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Can Malzahn’s Offense Lead AU Back To The Promised Land?

Gus Malzahn is returning to Auburn, but he won’t be keeping any of the current assistants on staff unless his new coordinators say so.  Malzahn broke the news to his ex-colleagues yesterday, according to special teams coach Jay Boulware:

 

“(He didn’t say) much, that he’s just hiring his offensive and defensive coordinator, and he’s going to go from there.  He said if we were interested, he’d let his coordinators choose.  So it is what it is.”

 

Malzahn has already interviewed ex-South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, but it’s been reported that he’s also a possibility at Florida State.  Former Auburn player and defensive line coach Tracy Rocker has also gotten a call.

Who the new Tiger coach hires as D-coordinator will definitely be one to watch as many defensive minds aren’t enamored with up-tempo, spread systems.  And in the SEC — unless you have Cam Newton at quarterback — you typically have to have a darn good defense to win the league crown.  And that’s the goal at Auburn.

But while the defense will play a huge role in determining Malzahn’s ceiling, his own offensive system will be what makes or breaks him as a head coach.

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Reports: AU To Name Malzahn As New Coach

Multiple reports from the Yellowhammer State say that Auburn’s next head coach will be… Gus Malzahn, the Tigers’ former offensive coordinator.  Malzahn just led Arkansas State to a 9-3 record and the Sun Belt Conference championship in his first year as a collegiate head coach.

While Malzahn’s name had been tied to the Auburn job from the moment Gene Chizik was nuked, there was a strange cloud of silence surrounding his actual interview with AD Jay Jacobs and his three-man search committee.  We heard from multiple AU sources that Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart had interviewed well.  We heard completely different takes on Bobby Petrino.

But we couldn’t get the two AU sources we spoke to — one last night, one this morning — to say much of anything about Malzahn’s sit-down.  While we had come to expect Auburn to make a clean break from the immediate Gene Chizik past, the silence surrounding Malzahn’s interview certainly raised our suspicions that he might just land the job.

Early on in the process, we suggested that he and Petrino would be the two most likely men to land the AU job.  Petrino because he was desperate, Malzahn because he knew the lay of the land on the Plains.  If NCAA snoops are truly sniffing around Auburn, Malzahn likely knows what the issues are and his return suggests he doesn’t believe they’ll be too serious.  An outsider might not be so trusting considering the fact that the NCAA hammer dropped harder than expected at Ohio State, Miami, North Carolina, and Penn State when their recent hires arrived on those campuses.

Malzahn’s spread offense at Auburn was ranked fourth in the conference in total offense in 2009 (versus SEC foes only), second in 2010, and then seventh in 2011.  Without him, Auburn finished dead-last in the SEC versus conference foes in total offense this past season.

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AU Prez Gogue Says Tigers Have Their Guy; Athletic Department Applies Brakes

According to multiple reports out of Alabama, Auburn president Jay Gogue has told multiple reporters that the Tigers have picked their next football coach and that that man will be announced at some point in the next 24 hours.

Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart was impressive in his interview by all accounts, including our own sources.

There are conflicting reports regarding Bobby Petrino’s candidacy for the job.

And we at MrSEC.com have not been able to get many comments at all from our AU sources regarding Arkansas State’s Gus Malzahn or his interview with AU’s search committee (which makes us a bit suspicious).

But the real beauty of this afternoon flurry of “news” is this tweet from Mike Szvetitz, the sports editor of The Opelika-Auburn News:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Take that, boss man,” AD Jay Jacobs retorts.  Thou shalt not steal Jay Jacobs’ thunder.

Update: Multiple sources now reporting that Auburn is hiring Gus Malzahn. More on Malzahn’s background here.

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NCAA Cloud Could Lead Auburn To Petrino: The Latest On AU’s Coaching Search

There once was a Led Zeppelin song called “The Song Remains The Same.”  Well, when it comes to coaching searches, the names remain the same.  From school to school and conference to conference.

Hi there, Jimbo Fisher.

Well, hello, Gary Patterson.

When you look at the lists for Tennessee, Arkansas and Auburn, there are plenty of similarities.  Arkansas and Auburn are reportedly interested in TCU’s Patterson.  Tennessee and Auburn are reportedly interested in Fisher.  Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart has had his name tied to both Tennessee and Auburn.  There’s been speculation about Arkansas State’s Gus Malzahn at both Arkansas and Auburn.

Last night, we worked the phones to get the latest skinny — as of last night around 7pm ET — on all three coaching searches in the SEC.  In speaking with an industry source as well as a source inside the Auburn athletic department, here’s what we’ve been able to piece together regarding the Tigers’ search:

 

1.  The biggest question marks for Auburn involve off-the-field issues.  First, the NCAA’s latest investigation into the school.  It had been reported that AU assistants Curtis Luper and Trooper Taylor had been pulled off the road before Gene Chizk and his staff — including Luper and Taylor — were fired.  But AuburnSports.com reported yesterday (behind a paywall) that Luper, Taylor and fellow assistant Tommy Thigpen had decided to continue to try and hold AU’s recruiting class together.  A nice gesture on their parts, but will the NCAA be happy with that?

2.  The three would not be allowed to make calls and try to hang onto recruits if AD Jay Jacobs felt there was a greater NCAA risk in letting them do so.  Jacobs’ sales job to a potential hire will have to be spot-on.  Allowing these three to handle recruiting matters in the interim suggests that he feels AU is not guilty of any major wrongdoing.  That will surely be his spin during the coaching search process.  Whether prospective coaches believe him or not will be an issue.

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Wallace To Become AU’s Third Starting QB This Season

Auburn is just an overtime win over Louisiana-Monroe from being 0-8 on the season.  Original starting quarterback Kiehl Frazier is dealing with a bum shoulder, though he’ll be listed as the Tigers backup on Saturday.  The Tigers’ second starting quarterback of the season — Clint Moseley — is questionable with an ankle injury sustained last week.

So why not go to freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace as AU’s third starting signal-caller of the season?  And that’s just what Gene Chizik says he’s going to do Saturday against New Mexico State:

 

“I think a lot of it is really just going back and reviewing how he played Saturday.  I think that was big.  It was the first time that he got an opportunity to do more than the initial role that we had planned for him in some of the Wildcat stuff with a couple of throws off of that.  We threw him in.  And, again, he’s in every meeting, he’s at every practice, and he works them.  When you watch him execute in a game with more than his role in a game as we put him in there, we just felt like he did well. I think that merited a chance to give him a starting nod.

I hate to use the word surprised, because that makes you think that I think he couldn’t do it.  I thought he was extremely poised under pressure.  I thought he made some throw under pressure that were really, really good. I thought that just handling some of the calls out there that he’s definitely had reps at, but not near enough reps that a starter would, I thought it was really impressive.”

 

Wallace was completed six passes in nine attempts for 122 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s 63-21 loss to Texas A&M.  He also rushed 13 times for 71 yards, but it should be noted that the Aggies were using quite a few backups as the game wore on.

Still, what’s Chizik got to lose at this point?  His job’s probably already beyond saving.

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Hogs’ Smith Makes News With Another Statement, This Time About Auburn’s QB

Arkansas’ John L. Smith needs to start taking lessons from Steve Spurrier.  Just stop answering questions from the media.

Ahead of the Razorbacks’ game at Auburn on Saturday, Arkansas’ interim coach was asked about Tiger quarterback Kiehl Frazier and his many struggles this season.  He responded as follows:

 

“He’s like all younger guys in the league.  If you play too darn early, it may not be a good thing.  But as you continue to play, the great thing about being young and playing early is you’re going to get better all the time.”

 

As I see it, there’s nothing wrong with that statement.  It wasn’t an indictment of Frazier or of the Auburn coaching staff.  But some are taking it that way.  We’ve heard from more than one AU fan this morning who’s sent this story too us, upset that either a) Smith would question Gene Chizik or b) Chizik would play Frazier before he was ready.

In reality, whether AU officials say it’s the case or not, most believe Clint Moseley would have probably been the Tigers’ starter had it not been for a sore shoulder.  He’s yet to see action this year despite Frazier’s woes which gives further credence to the injury theory.

And if a bum shoulder on Moseley is what forced Frazier into action a little bit ahead of schedule, then there’s not a thing wrong with Smith’s assessment of the situation on the Plains.

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10 Days From Kickoff, Here Are The SEC Betting Lines

Oh, sure, sure.  You just look for entertainment purposes.  NCAA football betting isn’t something you actually engage in.

Unless, of course, you’re in Las Vegas.

Or your bookie Vito calls.

Regardless of whether you bet on games or not, there’s nothing like a good Vegas line to give teams some extra motivation heading into a ballgame.  How many coaches over the years have uttered the words “Nobody is giving you a chance to win” to their teams?  Thousands?  Hundreds of thousands?

Well, below are the latest lines for Week One SEC action.  Feel free to be outraged because your favorite team isn’t favored… or isn’t favored by enough.  Enjoy.

 

  Game   Opening Line   The LVH   MGM/Mirage   Caesars/Harrah’s
  South Carolina at Vanderbilt   USC -8   USC -7   USC -7   USC -7
  Texas A&M vs La. Tech   A&M -11   A&M -7.5   A&M -7.5   A&M – 7.5
  Tennessee vs NC State   UT -7   UT -4   UT -4   UT -4
  Buffalo at Georgia   UGA -37   UGA -37.5   UGA -37.5   UGA -38
  Bowling Green at Florida   UF -23   UF -29   UF -29   UF -29
  Auburn vs Clemson   AU +3.5   AU +3.5   AU +3.5   AU +3.5
  Alabama vs Michigan   UA -11   UA -12.5   UA -12.5   UA -12.5
  N. Texas at LSU   LSU -48   LSU -42.5   LSU -43   LSU -43
  Kentucky at Louisville   UK +13   UK +14   UK +14   UK +14

 

Notes:

* The LVH is The Las Vegas Hotel, formerly The Las Vegas Hilton.

* Texas A&M/Louisiana Tech, Tennessee/NC State, Auburn/Clemson and Alabama/Michigan are all neutral site games.

* Jacksonville State at Arkansas, Central Arkansas at Ole Miss, Jackson State at Mississippi State and Southeastern Louisiana at Missouri aren’t listed because those games involve FCS-level schools.

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Pike Leaves Auburn For The Summer After Arrest

Yesterday we wondered aloud if freshman Zeke Pike’s weekend arrest for pubic intoxication might cost him a shot — albeit a long shot — at winning Auburn’s quarterback derby this fall.  It seems we have our answer as his departure from the Plains for the rest of summer signals bigger issues.

The 19-year-old prospect will return home to Fort Mitchell, Kentucky and miss the usual informal summer practices and workouts with his Tiger teammates. That’s no way to come from behind to win a quarterback race.

A source told Charles Goldberg of al.com that this “was not Pike’s first off-the-field issue,” either.  We assume he means while at AU.

But before even arriving on campus, Pike made news when he was tossed from a camp last April for allegedly throwing a football at an official.  (Pike said the issue was overblown and that he and the official apologized to one another afterward.)  He was also suspended from his high school’s first and last games during his senior year.  And his Twitter usage last summer — including several barbs lobbed at Alabama fans — drew attention as well.

In other words, this young man may just have an attitude that needs a bit of an adjustment.

That’s why Kevin Scarbinsky — also of al.com — believes it might be good in the long run for Pike to get out of Auburn ASAP.  “You already needed a scorecard to keep track of the strikes against the freshman quarterback,” he writes.

While Scarbinsky wonders why Gene Chizik and his staff chose to ignore some warning signs about Pike — an in-game fight led to one of his high-school suspensions and it’s believed that synthetic marijuana might have played a role in the other — he also touches on the fact that Auburn doesn’t need any more bad press with one player from the 2010 BCS title squad having recently been handed a 15-year jail sentence for armed robbery and three more of his teammates awaiting their own trials over the same incident.  Good point.

We’ll toss in another.

Considering it was less than two weeks ago that a pair of ex-Tiger football players and another man were shot and killed at an Auburn apartment complex, that community as a whole has no need right now for someone else who seems to have a habit of making poor decisions.  There’s been enough worry, heartache, trials and tribulations at AU the past few months without a freshman QB adding to the mess.

If Pike can get his act together this summer, there still might be a day when he’s trusted to make good decisions on the field as Auburn’s starting quarterback.  Someday.  For now, however, it appears that someone needs to reel Pike in.  (Rimshot.)

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Massive FB Phillips Leaves Auburn

Running back Ladarious Phillips arrived on Auburn’s campus at a whopping 291 pounds in 2010.  He was expected to drop some of that excess weight, but that didn’t happen.  And now AU’s dropping him.

Phillips — who was expected to be a fullback for the Tigers this fall — is walking away.  “He will not be on our football team and we’re going to with him well,” Gene Chizik said yesterday.  “He’s decided he’s not going to play.”  At Auburn, that is.  He’s been granted a full release to transfer to any school of his choice.

Jay Prosch — an All-America transfer from Illinois — is slated to be Auburn’s starting fullback in Scot Loeffler’s new offense.

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UVA Guard Transferring To Auburn

Earlier this month, two Auburn Tigers decided to transfer from the Plains.  Today, a new player — and a good one at that — is planning to fill one of the open slots left in Tony Barbee’s program.

Former Virginia guard KT Harrell has transferred to Auburn, where he will have to sit out one season before joining the AU team for the 2013-14 season.

Harrell is an Alabama native and was actually a Top 30 player in America (four stars) according to Rivals.com when he came out of high school.  He played two seasons with Virginia and will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

According to Harrell’s father, Auburn’s style of play was a big factor in his son’s decision to transfer to the school.  “The style of play that Tony Barbee wants is exactly what we want, that dribble-drive offense, and it’s going to work out great for everyone.”

Harrell started 15 games for the Cavaliers during the 2010-11 season and played in all 31 contests averaging eight points and two rebounds per game.  He played in just 11 games this past season.

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