Scrimmage spin, when anything can happen.
Al Borges' first two seasons at Auburn each ended with his offense atop the SEC in scoring, a unit that, in 17 games against the best defensive conference in the nation, was held under 20 points just twice (both against LSU, the latter AU's only conference loss in that span, in overtime) and topped 30 points ten times. Yet, after scoring 34 against Mississippi State with a healthy Kenny Irons, Borges' offense didn't crack 30 again in its last seven league games, averaged a measly 321 yards in all games, scored just 10 and 15 points in a pair of losses and won games in which it accounted for 7, 12, 15 and 17 points. What happened?
Clearly, above all, injuries. Irons was hurt most of the time and only sorta effective when he was in the lineup. Brandon Cox, fighting as ever through Myasthenia Gravis, took nearly every significant snap while being battered, sacked 34 times, and hobbled with tedious knee and ankle aches most of that time. Nobody's calling Cox a gimp here, but we can say, at least, the jury was out after his sophomore season, when he threw as many interceptions in his first start (4) as he did over his next eleven and had the benefit of Irons rolling through linebackers like Sonic the Hedgehog. So you might presume the deliberations continued after his passing average fell to 128 yards against winning teams as a junior, bottoming out with a 35-yard, four-interception disaster against Georgia.
But you would probably have also missed Auburn's Spring "A Day" Game Saturday, where Cox was the total hotness. Rave reviews:
"Cox, Billings shine," says Charles Goldberg in The Birmingham News :
Cox and Auburn's offense looked remarkably healthy for the first time this spring - and maybe for the first time since opening day last season - as the first-team Blue squad won the annual A-Day Game 27-7 in front of 31,757 fans in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Cox, back from a knee and an ankle injury that hurt his effectiveness last year, threw for 286 yards. More importantly, Montez Billings came out of nowhere at wide receiver. He emerged as a legitimate target for an offense that conducted a much-publicized search to find someone to replace Courtney Taylor and to play alongside veteran Rod Smith.
"Midseason form!" cheers The Mobile Press-Register:
He's back, he's healthy and he's primed for a big senior season.
"If he stays healthy," said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, "he'll be one of the better quarterbacks in the country."
Phillip Marshall of The Huntsville Times cries, "On target!" :
"It was pretty fun being able to score some points," Cox said. "It was the A-Day game, and they did a lot of base things. But in the past we really haven't been able to do anything against them on A-Day."
The sequel to "Undefeated 2004?" asks Chris Low on behalf of ESPN
Cox: Endless cool under simulated pressure.
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SMQ can only assume Borges means there that he's going to bring in two running backs drafted among the top five overall picks and an all-SEC quarterback also bound for the first round. He might have had one third of that equation last year, for the brief moments Irons was healthy, and might have something close with a healthy Cox and Brad Lester, Carl Stewart and Ben Tate in the backfield. It's possible.
Here, though, comes the temperance movement:
How suspicious is the automatic notion that the defense is never anything but super studly, and anyone who throws for 280 yards against it must be, too - could the headlines have easily read "Defense Sucks Fat One in A-Day Game" and wrung hands over the fate of a unit that was ripped to shreds by Brandon Cox, whose numbers Saturday would represent the best game of the senior-to-be's career to date if they counted? Ah, but see, they were hurt over there. That's all. Just wait until Quentin Groves is back in the Fall, and then you'll see.