Marshall: Borges, Gibbs and Position Changes

Auburn's offensive and defensive coordinators and a variety of other football topics are the subject of Phillip Marshall's column.

It was late Thursday afternoon and offensive coordinator Al Borges was off the recruiting road and in his office. He was watching the tape of his offense in Auburn's 24-10 Capital One Bowl loss for the first time.

And he was incredulous.

"This is unbelievable," Borges said, shaking his head as he looked at the computer screen in front of him. "This doesn't look like us. It is just so un-Auburn-like."

One Brandon Cox pass after another was off the mark, but Borges' trained eye saw much more. He saw mistakes the Tigers had not made since early in the season.

Most mystifying for Borges was that he went into the game convinced the Tigers were extremely well-prepared and would play at the top of their game.

"We kept up speed practice (first team against first team) the whole time to make sure we had our timing," Borges said. "We had at least 16 snaps against the first team defense in every practice. I told Tub, ‘This is the way to prepare for a bowl game.' Then we go out there and looked like we didn't know what we were doing."

What happened? Borges wasn't ready to say, other than to say something was clearly missing.

"We need to look at it," he said. "We can't have games like this. I don't know about the defense. I haven't watched that. But this doesn't look like the team I've coached all year."…

Forget the widespread rumors about first-year defensive coordinator David Gibbs being in danger of losing his job. It's not going to happen.

Some facets of Auburn's defense were exposed late in the season, particularly against Kentucky, Georgia and in last Monday's loss to Wisconsin. But Auburn coaches knew there were problems in those areas all along. And they believe they'll have some answers for those problems next season.

The reality of last Monday is that, if the offense had done what it should have done against a porous Wisconsin defense, Auburn would probably have won even with the defense's struggles.

That doesn't mean head coach Tommy Tuberville doesn't have some issues to discuss with Gibbs and the defensive staff. But barring an unexpected decision to move to another job, Gibbs will be back in 2006 for his second season as defensive coordinator.

David Gibbs joined the Tiger staff last year as secondary coach and defensive coordinator.

As for Gibbs being a no-show for postgame interviews at the Capital One Bowl, there is really no good excuse for that. One can only hope he learned a hard lesson from the widespread negative response to that…

Nothing is set in stone, but here are some possible position changes that could get looks in spring practice: Safety Will Herring to outside linebacker; cornerback Montae Pitts to wide receiver; and defensive end Marquies Gunn to defensive tackle.

Also look for rising sophomore Calvin Booker to get plenty of snaps at quarterback and a real shot at unseating Blake Field for the No. 2 job behind Cox…

Spring practice should be interesting on the offensive line. Starters return in guards Tim Duckworth and Ben Grubbs and center Joe Cope, all rising seniors, but Cope might have to fight off a challenge from rising senior Jonathan Palmer.

If Palmer can't win the starting job at center, he'll probably get a chance to compete with King Dunlap for the starting job at right tackle. It would be a big surprise if anyone other than Leon Hart was the starter at left tackle...

Jonathan Palmer, who played well in two starts as a junior, will look to be a regular in the starting lineup in 2006.

As a five-time voter in the Associated Press poll, I always found the preseason poll and the final poll to be the most difficult.

This season shows why. Auburn is ranked behind two teams--Georgia and Alabama--that it beat in the final two games of the regular season. Georgia routed LSU in the SEC Championship Game and is ranked five spots lower in the final poll. Wisconsin dominated Auburn, has a 10-3 record to Auburn's 9-3 and is lower in the polls.

Voters must ask themselves: What is most important, head-to-head results or overall record? The answer is not always easy. That's why an inordinate amount of emphasis is often put on the final game.

What will this season's finish mean in the preseason polls next season? Sometimes it seems to matter and sometimes it doesn't. Five of the teams picked in the preseason Top 10 last August--No. 4 Michigan, No. 5 LSU, No. 7 Oklahoma, No. 8 Virginia Tech and No. 10 Florida--lost their bowl games at the end of last season.

My guess is that Auburn, considering the impact players it has returning, will start next season ranked somewhere around No. 10, give or take a spot or two...

I've heard from quite a few of my pen pals since Auburn's loss to Wisconsin. I'll answer a few here. As always, because of the uncertainty of Internet identities, I won't divulge from where they came.

"Hey, Phillip! You should get a job in the federal government as a spin control guy for some politician. How could you say the loss to Wisconsin didn't matter? Once again, we had a chance to make a statement on a national stage and fell on our face."

I didn't say it didn't matter. I said beyond not finishing in the top five and maybe starting a bit lower in next season's poll it didn't mean much in the big picture. Certainly,[ every game is important. I'm not sure I get the part about making a statement on a national stage. Wasn't the 2004 season a pretty good statement? I think going 9-3 after losing four first-rounders isn't so bad.

"Phillip, why don't you tell it like it is? We weren't prepared. We got outcoached."

As I've said before, I don't know how to differentiate between being outcoached and being outplayed. I don't know if a mistake is because of coaching or because of a player simply not doing what he's been taught. I'm not enough of an expert to draw those conclusions. If you are, congratulations. I will say this: I'm around Auburn football every day, and if this team wasn't prepared it wasn't because of lack of work or lack of effort.

"Well, we lost another chance to get national respect. No wonder we didn't get to play for the championship last year."

In college football, you have to earn respect every year. Every team and every season are different. The 2004 team finished No. 2. That's quite respectful. If Auburn had made it to the Orange Bowl last season, Oklahoma would not have. Would that have been lack of respect for Oklahoma? If Penn State had gone 11-0 this season, it would have been left out. Would that have been lack of respect for the Nittany Lions and Coach Joe Paterno? The truth is that only once in the BCS era has there been three unbeaten BCS conference teams. If Auburn was victim of anything in 2004, it was bad luck

Until next time...

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