Coach Lance Thompson (above, right), who is calling the defensive signals for the bowl game, watches linebacker Kris Frost (17) at Monday's practice.
Hoover, Ala.--Although Auburn plays in a power five football conference and its next opponent doesn’t, there is no lack of respect for Memphis from Coach Gus Malzahn’s team as it continued preparations on Monday for a Birmingham Bowl matchup vs. Memphis.
With stormy weather in the area, Malzahn moved practice indoors on Monday as the Tigers took buses to Shelby County for a workout at Soccer Blast to avoid any interruptions they might have encountered during an outdoor workout at Hoover High. After practice the players headed for Children's Hospital where they visited with kids undergoing treatments.
Quarterback Jeremy Johnson checks out a very young patient on Monday at Children's Hospital.
Shon Coleman, once a cancer patient himself at St. Jude's Children Hospital in Memphis, gives a high five to a young patient at Children's Hospital in Birmingham.
Kicker Daniel Carlson (left) and fullback/Hback Chandler Cox visit with a patient on Monday in Birmingham.
Memphis will bring a 9-3 record into Wednesday's game led by an offense that has enabled the American Athletic Conference team to average a sporty 42.7 points per contest. A big part of the attack is the passing of quarterback Paxton Lynch, who is throwing for 305.8 yards per game.
“We are just looking forward to playing a very good Memphis team,” Malzahn said. “We have talked about their quarterback before and the more you watch him he is phenomenal.”
“He can do everything,” Malzahn noted. “He can make all the throws. He can run it. They have got some very talented receivers to go with him with a very talented H-back/tight end.”
Lynch is expected to be the first quarterback selected in the 2016 National Football League Draft. Malzahn said that is not difficult to understand.
“What stands out to me is this quarterback is very talented,” Auburn’s head coach said. “You just watch him on film and he can make all of the throws. He is six-foot-seven and runs a 4.6 (40-yard dash). He can run the football and he has extended plays. You are talking about a guy that gets the ball out of his hands. He doesn’t take a whole of sacks. That is the sign of a good quarterback.”
Paxton Lynch is a senior for the Memphis Tigers who has completed 69 percent of his passes this season.
Auburn faces the challenge of playing Memphis without defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who also coached the linebackers this season. The Tigers will also take the field on Wednesday without secondary coach Travaris Robinson. When Muschamp took over as head coach at South Carolina, Robinson joined Muschamp in Columbia as the Gamecocks’ defensive coordinator.
Lance Thompson, who coached the “buck” position during the regular season, is moving from the press box to the sidelines for the bowl game to call the defensive signals.
Travis Williams, a defensive analyst during the regular season, is coaching the linebackers for the bowl game, something he also did last December for Auburn’s Outback Bowl game vs. Wisconsin.
Graduate assistant coach Blake Gideon is working with the defensive backs, an assignment he helped Robinson with during the regular season.
“Any time you lose defensive coaches you need leadership to step up and we really have had that happen,” Malzahn said. “Our guys have really responded well. Coach Thompson, along with Coach (Rodney) Garner, along with Travis (Williams), they have done a super job. Really, we are just trying to give our guys a good plan to play fast, but a lot of it has to do with our seniors, a lot of it has to do with our experienced guys on defense. We have got our work cut out for us on defense because they are very good on offense.”
The Tigers are shown at Monday's practice.
Malzahn noted that is especially true of Lynch. “He is the type of guy the more you watch him the more impressed you are,” he said.
Senior defensive back Blake Countess agrees with Malzahn about Lynch. “I think he is very comfortable in the offense,” said Countess, a graduate student transfer from the University of Michigan, who started every game this season.
“He can make things happen with his legs,” Countess pointed out. “I wouldn’t call him a running quarterback, but he can make things happen--kind of scramble to give his receivers another opportunity.
“He has receivers he trusts and he puts the ball where his receivers can get it, and that is ultimately what you want in your quarterback is somebody who is going to be a decision-maker and make the throws that need to be made,” Countess added.
Lynch’s arm strength, something that excites pro scouts, has gotten the attention of Countess, who has played cornerback, nickel and safety this season. “I don’t know which game, but he threw a go-route off his back foot and you look at that and are like ‘wow.’ We will have to stay in coverage on the field. He does scramble, he can make the throw almost effortlessly.”
Kickoff for the Birmingham Bowl is set for 11 a.m. on Wednesday at Legion Field and the game will be televised on ESPN.