Auburn, Southern Miss match up new spread offenses

Published 3:46 pm Friday, September 5, 2008

AUBURN – Southern Miss and No. 9 Auburn both finally took the wraps off their vaunted new offenses last week, trotting out new quarterbacks and mostly skipping those time-consuming huddles.

And proving they still can be dominant running teams.

The Tigers (1-0), at least, have much more to prove. The Golden Eagles (1-0) raced to a a school-record 633 total yards against Louisiana-Lafayette with a solid passing game and the rampant running of Damion Fletcher and Bubba Kirksey.

And Auburn? The Tigers also have multiple tailbacks — and two quarterbacks.

Chris Todd gets the start at quarterback this time over Kodi Burns, whose status is uncertain with a cut on his leg that coach Tommy Tuberville feared might hinder his mobility. Neither had much success passing in an opening win over Louisiana-Monroe.

For all the attention both new offenses received leading up to the season, the openers only showed both teams are still more formidable on the ground.

Fletcher ran for 222 yards and Kirksey added 110 to help ease the load on redshirt freshman quarterback Austin Davis. The Golden Eagles scored 51 points.

“It looked like a track meet,” Tuberville said. “They’re a little similar to us; they run a fast-paced, no huddle offense. They take the ball from underneath the center more than we do. They’ve got two good running backs, and one rushes for more than 200 yards. You’ve got to give that a lot of respect.”

Auburn does have Tristan Davis, mostly used as a kick returner, joining an already loaded backfield that includes Ben Tate, Brad Lester and freshman Eric Smith.

The group was hard to stop once the Tigers mostly turned from an ineffective passing game against Louisiana-Monroe.

“We look forward to having four running backs going into this game,” Tuberville said. “We want to be able to throw the ball but obviously running the football is what we do best. We’re going to have to build on that.”

The onus remains on Todd and Burns to get the passing game going. Montez Billings and James Swinton return from injuries to help boost a receiving corps that had its share of problems, though freshman Philip Pierre-Louis is out for the season with a knee injury.

Austin Davis had a much more auspicious opener than his Auburn counterparts. He passed for 206 yards and highly touted freshman receiver DeAndre Brown was his favorite target for the game.

Auburn defensive end Antonio Coleman said all that makes Fletcher just one of several focal points in stopping Southern Miss.

“You can’t just focus on one player,” Coleman said. “You’ve got him and you’ve got the freshman wide receiver, who is good. We have to focus on the whole team.”

Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora was looking forward to checking out Tony Franklin’s Auburn offense since the two share some characteristics.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for what he does,” Fedora said. “He has proven to have a very good offensive mind wherever he has been and I am sure he will continue that at Auburn. Defensively we will have our work cut out for us because he does such a great job. He gets into the tempos and spreads it out a lot just like we do. It will be interesting to see what the differences are.”