Offense Comes Alive After Slow Start

Thursday afternoon's scrimmage had positives and negatives on both sides of the ball for the Auburn Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--A slow start early didn't faze the Auburn offense in Thursday's scrimmage as quarterback Brandon Cox and tailback Tre Smith led a late charge on one of the better days of the spring for the unit. Coach Tommy Tuberville said he was proud of the way the offense stepped up when it mattered most.

"It was a good day," Tuberville said. "We had close to 90 plays. It was pretty physical. We ran the ball a lot more than we did in the last scrimmage. The defense had the upper hand early, but the offense rebounded. Tre Smith did real well. On the offensive line we've still got room for improvement. Defensively we've got some guys' heads that are spinning, but it was a good day. It was the first day I've gone through a practice at Auburn where we were 100 percent on field goals and we made some long ones. This was a good scrimmage."

Smith was the star on offense Thursday as he finished with 68 yards receiving on two catches and also ran the ball four times for 16 yards. He had two touchdowns on the day. Cox was 7-15 for 118 yards and one touchdown to lead the quarterbacks. Brad Lester was the top ground gainer with 48 yards on 10 carries while Kenny Irons added 33 yards on eight attempts. Back-ups Carl Stewart and Benjamin Tate were both solid as well with 24 and 26 yards respectively. Offensive coordinator Al Borges said the day was a good one for his unit.

Tre Smith looks for running room.

Quarterbacks Blake Field and Calvin Booker both struggled at times during the scrimmage, but Booker finished well with 49 yards on 4-7 passing. Field had just 23 yards on 3-7 passing and also had three interceptions. Rodgeriqus Smith led the receivers with 34 yards on two catches while Montez Billings added 18 on two grabs. Tight ends Tommy Trott and Gabe McKenzie combined for three receptions and 30 yards through the air.

"Every scrimmage we start off and move the ball pretty good early," Borges said. "We don't finish the drive, we lose a little momentum and then we gain a little toward the end, which is good. We really preach to them that you have to recover when times are adverse. Our kids our doing their best to do that. Spring football is not always pretty. Never, in 21 years of coordinating offense, has it ever been as pretty as I want it to be. We've made some progress here and I think we're starting to see who some of the kids are who are going to help us in the fall."

The highlight of the scrimmage for the offense came on the last four possessions. With the ball placed at the 15-yard line going in, the first-team had the first crack at the defense with Cox under center. After an incompletion on first down, Cox hit Prechae Rodriguez on the sidelines for an 11-yard gain that put the ball on the four. From there Lester took it in on the next play for the touchdown.

Following the touchdown by the first unit it was the second team's turn with Field under center. Following a five-yard gain by Tate on first down the Tigers used play-action to try to fool the defense, but freshman linebacker Trahan got pressure and batted the ball into the air. Fellow linebacker Kevin Sears caught the ball for the interception and raced untouched down the field until the whistle blew the play dead.

Field again took over on the 15 for his second opportunity and Tate took the handoff for seven yards on first down to put the offense in good position. Stewart then rumbled for five yards on a play that resembled more of a rugby scrum than a football play, but the yardage was good for a first down. Another Stewart run pushed the ball to the one and he took it over for the touchdown on the next play.

That was all Tuberville needed to see. Following the touchdown the head coach challenged both teams that whoever succeeded on the next two possessions would not have to run following the practice. Taking over with the first team once again, Cox was determined not to let him teammates down.

On first down Tate was once again the man for the offense with a six-yard gain that put the ball just inside the 10-yard line. At the line of scrimmage Cox changed the play only to see Auburn's defense react to his audible. Deciding to take things into his own hands, Cox faked an option left and reversed field. That left him all alone as he walked into the endzone for the touchdown and was mobbed by his offensive teammates.

Cornerback Patrick Lee is called for interference as he breaks up a pass to Prechae Rodriguez.

The defense still had one possession left to make some noise, but this day belonged to the offense late. With Booker in with the second team Tate gained two yards on first down and a Booker scramble on the second play but the ball at the seven for third and two. Already with one touchdown on the day, running back Tre Smith took the handoff on from Booker and weaved his way through traffic before bulling into the endzone for the score to seal the fate of the defense on this day.

"Al came out and he was going to run the ball early," Tuberville said. "Defensively we teed off on them pretty good. We ran a lot on defense. This was our scrimmage. Saturday is obviously a day when we'll run a lot of basic stuff and the offense should do pretty good. It was good to see them rebound after getting hollered and screamed at. It's tougher to execute on offense. It's a lot easier to execute on defense. This was an effort day. We got a lot of effort from everybody, but it was good to see them bounce back."

The jubilation shown by the offense was a far cry from much of the day as the defense dominated early and often before the offense had success late. The first drive of the day started on the 20-yard line going out and things looked good early as Irons ran for four yards on first down. Cox then hit tight end Trott on the sidelines and the big freshman bulled over a defender for a first down to the 31. Irons again proved his mettle and he bounded for 18 yards to move the Tigers near the 50.

An offsides on the defense followed before Irons was stopped for a one-yard loss by a host of Tigers including Josh Thompson. A scramble by Cox netted three yards setting up the offense with a second and three at the 44. A five-yard run by Lester gave the offense a first down and he backed it up by blasting for 16 more yards. That is where the drive would fail as three plays lost five yards with the big play coming on a sack of Cox by Octavious Balkcom. Kickers John Vaughn, Matt Clark and Tyler DiPace all made field goals from 44 yards to close the drive.

The 10-play, 53-yard drive to start the day would be it for the offense for a long time as the defense completely dominated the middle portion of the scrimmage. Three consecutive possessions by Field and the second team failed to achieve a first down as a variety of blitzes by Coach Will Muschamp's defense kept the second unit off balance. The last possession was the most costly for the offense as they had a third and one only to suffer a delay of game. That put them in a hole and Trahan capitalized on the long yardage situation with the first of his two sacks on the day.

Cox and the first-team took back over on the fifth possession of the day but also failed to get a single first down as the offense was placed on its own two-yard line to start the drive. Booker's turn with the second unit resulted in the same outcome as a pass to Lester on third down failed to gain first down yardage. Cox again led the offense back on the field from its two and things looked good as he hit Smith for a 12-yard gain out near the 15, but a personal foul on fullback Andrew Turman after the play brought the ball back to the seven. That killed the momentum as three plays gained just five yards before turning the ball over once again.

Field's turn with the second team once again produced a three-and-out as two carries by Tate gained just three yards before Lorenzo Ferguson stepped in front of the field pass on the sidelines for an interception at the 25. It was the first offense back on the field for the ninth possession of the scrimmage, this time starting at the 50. Two Irons runs gained eight yards to put the offense in good shape, but an incomplete pass brought fourth down. Going for it, the offense was stopped inches short as Irons couldn't cross the 40-yard line with the run.

Safety Lorenzo Ferguson celebrates his interception during Thursday's scrimmage.

Auburn's next score on offense came courtesy of Booker and the second team. On first down Lester took the handoff and raced 12 yards to the 38. A connection by Booker to freshman receiver Billings covered nine yards on first down with Smith running for three and the first down on the next play. A two-yard Smith run on first down proved to be it for the drive as an incompletion followed by a Brandon Haley sack meant the Tigers had to settle for the field goal. Once again the trio of Vaughn, Clark and DiPace were perfect, this time from 42 yards.

The next three possessions failed to produce anything, but Smith would change all that with his legs on drive number 14 of the scrimmage. Starting at its own 30, the first offense gained nine quick yards on a pass from Cox to Billings. Following a Tate run for three yards Smith did his damage. Taking a screen pass from Cox on the right side of the field, Smith cut across the grain of the field and took the ball to the house from 57 yards out for the score. The kickers were then called out to attempt field goals from 37 yards out and once again all three were perfect.

The next possession saw Booker complete a pass to tight end McKenzie for 14 yards on first down, but things would stall later with two incompletions after a six-yard gain by Lester. Booker once again hit a big play on the next possession with a 26-yard pass to Smith in the flat, but the offense would staff after an offsides on the defense. The big play came on third down as Booker was looking for Anthony Campbell over the middle but a big hit by Aairon Savage knocked the ball loose on the final play before moving the ball to the red zone to finish the practice.

Defensively the Tigers were led by Trahan, who had just three tackles but also added two sacks. The leading tackler during the scrimmage was freshman linebacker Tray Blackmon with eight tackles while both Walter McFadden and Tez Doolittle added six stops each.

Auburn will have a short practice on Friday in shorts before closing spring practice with the annual A-Day Game on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. and the game is a sellout. The Auburn baseball Tigers will take on South Carolina later at 4 p.m. inside Plainsman Park.

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