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Balancing act: Auburn passing spreads catches around

Oct. 19, 2013

Ricardo Louis has come on to be Auburn's leading receiver at the halfway point of the season (Todd Van Emst photo)

By Charles Goldberg

COLLEGE STATION, Texas  Auburn coach Gus Malzahn usually finds a receiver he likes early in a season and makes him a catching king. It's been a little different this year in his second-go-round with Auburn. 

Auburn's top four receivers have 15, 14, 13 and 12 catches. They'll be looking to add to those numbers starting at 2:30 p.m. today when the Tigers play Texas A&M at Kyle Field. It's a CBS headliner: Both teams are 5-1 overall, 2-1 in the Southeastern Conference and nationally ranked. 

A&M's defense is susceptible to a strong running game. Auburn has one of those. But coupling starting quarterback Nick Marshall with freshman quarterback Jeremy Johnson adds t a little mystery to Auburn's plan. It'll be the first time the two have played together following Johnson's debut last week while Marshall sat out with an injury. 

Malzahn's plan? 

"It'll make a lot more sense as we move forward," he said earlier in the week

One of Auburn's primary needs this season was to find a replacement for wide receiver Emory Blake, who led the Tigers in receptions the last two years. What Auburn has found is not one replacement but a balanced receiving corps of players who have, for the most part, have already caught more passes in the first six games than all of last season. 

Ricardo Louis leads the team with 15 catches. He had three last year. Marcus Davis has 14 catches. He's a freshman. Sammie Coates has 13 caches. He had six last year. Quan Bray has 12 catches. He began the year as Auburn's leading returning receiver, with 14. 

That balance is different from Malzahn's first year as Auburn's offensive coordinator in 2009. Darvin Adams went from three catches to 60. Malzahn had one guy catch 70 passes and another 69 in his first year at Tulsa. Last year, at Arkansas State, freshman J.D. McKissic caught 103 passes. 

It's different now. It's still winning. 

Now enter Melvin Ray, who had his first three career catches last week. 

"He's a young man that's worked extremely hard over the last three or four weeks in practice," said offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee. "You're really proud of a guy when it shows on the field. He made a couple of big third-down catches." 

And Davis has a freshman catching mate in Tony Stevens, who was slowed early in the year by an injury. 

"Tony Stevens keeps coming on," Lashlee said. "I was good to see him score a touchdown. His reps are continuing to mount. 

"Trovon Reed was a little more involved; we got the ball to Quan Bray a little bit, so it was good to spread it around. That was our goal going in. We knew we were going to run the football, but we wanted to make plays in the passing game and we were able to do that. " 

That'll be the goal again, to keep up with Johnny Manziel and the Aggies.

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:



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