opposing defenses. Next, the wide receivers that are delectably domineering; Seth Williams, Anthony Schwartz and Eli Stove leading the way.  Additionally, Anders Carlson’s evolution into the best kicker – with the most swag – in the SEC. Lastly, I’ve returned FROMM the future to tell you that Chad Morris will use his tight ends a great DEAL (Tyler Fromm and Luke Deal are two redshirt freshmen tight ends).  That’s what I mean by balanced. But it’s easier said than done. If the Tigers can get the most out of an unproven offensive line, and utilize an overstocked arsenal of weapons at wide receiver and running back, they could easily be the SEC’s most complete offense in 2020.

2. Finish with a top-15 defense:

In 2019, Auburn finished No. 28 in total defense and No. 17 in scoring defense. After losing six starters on defense, including SEC Defensive Player of the Year Derrick Brown, pundits would expect the Tigers to regress in 2020. However, I am no pundit, and like I said before, I have been to the future. But one doesn’t have to risk altering the space-time continuum to know that Kevin Steele is the best defensive coordinator in college football. The Tigers are retooled with junior college transfers and reloaded with talented underclassmen. The linebacker group is one of the best in the country, even with Chandler Wooten sitting out the season and before half the conferences decided not to play this fall. The defensive line could be an issue, but the guys behind them should be more than capable of performing their fiduciary duties to assist front line. Lastly, the secondary. On paper, it looks like a heavily weakened unit, with four starters from last year’s team gone. However, most of these guys slated to start in 2020 are like a Christopher Nolan film – once you see the trailer, you know it’s going to be good. Christian Tutt is the lone returning starter at nickel corner but this may be the deepest unit on the team. Roger McCreary, Jordyn Peters and Smoke Monday all showed the ability to make big plays in limited action in 2019 and junior college transfer Marco Domio is turning heads at camp.

Last season, Auburn’s defense was forced to save games instead of end them. The offensive struggles forced the defensive numbers to take a hit. Therefore this year, even with such a magnitude of lost production, when the offense improves, the defense will too.

3. Dominate weaker SEC opponents:

Auburn has a history of playing down to their opponents. The narrow win in 2017 against Mercer, and the staggering loss in 2018 versus Tennessee stick out to me. Now, with a shortened 10-game SEC-only schedule, it is more imperative than ever to avoid dropping games. Arkansas, South Carolina, Ole Miss and Tennessee are must wins. But first, the Tigers take on Kentucky in week one. Whether or not former Auburn quarterback Joey Gatewood will suit up for the Wildcats remains unsure. One thing that is for sure, the Tigers could use a convincing win to boost the team’s confidence heading into a potentially season defining week two matchup against Georgia. If they struggle, or even lose against the Wildcats, the Tigers could begin the season 0-2 and a domino effect of poor performances could follow.


“Your TALENT determines what you can do. Your MOTIVATION determines how much you are willing to do. Your ATTITUDE determines how well you do it,” said College Football Hall of Fame head coach Lou Holtz. The Tigers have one of the most talented rosters in recent memory. They should be plenty motivated after a rather disappointing 2019. If the Tigers maintain the correct attitude throughout the season, then 2020, regardless of circumstances, could be one of Gus Malzahn and Auburn’s best years yet.

 

Auburn & Opelika Meet Tonight!

By | Auburn High News, ESPN 106.7 News | No Comments

 

The 1-0 Auburn High Tigers and the 1-0 Opelika High Bulldogs will battle at Auburn’s Duck Samford Stadium tonight!

Catch all the action on our sibling station Wings 94.3 with Scott Bagwell, Dr. Rob Pate, Chris Hummel and Riley Hubbard.

Airtime is 6:30 p.m.

You can also listen online at www.WingsFM.com or the Wings 94.3 app.

 

The Auburn Family extends to Gus Malzahn’s coaching staff

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War Eagle! Go Tigers! Beat Bama! These are the things often heard the moment you step onto Auburn University’s campus.

Supporters of the Tigers know how interconnected the fanbase is. Alumni know it even more. But the link between the fans and football is not the only thing that makes Auburn special. The Loveliest Village on the Plains is comprised of a family – The Auburn Family – that stretches nationwide and across the world.

Whether it’s rolling the historic oak trees, relaxing on the picturesque Samford Lawn or the smell of freshly made popcorn in Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn is ingrained into the hearts and minds of those who love it. For the eight former Auburn players on Gus Malzahn’s staff, the story is no different.

During their time at Auburn, these players were perhaps the most beloved members of the Auburn Family. However, it is often thought that once an athlete’s four years are finished, they either pursue a professional career or move into the workforce – effectively forfeiting their value to the schools, fans and the media. But Auburn is a family; no one ever really leaves Auburn; no one is ever truly forgotten. The Auburn Family is robustly evident in so many ways, but this one in particular is unique. Most of these guys played for Malzahn, and I cannot stress enough how the Gus Bus would fail to roll without them. What did they do for Auburn in the past? What are they doing now to strengthen the Tigers in the future? Here is a breakdown of what these eight former players turned current coaches really mean to the Auburn Family.

Coaching Staff

Kodi Burns – Co-Offensive Coordinator/WRs: In 2007, Burns became the first freshman to start at quarterback for Auburn since Gabe Gross in 1998. He later switched to wide receiver and his greatest achievement had to be his opening touchdown grab against Oregon in the 2010 BCS National Championship game. Burns began his coaching tenure at Auburn as a graduate student, working with the 2013 offense that finished first nationally in rushing.  After two years away, the former quarterback turned wide receiver returned to his alma mater in 2016. Since then Burns has been one of Auburn’s most valuable recruiters and one of Malzahn’s most trusted advisors.

Rodney Gardner – Assoc. Head Coach/DL: Gardner was an All-SEC player during his Auburn heyday. He also captained the 1988 team that captured the SEC title. He spent his first five years, 1990-1995, coaching for Auburn before climbing the ladder at other universities. Gardner returned to Auburn in 2013 as associate head coach and defensive line coach. He has held the position ever since and has helped Auburn transition into the defensive powerhouse it is today.

 

Carnell “Cadillac” Williams – Assistant Coach/RB: With by far the most impressive playing resume of anyone on this list, Williams is the least experienced, and newest, member on the coaching staff. The All-American helped Auburn to an undefeated 2004 season and was the 2005 NFL Rookie of the Year. Williams finished ahead of Bo Jackson as Auburn’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns and second to the Heisman winner in total rushing yards. The seven-year pro returned to Auburn in 2019 and provides mentorship to Auburn’s runners, and a good bit of street cred to the coaching staff.

 

Travis Williams – Co-Defensive Coordinator/LBs: Like Cadillac, Williams was a crucial piece in Auburn’s 2004 undefeated season. He led the team in tackles (84) and earned All-SEC honors on the Tigers’ way to a Sugar Bowl win. Williams had a brief stint in the NFL then as a high school coach before returning to his alma mater in 2009 as a graduate assistant. He left again, but could not stay away, returning to Auburn as a defensive analyst in 2014. Since then he has risen in the coaching ranks among Malzahn’s staff, becoming a key recruiter and developer of talent. He even dropped an epic remixed rap song, name checking and hyping up the Auburn players.

Support Staff

Jorrell Bostrom – Director of Player Development: The first Auburn player of Tongan heritage, Bostrom played in every game on the offensive line, punt, field goal and PAT units in 2009 and 2010. He was on the field when Wes Byrum kicked the game-winning field goal in the 2010 BCS National Championship game. From there, he spent three seasons with Auburn as an administrative assistant. He then joined Malzahn’s staff in 2014 as assistant director of player development before being promoted to director in 2015 – a position he has held ever since.

Kenny Carter – Assistant Director of Player Development: As a player, Carter was a member of the 2010 championship team and a key member of the team that reached the championship game in 2013. He joined Malzahn’s staff in 2015. Fun fact: his brother is former Auburn player and 2020 second round pick, Marlon Davidson.

Josh Holsey – Defensive Grad Assistant: Holsey was a versatile cornerback/safety hybrid who made 31 starts for the Tigers between 2012-16. He led Auburn’s defense with three interceptions in 2016 and was drafted in the seventh round of the 2017 NFL draft. Holsey joined Malzahn’s staff this past spring and begins his first full year this season.

Barrett Trotter – Offensive Analyst: After backing up Cam Newton in 2010, Trotter became the Tigers’ starter in 2011 and led the team to a bowl victory over Virginia. He spent four years in the NFL serving as a scouting and coaching assistant before joining North Carolina as an offensive assistant in 2017. He joined Malzahn’s staff as an offensive analyst in 2018.

Is Thiccc Bo Nix ready for greatness?

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Last week, a photo of Auburn quarterback Bo Nix went viral after fans and reporters took note of the sophomore’s bolstered physique. Listed at 6-foot-2, 213 pounds, Nix looked fragile at times last season. Still, he maintained a certain physicality and fearlessness that players and coaches look for in their leader.

Nix’s recent weight gain is dissimilar to that of the commonly swelling figures of other college students. The all encompassing phrase – Freshman 15 – depicts the college tradition of developing poor eating habits as an 18-year-old’s first taste of freedom coincides with the taste of midnight pizza orders, TV dinners and a Twinkie addiction. It appears that Nix, however, has put down the sweet, cream filled, diabetes inducing sponge cake, put on his headphones, put Eye of the Tiger on full blast and bulked up total Rocky Balboa style.

Does this mean he’s ready to make the jump from SEC Freshman of the Year to SEC Player of the Year – or even straight up Player of the Year? I don’t know. But we can look at the history of past elite freshman quarterbacks to try and decipher if Nix will flourish or falter during his second season on the plains.

For scientific purposes, we will examine two cases: one, where a quarterback progressed after his solid first year campaign, and two, where a quarterback regressed after an incredibly successful first year.

Progression – Peyton Manning:

Year 1:  11 games. 61.8% completion. 1,141 yards. 11 touchdowns. 6 interceptions. QB rating 145.2

Year 2: 11 games. 64.2% completion. 2,954 yards. 22 touchdowns. 4 interceptions. QB rating 146.5

Regression – Jameis Winston:

Year 1: 14 games. 66.9% completion. 4,057 yards. 40 touchdowns. 10 interceptions. QB rating 184.8. ACC Freshman of the Year. Heisman trophy.

Year 2: 13 games. 65.3% completion. 3,907 yards. 25 touchdowns. 18 interceptions. QB rating 145.5.

 

Bo Nix’s in year one: 13 games. 57.6% completion. 2,542 yards. 16 touchdowns. 6 interceptions. QB rating 125.0. SEC Freshman of the Year.

Across the board, Nix’s first season on the plains was statistically more similar to Manning. While Manning’s numbers were far from impeccable,  he threw the ball only 144 times compared to Nix’s 377. Both quarterbacks were in an offense where passing was not the feature element. The amount of throws that Nix attempted was actually closer to Winston’s tally of 384. If anything, however, that is a reflection of the evolution of football, not the talent level and projected career arcs of the respective quarterbacks.

I don’t think anyone expects Nix to throw for 40 touchdowns and 4,000 yards – in 2020 or ever. Gus Malzahn wouldn’t throw the ball that often if he was guaranteed free Waffle House for life. Unlike Winston, Nix will not peak in year one. The more likely second year outcome for Nix is one similar to Manning again. Be a leader. Be a game manager with the cerebral ability to pick defenses apart and make any throw. Make good decisions. Let the run set up the pass, and use play action to hit big plays over the top.

When I say game manager, i’m not expecting Nix to ride the heels of his supporting cast. I’m also not saying Nix is going to become one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, but, he could. He already has a head start on Manning in terms of accolades. The two-time Super Bowl champion didn’t receive proper recognition until being named SEC Player of the Year and winning the Maxwell Award in his senior season.

If Nix takes note of Manning, then he will continue on the righteous path. If he studies Winston’s peculiar training drills  and Wild Wild West style of heedless play, he could be susceptible to a similarly underwhelming second year. Bo Twix is an easily avoidable nickname. Fulfilling his utmost potential is a more difficult task. Keep eating those protein bars QB1. Bo Thic’s sounds better to me.

 

Three freshmen who can step up for Auburn in 2020

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In 2018, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence set the standard for freshman excellence. He led the Tigers to a 15-0 record, embarrassing Alabama in the National Championship Game 44-16. Gus Malzahn may not have anyone with the shampoo endorsement-worthy locks of Lawrence, but he does have a history of entrusting freshman with big responsibilities. Quarterback Bo Nix was 2019 SEC Freshman of the Year and Owen Pappoe played in every game as a first-year linebacker last season.

According to Rivals, Auburn had the No. 10 recruiting class of 2020. Here are three freshmen who could not only play, but become key contributors for Auburn this season.

1. Zykeivous Walker – Defensive End:

At 6-foot-4, 266 pounds, Walker is a ferocious pass rusher who arrived at Auburn in January. Unfortunately, the early enrollment meant nothing as the Tigers missed spring practice due to COVID-19. The No. 7 prospect at his position according to 247, Walker was also a lettermen in basketball and track and field in high school. The athletic Walker terrorized high school offenses, finishing with 85 tackles, 29 for loss and 11 sacks. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele lost three contributors from his 2019 defensive line. Walker’s pass rushing ability gives him a special opportunity to step up for the Tigers this season.

2. Freshmen Running Backs:

True Freshman Tank Bigsby and redshirt freshman Mark-Antony Richards are both highly touted runners. Richards is coming off a leg injury he suffered in 2019, but he should be at full health by now. Bigsby is the highest rated recruit at running back for the Tigers since Roc Thomas in 2014. Thomas failed to fulfill his potential and ended his career at Jacksonville State. Hopefully, these two young backs will play out their time at Auburn and become a dynamic duo similar to Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway in 2016. Perhaps even better – dare I say it – a combination akin to Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown in 2004.

3. J.J. Pegues – Tight End/Athlete:

This man is a beast. A versatile threat in high school, Pegues projects as a tight end because of his 6-foot-2, 300-pound frame. However, even though the top-6 rated recruit from Mississippi looks like a defensive end, he can do just about anything. Pegues has the strength to pass block, the hands to catch the ball and the speed to carry it. He could even line up as quarterback to take snaps in the wildcat formation. The possibilities are enticing for first-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris. He loves to use his tight ends and Pegues’ unique skillset provides a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. During his time as head coach at Arkansas, Morris’s tight ends brought in 23.5% of the receptions, 23.6% of the receiving yards and 41.2% of the touchdowns. Regardless of where he lines up, Pegues is a weapon that should be used in 2020.

Honorable Mentions: 

1. Wesley Steiner – Linebacker: Starting linebacker Chandler Wooten is sitting out the 2020 season. That mean’s K.J. Britt, Owen Pappoe and Zacoby McClain will be looking for a fourth linebacker to contribute. Pappoe made a big impact as a highly rated freshman last season. What’s stopping Steiner from doing the same?

2. Jay Handy – Defensive End: Rated as the top recruit in Tennessee by Rivals, the 6-foot-4, 299-pound pass rusher is versatile, athletic and strong. It’s typically difficult for freshmen to make an impact at physically demanding positions such as defensive line, but Handy already has the stature to compete. Like Walker, Handy will have the chance to impress Steele and get meaningful snaps in his first year on the plains.

3. Luke Deal & Tyler Fromm – Tight Ends: As I alluded to earlier, Morris loves to use tight ends. Deal and Fromm were both redshirted last season and their experience might give them a leg up on the new recruit Pegues. Serving as more traditional tight ends in terms of pass blocking ability, size and speed, Deal and Fromm should have a valuable role in the Auburn offense this season.

4. Wide Receivers: Bo Nix must be thrilled when he thinks about the wide receiver options at his disposal. Four-star recruits Kobe Hudson, Ze’Vian Capers, J.J. Evans and Malcolm Johnson Jr., have all come to play with the young charismatic quarterback in 2020. Auburn’s wide receiver group is now loaded with experience at the top and potential at the bottom – any of these guys could emerge as contributors in 2020.