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Friday “preview”: Furman

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I’m not dignifying this as a competitive contest by breaking down the stats and stakes and all that like I usually do. Furman is a run-of-the-mill I-AA team that lost its only game against I-A competition by 52. Auburn is going to win, and it won’t be all that close. Or at least, it won’t be without the mother of all horrific performances on Auburn’s part, and that doesn’t seem likely enough to make it worthwhile to, say, look up Furman’s punt return average.

So instead, I’m just going to list 10 things I’d like to see from Auburn tomorrow:

1. Touchdowns on three of the offense’s first four drives. Success for Auburn against Furman isn’t going to be measured by points or victory margin or yardage or anything like that: it’s going to be determined by how fast the starters can get the coaches comfortable with pulling them off the field. I don’t have to explain to you how badly Auburn needs the rest by this point of the season; Auburn’s defense has faced a staggering 649 snaps already this year, fifth-most in the country, and guys like Craig Stevens and Neiko Thorpe and Josh Bynes have been out there for more than 600 of them. They’ve gotta get some time on the bench.

And I figure going up 21-0 early should be enough to give it to them.

2. In that same vein: Onterio McCalebb sitting the game out. I doubt he’s going to, because the coaches know as well as we do–OK, better than we do–that a healthy McCalebb brings a dimension to the Auburn offense that it otherwise just doesn’t have … and that that dimension would be an awfully nice thing to have in Athens and against the Tide.

3. Demond Washington looking reasonably comfortable at safety. If Todd and the receivers are going to continue their play from last week, safety becomes far and away the biggest question mark on the team with Etheridge out … and it might stay that way even if the passing game regresses again. Auburn will be trotting out a safety pairing of 1. an undersized first-year JUCO transfer who’s spent the year at corner and has never played the position before 2. a true freshman.

That makes it sound worse than it is, because Daren Bates has been every bit as solid as we could ask him to be this season, while Washington has both a history of adaptability and a number of solid plays under his belt at Auburn already. But this is still a less-than-optimal situation, and bears watching tomorrow.

4. Run-stuffing from the defensive tackles. The long ground-centric drives put together the last few weeks by the likes of Kentucky and Ole Miss have started–as these things so often do–up front. Mike Blanc and Jake Ricks have been solid by-and-large against the pass and have gotten it done in spurts against the run, but they’ve also had spells where both have gotten shoved around and some huge holes have opened up in the middle of the field. Seeing anything similar happen against Furman would be a bad sign with the Tide coming over the horizon.

5. Some sparks from Deangelo Benton and Emory Blake. By now it’s obvious that Benton had too much rust and Blake not quite enough polish to contribute as freshmen, but that’s not a crime. What’s discouraging is that even in their brief appearances, we’ve seen them make more drops than catches. With Adams and Zachery going nowhere in front of them, and Antonio Goodwin and possibly Trovon Reed coming in behind them (to say nothing of Stallworth, Carr, etc.), Benton and Blake could get squeezed out if they don’t take a big step forward between now and next fall. Seeing some sort of confirmation against Furman that they’ve got the skills to take that step would be encouraging.

6. Neil Caudle not throw an interception. That “Caudle should replace Todd” talk sure died a quick and painless death, didn’t it? Nonetheless, Caudle is still one hit away from taking the field against Georgia or Alabama, and will be right in the mix–and maybe even the favorite–for the job in 2010. Seeing him get major time (as, God willing, he will) without throwing one of his allegedly-trademark picks would help keep the Auburn-related nerves at least semi-soothed should he have to replace Todd or get named the starter next year.

7. Oh, and on the subject of quarterbacks, Todd not revert back to Kentucky status, please. Obvs.

8. A bunch of third-and-short conversions. Tigers were better against Ole Miss than against LSU or Kentucky–even with the one-yard failures in the first half–but this still looks like the biggest hurdle to clear in order to get the offense back to the land of 500-yard, 40-point candy-colored dreams that might make victory in Athens likely and an upset over ‘Bama feasible.

9. Some promise on the backup offensive line. Already this year we’ve seen Bart Eddins position himself as the potential heir to Andrew McCain’s throne as “the other guy” on the 2010 line (though he’s not a natural tackle), but aside from Eddins the 2010 second-string and 2011 starting lineup are still major question marks. Seeing Vance Smith, John Sullen, Jared Cooper, etc. push around the Paladins would make any 2010 injuries or the wholesale revamp coming in ’11 a little less terrifying.

10. Jay Wisner catching a touchdown pass. I just think this would be cool.

I’ll be back tomorrow a.m. with the traditional Gameday post. See you then.

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