Thursday Night Football: Auburn at West Virginia
by Matt Severance - 10/22/2008
Boy, how much of a letdown is this Thursday's ESPN nationally televised game and first-ever meeting between Auburn and West Virginia?
Does it look like an even matchup? It does, and WVU is just a 3-point favorite on Sportsbook.com, but that's because both teams have been incredible disappointments, especially on offense, and enter this game unranked after both had BCS National Championship hopes entering the season.
Let's start with Auburn (4-3). Offensive coordinator Tony Franklin was fired only seven games (including last year's bowl) into his Tigers career, as his spread offense was a flop. Entering their Oct. 11 game with Arkansas, the Tigers were 103rd in the country in scoring, 104th in total offense and 103rd in pass offense. So Steve Ensminger, formerly the receivers coach, got his first shot against the Razorbacks and also will direct the offense the rest of the season with input from head coach Tommy Tuberville.
The result vs. Arkansas? Not good. The Tigers' offense accounted for 13 of the team's 22 points in the loss and did that by gaining just 21 yards of offense on three respective drives. And Auburn managed a season-low 56 yards rushing - the ground game had been one of the few occasional positives in previous games. In addition, neither Auburn QB completed 50 percent of his passes and combined for three picks. The Tigers finished with just 11 first downs and 193 total yards.
Yet Ensminger saw progress.
"I want to be positive with the team about it," Ensminger said. "I felt like we were going to win that game offensively. Let's take that positive and carry it on to the next one."
That's called coachspeak.
Tuberville said when he canned Franklin that the team would keep the spread offense, but players have been noticing a change in recent practices. The rest of this season might feature more of a hybrid offense.
"I think it will be smash-mouth," quarterback Kodi Burns said. "I think we're going to give our offensive linemen a chance to get in the three-point stance and fire off the ball a little bit more."
The Tigers rank 69th in the nation in running. Not great, but a giant leap up the rankings from their passing attack.
As for West Virginia, coach Bill Stewart has been feeling major heat in Morgantown after replacing Rich Rodriguez. WVU has been very inconsistent on offense this year with RichRod in Ann Arbor.
A Heisman favorite before the season, QB Pat White has OK numbers: 75-103 passing, 590 yards, nine TDs, 70 carries, 428 yards, two TDs, but he hasn't been the game-changer under Stewart. The Mountaineers are averaging only 22.2 points and 342.2 yards per game; they averaged 456 yards per game last year under Rodriguez.
"They have had some troubles at quarterback like we've had," Stewart said of Auburn. "They've kinda stumbled at times as we've kinda stumbled at times. But they have a pretty good football team, which I hope we still do."
Stewart said he would not be shocked to see a defensive-dominated, low-scoring contest: "Their defense plays pretty darn well; again, much like our defense."
More coachspeak, although he's right: Opponents are scoring only 13.1 ppg vs. Auburn and 14.7 against West Virginia. The over/under for Thursday's game is 38 on Sportsbook.com.
White, who missed the Mountaineers' last game (a close win over Syracuse) with a concussion and a thumb injury, has been back at practice this week and will start.
"I feel like my feet are back under me," he said.
White grew up in Alabama and this will be the first time he faces a home state school. Auburn didn't recruit him out of high school as a quarterback.
WVU hasn't lost on a Thursday night at home since Nov. 25, 1926, but it did lose at Colorado on a Thursday earlier this year. Auburn is 6-1 all-time in Thursday night games, including a 3-0 mark under Tuberville.
Bet on Auburn-WVU at Sportsbook.com