AUBURN -- The Auburn Tigers’ annual spring football game, A-Day, was a celebration of firsts mixed with some historic finality, the occasion was set up that way.
On the field, the Tigers must begin the process of bouncing back from last season’s 3-9 record and winless Southeastern Conference showing. Auburn must be ready to race forward in the new era of Gus Malzahn at the helm.
Off the field, Saturday was the final time the old oak trees at Toomer’s Corner got covered with toilet paper. A record number of fans, to the tune of 83,401, packed into Jordan Hare Stadium to watch the spring game and tens of thousands more crammed into the intersection (or as close as they could get) of Magnolia and College to “roll the corner.”
As emotional a moment the A-Day festivities were, what happened on the field was much more important to the football program. Here’s what we learned from watching A-Day.
The RB situation got a lot better
Junior running back Tre Mason was finally cleared by doctors to go full speed after nursing an ankle injury for most of the spring. He carried the ball 11 times for 60 yards and scored a touchdown for the Orange team (first string) against the Blue team (second string).
The limelight was stolen by junior Cameron Artis-Payne, who ran for 41 yards and a score for the Blue Team and then switched sides and added 76 more yards on the ground and caught two passes for 47 yards.
On the day Artis-Payne ran for 117 yards on 18 carries and a score and added 47 yards through the air. He was both teams’ leading rusher.
Add in Corey Grant, who was sick and did not participate Saturday, and Auburn could have huge success running the football.
“I love seeing them do their thing and ball out," said Mason. "We want to do this thing together and we’re looking to do something, have three 1,000-yard backs. They were close the 2010 year Cam (Newton), Mike (Dyer) and Onterio (McCalebb), so we feel like we can do that.”
A new leader in the QB race?
The first snap for the Orange team, with Jonathan Wallace under center, sailed over the quarterback’s head and into the end zone for a defensive score.
It wasn’t the best start for Wallace, although it wasn’t his fault.
Wallace regrouped and threw for 191 yards and two touchdowns on an 18-for-26 performance with an interception. He, along with Kiehl Frazier, played quarterback for both the Orange and Blue teams Saturday.
Frazier completed 10 passes on 16 attempts and tallied 125 yards.
“There were a couple of good things they did,” Malzahn said. “Just standing behind them, I was kind of whispering to them a little bit.
“I wish we could have been live, but we only had two scholarship guys going through the spring. You can evaluate them a little better when it’s live. It gave us some good information today, especially in front of the crowd.”
Malzahn said he wouldn’t know for sure if any quarterback separated himself from the other until he watched tape.
From my seat in the press box, Auburn’s offense ran smoother with Wallace under center and his passing was more crisp and accurate than Frazier’s.
LB Justin Garrett came to play
From the very first play of A-Day, linebacker Justin Garrett’s presence was felt.
When the football sailed over quarterback Jonathan Wallace’s head on the game’s first snap, Garrett was the guy who scooped it up and scored.
Expect Garrett to be around the football a lot during the 2013 football season, and get ready for some bone-jarring hits.
After his fumble recovery for a touchdown, Garrett’s next two plays on the football were massive collisions, two punishing tackles on ball carriers that will be glad to be on the same sideline with the junior linebacker on Saturday’s this fall.
Garrett’s position, known as “star” in Auburn, is a combination of linebacker and safety and was created for someone to speed around the field an attack the football.
Garrett succeeded in that task at A-Day and will make a difference when games count in the fall.
Mark Dorminey Defensive MVP: Justin Garrett
Lionel James Offensive MVP: Cameron Artis-Payne
Lewis Colbert Specialty MVP: Ryan White