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Notes from the Beat, 10/21

The Mystery That is Chris Todd. Oh, this is harsh, but it is also funny and unless we see something different on Saturday, fair:

Todd's Bodd: 'You said we did it for a shoulder.'
Todd's Bodd: 'You said we did it for a shoulder.'

So after Gene Chizik spoke yesterday, do we know anything more about the odds on seeing that “something different” from Auburn’s QB?

Asked di­rectly about the structural rigid­ity of quarterback Chris Todd’s shoulder Tuesday, coaches seemed at least somewhat eva­sive.

Asked if Todd’s shoulder was “100 percent,” head coach Gene Chizik didn’t provide a strong affirmation.

“Chris Todd is fine,” he said …

“I think Chris Todd is fine,” offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. “I think any quarterback in the country — Week 8, who’s thrown a little bit — is maybe going to be a little bit different than the first game. I think he’s no different than anybody else.”

Ay, but here’s the rub: Todd the past two weeks has not been “a little bit different,” at least in terms of final performance. He’s been a lot different. And while other beat writers interpreted Chizik’s and Malzahn’s assurances as a little more emphatic, I’m with Tate: if you’re asked “is he 100 percent?” and come back with anything that’s not “Yes, he is,” I’m forced to conclude that he’s not. I have no doubt that the coaches believe Todd can get the job done; at this point, with so many first-hand accounts of Todd’s passes not looking the way they ought to look and his exhaustive injury history, I also don’t have a lot of doubt that his arm just isn’t all that healthy.

First things first.The first two losses of the season, one in something bordering on a rout, the other a hair-pullingly frustrating offensive no-show to echo certain parts of 2008: time to check on how the team’s psyche is doing, isn’t it?

Antoine Carter saw the losses mount on the field and the direction of the team go south in the locker room last season.

The Auburn defensive end says that won’t happen to the Tigers this year, even after two straight losses.

“It’s different from lastyear. The team is not dividing,” says Carter. “It’s a strong family this year – a stronger bond” …

Carter and others have acknowledged this fall that a split in last year’s team served to undermine the season, especially down the stretch when Auburn lost six of its final seven games.

Carter says Auburn doesn’t want to go back there.

“Like Coach (Gene Chizik) said, `You can’t let your opponents see you sweat,'” Carter said. “You can’t hang your head. You’ve just got to move on to the next week.”

OK, so we can’t expect Carter (or Chizik or Todd or Trott, all of whom are quoted in the story saying “Everything’s swell!”) to really say anything different. But if you’ll remember the vibe after the second loss to 2008–the 14-13 apocalypse against Vandy that prompted Tate to openly question Franklin’s offense and Burns to say it “wasn’t what he came to Auburn” for–this still qualifies as a dramatic improvement over the horrors of last fall.

Chizik. Yesterday’s presser didn’t reveal much: he says nice things about LSU, he says the team is still positive, he says (again) that the depth concerns are affecting the way the team practices. Maybe the most interesting thing is his emphasis on the team’s 5-2 record, as K-Scar points out in a typically insightful column:

For the record, Gene Chizik reminded people Tuesday of his Auburn football team’s record. “We’re 5-2,” he said. “We’re not 2-5.”

He said it to the mass media at his weekly press conference.

He said the same thing to me beforehand in a phone interview.

That he felt the need to say it at all, let alone repeat it, says something about him and something about us …

There are 22 new head coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Among them, only Chip Kelly of 5-1 Oregon has a better record than Chizik.

And Chizik didn’t exactly inherit a championship team. Under Tommy Tuberville, Auburn had lost to at least one unranked opponent for four straight years and in eight out of 10 seasons overall …

Why would anyone think that, all of a sudden, Auburn should be beyond losing a football game to a basketball school like Kentucky?

Besides, Kentucky football has been to three straight bowl games. Auburn football can’t say the same.

For every Terry Bowden, who won his first 20 starts at Auburn and is 8-0 in his reincarnation at North Alabama, there’s a Pete Carroll.

“What was USC in Pete Carroll’s first year?” Chizik asked.

Answer: 6-6. And Bob Stoops was 7-5 in his first year at Oklahoma. And Nick Saban was 7-6 in his first year at Alabama.

It’s still a long way from Chizik to those other former defensive coordinators, but there was a reason their schools, like Auburn, changed coaches in the first place.


We’re not the only ones. So, Ted Roof, how soon would you like to feel comfortable replacing Adam Herring with Eltoro Freeman?

“[A]s soon as possible.”

“I want this process to speed up and move forward,” Roof said. “[Freeman]”s approaching it the right way. He’s just got to make a positive stride every day.”

OK, so being able to actually rotate different linebackers in–what a concept!–probably has as much to do Roof’s anxiousness as Herring’s play, but still, if Roof was satisfied with the job Herring was doing, I don’t think he’d respond with quite so much enthusiasm when asked about Freeman’s timetable. (For his part, Chizik said Freeman had to “earn” a return to the linebacking rotation but also didn’t rule it out.)

Bleah. Will mentioned something this week that I thought about myself Saturday night: if you’re going to use a gimmick formation, it’s no secret you have to explain it to officials ahead of time so they understand why it’s legal and don’t get nervous and trigger-happy at something they have to figure out on the fly. Since the flag on Auburn’s critical 3rd-and-6 came for false start rather than illegal formation I assumed Malzahn had prepped the officials and that Auburn had just fouled up the execution … and while the latter’s still true, it turns out the former is not:

Both Chizik and Malzahn agreed that the call was correct, but Malzahn was annoyed that the officials seemed confused about the unique formation, standing over the ball when the Tigers appeared ready to go. “You’d have to ask them. I have no idea,” Malzahn said. “It’s a play we’ve ran for about 15 years and never had that happen before, so I don’t know.”

15 years of success or not, Malzahn should have done his due diligence and gotten the refs ready to see what Auburn was going to throw at them. That fourth quarter just wasn’t our Mad Scientist’s finest hour, huh? (For the record, unlike some Auburn fans I’ve read, I’m fine with the play-call: if you have a play you have confidence in and that the players have been drilled enough in to execute, you can’t be afraid to use it with the game on the line. Just ask Boise.)

More from that same exhaustive Bitter link:

— Ziemba doesn’t sound intimidated by Death Valley much at all, calling Florida Field the loudest stadium he’s been in.

— McFadden expects the game to come down to the “last play,” and given the way this series has gone the last several years, that’s pobably accurate.

— Malzahn says he’s making adjustments: “Each week, you’re evolving to how you think the offense should be.” His frustration at being unable to hit passes downfield, however, seems subtly palpable.

Etc. Hot Tate on Tate action … It’s not like LSU’s offense against Auburn’s defense is a mismatch, writes Andrew Gribble … Malzahn says his offenses have gone through growing pains before.

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