Auburn seniors see big differences from 2012 debacle
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Cornerback Jonathan Jones thinks Auburn players are keeping the faith this time. Wide receiver Jonathan Wallace feels the Tigers have better leadership now than during a 2012 season that started badly and turned disastrous.
Auburn (3-2, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) is trying to avoid a similar fate this season but there is some common ground between the two teams.
Once again, the Tigers have had off-the-field trouble and a highly touted quarterback - Kiehl Frazier then, Jeremy Johnson now - who struggled badly. Both teams were two years removed from playing for a national championship and coming off 8-5 seasons.
There's a lot of football left to avoid a similarly miserable ending to that 3-9 team that didn't win an SEC game.
''The biggest difference I would say is chemistry,'' Jones said. ''You can just feel it in practice. In 2012, I could sense people were giving up. No one's lost faith, no one's lost hope here. Everyone's fighting. Practice is still live and everyone's jumping around and excited. Any time you have energy, that's the main point. People want to bring energy to practice and come out and play.''
Wallace, then a freshman, ended up taking over as starting quarterback but three passers started games. Redshirt freshman Sean White has started the past two games, and coach Gus Malzahn has reopened the competition during an open date before visiting Kentucky Thursday, Oct. 15.
Auburn's slide started late last season. The Tigers have only won one of their last seven games against teams from power 5 conferences, beating Louisville in the opener. A bowl berth remains far from assured for a team that mostly hasn't been able to stop the run or get going offensively.
Like Jones, Wallace doesn't think the comparison holds up with the 2012 season that ended with the firing of coach Gene Chizik. Malzahn had left his job as offensive coordinator to take over the Arkansas State program before that season, and Chizik tried to switch to a pro-style offense.
''The difference on this team is we actually have some leaders that step up, and not just say something but actually do something to help police this team around,'' Wallace said. ''A coach can only do so much. Coach Malzahn has made it a point that this is our team. We have to do whatever it takes to reach our goals and aspirations playing this game. We're willing to do whatever it takes to make sure this team gets back to winning football.''
The open week started poorly. Malzahn announced the dismissal of starting wide receiver D'haquille Williams, who had been suspended multiple times, Monday night.
In 2012, off-the-field issues were bad enough that Chizik hired a private security firm to enforce a nightly curfew for his players. It doesn't seem nearly to that point so far this season, but Williams was expected to be one of the Tigers' biggest playmakers.
''All teams are going to have people getting in trouble when things happen on and off the field, but it's up to the team to come together and put that to the side and say, `Hey, we're going to focus on football,''' Jones said. ''We've always been able to do that.''
What Auburn hasn't been able to do, like in 2012, is pass the ball successfully. The Tigers rank 115th nationally in passing offense and 109th in total yards.
White has started the past two games with no touchdown passes but only one interception.
Johnson was intercepted six times in three starts, but also threw five touchdown passes.
''He looks more comfortable and he had two good weeks of practice, so hopefully that will be a good thing for the rest of the year,'' Malzahn said.
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org