Daily Archive for December 13th, 2007

Clemson coaches skeptical

CLEMSON — When Tommy Bowden was hired to be Auburn’s offensive coordinator before the 1990 Peach Bowl, he did little more than serve as a fly on the wall.

After arriving from Kentucky, Bowden observed practices and sat in the coaches box during the bowl.

“But I said nothing,” Bowden said.

Bowden expects Auburn’s newest arrival — same circumstances, same bowl game — to make only slightly more of an immediate impact.

Auburn hired spread-offense specialist Tony Franklin as its offensive coordinator Wednesday, adding an interesting twist to Clemson’s preparations for the Dec. 31 Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.

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Franklin’s no-huddle, pass-heavy system is a stark contrast to the West Coast offense used by his predecessor, Al Borges, who resigned Tuesday.

Franklin served as offensive coordinator for Hal Mumme’s “Air Raid” attack at Kentucky in 2000 before the NCAA put the Wildcats on probation for major recruiting violations.

Left to toil in the high school ranks, Franklin surfaced at Troy in 2005, taking an offense that ranked No. 111 in total yardage and elevating the Trojans to No. 17 one season later.

Auburn begins bowl practices Friday and will have five workouts before departing for the holiday break and reconvening Dec. 26 in Atlanta.

Clemson coaches are skeptical Franklin can quickly transform Auburn’s methodical power-running offense into a pass-happy machine.

“We’re not going to panic and abort everything we’ve practiced,” said Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, who served two years at Troy (2003-04) but came to Clemson before Franklin was hired. “It would probably be hard for them to do a lot of things different.

“But I’m sure that Tony’s a good enough coach that if they let him, he’ll find some things he can do.”

Franklin told reporters he is not sure who will call plays against Clemson and said he will not overhaul the Tigers’ offense in the next two weeks.

“I just want to be there and kind of watch and get a head-start on evaluating the talent for this spring,” Franklin said. “If I’ve got a suggestion of something we could do, maybe a little wrinkle or something, that would be good.”

With that in mind, Bowden said the most likely scenario would be for Auburn to take its spread package reserved for second-string quarterback Kodi Burns and highlight that as its base set — which the Tigers did in a 19-14 loss to Mississippi State in mid-November.

Bowden said he would not be shocked if tight ends Steve Ensminger, a former coordinator at Clemson, Texas A&M and Georgia, took the reins because of his play-calling experience.

“I could see them flip-flopping and working 13, 14 days on that little part and get real good at it,” Bowden said.

“We’ll just have to guess.”

Extra points. With exam week in progress, Bowden said he would likely know of any academic casualties Saturday. As for senior linebackers Tramaine Billie and Nick Watkins — the only two players held out of practice for studying purposes — Bowden said: “I’ve been told their chances were slim to be back this year, and they were. So I don’t know.” … Offensive coordinator Rob Spence said it would be inconceivable to install his system in Franklin’s position because of the no-huddle element but said with some “creativity” Franklin could make some drastic changes.

I am impressed. What’s up Tony!

Auburn’s offense is about to undergo a major facelift.

Out is the run-first, five-step drop, West Coast style offense. In is the ultra-hot spread offense that has brought a number of non-traditional powers of the college football world like West Virginia, Texas Tech, Oregon, Missouri and Kansas into the national spotlight.

With the hiring of noted spread offense guru Tony Franklin as offensive coordinator, Auburn is joining the growing number of college and high school teams that run the fast-paced attack.

Troy Athletics
Franklin is bringing the spread offense to Auburn.

“The biggest thing is that we want to try to get the ball to the people who deserve to have it in their hands,” said Franklin. “At Troy this year, we had 14 different receivers catch touchdown passes.

“Basically, we spread the field. We can use the same personnel in every formation imaginable without having to change personnel. We also can change personnel in and out.”

Running a no-huddle attack, Franklin said Troy led the nation with 81.5 offensive snaps per game.

“We play fast. We practice fast,” said Franklin. “It gives you a huge advantage as far as trying to control the tempo of the ballgame. When you’re on offense, you should control the tempo. The defense should never control anything. They should be defending and you should be attacking.”

Franklin said he prefers to have a mobile quarterback running his offense but it’s not a necessity. Troy quarterback Omar Haugabook threw for 5,376 yards and 39 touchdowns and rushed for 944 yards and 16 touchdowns combined the last two seasons.

“If you’ve got a special guy that can sling it all over the place and he’s perfect on throws, like Couch was at Kentucky, then he doesn’t have to be incredibly mobile,” said Franklin. “But if you’ve got a really good athlete that can run and he can throw with accuracy, all of a sudden he becomes a very dynamic player.

“The kid we had at Troy was a special kid, because No. 1 he was a great competitor, but he was a guy who could run and throw. When you have that, you really cause people problems. We’re going to continue to hopefully have a quarterback who can do both, who can run the football and can throw it. That doesn’t mean he has to be a 4.4, it just means he has to be an athlete and a competitor and willing to stick his nose in there and get dirty a little every now and then.”

Franklin says his current offense has evolved from what they ran at Kentucky where he was an assistant from 1997-2000.

“What we’ve done is, we’ve used some of the base stuff they did, and we still throw a lot of screens to the wide receivers, stuff like that, but we also have tried to incorporate the zone option scheme, similar to what West Virginia does,” he said. “We’ve always believed if you can do both, it’s a pretty dynamic thing.

“When the quarterback can run the football, it just makes a huge difference, just from the simple fact that it gives you an extra guy all the time, an extra blocker.”

Franklin said his system is flexible enough to adapt to whatever talent Auburn returns for next season. While he often used four or five wide receiver sets at Troy, he can use tight ends or running backs in his offense if that’s where the strengths lie.

“You can do all kinds of stuff,” he said. “Missouri has used the spread and 6-foot-5 tight ends to play out in the slot. We’ll do that, we’ll have them in tight, we’ll have them in the slot, they’ll be in the backfield, they’ll be all over the place.

“I coached running backs three years at Kentucky and for those three seasons, we had two running backs together had more yards from scrimmage than any running back combination in the SEC – that’s rushing and receiving combined.”

Franklin said he was surprised when he was first contacted by AU assistant coach Eddie Gran on Sunday about the opening at Auburn. Franklin, who said he’s known Gran for nearly a decade, was driving back from a recruiting trip in Kentucky when he stopped to meet with the AU staff.

“I was basically a little taken aback when Eddie called me,” said Franklin. “It was not something I ever thought would happen. But they’ve won a lot of ballgames, and won championships, doing what they do. I think it’s just a sign there are some good things out there besides sometimes lining up in power things.

“We’ll still do that stuff — I did it at Troy the first year I was there. We didn’t do it as much this year because we couldn’t. It’s just that everybody’s got a different way of doing things.

“But No. 1 is — I still believe this, I say it everywhere — in order to win a championship, you have to be able to play great defense and you have to be able to run the football. If you look at our stats this year, we finished I believe No. 35 in the nation in rushing, and that was with the idea of always throwing the ball first and running second.”

Auburn averages 154.2 rushing yards per game this season. Troy averages 182.6 rushing yards per game on 34 fewer carries.

Franklin, who will also serve as Auburn’s quarterbacks coach, will join the team for the start of bowl practice Friday but said his involvement with the bowl game offense will be limited.

“Basically, I just want to be there and watch and get a head start on evaluating the talent for this spring,” said Franklin. “If I’ve got a suggestion, maybe a wrinkle or two, that would be good. I just want to try to see what the players are like and get around them and let them get to know me. If I can give them some advice that can help, that would be good.”

Franklin said he doesn’t anticipate bringing any current Troy assistants to Auburn and will work with the current AU staff to implement his system for spring drills. He also plans to get involved with AU’s recruiting efforts as soon as possible.

“The very second I’m cleared to go from Auburn, which I’m sure whatever paper work that I have to do, that I’ll be able to do it,” said Franklin. “The very second they allow me to do that…hopefully, it will be before they go dead. Recruiting is the life blood of any program, and it’s something that I’ve been fortunate I’ve been successful with, so I’m looking forward to recruiting for Auburn.”

The upcoming dead period for recruiting, which prohibits face-to-face contact but still allows a weekly phone call, is Dec. 17 through Jan. 3.