Wanted: Playmakers For The Tigers

A loss to South Florida may have been the wake-up call that the Auburn offense desperately needed.

Auburn, Ala.--Who? Anybody. What? Playmakers. When? Now. Where? Anywhere and everywhere. Why? Because the Auburn offense is struggling and SEC play starts on Saturday.

"We're going to find our playmakers," coordinator Al Borges says. "We're still searching for a few of those guys so you may see some different moves on the flank, but right now we're pretty much status quo, so keep your eyes open because we're going to find some people out there that can do some things... hopefully."

Some Auburn fans are hoping its Kodi Burns, but he's never even played a down of college football. Others are hoping it's Mario Fannin, but he fumbled twice in his tailback debut. Or how about Chris Slaughter?

"Right now I'm still learning and there is still some stuff I have to get down pat," Slaughter says. "I'm still not making good on tests and I'm still learning just from only being here a month."

Slaughter admittedly didn't grade out well in his first game against South Florida, but maintains, "If I get an opportunity and they throw me the ball, I'm going to make a play. I know I am."

One player who many thought would be a playmaker heading into the season was Robert Dunn. He had an opportunity for a pair of touchdowns on Saturday, but poorly thrown passes on both chances fluttered innocently to the turf.

"Robert Dunn would be one," Borges hypothesizes. "We've had several times where Robert Dunn has been open in the last couple of games and we just can't get him the ball for some reason. We've gotten him the ball on some plays and we just need to get it to him more."

Prechae Rodriguez is the team's leading receiver in both receptions (nine) and yardage (108). However, he would have fumbled the game away against Kansas State if not for a head's-up play from Tommy Trott and he also had a pair of drops on potential big gainers against the Bulls.

Dunn, who has been in the slot for the most part, is starting to get a look on the outside and that has given Tim Hawthorne a chance to work No. 1 in the slot. Hawthorne, a redshirt freshman, was a highly touted recruit in the 2006 signing class who could also help the team with his run blocking at 6-3 and around 215 pounds.

Rod Smith has the longest play of the year for the Tigers, a 55-yard reception against Kansas State, but even he admits that those types of plays need to happen much more often.

"I think we're doing pretty good," he says of the wideouts, "but we have to make big plays on the perimeter. If you don't make plays on the perimeter you're not going to win too many games, and that's what we have to do."

Mario Fannin scores Auburn's only rushing touchdown of the year through two games Saturday night against South Florida.

At running back it's evident that the Tigers are missing Brad Lester and Tristan Davis. Ben Tate has done an okay job through two games, but since Borges' arrival in 2004 he's had a pair of NFL first-rounders and a second-rounder to tote the rock. Tate hasn't shown that he's at that level yet. Fannin showed flashes on Saturday with his quickness and power but still has a long way to go to be the consistent back the Tigers are looking for.

"It's nice to know we've got a kid that can do that type of thing," Borges says of Fannin's running. "He's going to be a really, really good player. There is no doubt in my mind. He showed some promise now. You can't take the fumbles away, but if you eliminate that he really ran the football well, which we knew he could do."

Fannin says that he was initially concerned that he might have wasted his opportunity, but with a need for a spark on offense he may be right back in the thick of things.

"I was (concerned), because that's a major thing--turning over the ball," he says. "That was in my head during the game and after the game, just making sure I could gain their trust and be able to play. Coach (Eddie) Gran talked to me and said it was forgotten, so I've forgotten about it also.

"(I have to) just keep it high and tight. Sometimes when you run you don't feel the ball outside of you. It's just technique in practice and getting out there in practice and doing the same thing."

Most teams make their biggest improvement from week one to week two. If that's the case for Auburn, then 2007 could be a long year on the Plains. Auburn has done a phenomenal job in the last year of finding ways to win close ball games whether it's against teams like Kansas State and Alabama or against higher quality opponents like LSU and Florida.

The loss to South Florida on Saturday showed that special teams and defense can't continually win games week in and week out. Whether it's Fannin, Slaughter, Hawthorne, Dunn or somebody like Burns or James Swinton, Borges has to find a way to make more big plays.

"If you've got some weapons, you've got to find a way to use your weapons, period," Borges says. "That's what we're exploring right now, and trying to find a way to get the ball to some of the guys that can help us score some touchdowns."


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