Passing A Point Of Emphasis In AU's Practice

Auburn returned to the practice field to prepare for another road trip vs. a Top 10 opponent.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn's first football practice of the week to prepare for Saturday's road trip to face 10th-ranked Arkansas featured a full pads session that got a thumbs up from players and the offensive coordinator on Tuesday night.

"I really felt like our guys were excited to practice tonight, which was very encouraging," Gus Malzahn said. "They were extremely focused in with their attitude.

"They bounced around and seemed excited to practice, which was encouraging for this point of the season," Malzahn said. "We got some good work in."

One of the priorities in practice for the offense is improving the passing game and getting receivers ready to carry more of a load with the team's top receiver, Emory Blake, joining the second-leading receiver, Trovon Reed, on the injured list. Reed is out for Saturday's game at Arkansas due to a shoulder injury and Blake is doubtful after injuring his ankle.

Malzahn said he is looking for senior Quindarius Carr, juniors Travante Stallworth and DeAngelo Benton plus freshman Jaylon Denson to step up as receivers. Benton made a key third down catch on Auburn's game-winning drive vs. South Carolina after Blake went out with the ankle problem.

Benton was beaming on Saturday night in Columbia after his Tigers knocked off a Top 10 team. On Tuesday night after practice the junior receiver was still upbeat. Asked about his opportunity, he said, "I am just ready to play. I have been waiting since I got here. Finally, the opportunity is coming so I?have got to make the best of it and continue working hard at practice to gain the confidence from the coaches."

DeAngelo Benton

Benton said he has come a "long ways" as a receiver since arriving on campus in 2009 even though his playing time has been limited by injuries and being behind former Tiger standout Darvin Adams on the depth chart.

"It has been tough, but you have no control over what goes on," he said of being a backup and being injured part of his time in college. "All you can do is continue to work hard and respect what the coaches tell you to do. They are working to get you better so listen to what they tell you and things will work out for you."

Malzahn said that the Tigers are close to hitting some big plays with the passing game that have been a staple of his offenses in 2009 and 2010 at Auburn and before that at Tulsa. "We are a run, play-action team," he said. "When we are at our best we are hitting some big plays in the passing game when they bite up for the run.

"We just have got to make people pay when they bring extra guys down," he added. "We were close on a couple last Saturday. It would have made me feel a little bit better if we had hit a couple of those and put it in the end zone."

The coach said a key to creating big plays in the passing game is to do a better job of protecting the quarterback, something that offensive guard Jared Cooper noted was a point of emphasis in what he said was a good practice on Tuesday night.

The Tigers did not have their usual Sunday evening light practice after returning from South Carolina late Saturday night. Instead, the team met and looked at videos of their 16-13 victory over the Gamecocks. On Monday the Tigers had their customary off day.

Like the offense, the Tigers spent a good bit of time on the passing game on defense Tuesday night. Despite Auburn's strong defensive performance against South Carolina on Saturday, starting middle linebacker Jake Holland pointed out the Tigers are far from satisfied on his side of the football.

"We are going to continue to put an emphasis on getting better each week and an emphasis on staying in the (offensive) backfield with the defensive line," Holland said.

The sophomore noted the good showing against the Gamecocks was a confidence-builder for a defense that had struggled throughout the first month of the season. The Tigers will need all of the confidence they can find as they head to Fayetteville to face an offense led by quarterback Tyler Wilson, who set an Arkansas school record last Saturday with 510 passing yards in a 42-38 victory over Texas A&M.

"The stats don't lie," Holland said of Wilson, who has completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 1,517 yards with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. "He has done a really good job this year."

After containing South Carolina star running Marcus Lattimore last week, the Tigers face an offense whose stars are in the receiving corps in addition to the quarterback position. "The mindset has to change to pass now, for the most part," Holland said, noting it will be important for the Tigers to get a good pass rush on Wilson.

Jake Holland is in his first season as a starter for the Tigers.

The linebacker noted that when the defensive front played well at South Carolina, it made the linebackers and the secondary more effective as the Gamecocks managed to make just 12 first downs and convert 2-10 third down situations.

In other news and notes:

*Holland said the Tigers have been given a boost in the linebacker corps with the return to good health of redshirt freshman Jawara White. "He is running around to the ball well," Holland said. "He is doing a really good job of jumping in and helping us on defense."

*The Tigers doubled their sack total with three vs. South Carolina, but are still near the bottom of the SEC rankings in that category with six. Arkansas is last in the league in sacks with just five.

Running back Onterio McCalebb, who has 15 catches for 173, has more receptions and pass yardage than any other Tiger expected to play against the Razorbacks. Other than Reed and Blake, the only other wide receiver on the team in double figures for receptions is Travante Stallworth with 10 for 160 yards.

*Despite allowed South Carolina to convert just 2-10 of 10 third downs the Tigers are still in the SEC basement in third down conversion defense by a wide margin. Opponents have been successful 43 times in 79 tries for a conversion rate of 54.4 percent. Ole Miss is the next worse at 43.7 percent while Georgia leads the league at 25.4 percent and Arkansas is fifth at 34.2 percent.

*One of Malzahn's goals for the second month of the season has been raising the Tigers' third down conversion rate on offense. Auburn is making progress and is up to fifth in the league after having success on 11-22 tries vs. South Carolina. For the season the Tigers are converting 42.3 percent of their opportunities compared to 43.5 for the Razorbacks.

*Malzahn said that Frazier's role will continue to expand at quarterback and he will play just like Kodi Burns did in 2009 when Chris Todd was the main quarterback. The coach said he liked the composure Frazier showed vs. South Carolina. "He was really calm. You would expect him to be a little bit of jittery, but he really wasn't."

*Saturday's game at Reynolds-Razorback Stadium is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. with TV coverage by ESPN. Arkansas comes into the game ranked 10th in the AP poll this week and 12th in the coaches poll. Auburn is 15th in the AP ranking and 23rd according to the coaches.

*Arkansas, which comes into the contest with a 4-1 overall record and 1-1 SEC record, rallied from a 35-17 halftime deficit last week vs. Texas A&M to win by four points. The Razorbacks fall behind at intermission on Saturday night, they will have to break a major trend to pull out a victory. Under Gene Chizik, Auburn is 19-2 in games it led at halftime including 13-in-a-row.



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