2010 Football Season Preview: Auburn


by - Senior Writer -
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Auburn's Gene Chizik led the Tigers to an 8-5 record that included a 38-35, wild overtime win over Northwestern in the Outback Bowl. (Photos: Icon/SMI)

The Clemson Tigers will travel down the interstate for their third game of the season in mid-September, a 7 p.m. tilt at Auburn that promises to be entertaining with plenty of story lines to go around – including ACC vs. SEC, Auburn’s fun offense vs. Clemson’s stingy defense, two young head coaches, etc.

Clemson will be coming off of cupcake home wins over North Texas and Presbyterian, while Auburn starts out the season at home against Arkansas St. before traveling down to Starkville to take on Miss. St. in their second game.

Auburn had a new head coach in 2009, Gene Chizik, and he led the Tigers to an 8-5 record that included a 38-35, wild overtime win over Northwestern in the Outback Bowl. Auburn started out 5-0, lost five of their next seven, and rebounded with the win over Northwestern to close out the season.

The offense, under the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, set Auburn single-season records in 2009 for points (433), yards of total offense (5,613), passing touchdowns (25) and plays (914). They finished ranked 13th nationally in rushing (212.0), 16th in total offense (431.7) and 17th in scoring offense (33.3).

In addition, Auburn had seven games with 200-plus rushing yards, which is more than the two previous seasons combined, and they ran 67 plays that gained at least 20 yards, 18 of which went for at least 40 yards, and eight for at least 60 yards.

Auburn returns 15 starters, but must replace their starting quarterback, leading rusher, and top defensive lineman from 2009.


Offense


Former Florida quarterback Cameron Newton took over as the starter during spring practice after leading Blinn College [Texas] to the 2009 NJCAA National Football Championship. Newton is a big quarterback (6-6, 247), but is best remembered as the backup to Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow at Florida in 2007.

He redshirted in 2008, then was thrown off the team by Urban Meyer after an alleged laptop theft and transferred to Blinn, where he played the one season before then transferring to Auburn on December 31st of last season. [Interesting side note: Newton will be replaced this season as the starter at Blinn by former Boston College quarterback Justin Tuggle, who started against Clemson last season in the game marred by lightning and torrential downpours.]

Running back Ben Tate (1,362 yards, 10 touchdowns) has graduated, and he is replaced by sophomore Onterio McCalebb (105 rushes, 606 yards), who has all of the potential to be a big-time player. Senior running back Mario Fannin (34 rushes, 296 yards) also figures to be a part of the action, and he also caught 42 passes for 413 yards and three scores last season.

At wide receiver the Tigers welcome back one of the top SEC receivers in junior Darvin Adams, who hauled in 60 passes for 997 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2009. He will be joined by Terrell Zachery (26-447), Eric Smith (18-226), DeAngelo Benton (6-88) and Emory Blake (9-66) as the top returning pass catchers. Adams and Zachery accounted for over 80 percent of passes caught by Auburn receivers last season, so it will be interesting to see if they spread the ball around more in 2010. Kodi Burns, who has played all over the field, will also see time at wide receiver.

The offensive line only figures to get better as four of their top five starters return in LT Lee Ziemba, LG Mike Berry, C Ryan Pugh and RG Byron Isom. They also added two very good junior college players in Roszell Gayden and Brandon Mosley, one of which is expected to start at right tackle for the departed Andrew McCain.

The offense figures to get only better with a year under its belt in Malzahn’s system, but the big question mark is just how good Newton will be. At Florida, he was known as a less-than-accurate passer, and the one time he was on display for the Auburn media in the spring he didn’t look much better. The offense also has a huge question mark in replacing Tate.


DEFENSE

Defensive coordinator Ted Roof had his hands full last season, and figures to have his hands full again this season as he tried to improve a unit that allowed only one team to score less than 20 points last season [Louisiana Tech in the opener]. His group gave up 156 yards per game on the ground, and has the task this fall of replacing Antonio Coleman, who led the team with 10 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss in 2009. They also have to replace CB Walter McFadden and DT Jake Ricks.

AUBURN TIGERS

LOCATION: Auburn, Ala. FOUNDED: 1856 ENROLLMENT: 20,302 CONFERENCE: SEC NICKNAME: Tigers STADIUM: Jordan-Hare CAPACITY: 87,451 HEAD COACH: Gene Chizik RECORD: 8-5 in one season at Auburn, 13-24 in three seasons overall OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Gus Malzahn DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Ted Roof

Perhaps a testament to how good the offense was at times last season is the fact that Auburn’s defense gave up over 30 points in seven different games last season – and the Tigers won four of those. Auburn finished last in the SEC in scoring defense and 11th against the run, and those numbers will have to improve.

Senior Michael Goggans will take over at the open defensive end spot in place of Coleman, while junior Nick Fairley is expected to start at the open defensive tackle slot in place of Ricks.

The Tigers' strength will come at linebacker, where they have all three starters returning in senior Craig Stevens (95 tackles, 2.5 sacks), Josh Bynes (104 tackles, one sack) and Eltoro Freeman (31 tackles). Bynes is the best of the group, and can be a force to be reckoned with as he has started 21 consecutive games.

The secondary figures to be a solid if not spectacular group, with three of the four starters returning. Senior Demond Washington (36 tackles, 4 PBU) has made his mark more on special teams but teams with Neiko Thorpe (84 tackles, 1 interception) to give Auburn a good tandem at cornerback.


SPECIAL TEAMS


The Auburn special teams units had their moments last season, and senior placekicker Wes Byrum returns to see if he can improve on his junior season, when he nailed 15-of-16 field goals and hit on all 54 of his extra point attempts. His long was 49 yards, but he hit 5-of-6 from beyond 40 yards. Senior Ryan Shoemaker will likely take over the punting duties.

Some combination of Philip Pierre-Louis, Demond Washington and Fannin will handle the punt return duties, but Auburn is more dangerous in the kick return game. Washington averaged over 30 yards per return last season, and McCalebb gives them another game-breaking option as he averaged nearly 25 yards per return.


Analysis: Both teams could have new quarterbacks at the helm when the two Tigers meet – the biggest difference will be that Auburn’s Newton has actually taken snaps in college football games, while Clemson [should Kyle Parker leave as expected] will have a quarterback with just two games under his belt.

Against what was a porous Auburn run defense in 2009, perhaps Clemson can come out and run the ball effectively and the defense can shut down Auburn’s attack long enough to get a lead and make Auburn one-dimensional – meaning you make Newton have to throw the football. One thing you don’t want is Byrum getting the opportunity to make a game-winning kick, because he’s done it three times in his career.


2010 Auburn Tigers Schedule

Sept. 4 Arkansas State

Sept. 9 @ Mississippi State

Sept. 18 Clemson

Sept. 25 South Carolina

Oct. 2 Louisiana-Monroe

Oct. 9 @ Kentucky

Oct. 16 Arkansas

Oct. 23 LSU

Oct. 30 @ Ole Miss

Nov. 6 Tennessee-Chattanooga

Nov. 13 Georgia

Nov. 26 @ Alabama


Other 2010 Season Previews (Click logo to view)



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