After a disastrous 2012, the 2013 spring game is new Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn's opportunity to show fans what the Tigers will look like under his watch.
After the team went 3-9 just two years after winning a national championship, there are plenty of questions surrounding this team. With inner-state rival Alabama at the peak of college football right now the pressure will be on Malzahn to get instant results from the outset.
Considering the Tigers strong presence on the recruiting trail and revamped coaching staff, they could be one of the most interesting teams in college football this season. If it turns out that Chizik was the issue, they could be in for a quick turnaround.
The spring game should lend some insight into just how improved we can expect this team to be from last season. Here are the keys to watch during the game Saturday.
Kiehl Frazier or Jonathan Wallace at quarterback?
Perhaps the biggest questions surrounding the Tigers roster next season is who Malzahn will be starting at quarterback.
Kiehl Frazier is the returning starter, but his play last season was, well—it was bad. In the six games that he had multiple pass attempts he threw for two touchdowns and eight interceptions while only completing 52.8 percent of his passes.
Those numbers would be bad enough for most quarterbacks to be completely dismissed as a starter the next season, but the presence of Malzahn makes things interesting. His spread attack is an ideal situation for an athletic quarterback like Frazier to be in and he will have an opportunity to compete for the job.
Sophomore Jonathan Wallace has provided the competition for Frazier throughout spring practice. He threw for four touchdowns with four interceptions when pressed into action last season. As AL.com reports, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee sees the two as pretty even heading into the spring game:
They're splitting the reps right now...Nothing will change. One guy will do a little better one day; one the other, maybe. They've been pretty even. They've been great. They've been competing hard.
With both players getting even reps the spring game, the best player for the job should emerge.
Will a new-look scheme solve defensive woes?
The Tigers were just atrocious on defense last season.
Though the offense was among the worst in the country, the defense giving up 28.3 points per game didn't help matters.
With new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson installing a 4-2-5 defense in the offseason, the Tigers will at least have some different personnel on the field. The 4-2-5 only utilizes two true linebackers and two true safeties with a hybrid linebacker/safety player that can attack the line of scrimmage or play in coverage.
The scheme should shake things up for Auburn and teams like TCU have built great defenses with a similar philosophy. The spring game will be the first taste of what it will look like for the orange and blue to run the scheme.
Which sleepers will emerge?
With all of the issues this team had last season there's plenty of opportunity for lesser-known players and young guns to step up and be stars.
The Tigers have a handful of early enrollees that could make an early impact. Junior college transfer running back Cameron Artis-Payne figures to compete for the starting position. Defensive lineman Ben Bradley could be the next in a long line of successful defensive tackle to come from Auburn and offensive lineman Devonte Danzy will have the opportunity to win a starting spot.
Spring games are all about the unproven players utilizing the moment in the spotlight. Auburn needs a few to shine if it wants to have a turnaround in Malzahn's first year as head coach.
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