Jeremy Johnson (above) is a junior quarterback for the Tigers.
Auburn, Ala.--Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said following Wednesday evening’s practice he continues to be impressed with the attitude of the Auburn football team despite the team’s disappointment of losing to Georgia and the disappointment of a season that has not met expectations.
“We have had a lot of close calls this year,”?Lashlee said as the 5-5 Tigers prepare to play Idaho on Saturday. “There have been a lot of close, frustrating disappointments.”
Lashlee said the 2015 Tigers have been able to overcome what he calls “gut-wrenching defeats” and been ready to go fulls speed the next week.
“They have really competed and practiced hard and come back and played hard every game,”?he said. “They have fought and they have stayed together and it is hard to do that over the long haul in this league, especially when you can't quite break through at certain times.”
The coach said he doesn’t expect this week’s game to be any different regarding the team’s effort and noted the Tigers are “playing for a lot” with Auburn needed another win to become bowl eligible. “These seniors have got two more home games. We want them to go to a bowl game and we want them to get that winning feeling we had two weeks ago. I look for our guys to come out and play hard and compete and let's get a win.”
Having 15 extra practice days for a bowl game is important, Lashlee said. “You hear that all the time, but it really is huge. It's like another spring practice. For your younger guys in particular, whether it's the guys who are redshirting and aren't playing this year, they get more time.”
Lashlee said the extra practices are important for players who got a minimal amount of on the field time and added, “It's huge for us as coaches. It's also a huge reward for the older guys, especially those seniors. Bowl games are fun, and are meant to be fun. They get the cool gifts and all of that, but, more importantly, you just want to win and go out the right way.
“That's what I talked about to the offense on Sunday and we did again on Monday is we have got to finish well. The season has been up and down. It's been frustrating for a lot of us, but how you finish matters, and finishing well matters.
“Last year, at times, we did some good things, but we didn't finish the way we wanted to. Even the year before, we played for the national championship, we were 13 seconds away from finishing the way we wanted to so how we finish will say a lot about how those kids feel about this season at the end.”
Jeremy Johnson is expected to get the start again at quarterback and whether or not Sean White will play this week is something Lashlee and Malzahn are not revealing.
White struggled against Georgia with limited movement. Asked why the coaches let him play in four series in the second half when it was obvious he was struggling, Lashee said, “It was obvious after the fact. Sean practiced well on Thursday and for the first time had a pretty good pep in his step. He wasn’t full speed, we knew that, so going in there we thought he could go out there and compete and protect himself. We did have a plan to insert them in and play them both. Both guys knew that going into the game so we put him in and you don’t want to put a guy in there for one series and he’s wanting to compete.
“We went three-and-out that first series and I put him in a bad situation in that next series where we threw it three times and didn’t get any yards,”?Lashlee said. “I think that was first time, I think we’d run it just about every time on 1st and 10. They were in single high (safety) and so we were just trying to get a quick completion to get some tempo going and that didn’t work.
“After a couple series, obviously we knew he wasn’t full strength and also we weren’t getting anything going and so we switched back to Jeremy.”
Commenting on why running back Jovon Robinson only carried the ball four times in the second half after having a strong start vs. Georgia in the first half, Lashlee said, “With the answer to Jovon and carries, with the exception to that first drive in the second half, we got one first down and we stalled out. The next three drives we went three and out. The first half we weren’t doing that. Even on the drive where we moved it off the one-yard-line and turned it over, we were moving the ball and getting tempo and it allowed us to get more carries. We didn’t do that in the third quarter, we were pitiful.
Jovon Robinson has led the Tigers in rushing the past two games.
“We were awful even in the beginning of the fourth quarter,”?he added. “Then, when we did get something going, we were behind and Peyton (Barber) is a better pass protector and that’s probably why he was in there for a little bit more.”
Lashlee praised Johnson after Wednesday’s practice.
“From Jeremy's standpoint, there are a lot of people that don't go through something that he's had to go through. To have all the weight of the world and those expectations at that young of an age and it not go the way you want it to, okay, and endure a lot of criticism and then push through it, come back and get an opportunity, lead us to a big win at (Texas) A&M. For him to compete and still be competing, he had a phenomenal day today...just the attitude he's had, to me, speaks a lot to the young man that he is. Regardless of what happens for his future, it's going to bode well for him in life.”
Whoever is running and carrying the football this Saturday for the Tigers, there should be plenty of opportunities to have success. Idaho is giving up 41.8 points per contest and scoring 29.2. Opponents are rushing for 279.1 yards per game at 6.6 yards per carry.
Idaho is allowing 209.8 passing yards per contest and has given up 18 touchdown passes while intercepting five throws. Opponents are completing 61.9 percent of their passes.
Idaho will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing day on defense vs. Appalachian State, which rushed for 401 yards at 7.2 yards per pop while throwing for 110 more on
Coach Paul Petrino’s team opened the season with a 45-28 loss to Ohio University and a 59-9 setback at Southern Cal before defeating Wofford 41-38. The Vandals lost back-to-back to Georgia Southern (44-20) and Arkansas State (49-35) before winning two-in-a-row vs. Troy (19-16) and Louisiana-Monroe (27-13). On the second of three trips this year to the state of Alabama, the Vandals were outscored 52-45 by South Alabama before losing 47-20 last week at home to Appalachian State.
In other news and notes:
*Asked if he had regrets about the play calling vs. Georgia, Lashlee said. “There’s no doubt. Even back when I played there are games I still remember and say if I’d done this or that things would be different. Same thing as a coach.”
The coach added that Saturday’s loss to the Bulldogs was a tough one to take. “We look at everything we could have done better, didn’t do, did do, all of that. We’re pushing forward and trying to do a better job this week.”
*Saturday’s game will kick off shortly after 3 p.m. and will be televised on the SEC Network (alternate channel). Coverage on the Auburn Network featuring Rod Bramblett doing play-by-play, Stan White as the analyst, Quentin Riggins as the sideline reporter, Andy Burcham in the locker room and Paul Ellen as the studio host can be heard on Sirius Channel 157 and XM 191.
*Auburn and Idaho have played just once in football. The Tigers won 30-23 on Sept. 11th, 1999 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Vandals scored all 23 of their points in the final quarter on drives of 19 yards, 49 yards and 65 yards after the Tigers went into the period up 23-0. Ben Leard led the Tigers that day by hitting 16-19 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns.
*Both head coaches for Saturday’s game are in their third season in charge of their programs. Petrino’s record is 5-28 at the Sun Belt Conference school with a 3-7 record this year. Gus Malzahn is 25-12 at Auburn and 5-5 this season. The two teams have not played a common opponent this year.
*This will be Idaho’s third visit to the state of Alabama this season. The Vandals won 19-16 at Troy on Oct. 17th and lost 52-48 in Mobile on Nov. 7th vs. South Alabama. Both of those were conference games.
*Idaho quarterback Matt Linehan, a 6-3, 214 sophomore from Highland Park, Tex., leads the Sun Belt Conference in completion percentage (.628) and is second in passing yards per game at 247.1 and second in total offense at 296.0 per outing.
*Idaho running back Elijhaa Penny has 1,006 rushing yards, the first player at his school to reach that mark since 2007. He is a 6-2, 234 senior from Lakewood, Calif.
*Junior Austin Rehkow set a school record for field goals made in a single season last week when hit two vs. Appalachian State. His tied with Daniel Carlson for the national lead in field goals made. Both have hit 20-23 attempts. Rehkow, a returning All-American, is averaging 46 yards per punt, which ranks fifth nationally.
*The Vandals lead their conference in fumbles recovered with 10, fewest penalty yards per game at 45.9, most offensive first downs (227) and pass completion percentage (.628).