Phillip Marshall: Sunday morning observations ...

April 6, 2014

By the time Auburn’s coaching clinic was in full swing Saturday, more than 1,000 coaches from around the country had arrived on campus. It was, by all accounts, the largest crowd ever for Auburn’s annual clinic.

At Saturday’s scrimmage, former lettermen came in droves to tell their stories, share their memories and check out the 2014 Tigers.

Sixteen months after the worst Auburn season in 60 years ended and Gus Malzahn was named head coach, football people want to get closeup looks at Auburn’s program, to see it, to touch it, to understand it.

You don’t go from 3-9 to 12-2 and within seconds of a national championship without really good players, but those players alone aren’t enough. They have come together to combine their talents so that the whole is better than the sum of the parts. Malzahn and the men he brought to join his staff truly have built something special in a remarkably short time.

Saturday’s scrimmage focused on young players. Among those who turned some heads were quarterback Jeremy Johnson, cornerbacks T.J. Davis and Kamryn Melton, safety Brandon King, running back Peyton Barber, wide receiver Stanton Truitt and offensive tackle Robert Leff. Wide receiver D’haquille Williams does something almost every day that gets attention.



Junior college transfer safety Derrick Moncrief was signed to play early. Though defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson won’t say he expects Moncrief to be a starter, he acknowledges Moncrief is better even than he expected.

Senior safety Jermaine Whitehead said after Saturday’s scrimmage that Moncrief served notice from the start of spring practice that he’d come to play.

"He's stood out to me from the first day," Whitehead said. "He learns fast, and he'll hit people with all he's got. We needed someone to step up. He's been the guy doing that so far."

Just when it seemed Auburn’s baseball team was turning the corner in Sunny Golloway’s first season, the Tigers have hit on hard times. Since climbing into the polls for the first time 10 days ago, they have lost six times in seven games and five times in six SEC games. Ole Miss swept a Sunday doubleheader to sweep their three-game series in Oxford.

The starting pitching has remained strong. The bullpen has been shaky. But the big problem is that Auburn hitters have gone to a horrific slump. Even when they get hits, they are stranded or thrown out the bases.

Going back to last Tuesday’s 8-1, the Tigers have scored just seven runs in losing four games and scored one run or less in three of those games. They went 22 consecutive innings without a run against Ole Miss.

Golloway said on his postgame radio interview that he’d “learned the hard way” what it takes to win in the SEC. He acknowledged that he thought his team would be more successful in the running game and manufacturing runs. He said he needs to get “more thunder” in the lineup.

At 18-14 overall and 5-7 in the SEC, Auburn’s season is certainly not a lost cause. But with the toughest part of schedule ahead, starting with next weekend’s series on the road against surprising league leader Alabama, Golloway has no time to waste in the search for answers.

It’s a different game, but I’ve seen two things watching the NCAA Tournament that remind me of Auburn’s run to the BCS Championship Game last football season.

Much like Auburn, Kentucky has time and again made big plays when it mattered most and won close games. And much like Auburn’s players and coaches, after losing 74-73 to Kentucky, Wisconsin players and coaches will never fully shed the disappointment of a national championship that might have been.

Speaking of disappointment, Florida players had to be terribly disappointed with the way they played in losing to UConn. The Gators had a lot of narrow escapes in the Southeastern Conference, and head coach Billy Donovan said several times they had little margin for error. That caught up with them Sunday.

Until next time …


Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for Follow Marshall on Twitter:




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