Coach Mike Leach's Cougars will be boarding a plane next week for a cross country trip to SEC country to take on the Tigers on Saturday, August 31 at Jordan-Hare Stadium as both teams try to bounce back from disappointing three-win seasons.
Finding a starting quarterback and shoring up what was a porous defense in 2012 were two of the biggest goals for Malzahn's coaching staff when preseason practice started. As the storylines for the 2013 Auburn football are taking shape for the Tigers, we take a look at the biggest headlines of the first three weeks of preseason practices/
The Grand Marshall
When Nick Marshall signed with the Tigers out of Garden City Community College in Kansas, it was a strong sign that Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee wanted to give him every opportunity to win the starting job after he arrived on campus.
Despite just having a few weeks in the offense, Marshall did enough to earn the starting assignment for the opener with his athleticism in the pocket and strong arm on display. That isn't a surprise. However, perhaps the most exciting news for the offense is that Marshall's poise under pressure may be been the thing that pushed him over the top in the quarterback race.
Nick Marshall has a chance to be Mr. Excitement for the Auburn offense
Offensive Line Comes Together
With veteran Reese Dismukes becoming the unquestioned leader of the offensive front, Coach J.B Grimes had just what he was looking for to build an offensive line around coming out of spring practice. With junior Chad Slade anchoring one of the guard spots and likely future NFL offensive tackle Greg Robinson on the left side, the pieces were in place heading into the preseason.
As Auburn gets ready to face Washington State, Grimes has seven solid options along the front with redshirt freshman Alex Kozan at left guard along with last season's opening day starter at right tackle, Avery Young, also capable of playing there. At right tackle Patrick Miller looks to be making a strong push to be the starter, but redshirt freshman Shon Coleman has made a big improvement and could be in line for playing time this fall at either tackle spot. Auburn's most versatile lineman, Young could work be the starting at right tackle as well, just like he was for the first three games last season before going down with a shoulder injury.
Another Former QB Turns Into A Receiver
Auburn's roster is loaded with former high school quarterbacks and many of them reside at receiver for the Tigers. Trovon Reed, Quan Bray, C.J. Uzomah and Ricardo Louis all came to Auburn with the knowledge they would make the move to receiver, the same change that speedy Marcus Davis has made this preseason. A quarterback in a running offense in high school, Davis has been impressing his coaches and teammates in practice and should be on the field in some capacity when the Tigers open the season.
Marcus Davis is a threat with the ball in his hands.
Forced to miss valuable practice time in the spring because of required class work for his Building Sciences degree, Auburn senior linebacker Jake Holland was behind Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy on the depth chart when the Tigers took the field to open the preseason. It didn't take long for him to change that situation.
Hard work and extensive study sessions in the summer put the now-healthy Holland right back in the mix at both the middle and weakside linebacker positions. Likely the starter for the season opener in the middle, Holland could also be the first option behind McKinzy as well because of his knowledge of the defense.
Auburn's most experienced and dynamic pass rusher, Dee Ford was injured in the second preseason scrimmage and will miss the season opener. That could be bad news for a defense that is facing a Washington State team that will likely throw the ball the majority of the time.
While Ford is expected back later this season, Auburn will have to depend on both veterans and newcomers to pick up the slack. Two of the players who may be able to contribute early are true freshmen ends Elijah Daniel and Carl Lawson. Both have shown potential in practices. While Lawson came in with more accolades as a high school star, Daniel has more than held his own. While neither are expected to play earn roles on opening night, they could be early options in third down passing situations.
Carl Lawson is a physical freshman.
Next Man Up
Injuries have been an issue on defense as the Tigers have lost practice time at just about every position during the preseason. While Ford's injury is a big blow, Auburn will also be without speedy sophomore cornerback Jonathan Jones for perhaps the entire season after he had surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot. Perhaps the most important player on defense, "star" Justin Garrett, missed much of the preseason with a foot injury, but returned to practice on Thursday and is scheduled to play vs. Washington State.
Garrett's absence allowed fellow junior Robenson Therezie, a former cornerback, to step up and show he is ready for prime time duty at his new position. It has also given true freshman Mackenro Alexander valuable practice time, something that could pay dividends this fall if he is needed to step up at the position that is short on depth.
Most Valuable Player?
If Auburn has a big improvement overall, and particularly on defense in 2013, sophomore Josh Holsey's move to safety may be looked at as one of the keys. Moved to safety at the end of spring drills when Demetruce McNeal sat out of practice to personal reasons, Holsey appeared ready to return to corner with McNeal getting back to work this fall following a staph infection and the injury to Jones, but it wasn't to be. McNeal was arrested and dismissed from the team last Saturday, forcing the coaching staff to keep Holsey at safety. It may prove to be a blessing in disguise as it keeps one of Auburn's best defensive backs on the field every play and that's always a good thing in a league filled with high octane offensive attacks.