Tag Archives: Auburn Tigers

With QB a priority, Vols in battle for 5-star Torrance Gibson

Torrance Gibson (photo by 247Sports, a KNS partner)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Riley Ferguson‘s departure has highlighted Tennessee’s need for another quarterback in the Class of 2015.

There are few bigger targets than dual-threat quarterback Torrance GibsonAuburn and Tennessee are leading the seven-team race for his signature. Helpfully, Gibson has been tweeting and blogging about the recruiting process.

247Sports recruiting analyst Ryan Callahan chatted about Gibson’s visit to Auburn in today’s installment of GVX Audio. Gibson could visit Tennessee as soon as this weekend, but Callahan said the race should continue for some time.

The Vols already have Jauan Jennings in the fold. He’s a four-star athlete from Murfreesboro who is being recruited by most schools as a quarterback. Many think he could also be an elite college safety.

Ranking the recruiters: Tommy Thigpen has been consistently near the top

Tommy Thigpen coaches Malik Foreman in practice last August (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen, who was named Rivals.com recruiter of the year earlier this month, is one of several assistants who scored well in 247Sports’ recruiter rankings.

247Sports added the new ranking to its arsenal about a year ago, and has since used its database to rank assistant coaches from past years as well. (The numbers are not as complete as 2014, but are still useful to review).

The rankings show that Thigpen’s prowess as a recruiter is nothing new.

The change in coaching staffs at Tennessee makes it difficult to get an exact picture in 2013.

But in 2011 and 2012, Thigpen was No. 5 and No. 18 nationally, respectively, credited with signing a dozen recruits who helped build Auburn’s SEC championship team in 2013.

If recruiting rankings were once controversial, 247Sports opened up a whole new realm by ranking the recruiters. Initially, I thought coaches would freak out. Coaches are already a competitive breed, and I thought we’d see internal fights about who gets credit for signing each recruit. Maybe that stuff occurs behind the scenes, but I think most coaching staffs have long since made their peace with the recruiting industry. And 247Sports (full disclaimer: the company is a News Sentinel partner with GoVols247) has done a nice job pushing the franchise into new territory.

So let’s take a look at the 2014 rankings. Thigpen, No. 10 overall, was listed as the primary or secondary recruiter on an incredible 17 prospects in this cycle. (Second place was Cincinnati’s Robert Prunty with 14).

Other Vols assistants ranked this year:

Despite a midseason knee injury, running backs coach Robert Gillespie was a prolific recruiter. (photo by Evan Woodbery)

No. 28: Running backs coach Robert Gillespie

No. 38: Tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Mark Elder

No. 60: Defensive line coach and assistant head coach Steve Stripling

No. 107: Defensive backs coach Willie Martinez

No. 150: Receivers coach Zach Azzanni

Nationally, 247Sports said the top recruiter was Georgia’s Bryan McClendon. Former Vol quarterback and current USC assistant Tee Martin was No. 2.

But small sample sizes or a singe elite player can skew the one-year rankings. In 2013, there was a largely new crop of names in the top 10. (McClendon was No. 122; Martin was No. 92). Florida State’s Jeremy Pruitt, now defensive coordinator at Georgia, was No. 1.

The fluctuation shows that plenty of factors lead to a good recruiting ranking. It could depend on the number of players a team plans to sign at a certain position or whether it was a particularly strong year for a certain geographical area.

But Thigpen’s strength seems to transcend those fluctuations. And it’s worth noting that he was a closer of sorts for the Vols’ staff. Butch Jones put him on recruits that weren’t necessarily at his position or his geographic area.

Thigpen came to Tennessee after Auburn dismissed its staff in the wake of a dismal 2012 season. His link to Butch Jones’ Midwestern crew was Martinez, who was also on that Auburn staff in 2012.

Auburn’s coaching staff was stocked with top recruiters — including Trooper Taylor, running backs coach Curtis Luper, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes and others. Coaches always pretend not to care about recruiting rankings, but it was either Taylor or Luper who once said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “If they’re keeping score, I want to win.”

That was refreshing honesty. And there’s no doubt that Thigpen has won a lot.

Auburn-Vols, scenes from the sidelines (photo gallery)

Neyland Stadium, 10 minutes before kickoff (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee will look to regain its home momentum on Saturday against No. 7 Auburn.

You can follow along with live updates on our free live blog.

Check out some photos from the sidelines below.

Justin Worley talks with a teammate (photo by Evan Woodbery)

Receivers warm up before the game (photo by Evan Woodbery)

Quarterback Nate Peterman in .gif form (photos by Evan Woodbery)

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Auburn beat writer Q&A: The view from the Plains

Gus Malzahn

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn calls out to his team in the second half of an NCAA college football game against LSU in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. LSU won 35-21. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — A year ago, Auburn beat writers were preparing themselves for a possible coaching search as the Tigers limped to a winless SEC season.

Today Auburn is one of the most impressive stories in college football and coach Gus Malzahn is a possible coach of the year candidate.

The Vols (4-5, 1-4 SEC) play No. 7 Auburn (8-1, 4-1) on Saturday at Neyland Stadium (TV: ESPN, noon).

We asked Auburn beat writer Joel Erickson a few questions about the Tigers. You can follow Joel on Twitter and read his coverage here.

1. How surprising is Auburn’s 8-1 record and why do you think Gus Malzahn has been able to have so much success in Year 1?

Pretty surprising, particularly after the way the Tigers finished in their final three SEC games of 2012. In those games, against Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama, Auburn allowed touchdowns on 16 of 18 first-half possessions, and a closer look at some of the stats reveals just how different it’s been. For example, Auburn is averaging more than double its rushing output from last season, the Tigers’ quarterbacks are currently 65 spots higher in pass efficiency, the defense is allowing 8.2 points per game less than the 2012 version and the ability to close in the fourth quarter has absolutely flip-flopped. For what it’s worth, most people expected Auburn to take some small steps before taking the big ones.

Malzahn started things off by hiring an experienced, well-regarded staff with a lot of SEC experience, and the impact of the 2013 signing class has been impressive. Quarterback Nick Marshall has been the breakout player so far, but the Tigers also signed a lot of players — running back Cameron Artis-Payne, wide receiver Marcus Davis, defensive linemen Carl Lawson, Elijah Daniel and Montravius Adams, among others — who have played key rotational roles and come up big in key moments. Malzahn has also taken a relatively hard line on discipline, a problem for the previous team, and the staff has done a good job of identifying playmakers who were either pushed to the backburner by the previous staff (hybrid Robenson Therezie) or hadn’t made much of an impact yet (wide receiver Sammie Coates, left guard Alex Kozan, linebacker Kris Frost).

2. Auburn only threw like two passes last week. What’s with that?

In a couple of SEC games, Auburn has focused on its running game as a way to get the defense rest after the opposing team churns out yardage and keeps that unit on the field. Arkansas ran 46 plays in the first half compared to just 22 for Auburn, and the time of possession was wildly in the Razorbacks’ favor. With that in mind, Auburn tried to stick to the ground to even that out a little bit — although the Tigers scored too quickly to flip the time discrepancy — and then used the running game in the second half to salt it away. What’s been interesting this season is that Auburn has regularly been able to run the ball against stacked eight and nine-man fronts, and when the Tigers have been able to do that, Malzahn has been perfectly comfortable sticking to the ground game.

3. What is Auburn’s biggest weakness and how successful have opponents been in exploiting it?

Auburn has had some trouble against offenses that run a power rushing attack, for two reasons. One, the Tigers have had trouble with missed assignments, poor angles and missed gaps in the running game, and two, because those kinds of offenses can keep Auburn’s offense off the field. LSU, obviously, had plenty of success in a first quarter that proved to be the difference in the game, Mississippi State took a 20-17 lead into the final two minutes and Arkansas could have made things interesting if the Razorbacks hadn’t missed on two red-zone opportunities in the first half. Passing offenses have picked up yards against Auburn, but the Tigers tend to string out those types of opponents and force mistakes.

4. Is Auburn’s success sustainable? In other words, could you see Auburn returning to where it was before the disaster in 2012 — consistently competing at the top of the SEC West?

I think it is. Malzahn’s obviously got a proven offensive track record, and in Ellis Johnson, he’s found a defensive leader who isn’t likely to leave any time soon. Beyond that, Malzahn brought in some heavy recruiting muscle in assistants Dameyune Craig, Rodney Garner and Tim Horton, and the coaching staff has already shown a good eye for the kind of talent that will fit well in the scheme.

5. What’s your prediction for the game and why?

I picked Auburn over Tennessee 31-17, mainly because the Volunteers, although great at home, seem to be a bad matchup for what the Tigers do best. Auburn is the SEC’s best rushing offense, and Tennessee has struggled against those kinds of teams. In addition, Auburn has a penchant for magnifying the mistakes of quarterbacks, and Joshua Dobbs is still making only his second start.

Tennessee’s Tommy Thigpen: Auburn has rebounded because of dynamic QB, return of Gus Malzahn (with video)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen spent four years as an assistant at Auburn before joining Butch Jones‘ staff last December.

He was part of a national championship team in 2010 and a team in 2012 that went 0-8 in the SEC.

Auburn (8-1, 4-1 SEC) has bounced back quickly. The Tigers play Tennessee (4-5, 1-4) on Saturday at Neyland Stadium (TV: ESPN, noon).

What happened between 2012 and today? The Tigers once again have a dynamic quarterback and Gus Malzahn.

“When Gus was there, we won 8 games every year, plus a national championship. They were scoring points. That was the theme,” Thigpen said.

Malzahn left after the 2011 season for a one-year stint as head coach at Arkansas State.

Thigpen on the 2012 season:

“Gus has always had success when he’s been (at Auburn)….Those kids, it’s not like they couldn’t play. We played Clemson until the last minute. We played Mississippi State to the last second. We played LSU until the last second. (In 2013), they got a lot of success really early and their kids started to believe. Last year, we fell off track and things went the other way.”

Thigpen on Auburn in 2013:

“They’ve got a dynamic quarterback and guys have rallied around him. It’s like any team, if you’ve got a dynamic quarterback, you’re going to win a lot of football games.”

Thigpen on whether he’s surprised by Auburn’s start:

“They finished top 5,6 (in recruiting) every year. So the personnel is there.”

Thigpen on Cam Newton:

“He was one of the dynamic players and best character kids I’ve ever been around.”

Thigpen on whether this game will be tough for him:

“I came to Tennessee to win ballgames. That’s our No. 1 goal.”

Pat Dye’s full comments on Auburn’s ‘cowards’ at quarterback in 2012

Pat Dye and Auburn mascot Aubie (Associated Press photo)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Former Auburn coach Pat Dye‘s inflammatory comments to the Knoxville Quarterback Club on Monday caused only a ripple of interest here.

But in Alabama,  Dye’s words were big news.

There wasn’t much context to Dye’s comments on Auburn’s quarterbacks in 2012. I’m told his talk was somewhat rambling. But we asked Gage Arnold, our intern who was covering the event, to transcribe the full passage from Dye’s comments.

“We had two last year — Mr. Footballs….Cut that thing off a minute… (laughter)…You got it off?”

(Dye is speaking to a TV reporter with a camera in the back of the room.)

“We had two last year and they both were cowards. Cowards. How can you win with a coward at quarterback? Now one of them might have been a coward mentally, and there’s a difference between being a coward mentally and a coward physically. If you’re a coward physically you’ve got no chance to overcome that, but you can grow up from being a coward mentally. But it didn’t happen so we had no chance.”

Dye, who turns 74 today, won four SEC titles at Auburn from 1981 to 1992. The field at Jordan-Hare Stadium is named in his honor.

AL.com columnist Kevin Scarbinsky wrote Dye had attached “one of the worst insults imaginable to young men who suited up for (his) school.”

Dye told AL.com that he had apologized privately to Kiehl Frazier, one of three quarterbacks on last year’s team.

Frazier’s dad accepted the apology.

That wasn’t the only interesting thing that Dye said on Monday.

On the 2012 team as a whole:

“I’ve been in football since 1952, started playing in eighth grade in 1952 and 2012 was the worst year in my football life at Auburn. I’ve never been sick of seeing kids quit.”

On Arkansas and Bret Bielema:

“You know, Bielema at Arkansas, you know, he needs to keep his mouth shut. I don’t know what it is. He wants to slow the game down, he wants to do this, he wants to do this, he wants to do that…. But anyway, they came out in the swinging gate on a field goal formation and ended up throwing for a first down at the 1-yard line. They didn’t score cause we held them four downs at the 1-yard line.”

Scarbinksy wrote that it’s Dye who needs to watch what he says — or say nothing at all.

“Increasingly, he comes across, not as a legendary former football coach, but as a retired crank who can’t let go of the spotlight. It’s past time for him to let it go, to be admired for what he did, not reviled for what he’s said.”

Were Dye’s quotes “off the record?” The short answer is no. A speaker in front of hundreds of people cannot unilaterally declare something off the record. In this case, Dye didn’t even attempt to do so. He merely asked someone to turn off a camera. The Knoxville Quarterback Club is a widely attended, widely publicized event held in a public place. Media are always present and report on the weekly speaker’s comments.

Here’s an interview conducted with Dye after his speech.

Vols a 7-point underdog at home against No. 7 Auburn

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — The seventh-ranked Auburn Tigers are a touchdown favorite over Tennessee this weekend.

The Vols (4-5, 1-4 SEC) play Auburn (8-1, 4-1) on Saturday at Neyland Stadium (TV: ESPN, noon).

Wynn Las Vegas stuck with the offshore line of 7 points, although we also saw 7.5 and 8 points at times.

In the Sagarin ratings, the rating scale gives Auburn a 9.84-point advantage on a neutral site and a 6.35-point edge at Tennessee.