Blake Countess (above) has played cornerback, safety and nickel for the Tigers this season.
Auburn, Ala.--Following a Sunday practice after deciding to put in an extra day of preparation for their bowl opponent, Auburn's football team is taking a break for Christmas.
Coach Gus Malzahn’s Tigers got in seven practice days following their 16-day layoff for final exams. Malzahn and his staff will reassemble the team on the night of the 25th, have one practice on campus the 26th before heading up the road to The Birmingham Bowl.
Senior linebacker Kris Frost said he believes the Tigers are getting a lot accomplished in preparations for playing Memphis on Dec. 30th at Legion Field.
“Practice been going good, really, really good,” he said. “A lot of guys are really active and hyped after a good break.”
Frost noted that the Memphis offense, led by quarterback Paxton Lynch, has the attention of the Auburn defense. Lynch, a projected NFL first round draft pick, is averaging 305.8 passing yards per game and his Memphis Tigers are scoring at a healthy clip of 42.7 points per game.
“They have a really talented quarterback and some good running backs who do some good things,” Frost said. “They are just a really talented football team, all-around, and they have some good receivers who can get out in space and make plays.
“It is going to be a job to contain them,” the linebacker added. “We have to make sure we do everything we can to take care of their running backs and give their quarterback tight windows to throw through.”
Kris Frost is Auburn's second leading tackler this season with 32 solo tackles and 58 assists.
Memphis doesn’t have a single running back who has put up big numbers this season, but as a group the Tigers are averaging 186.2 rushing yards per contest. Doroland Dorceus is the top rusher with 613 yards and eight rushing touchdowns while averaging 4.3 yards per carry.
Another Auburn senior, defensive back Blake Countess, agrees with Frost about what he has seen of the Memphis offense. “They have got a very talented quarterback--we know that,” he said. “They play with a little tempo, they like to throw and they are very efficient.
“We are going to have to play well on the back end and as a defense,” Countess said. “We are looking forward to the challenge.”
Countess, who was named the team’s most valuable player on defense by the coaching staff, agrees with Frost that the bowl practices have been productive for everyone, especially the freshmen who have been redshirting or have played very little for the 6-6 Tigers. “You can actually see them playing football, not running around looking kind of lost,” Countess said. “It is exciting for me to watch and I am excited to see them play next year.”
A graduate student transfer from Michigan for the 2015 season, Countess pointed out that he has enjoyed his time at Auburn and next year will be rooting for teammates like cornerback Javaris Davis, who redshirted this season. “He is kind of like my little brother,” Countess said. “He is a guy who at practice probably could have played or should have played, but for whatever reason he had some family issues during camp and he fell behind in the playbook.
“Javaris is coming along really well,” Countess added. “He never complained. He has just put his head down and worked all season. He has taken reps all season with the defensive group. I don't think there is any dropoff there. He knows what is expected of him coming into this year and he has done a good job in these bowl practices of kind of stepping up and separating himself from some of the other guys.”
Javaris Davis came to Auburn from Ed White HIgh School in Jacksonville, Fla., where he was a four-star prospect and Class 6A All-State selection.
Despite losing secondary coach Travaris Robinson and coordinator Will Muschamp, according to Countess and Frost defensive preparations for the bowl game have gone smoothly with Lance Thompson leading the defense, Travis Williams coaching the linebackers and Blake Gideon working with the defensive backs.
The Memphis offense will go into the Birmingham Bowl without three offensive coaches who left for Virginia Tech. Memphis interim head coach, Darrell Dickey, said he isn’t expecting either team to make a lot of changes for the bowl game.
“I think both groups will be able to rely on the guys that are still with them and we’re going to have a really good game plan because I don’t think Auburn is going to do a whole lot different defensively than they were doing with Coach Muschamp,” he said.
Bowl Notes: The Tigers will practice at Hoover High School beginning next Sunday. The school is not far from the team’s headquarters, The Wynfrey Hotel, which is the long-time site of SEC Football Media Days, a preseason event...Auburn is 0-2 all-time in games vs. Memphis, losing a home-and-home series in 1975 and 1976...Auburn’s record is 27-24-6 vs. teams in the American Athletic Conference, which is the league Memphis posted a 5-2 mark in this season. Overall, Memphis will bring a 9-3 record into the matchup vs. Auburn...AU’s all-time record is bowl games 22-15-2.
In addition to Javaris Davis, the Tigers brought in another defensive back transfer from a Big 10 program when Jamel Dean arrived this past summer from Ohio State and redshirted. According to Countess, Dean will have a chance to break into the starting lineup at cornerback in 2016. “Jamel Dean is a big, physical guy and he can run really well,” Countess said. “He is going to be a good one, too. That is why there is going to be some great competition at the position next year.”...The Birmingham Bowl will kick off at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 30 with TV coverage on ESPN. Radio coverage is available on the Auburn Network as well as on ESPN Radio. Beth Mowins will do the television play-by-play with Anthony Becht the analyst and Paul Carcaterra the sideline reporter. Rod Bramblett, Stan White, Quentin Riggins, Andy Burcham and Paul Ellen will handle the Auburn Network coverage. Allen Bestwick will call the game for ESPN Radio with Dan Hawkins the analyst and Tiffany Greene the sideline reporter.