AUBURN — In a week where Auburn head coach Hugh Freeze has suggested doing away with the traditionally A-Day format in favor of state scrimmages, such as Auburn-UAB and Alabama-Troy, the first-year head coach is bringing his own changes to A-Day on the Plains.
Instead of starting 0-0 with two teams competing, A-Day will be a strictly offense vs. defense showcase, with the defense starting the game up 24-0, giving the offense 60 minutes and a running clock to take the lead and ultimately win the game.
"If the defense can hold the offenses to under that number of points the defense wins the spring game and they'll get to eat steak and the losers will eat a hot dog," said Freeze. "That's the best format I know."
What to look for on offense
Auburn ended last season with Robby Ashford as the starting quarterback, and while Freeze has landed Walker White as a part of next year's class, the quarterback room remains the same heading into the 2023 season. T.J. Finley has the most experience, Robby Ashford ended the season as the starter and Holden Geriner was the highly touted recruit under Bryan Harsin.
Freeze has stuck with his depth chart being very fluid and has not named a starter, but Saturday's contest will be Auburn fans' first real chance to see possibly all three quarterbacks in action under the new staff.
Blocking for the quarterbacks will be a new-look offensive line, with Tate Johnson, Avery Jones and Gunner Britton all in the mix under offensive line coach Jake Thorton. With several departures from last season, the unit is looking for a consistent five to lead the way, and Saturday's game could be the first real glimpse of that.
Tank Bigsby is gone, and Jarquez Hunter is clearly in the driver's seat to take over for the former three-year starter, but the rest of the depth chart features a variety of options. Damari Alston has the most experience in the orange-and-blue, while Brian Battle offers a different skillset and experience from USF
"All the running backs are homerun hitters if you give them an opportunity, but they all have their own uniqueness about what makes them difficult to tackle," said senior linebacker Wesley Steiner.
Carnell 'Cadillac' Williams already recruited another potential star in Jeremiah Cobb, and he sees this game as a chance for his group to prove themselves and stand out above the rest.
"Whenever you get the opportunity to showcase your skills take advantage of it," said Williams, who is the associate head coach and running backs coach. "I love to say, 'Earn the right to run the football.' On A-Day, the Auburn family will be watching. It will be a like a gameday atmosphere in Jordan-Hare. I'm looking forward to A-Day. I'm looking forward, offensively and defensively, to see how we gel."
What to look for on defense
Steiner said it best on Wednesday, the depth chart remains very undefined.
"We have a very fluid depth chart. So I've gone all over the place," Steiner said. "Defense has been pretty dominant for the most part, obviously offense has had some days I think yesterday, the offense had one of their best days against us."
With Eku Leota, Derick Hall and Colby Wooden all heading to the draft, Auburn is in search of new pass rushers to bring the heat on opposing quarterbacks, and the Tigers might have that in Elijah McAllister. McAllister, along with Kentucky transfer Justin Rogers will bring experience to a defensive front that lacks experience without Leota and Hall. Jeffrey M'Ba is another player that could take a step forward this season, and Saturday's scrimmage could be that first step.
On the back end, Auburn returns most of that unit, including D.J. James, Jaylin Simpson, Keionte Scott and Nehemiah Pritchett returning. Kaylin Lee is one of the newcomers and was a top-25 player coming out of Georgia according to 247Sports and Rivals and while it is unlikely that Freeze will showcase all of Auburn's tricks, Lee could standout on Saturday.
What to look for on special teams
Under the new format, it remains to be seen as to how special teams could factor in, but there are some question marks with that unit.
For the first time since the 2013 season, the Tigers' primary placekicker will not be from the Carlson family. With Anders Carlson graduating at the end of the last season, Alex McPherson has stepped in to fill the void for the Tigers. McPherson is a redshirt freshman and saw limited action last season, appearing in three games and hitting 6-of-7 field goal attempts, including a career-long 51-yarder.
Oscar Chapman has returned for another season as the punter, giving Auburn some much-needed stability, while Auburn's return team is still TBD.
Despite several question marks at key positions, Freeze's message to the Auburn fans ahead of the first "game" in his tenure has been consistent.
"Unrealistic expectations lead to frustration," Freeze said. "I don't want anybody to be frustrated. Don't want to show too much of what we think we might be really good at. There's nothing on tape of what this new staff is exactly like."
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