TIGER RAG PREVIEW: Auburn Tigers

Tommy Tuberville

Today is the third installment of a 15-part series in which Tiger Rag previews LSU's opponents and other members of the SEC. Today, we spotlight Auburn. Monday, we focus on defending national champion Florida.

Auburn went 11-2 and finished tied with LSU for second place in the SEC West a year ago.

 

With roughly half of the starters from last year's squad now gone, Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville looks to reload across the board as the preseason No.14 Tigers prepare to make another charge towards the conference title in 2007.

 

Tuberville, who is entering his eighth season as Auburn head coach, has led the Tigers to seven bowl games in as many seasons, highlighted by the school's only BCS appearance; the 2005 Sugar Bowl.

 

A program that has been known to run the ball exceptionally well, Auburn will have new starters at five of six offensive line positions. The biggest task, though, will be replacing NFL-bound running back Kenny Irons.

 

The leading candidate to fill the starting role at running back is junior Brad Lester, Irons' backup last season who rushed for 510 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns, including a career-high 94-yard performance in Auburn's victory over Florida. He also caught six passes for 87 yards and one touchdown.

 

Ben Tate will serve as the backup at running back and was the third-leading rusher on the team last season with 392 yards.

 

At fullback, senior Carl Stewart returns as the veteran starter after putting up solid numbers last season. As a junior, Stewart rushed 27 times for 98 yards and three touchdowns and caught 13 passes for 239 yards and two scores. His two touchdowns against Nebraska were the only Tiger touchdowns in the Cotton Bowl.

 

Junior wide out Rodriques Smith will also be back in the Auburn uniform in 2007, and should serve as the Tigers' headline receiver. As a sophomore, Smith was second on the team in receiving with 26 catches for 452 and a team-high four touchdowns.

 

Junior Prechae Rodriguez was the team's No. three receiver in 2006, and will be charged with filling the role left by Courtney Taylor, who led the team with 704 receiving yards. Rodriquez finished the year with 168 yards and one touchdown in 12 game appearances.

 

At tight end, 2005 regular Cole Bennett returns to the team this year after red shirting last season due to an injury. During the 2005 season, Bennett had nine catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns in 12 appearances.

 

Last season's starting tight end, sophomore Tommy Trott, will also be back in Auburn blue this year, but may end up serving as backup to a healthy Bennett. During his freshman year, Trott had 10 catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns.

 

Aside from tight end, the Tiger offensive line will be largely inexperienced this season, with senior left tackle King Dunlop being the only returning starter. Dunlop has been a factor on the Tiger offensive front since 2004, playing in 37 games during his career.

 

Filling in the remaining spots on the line will likely be junior Antwoin Daniels at the other tackle, senior Leon Hart and junior Tyronne Green at the guards, and junior Jason Bosley at center, all of whom saw time as backups last year.

 

Leading the offense for the third year at quarterback will be senior Brandon Cox. As a starter at Auburn, Cox has a record of 19-5, has thrown for 4,879 yards and 33 touchdowns during his career, and ranks in the top 10 in 11 different QB categories in the Auburn record books.

 

The defensive side of the ball at Auburn welcomes back more starters than on offense, but the Tigers will need to find replacements for the 2006 pass defense leader David Irons, as well as the team's top two tacklers in linebackers Will Herring and Karibi Dede.

 

The most dominant returning force for the Tiger defense is defensive end Quentin Groves, an all-SEC selection who led the team with 9.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, seven quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles. His 23 career sacks ranks second all-time at Auburn.

 

Returning alongside Groves on the defensive front are tackle Sen'Derrick Marks and nose guard Josh Thompson, both of whom started every game in 2006.

 

Sophomore Antonio Coleman is the favorite to take the open spot at defensive end, after compiling 16 tackles and six quarterback hurries in 13 appearances as a freshman.

 

At linebacker, junior Merrill Johnson returns as the lone veteran. Last year, he finished tied for eighth on the team in total tackles with 35. Stepping in to replace the departed Herring and Dede looks to be sophomore Patrick Trahan and junior Steve Gandy, who combined for 26 tackles last year.

 

The Tigers' defensive backfield welcomes back starters at three positions in 2007, with senior strong safety Eric Brock leading the pack along with sophomore free safety Aairon Savage and cornerback Jonathan Wilhite.

 

Brock had the most tackles last season of any returning player, finishing the year with 50 to go with his two interceptions and six pass break ups. Savage finished just behind him with 48 tackles and one interception, while Wilhite missed some time with an injury and finished the season with 24 tackles.

 

The other corner is expected to be senior Patrick Lee, who played in 12 games as a junior and recorded 25 tackles, one interception, and six broken up passes.

 

Perhaps the area most affected by graduation this year for the Tigers is the special teams, where Auburn will have to replace the SEC's top punter, place kicker, and a deep snapper this season.

 

Sophomore Zach Kutch, senior Tyler DiPace and red shirt freshman Ross Gornall could all see time at place kicker in the absence of conference-leading John Vaughn, though none of the three has attempted a kick in college.

 

Red shirt freshman Ryan Shoemaker, who also has yet to play a down in college, will fill for departed punter Kody Bliss, who led the SEC last year with an average of 45.7 yards per kick.

Tristan Davis will resume his role as the Tiger kick return man in 2007, averaging 27 yards per attempt last year, while Robert Dunn will once again handle the punt return duties. Dunn averaged 5.5 yards per return on 22 tries in 2006.

 

QUICK FACTS

 

AUBURN TIGERS  

 

All-Time Series vs. LSU: LSU leads 21-19-1

First Meeting: 1901, Auburn 28, LSU 0

Last Meeting: 2006, Auburn 7, LSU 3

 

Location: Auburn, Ala.

Stadium: Jordan-Hare (87,451)

Head Coach: Tommy Tuberville, 71-29, 8 years; 96-49 overall, 12 years

 

 

2006 IN REVIEW

 

2006 Record: 11-2, 6-2 SEC (T-2nd/West)

Final '06 Ranking: 9th, AP and BCS; 8th Coaches

Returning Starters: 12; 5 offense, 7 defense

Last Bowl Appearance: 2007 Cotton Bowl – Auburn 17, Nebraska 14

Last Conference Championship: 2004

 

 

2006 STAT BREAKDOWN (SEC/NCAA)

 

Total Offense: 320.9 ypg (9/76)

Rushing Offense: 148.2 ypg (5/47)

Passing Offense: 172.7 ypg (10/88)

Scoring Offense: 24.8 ppg (8/56)

Total Defense: 292.4 ypg (4/19)

Rushing Defense: 124.2 ypg (6/45)

Passing Defense: 168.2 ypg (3/14)

Scoring Defense: 13.9 ppg (3/7)

 

 

RETURNING LEADERS

 

Rushing: Brad Lester – 104-510, 9 TD, 81.2 ypg

Passing: Brandon Cox – 271-163, 2198, 14 TD, 9 Int., 169.1 ypg

Receiving: Rodgerious Smith – 26-452, 4 TD, 34.8 ypg

Tackles: Aairon Savage – 53

Interceptions: Eric Brock – 2

Sacks: Quentin Groves – 9.5

Tackles for Loss: Sen'Derrick Marks – 11

 

 

2007 SCHEDULE

 

Date                 Opponent                                 '06 Result

S-1                  KANSAS STATE                   ---

S-8                  SOUTH FLORIDA                 ---

S-15                MISSISSIPPI STATE             W, 34-0

S-22                NEW MEXICO STATE            ---

S-29                at Florida                           W, 27-17

O-6                  VANDERBILT                       ---

O-13                at Arkansas                        L, 10-27

O-20                at LSU                               W, 7-3

O-27                OLE MISS                           W, 23-17

N-3                  TENNESSEE TECH                 ---

N-10                at Georgia                           L, 15-37

N-18                ALABAMA                            W, 22-15

 

 

The Auburn Perspective

 

Offense at a glance:

 

Brandon Cox, a fifth-year senior, returns for his third season as the starting quarterback. The lefty had a disappointing junior year after suffering ankle and knee injuries in game three against LSU that severely limited his mobility. After a strong spring, Cox looks ready to finish his career as one of the most accurate passers in school history.

 

Finding a backup quarterback is still an issue. Blake Field, a junior, was limited in the spring by tendonitis in his throwing shoulder and neither redshirt freshmen Neil Caudle or Steven Ensminger, took command of the No. 2 spot.

 

The rest of the backfield looks strong with pro prospect Carl Stewart returning at fullback along with a deep and talented group of tailbacks to replace senior Kenny Irons. Junior Brad Lester has starting experience and plenty of moves. Sophomore Ben Tate, redshirt freshman Mario Fannin and junior Tristan Davis were impressive in the spring.

 

Tuberville is looking for more players to step up at wide receiver where the Tigers will miss record-setting Courtney Taylor. Rod Smith, a was impressive in spring training while redshirt freshmen Tim Hawthorne and Terrell Zachery are players to watch.

 

The only full-time returning starter on the offensive line is 6-9, 321-pound senior left tackle King Dunlap, but the Tigers have talented players at the other positions. Tyronne Green, playing behind NFL first-round draft choice Ben Grubbs last year, looks ready to blossom as a junior. Jason Bosley, a junior center, has starting experience, as does senior right guard Leon Hart. Andrew McCain, a 6-6, 300-pound sophomore, stepped up and won the right tackle spot in the spring.

 

Tight end is a strength with senior Cole Bennett backed up by talented sophomores Tommy Trott and Gabe McKenzie.

 

 

Defense at a glance:

 

All-SEC end Quentin Groves returns as a senior and leads what should be a quick and athletic front.

 

Senior Josh Thompson will try to hold off a challenge at noseguard from senior Tez Doolittle while junior Pat Sims will battle promising redshirt freshman Mike Blanc at tackle. Sen'Derrick Marks, a 6-2, 287-pound sophomore, could start at tackle or end.

 

The Tigers will miss starters Will Herring and Karibi Dede at linebacker, but young players like sophomore Patrick Trahan and Craig Stevens look ready to step into prime-time roles.

 

The Tigers return three starters in the secondary with senior Eric Brock and sophomore Aairon Savage at the safety spots. Seniors Patrick Lee and Jonathan Wilhite both have starting experience at cornerback where the Tigers lost David Irons.

 

- Mark Murphy, Inside the Auburn Tigers

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