AUBURN, Ala. — C.J. Uzomah never got frustrated.
Two games into the season, Auburn’s junior tight end hadn't registered a reception. But with the Tigers notching victories in both, he found no reason to complain. His patience was rewarded last Saturday against Mississippi State, as he caught three passes for 48 yards, none more memorable (or important) than his 11-yard touchdown reception with 10 seconds to play that proved to be the game-winning score.
That head coach Gus Malzahn — and by extension, quarterback Nick Marshall — had confidence in him to come up with the game-deciding grab was a boost to Uzomah’s self-esteem.
“That gives me confidence, knowing that (Malzahn) has confidence in us and me,” he said Tuesday. “The fact that Nick and I practice that throw a lot after practice and during practice, (Malzahn) feels like he's not going to call a play if he doesn't feel confident in it.”
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Ending each of his first two games without a reception was even easier for Uzomah when the coaching staff lauded other aspects of his game.
“We have game plans each week and me not getting me the ball is fine with me as long as we win,” he said. “I felt like I've been blocking pretty well, so that's a confidence booster for me, and to hear (offensive line) Coach (J.B.) Grimes and (tight ends) Coach (Scott) Fountain praise me for my blocking is kind of rewarding.”
Saturday was also gratifying for the receiving corps as a whole, Uzomah said. After leaning on the run in wins over Washington State and Arkansas State, Auburn was forced to take to the air to win its Southeastern Conference opener. The passing game was still far from perfect, as receivers dropped on-target passes for the third straight week. Uzomah said it hasn’t been a concern.
It’s the same attitude the Tigers’ pass-catchers will exhibit the remainder of the season.
“Nobody wants to drop a ball, and that's something that you're kind of like, 'Man, you don't want to put it to heart or in the back of your head,’” Uzomah said. “But in practice especially, if you drop a ball we've gotten better with, 'OK, we dropped it, we have to move on to the next play and make up for it.' I think the prime example (last week) was Quan (Bray) on one of the plays where he dropped a ball. We came right back to him the next play and he scored an 81-yard touchdown or however long it was.”
Malzahn: SEC still defined by defense
The SEC has always prided itself on fielding stingy defenses.
But last weekend provided examples of how that may be changing.
Top-ranked Alabama held off Texas A&M 49-42, with the figure signifying the most points it has allowed in head coach Nick Saban's tenure. They also allowed the Aggies to accumulate 628 yards, the most an opponent has ever gained against the Crimson Tide. Fellow top-10 SEC squad LSU tallied nearly 600 yards of total offense in its win over Kent State.
At the opposite end, Tennessee’s defense was decimated by No. 2 Oregon, as the Ducks gashed the Volunteers for 59 points and 687 total yards.
Malzahn wasn’t aware of the numbers put up by other league teams last Saturday, but was certain the pendulum would swing back in the other direction soon enough.
“In the (SEC) West specifically, there may be a week that a team gives up a lot of yards,” he said. “But year in and year out, it's going to be the best defensive league in college football, and I still believe at the end of the day it will be.”
Malzahn emphasizes clock management
The controversial ending to last week’s Wisconsin/Arizona State game — which saw officials not act with proper urgency placing the ball down, as the clock expired and cost Wisconsin an opportunity for another play — provided yet another moment for the Tigers’ coaching staff to educate players on the importance of clock management.
“We've addressed that numerous times in fall camp and periodically since the season started,” Malzahn said. “You're always trying to play what if in the game situations, to have your guys prepared. We've worked extremely hard on those situations, and hopefully when one comes up, we'll be prepared and it will work out.”
Malzahn said that cornerback Chris Davis and defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker are both “day-to-day” this week. He provided no other information pertaining to their status for Saturday. Malzahn seemed to imply that Davis and center Reese Dismukes, who have served as team captains in each of the first three games, will likely keep that designation for the rest of the year. “I just like putting guys out there and being consistent in a lot of different things,” he said, “and that's one of them.”