Auburn redshirt freshman running back Mario Fannin gave Tiger fans a taste of his abilities Saturday night against South Florida when he ran for 62 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown. Included in his action were several physical runs when he punished defenders and even teammate Antwoin Daniels.
Unfortunately the thing that kept him out of the game late has been a recurring theme for Fannin throughout this fall and that is ball security. After several fumbles in scrimmage situations, Fannin put the ball on the turf twice on consecutive plays against South Florida. Position Coach Eddie Gran said that's something they have to remedy immediately because Fannin gives the Tigers something on offense they need to get the offense going and provides a one-two punch with Benjamin Tate.
"Anytime you put the ball on the ground it's an unfortunate situation," Gran said. "It's something that can be corrected. I think that's the good thing. He was carrying it sloppy. If you carry it sloppy against anybody you play you're going to put it on the ground. That's something I have to get fixed and something he's got to get fixed…I would hope that next Saturday, when he runs the ball, everything will be fixed.
"He's so physical," Gran added. "When we had something going there for a while the two of them fed off each other pretty well. I think they both had 14 carries for 60 yards and they bring something different to the table. Mario, there is a little explosion there and he runs through people. He had a couple of runs that were big-time runs. That's what we thought Mario Fannin was all about."
In addition to his duties coaching the running backs, Gran is also Auburn's Special Teams' coach. While on the outside it appears things are going smoothly with true freshman kicker Wes Byrum (6-7 field goals) and redshirt freshman punter Ryan Shoemaker (45.1 yard average) as well as on kickoff and punt returns, Auburn's coverage teams aren't up to far through two games.
Much of the reason for that on kickoffs is the absence of Byrum on that unit because of a sprained ankle. In his three kickoffs in the opener against Kansas State, Byrum averaged putting the ball just inside the 10-yard line even with an ankle sprain. Since that time Auburn has kicked off eight more times with an average carry of just over 50 yards. That means opponents are catching kickoffs at around the 20-yard line with time to set up returns. Gran said that's something that must be corrected.
"I think our coverage units have to be a lot better for us to be competitive," Gran said. "Right now we're just not very good. It has hurt us with Wes on kickoffs. The hang time, if you don't kick the ball to the goal line or the five-yard line, the hang time needs to be in the four second range. We were in the 3.3 to 3.5 range. That doesn't give us a chance. We just didn't avoid and do the things we're supposed to do in our coverage lanes to make tackles. We missed six tackles total on special teams and that is six too many."
One of the bright spots on special teams was the play of back up punter Patrick Tatum. With Shoemaker on the bench after dislocating an elbow trying to make a tackle, Tatum came on to average a respectable 38.3 yards per kick on three punts against South Florida. Gran said he was proud of the way the freshman from Sylvania responded to the pressure of being put on the spot.
"He came in for his first action and the first ball he ever kicks he puts at the one-yard line," Gran said. "The other three were 40-yard type kicks that we went down and covered. I was extremely excited about that."
With the problems on kickoffs Tatum is a player the Tigers toyed with the idea of using early in camp but didn't want to put any additional stress on him. Because of that Gran said for the moment Zach Kutch is still the number one guy with Byrum listed as day to day. A player they were hoping to use was freshman Morgan Hull from Austin but Gran said it will be a while before he sees any action again.
"We really wanted him concentrating on that part of it," Gran said of Tatum's punting duties. "He had been away from football for a while. It's like the other guy we had kicking off (Hull). He pulled his groin after the first week. Not kicking and not used to it, he pulled his groin. We thought maybe he could be a back up kickoff guy. He's definitely got the ability and I think somewhere down the road he will."