War Eagle, everybody! A Day is almost here, and we'll get to see our Tigers in action for the first time since New Year's Eve! The day's festivities begin early this year, with a 10:00 AM unveiling of statues of Auburn's three Heisman Trophy winners on the east side of the stadium. Gates open for this event at 8:00 AM. Gates open again at 12:00 AM, and the game will kick off at 2:00 PM Central Time. The game will be broadcast on about a dozen Auburn radio network affiliates, and will be broadcast on CSS television on tape delay, at 8:00 PM Saturday night. Check out the official information, here. The weather for this one should be absolutely delightful. Skies are expected to be very clear, and the high temp should be about 80 degrees. Bring your sunblock!
Although the coaches haven't said, the game almost certainly will follow the script from the past three A-Days: offense vs. defense. Too many players are banged up, especially on defense, to divide the team into two squads. Next year, maybe. Missing on defense this year are Kenneth Carter, Gabe Wright, Nosa Eguae, Jonathan Evans, Jawara White, T'Sharvan Bell, Erique Florence, Demetruce McNeal, and Ikeem Means will all miss A-Day. That leaves sophomore Jermaine Whitehead and junior Ryan Smith as the starting safeties, with only sophomore Trent Fisher as a reserve. I'd expect to see some corners lining up back there as the game wears on.
Burning questions, after the jump!
Question One: How much will Auburn be improved on the defensive line? If the Tigers are to build on last year's 8-5 record, the team must win more battles up front. Regardless of how vanilla the coaches run things on A-Day, we'll get a good look at Auburn's defensive strength up front. Frankly, I feel like the starters should dominate. With junior Jeffery Whitaker in the middle, and Dee Ford and Corey Lemonier on the ends, a starting offensive line that has only one upperclassman should struggle. I'd expect the coaches to play the starting D-line sparingly, and there are two potential starters who won't play, Nosa Eguae and Kenneth Carter. I'd expect plenty of minutes for reserves LaDarius Owens, Craig Sanders, Devaunte Sigler, Angelo Blackson, Justin Delaine, and others. Even so, those reserves played a lot of minutes last fall, and should be stronger this year. If the O-line pushes this group around, expect trouble next fall.
Question Two: How will the quarterbacks look? I don't think we'll see offensive playbooks opened up much Saturday, but I don't think they'll hand off every play. When the quarterbacks throw, do they lock in on one receiver? Do they stuff it into coverage? Does the ball hit the target, and is it catchable? What we want to see is the quarterbacks doing the little things right. The good news is that returning starter Clint Mosley is expected to play. He's been limited all spring, and has possibly fallen behind sophomore Khiel Frazier. A good, healthy competition can only help. Personally, whether it's Frazier, Mosley or true freshman Zeke Pike, I'd like to see one or more of these guys really have a good day!
Question Three: Can the Tiger offense really run the ball? We know that they've worked a lot on it this spring, and we know Auburn has fast, dangerous running backs. The critical thing about running when the defense knows it's coming is blocking, including the job done by the fullbacks, tight ends, and even the receivers. With star tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen missing this spring, we'll see some new faces on A-Day. Fullback Jay Prosch has transferred to Auburn from Illinois, and he's a proven commodity having been selected as an All-America fullback as a sophomore last season. Who's working behind him? We'll find out. Tight ends Brandon Fulse and C. J. Uzomah were great athletes in high school. Can they block SEC defenders as tight ends? A-Day will tell us. Also important is how well a young offensive line matches up with a deep, veteran defensive line.
Question Four: Can a pair of young offensive tackles protect the quarterback's blind side? We saw first hand last season at LSU and Georgia how failing to protect the quarterback can lead to some pretty miserable performances. It's a tall order for redshirt freshman Greg Robinson and sophomore Chad Slade. The team has also worked true freshman Patrick Miller extensively at right tackle. We'll be watching the offensive tackles closely.
Question Five: Can the receivers catch the ball? Last spring, aside from Phillip Lutzenkirchen and Emory Blake, the answer was resoundingly "no!" The Tigers have some pretty fast and athletic corners, and it will be rare to see receivers running free. Can they make the grab in traffic, and with contact from the defender? I'd expect Blake will only play a few snaps, if that much. It's time for the young guys to step up and make some plays!
War Eagle, folks! It's great to have a football Saturday in the offing. We'll be sure to enjoy it! There will be surprises, and disappointments, as there are any A-Day. During the Chizik Era, guys that have shined on A-Day have tended to do well on the field in the fall. We'll see who makes their debut as a star this Saturday.