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March 17, 2007

A-Day a big day for junior quarterback

It's safe to say the final score of Saturday's A-Day game was unexpected.

A-Day - like spring practice in general - always seems to be dominated by the defense. The offense - even the first-team offense - usually struggles to make first downs, much less score touchdowns.

But Brandon Cox just wouldn't be denied this year.

The senior quarterback made his last A-Day a memorable one, throwing for three touchdowns in a 27-7 win for the Blue team. The Blue team (AKA the first-team offense) scored the game's first 27 points.

Cox looked surprisingly comfortable against the first-team defense, completing 15 of his 25 passes for 286 yards despite a strong wind. That production was more than enough to earn him Offensive MVP honors.

Last spring, Cox threw the only touchdown in a 7-0 A-Day win for the first-team offense. In 2005, the A-Day final score was 9-0. He was happy to improve on those numbers.

"It was pretty fun going out there and scoring some points," Cox said. "In the past, we haven't really been able to do much in the A-Day game. To score 27 points, compared to last year, that's pretty impressive."

Cox's improved performance this spring was enough to impress offensive coordinator Al Borges. It wasn't perfect; for one thing, the defense wasn't allowed to use most of its blitzes, stunts or coverages.

"You've got to remember the defense was playing very basic," Borges said. "We were playing very basic, too. Quentin Groves doesn't play, so you lose a little pass rush.

"But I don't want to minimize what we did out there. We did some good things. We made a few plays."

But it's an encouraging sign for the offense, which struggled last season after Cox suffered a knee injury.

The second-team offense wasn't quite as successful, despite playing against the second-team defense. Backup quarterbacks Blake Field, Neil Caudle and Steven Ensminger had their moments, but the second-teamers only managed one scoring drive, a 10-play march with Ensminger at the helm.

That drive ended with a 4-yard touchdown run by sophomore tailback Ben Tate.

"I was a little disappointed in the second-team offense," head coach Tommy Tuberville said. "We're not making good decisions at quarterback. It's not bad sometimes to throw the ball away. It seems like we try to force things and turn the ball over.

"We need to find us a No. 2 quarterback that's going to make better decisions. That's what today was about."

Ensminger was 9-for-11 passing for 77 yards; he also threw an interception and was sacked twice. Caudle finished 2-for-8 for 32 yards and an interception, while Field was 3-for-10 passing - playing for the Blue team and the White - for 45 yards.

The difference between the first-team offense and the second team was stark. The Blue team (the first-teamers) had 406 yards of total offense to go with its 27 points. The White team (second- and third-teamers) totaled 164 yards, threw an interception and had four fumbles, though none were lost.

Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp wasn't thrilled with his unit's production. Muschamp was especially disappointed by the big plays. The list of big plays included a 27-yard run by Brad Lester and a host of long passes.

Wideouts Montez Billings (a long of 38 yards), Robert Dunn (34), Rod Smith (32) and Prechae Rodriguez (27) all caught long passes. So did tight ends Gabe McKenzie (48), Cole Bennett (27) and Tommy Trott (19).

All those big plays came against the first-team defense, though Muschamp substituted liberally and backups played plenty of first-team snaps.

Muschamp isn't interested in using the substitutions or the slimmed-down defensive playbook as an excuse.

"We've got to get better," he said. "We're just disappointed with the big plays and the big chunks of yardage."

The defense handled the run game better, holding the first-team offense to 93 yards on 31 carries. Lester had 33 yards on third carries. Backups Mario Fannin, Tate and Tristan Davis split time between the Blue and White teams. Fannin had 42 yards on 14 carries, Tate had 14 for 44 before leaving with a high-ankle sprain.

Davis finished with 62 on 13 carries.

Defensive end Michael Goggans had five tackles and was named the Defensive MVP; he was one of several individual bright spots on defense. Freshman defensive back Zac Etheridge had a game-high 10 tackles, playing for both the Blue and the White.

Eric Brock, Mike Blanc and Walter McFadden each had six stops.

Senior Josh Hebert led the White team with six tackles and an interception.

Collin Mickle covers the Auburn beat for the Opelika-Auburn News.


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