Record Crowd For Malzahn's First A-Day Game

Comments from the head coach plus news and notes on Auburn's spring football game are featured.

Auburn, Ala.--A lot of curious Auburn fans showed up at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday to get their first look at Coach Gus Malzahn's 2013 football team and the Tigers gave the record A-Day Game turnout of 83,401 an entertaining scrimmage.

The score, a 35-14 victory for the Orange over the Blue, was of little consequence with many players seeing action for both sides. What did stand out on Saturday was a high-energy scrimmage with big hits on defense and a first half of fast-paced offense.

So many fans were trying to get into the stadium after kickoff AU officials opened the gates so people would not miss the game.

"We have the best fans in the country," tight end Brandon Fulse said when asked about the big turnout for A-Day. "It was great. I really enjoyed that and it really gave us a game atmosphere so that was good."

Justin Garrett, the overall star of spring training, did not disappoint as he scored the first touchdown less than three minutes into the action on a scoop and score play when the football bounce free near the goal line due to a miscommunication on a shotgun snap from Tunde Fariyike to Jonathan Wallace.

"The last time I scored a touchdown was high school--the second game of the season," said Garrett, a junior who was moved from linebacker to the new "star" rover spot this spring.

"I thought our defense looked good today," added Garrett, who played for both teams. "We played physical and we played with an edge. We still have a lot of room for improvement, but the defense looked good."

Another junior, tailback Cameron Artis-Payne, put on a show in his Auburn debut. The junior college transfer was named the Offensive Most Valuable Player as he rushed for 127 yards and one touchdown while playing for both teams.

Artis-Payne made perhaps the most impressive play of the day on a one-handed grab of a Kiehl Frazier screen pass that was thrown behind him. He turned a potential incompletion into a big gainer of 42 yards.

"I had a good time," Artis-Payne said. "That catch was a tribute to Coach (Tim) Horton and all of the hard work we put in on catching passes in practice."

Artis-Payne won praise from offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee for getting better this spring. "I feel like I have made improvement, but I am not there yet," the tailback said. "That is our team, too. I feel like we are making a lot of progress, but we aren't there yet."

One of the major themes of spring has been finding a No. 1 quarterback. Head coach Gus Malzahn said none of the starting spots may be solidified at any position until close to the opener vs. Washington State and that could be the case at quarterback where three newcomers are expected to join the competition this summer.

Sophomore Jonathan Wallace finished the game hitting 18-26 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns and one interception while playing for both teams. Junior Kiehl Frazier hit 10-16 passes for 125 yards and one touchdown. Frazier did not throw a pick.

Jonathan Wallace throws a pass in the A-Day Game.

"All of the positions we are going to play the best people whether that's quarterback or kicker or center," Malzahn said. "We've really--until you get about three weeks into fall camp--won't have any positions just completely solidified. The verdict is still out."

Commenting on how the QBs played on A-Day, Malzahn said he needed to study the video before making a good assessment because he was looking at the overall picture on Saturday.

"There was a couple of good things they did, there was a couple of things that are standing behind them, you know, kind of whispering to them a little bit," the coach said. "There's some good things. It was great for us to evaluate the guys. I wish we could be live, but we only have two guys, scholarship guys, going through spring to evaluate them a little bit better, but it gave us some good information today, especially with them."

Malzahn called the fan support "overwhelming."

"Hats off to our fans," the coach said. "I know that meant unbelievable amounts to our players and coaches, and that's really what stood out to me. We had 111 plays. We wanted to use this thing as still an evaluation. It wasn't just trying to window dress it as far as making it nice for a spring game so we had, I think, 80 plays in the first half. We tried to go fast and use our pace.

"We slowed down the second half on purpose," he said. "We had already kind of seen what we wanted. I was glad the way our guys responded. There was some good and there was some bad, but I'm real proud of our guys. The way they are responding, hustling on and off the field, dealing with adversity, dealing with some success, and really that's what I was looking for. Overall, I'm pretty well pleased. A lot of things that we did make mistakes on I believe are critical."

Asked about offensive MVP Artis-Payne, the head coach said, "I tell you what, he made some really good runs. He's a big downhill back. He's gotten better. You know, he's a junior college guy coming in. I believe the first few practices his head was spinning. He slowed down and really made some good runs in our lineup and did a solid job."

Asked about defensive MVP Garrett, the head coach said, "I'll tell you what, he has had an outstanding spring. Coach (Ellis) Johnson, I believe, has him in the right position, letting him play, and that was a great play he made--scoop and score. That was a big defensive play."

News and Notes: The previous largest A-Day crowd was 63,217 in 2010. Last year's crowd was 43,427...Ricardo Louis made eight catches for 66 yards and added 14 yards on three carries...Sammie Coates caught four passes for 84 yards...Ryan White made five solo tackles and one assist...Tre Mason, who scored on a four-yard touchdown run, said he wasn't 100 percent physically as he continues to recover from an ankle sprain. However, he finished the game with 60 yards on 11 carries. He did not play in the previous scrimmages this spring...Walk-on receiver Dimitri Reese took the biggest hit of the scrimmage from cornerback Jonathon Mincy, who was ejected from the game because the blow was to the receiver's head. Mincy walloped Reese as the defensive back raced to the line of scrimmage on a bubble screen play. The walk-on stayed down for several minutes, but was able to jog off the field.

Safety Ryan Smith made the only interception of the day on a pass thrown under pressure by Wallace that was way off target...Nosa Eguae and Dee Ford were credited with the only two sacks. Eguae made four solo tackles with two assists plus he had a second tackle for lost yardage...The first half featured regulation length 15-minute quarters. The second half quarters were 12 minutes long and in the later stages of the scrimmage the clock continued to run in dead ball situations.

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