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Spring Game Stories

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 :

The bruises and the knee brace and the athletic tape that were part of Brandon Cox's uniform last season happily didn't make it out of the locker room Saturday.

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.

[The brace and athletic tape were a key part of Auburn's success last year, and yet they're "happily" riding the pine this Spring? Who is happy about it? Did you talk to the bruises? Then how do you know how they feel? And Montez Billings just wandered out of the woods to catch four passes? Never assume, Goldberg! - ed.]

"Midseason form!" cheers The Mobile Press-Register:

After capping a strong spring with a near-perfect performance in Saturday's A-Day game, Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox has effectively erased any lingering doubts.

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!" :

The offense finally had its turn Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
[...]
"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

"We're going to try and get back to doing some of the things we did the first couple of years, being foot loose and fancy free," Borges said.

Cox: Endless cool under simulated pressure.
- - -

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:

With the game played in front of an announced crowd of 31,757 and broadcast on live television, Auburn coaches played it close to the vest and offered little variety on offense or defense. (Mobile Press-Register)
Two defensive starters - end Quentin Groves and nose guard Josh Thompson - were held out so coaches could get longer looks at other players. Linebackers Merrill Johnson and Steve Gandy, defensive tackles Jermarcus Ricks and Sen'Derrick Marks, cornerback Jonathan Wilhite and safety Lorenzo Ferguson didn't play because of injuries.  (Huntsville Times)

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.