Two A-Day games to draw crowds today

Two A-Day games to draw crowds today

April 20th, 2013 by David Paschall in Sports - College

A bare and dying oak tree graces the entrance to Auburn University at Toomer's Corner in Auburn, Ala., on Friday. The tradition of "rolling" the trees at Toomer's Corner will end today after the Tigers' A-Day spring intrasquad game.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

A-DAY TIMES TWO

Alabama and Auburn are holding their spring football games today. Here are three things to look for at each one:

At Alabama

1. McCarron mastery -- Starting quarterback AJ McCarron has drawn rave reviews and has thrown for 610 yards and nine touchdowns in two scrimmages. Will he dominate again, and how will his backups do?

2. Defensive replacements -- With Damion Square, Jesse Williams and Preston Dial gone from the defensive front, can Jeoffrey Pagan, Brandon Ivory, LaMichael Fanning and Dalvin Tomlinson pack a punch?

3. Stability up front -- This will be the first opportunity for Crimson Tide fans to witness the projected starting offensive line of Cryus and Arie Kouandjio, Ryan Kelly, Anthony Steen and Austin Shepherd.

At Auburn

1. Quarterback quandary -- Neither Kiehl Frazier nor Jonathan Wallace managed to average 85 passing yards a game last season. Now they're in a new offense that calls for quick play-making decisions.

2. Garrett's introduction -- Justin Garrett will play the star position, a little safety here and outside linebacker there, in Ellis Johnson's 4-2-5 scheme. He played in six games last season but has been flourishing.

3. Receivers needed -- Emory Blake had 50 catches last season, but no other Auburn receiver had more than 15. Jaylon Denson, Quan Bray, Trovon Reed and Ricardo Lewis need to provide some pizazz.

If streets across the state of Alabama are empty today, there is good reason.

Alabama and Auburn will hold their spring football games this afternoon in autumn-like weather, and a combined crowd of at least 150,000 is expected. The Crimson Tide have averaged 86,089 fans at spring games since Nick Saban's arrival as coach in 2007, including 92,310 in 2011 and 92,138 in '07, the latter of which was a sellout before Bryant-Denny Stadium's latest expansion.

"The message that gets sent by the great support that our team gets is something that has helped us be successful here in terms of the kinds of players that we've been able to recruit," Saban said following Thursday's practice. "They love being a part of this, and they expect to see the best when they come to Alabama. That positive energy is very important to the success of our program."

Alabama's seventh spring game under Saban will be the third that follows a national championship, but the happenings in Tuscaloosa are not expected to be as emotional as those in Auburn.

The Tigers have set a new standard for pre-sold tickets to their A-Day game, leading school officials to believe the record crowd of 63,217 set in 2010 could be surpassed. Auburn's 2010 spring game was played a few months before the Tigers captured their first national championship since 1957.

It has been downhill since for Auburn, which went 3-9 last year and fired championship coach Gene Chizik, replacing him with Arkansas State's Gus Malzahn, the offensive architect of Auburn's 2010 title team. Both Alabama and Auburn have conducted closed scrimmages, and Malzahn has added to today's curiosity by not releasing any scrimmage statistics or depth-chart information to this point.

"We have not listed guys as far as starters or second-team players," Malzahn said earlier this week. "We will have two separate offenses and two separate defenses and try to make it as close of a game as we can."

After Auburn's A-Day, Malzahn will be at Toomer's Corner as fans perform their traditional rolling of the two famed oak trees for the final time before their removal. Fanatical Alabama supporter Harvey Updyke poured lethal amounts of herbicide around the 130-year-old trees several days after Auburn rallied from a 24-0 deficit to top the Tide 28-27 at Bryant-Denny in their 2010 matchup.

Extensive efforts in the ensuing months were not enough to keep the trees from their expected demise.

Updyke pleaded guilty last month to criminal damage of an agricultural facility, a Class C felony, and was sentenced to three years in prison. He will have to serve at least six months.

Alabama won last year's matchup in Tuscaloosa 49-0 and enters today worlds ahead of its rival in quarterback stability. Senior AJ McCarron has guided the Tide to the last two national titles and seems to have only strengthened this spring, throwing for 610 yards and nine touchdowns in the two scrimmages.

"He's really taken command," Saban said. "We're further along on offense because there is really strong leadership there. He's had a really good spring."

At Auburn, junior Kiehl Frazier and sophomore Jonathan Wallace each will try to gain the upper hand in quarterbacking the Tigers. Frazier opened last season as the starter but got benched after throwing just two touchdowns against eight interceptions, while Wallace was the starter in late-season games against Georgia and Alabama, which the Tigers lost by a combined 87-0.

"We've gotten a little more consistent as an offense," new Tigers offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said after Friday morning's practice. "Both quarterbacks will get plenty of reps with both teams tomorrow. I know all of our kids want to put their best foot forward."

Auburn's A-Day contest will start at 2 p.m. EDT, with Alabama's beginning at 3.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.