Passing Game Ready To Take Off?

The Auburn Tigers hope to open up the offense this fall behind senior Daniel Cobb.

Auburn, Ala.--The passing game has been a question mark for the Auburn Tigers heading into the 2002 season since the final whistle blew in last year's Peach Bowl in Atlanta.

After throwing for just 145 yards on 28 attempts with two interceptions against North Carolina, a change was made bringing a new offensive coordinator on board. Bringing with him a new philosophy and new style of coaching, coach Bobby Petrino enters his first game as an Auburn Tiger coach with a hope that the team is far enough along in his system to get the job done on the field.

Now the question remains, do they have the players to get the job done? There is no question about the talent on the team at wide receiver, tight end and even at quarterback, but can they pick up the system quickly enough to take on a talented Southern California team on the road and come away with a win?

Marcel Willis

Heading into Monday night's game, four freshmen are among the top eight receivers for the Tigers as they only return 32 total receptions from the group. Senior Marcel Willis is the most accomplished of the group with 14 catches for 142 yards last season while battling a nagging ankle injury for much of the season. Junior Jeris McIntyre is back after an injury-plagued 12-catch season while sophomore Silas Daniels caught just eight passes as a true freshman.

Despite a talented group of receivers last fall in a system that had worked before, the offense just never seemed to click. While the players agree that they could have done more, something was definitely missing. It is something they say they believe they have found in senior starting quarterback Daniel Cobb. They have found a leader.

"We've been just trying to look for a leader since last season," McIntyre notes. "Cobb has helped us as far as being a leader is concerned. He's more mature since he's been around college football for a while. Hopefully, he'll help us mature even more and bring on a leadership role."

Jeris McIntyre listens to Bobby Petrino in a passing drill Tuesday.

Daniels agrees with his running mate after watching Cobb take over the team since being named the starter last week.

"Cobb has been the leader," Daniels says. "He's keeping everybody's head into the practice. Some people get tired, but he keeps us up and keeps us focused. Everybody is getting together. We're just ready to play."

Getting the starter in place was an important step for Petrino and the offensive coaching staff. Continuity is something that helps an offense mature and develop and that is what had been lacking until the decision was made. Now fully behind Cobb, McIntyre notes that he sees signs that this team is ready to play solid football on offense and that it will be needed against the Trojans if the Tigers hope to come home with a win.

"We've all come a long way from the first day as far as learning what to do and putting in the game plan," McIntyre says. "We still have a lot of work to do before Monday comes to get prepared for the game. We're not making as many mental errors as we were, but we just need to keep getting better every day.

"We knew that last year we had a downfall towards the end of the year and we were anxious to get back out there. We're ready to go and get after it. USC is a good team. We're just ready to play somebody. We know they are a good team. We have to be prepared to play."

With Willis, McIntyre and Daniels all established as proven entities despite their low numbers last fall, the rest of the wide receiving corps is a relative unknown to the coaching staff. Despite impressive talent, the freshmen who are scheduled to play still must prove that they belong with the big boys. They don't have any time to grow into the role though as Petrino says a majority of the class will play on Monday.

"Right now Ben (Obomanu) will be there right away," Petrino notes. "We feel good about Devin (Aromashodu). He'll be rotating in and Anthony Mix will be playing. I think we'll probably throw Montae Pitts in there, too. Those four will see some time. I think Ben and Mix will probably see more than the other two."

While he's a freshman in terms of school work and eligibility, you would have a hard time knowing Obomanu was a freshman until he steps off the field. Still a little overwhelmed by the amount of learning involved in picking up an offense, he says that things are coming along for him, the rest of his freshman class and the entire offense this week as they begin to game plan for Monday night.

"The whole atmosphere around here is really different," Obomanu says. "We're getting things fine-tuned for the game, learning USC as a team. I'm kind of trying to adjust to a new system of preparing for a game. It's really been fun, but it's also been kind of tedious learning the system and learning the defense, learning my opponents. It's fun at the same time.

"I think things are coming together great," Obomanu adds. "We looked back at two-a-days and looked at the film from the scrimmages and we realized that some of the mistakes we were making were simple. They were easily correctable. Coach Petrino did a good job of just explaining how to correct our mistakes. That's one of the main things some coaches don't do. They just fuss at you and tell you that you made a mistake. He's really done a good job of just getting us prepared for this first game."


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