AU offense identifies some playmakers

Sep 6, 2009 - 10:31 PM By JOHN ZENOR AP Sports Writer

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) -- Auburn's new offense wasn't necessarily predictable, mixing up runs and passes and frequently using the Wildcat offense to keep Louisiana Tech off-balance much of the game.

What was predictable: Most of the plays involved the same handful of players, thanks to limitations of youth, suspension and injury. Onterio McCalebb and Ben Tate ran wild against the Bulldogs in Saturday night's 37-13 victory and Mario Fannin caught plenty of balls.

If there was a downside, it's that that playmaking trio touched the ball on 52 of Auburn's 79 offensive plays. And it went to Kodi Burns on direct snaps in the Wildcat formation another nine times.

Freshman receivers Emory Blake and DeAngelo Benton only had the ball thrown their way a couple of times, and neither had a catch. In fact, Chris Todd's 17 completions were divvied up among only four players, including Fannin's eight catches for 82 yards.

"I think it's more of an indication of offensively we're just doing what the defenses give us," coach Gene Chizik said Sunday. "If you're in a particular spot and we feel like the defense is giving us an opportunity to throw to that particular wideout, then that's who gets the ball. If you're a running back or you're in a position where you can get the ball running the football, if the defense gives that to us, then that's what we're going to take.

"I wouldn't read too much into that. I don't think that would accurately define exactly what we're trying to do on offense. Really, it's more of what we feel like has a chance to be successful. That really dictates who gets the ball."

Still, the list of proven playmakers is hardly long. It did perhaps grow by three: McCalebb and receivers Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery - whose 93-yard touchdown catch from Chris Todd was the longest play from scrimmage in school history.

Tim Hawthorne (broken foot) and Montez Billings (academic suspension) were out. Starting linebacker Eltoro Freeman and defensive linemen Nosa Eguae and Zach Clayton also missed the game with injuries.

It didn't matter much against Louisiana Tech (0-1), which was limited to 245 yards. But the Tigers open Southeastern Conference play Saturday against Mississippi State (1-0), a 45-7 winner of Football Championship Subdivision team Jackson State.

"I think this is a big stepping stone but it's the SEC," said freshman safety Daren Bates, one of six first-time starters. "We're going to have to get better."

Mostly the game produced reason for optimism for the Tigers, who struggled offensively last season. Their 556 yards was the most in four years.

McCalebb and Tate combined for 265 yards on 42 carries. Adams caught four passes for 65 yards and a touchdown. Burns ran for a 1-yard touchdown in his first game since being moved from quarterback to receiver.

"Seeing as this was the opener, we weren't really expecting that many looks," Louisiana Tech defensive tackle Anthony Smith said. "They came at us full-throttle."

Auburn did have two promising drives snuffed out by fumbles and Fannin bobbled a punt return that the Tigers managed to recover. They also committed some costly penalties.

Chizik said there was lots of things to fix but labeled them "typical first game stuff" and said they were correctable.

"I thought they played really, really hard," he said. "I really thought that they played through some times that were basically times of adversity. We turned the ball over a couple of times and kind of got past that. We had some penalties that kept drives alive and we rallied past that. As a football team, we overcame some adverse situations. I was really proud to see that."

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