Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Seriously belated A-day wrap

Firstly: If you haven't seen the highlight package yet (yeah, right), it's only 3 minutes and change of your time ...

If you want more, Track 'Em's got a ton of stuff.

Neil Caudle vs. Kodi Burns. Yeah, I can't say the stats scream "dead heat," not when it's 11-of-16, 161, 2 TDs up against 3-of-8 for 48. Yeah, far and away the nicest throw on that highlight reel is Caudle's to Darvin Adams for the long TD, and the only one of Burns to make the reel was a shoulda-been pick. Yeah, I have to wonder if Malzahn isn't arriving at the same conclusion Franklin reached: I can't trust him to be accurate enough.

But as more than one person has observed, when Burns guides the offense to touchdowns on three straight possessions, how much do you really want to gripe? And while I'll agree with the general line of thought that says that Malzahn isn't going to put his offense in the hand of a guy who can't make the throws, two words sum up why Burns doesn't have to be better throwing the ball than Caudle, he just has to be in the same ballpark: zone read.

That's not exactly the play Tate scored that first touchdown on (Burns didn't look like he had an option to keep there) but if Malzahn's as committed to the running game as he a) says he is b) has seemed to be this spring, the zone read is likely going to be one of the offense's bread-and-butter plays. Fortunately for Burns, the zone read isn't going to work (or, at the very least, won't work nearly as well) if he's not the quarterback. Caudle's more mobile than the likes of Chris Todd--that roll-out before the pass to Carr was evidence enough of that--but that's not saying much. You don't need to go back any further than last year's LSU game to see how ineffective the play can be if the quarterback isn't a threat to keep the ball.

I'm rambling a bit, but the point is: there's a lot, lot more to consider here than just "3-of-8" and "11-of-16." And when not even the quarterbacks involved know what Malzahn is thinking, what chance do we have? No one knows which way this thing is leaning, and no one's going to know until August at the earliest.

So it goes.

At the very least: that throw to Adams was nice nice nice, wasn't it? Just one play, but it's nice to have some concrete evidence that Caudle is rising to the level of "potential starter" rather than Burns merely sinking to the level of "potential backup." Trotter's ACL tear capital-S Sucks, but unless Auburn suffers the quarterback apocalypse (as explained in detail at LOD) I'm still kind of optimistic about our quarterbacking depth. Two years ago, we had a shell-shocked senior battling a degenerative muscle disease backed up by a scattershot true freshman; last year the team ended up waffling between a guy whose arm was visibly falling apart on the field and a now-sophomore whose confidence was visibly shaken by the waffling itself. Maybe this year, though, the coaches will get to pick between two* actual, you know, quarterbacks? That'd be nice.

The line. Most of the post-game reaction to the big touchdown runs has been "Wow, look at Tate/McCalebb go!", but here at the JCCW, it's "Wow, those are some incredible holes." Watching Ziemba get downfield to make a pancake block on the Zachery run almost made me weep for joy. I know they weren't exactly going up against last year's Ole Miss front there, but damn, any time if you open up the kind of running lanes that yield three "untouched" touchdowns of 40 yards or longer, that's not bad. Forget scheme, forget the quarterback hoo-ha, forget pace or whatever: if Malzahn and Grimes genuinely have the line's end-of-2007 nastiness back, they've already proven how shrewd a hire they each were.

McCalebb. That's not to say he's not fast, because yeah, obviously, he's fast.

They were who we thought they were. Fields of Donahue relays this tidbit about how thrilled, i.e., not thrilled, Trooper Taylor was with his receivers' performance:
Taylor didn't want any drops by his receivers, but there were a few. Because of that, after the scrimmage ended and after the team met at midfield and talked, Trooper took the receivers to the north end zone and made them run a series of short windsprints as punishment.

Defense. They "lost," but when the first-string offense goes against the second-string defense and vice versa, I honestly can't imagine there's too much to glean about the overall strength of one unit or the other. (Though, as I said, I can't help but be encouraged by the line play and quarterbacking, um, potential.) Given how razor-thin Auburn is in the front seven, the D was going to win as long as they got off the field without any major injuries, no matter what the scoreboard said. So, yeah, I think they won.

Fannin! More offensive encouragement: six touches for everyone's new favorite H-back, 93 yards, and a score. Luke Brietzke summarizes the impact:
Fannin’s first of six touches came on a 41-yard pass. Kodi Burns lofted a pass into the middle of the field where Fannin was double-covered. A safety got a hand on the pass, but Fannin caught the deflection. From there, he drew a facemask penalty and continued down the field, setting up Auburn for its second touchdown.

Later in the game, Fannin caught a third-and-4 pass a yard shy of the first-down marker but broke at least three tackles and turned the minimal gain into a 17-yard play.

He also snuck out of the backfield for a touchdown from Neil Caudle and averaged 11 yards per carry on his two rushes.

If he's actually going to be that involved, sure, having him and Tate/McCalebb on the field at the same time could be a huge bonus. That's a still a gigantic if, but at least we've got some reason to hope this won't be a rerun of Fannin's disappearing act at the start of last season.

Wrappin' it up. I'm with Jay Tate: when the Auburn staff stayed as relatively tight-lipped as they did and the only real chance the public had to see the team--in person or through the eyes of the media--was at A-Day, we were never going to learn much this spring.

So the list of developments we'd call "intriguing" or even "worth noting" is a short one. McCalebb and The Toro are legit; no one new made a name for himself on either line; the receivers are as motley a crew as we expected them to be; Trotter's out, but he wasn't winning the job anyway; Christian Thompson and T'Sharvan Bell could help out the secondary, and Savage should be back to normal by the fall; Byrum and Durst have the inside track on their respective starting jobs, as expected; Taylor's as charismatic and Malzahn as run-oriented as they promised to be; the quarterback battle between Caudle and Burns is ongoing. Oh, and for whatever it's worth, we found out exactly hands-on Gene Chizik was going to be with his program.

That's it, right? Anything else? That still leaves an avalanche of question marks, and aside from Caudle's emergence as a viable second option and the line's apparent happiness with the new regime, there's not much there to make us more confident about our chances this fall than we were already.

But hey, it was football. There was news. It was a lot better than the next 3 1/2 months are going to be.

More A-Day reax from the blAUgosphere. Fields of Donahue, Jay at Track'Em, WEA at Track'Em, Lifetime of Defeats, Pigskin Pathos. Also, if you missed it, the Wiz of Odds has a nice gallery of fan-submitted A-Day shots up. Click over.

*Or three, I guess, if Rollison both qualifies and is everything he's been made out to be ... plus a little bit more, really, if he's going to seriously compete for playing time as a true frosh. The assumption here is that if Rollison does see time under center this fall, things will not be going well for Auburn, supremely talented as he may be.


jrsuicide said...

good to have you back, dude.

jd said...

Kodi should have been 2-8, for much less yards, with a pick. That throw to Fannin was awful.

Aubtigerman said...

I wonder where Clint Mosley fits into Auburn's plans?

jrsuicide said...

hopefully won't have to know the answer to that question for a few years. but if the kid is really as good an athlete as has been reported then i could see him playing some wr or somewhere else before he eventually gets a crack at the QB job.

Jerry Hinnen said...

jd, that's true, but Winter also dropped one Kodi put right in his hands, so I think 3-of-8 is still mostly representative.

Aub, good question. My guess: I don't think Moseley has the elite physical profile to necessarily fit into any "plans" beyond being another body when Todd leaves/if Rollison fails to qualify/someone inevitably transfers before 2010. But because he's also proven himself to be such a gamer, you (and the coaches) have to think he might be a huge success if he does wind up being needed. He's like a lottery ticket: I would think it's fair to say they're probably not _relying_ on him to be starter-grade material (or more), but there's more than enough reason to think he could be to bring him aboard. If that makes sense.