Tuberville expecting Cox to surprise folks
By Ross Dellenger
AUBURN — In 2005, his first year starting at Auburn, a hardheaded Brandon Cox stood in the pocket too long. Last season as a junior, the quarterback forced some passes, refusing to throw the ball away.
This season, though, coach Tommy Tuberville is expecting different things from this senior starter. After watching Cox during preseason practice the past month, Tuberville is convinced the Birmingham native will surprise people this fall with his scrambling ability.
“He’s got a little something up his sleeve,” the coach said before taking a step back and adding, “He’s not a sprinter by any means.”
Since aligning behind center two years ago, Cox has faced endlessly criticism for his lack of agility in the pocket. Even coaches and teammates take jabs at his slow speed.
Injuries added to his lack of mobility last season. He sprained his left knee and ankle in the third game against LSU. He then injured a ligament in his right knee during an October game against Ole Miss.
That culminated in 35 sacks, almost three a game.
But a fully healthy Cox has shown a different side recently, at least coaches think so.
“He’s moving good,” offensive coordinator Al Borges said. “He can get out of a mess, and he couldn’t do that last year.”
The messes could come in bunches this season. If this is the year that Cox begins to break out of his cement stance in the pocket, he certainly picked a good time to start.
With two freshmen starting on the right side of the offensive line, Cox’s blind side will be far from protected, especially early in the season, particularly the opening game.
True freshman guard Lee Ziemba and redshirt freshman tackle Mike Berry have not played in a college game but will battle with Kansas State defensive end Ian Campbell, who ranked 10th in the nation with 111/2 sacks in 2006.
They know the 6-foot-4, 250-pound linebacker will be gunning for their side of the line, on a mission to smack Auburn’s quarterback around. “We’re prepared for that.” Berry said.
Ziemba added: “I’m not worried. I’ve been taught well.”
Cox has developed more confidence in Berry and Ziemba through a solid preseason performance, but he knows Campbell may squeak through on occasion. He’s ready for it. “It’s happened before,” he said. “You take the hit and move on.”
Through all of the negativity about his speed, Cox’s arm has produced plenty of success for the Tigers.
His record as a starter? 19-5.
He’s one of the most accurate, successful passers in school history. The 210-pounder ranks second in career passing efficiency with a QB rating of 137.9. He’s only seven touchdowns shy of tying Stan White with the third-most scores in school history, but still, the questions about his mobility follow his every move.
“We’ve talked to him (about) moving in and out of the pocket,” Tuberville said. “He’s got the mobility to do that.”
Borges and Tuberville agreed that Cox is “pocket-aware,” meaning he spies linebackers while looking for receivers and he feels pressure from a collapsing offensive line, but the last two years the quarterback has been pocket-stubborn.
“When he first got to Auburn, he was a little bit hardheaded in that he would stand in the pocket a little too long,” Tuberville said. “And last year we couldn’t get him to throw the ball away. He would stand in there and maybe try to force it or wait for his receiver to give him an extra second. In our league, sometimes that extra second is not there.”
That, coupled with his injuries, led to those 35 sacks and a total loss of 205 yards last year.
While serving as quarterbacks coach, Borges has been with Cox every step of the way this August. He says the senior’s physical state last season made him an easy target, but this year, Borges thinks, will be different.
“I’m not going to ever say he’s a scrambling quarterback,” Borges said, “but he has enough pocket presence to maneuver in the pocket and buy time to make throws.”
Kansas State (7-6 in 2006) at No. 18 Auburn (11-2)
When: Saturday, 6:45 p.m.
Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn.
Line: Auburn by 131/2.
TV/radio: ESPN will televise the game. The radio broadcast can be heard on FM-106.1, AM-1230 and FM-98.3.
Players to watch: Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox will have all eyes on his every move, and move, he better. With a young, inexperienced offensive line, Cox may need to do something he’s not used to doing — scramble. Auburn’s deep set of running backs — Brad Lester, Ben Tate, Mario Fannin and Carl Stewart — may end up being the deciding factor.
Kansas State gave up the 78th most rushing yards in the nation last season with 148 a game. Wildcats running back Leon Patton, who led the team in rushing as a true freshman last year, won’t get the starting nod, but he will get plenty of carries. He’ll also be one of the team’s kickoff returners. In 2006, he took a kick 95 yards for a touchdown. K-State’s Ian Campbell, who plays as a fourth linebacker in the Wildcats’ 3-4 scheme, had 111/2 sacks in 2006. He is compared by many to Auburn’s Quentin Groves.
Key matchup: K-State receiver Jordy Nelson against Auburn cornerback and Decatur native Jerraud Powers. The 5-foot-9 Powers said he may be paired with the 6-foot-3 Nelson when Auburn plays five defensive backs. Nelson has led K-State in receptions and receiving yards the last two seasons.
Weather: Scattered thunderstorms with a low of 68 degrees and a high of 83. The chance of rain is 50 percent.
Last meeting: Auburn 26, Kansas State 18; Sept. 15, 1979, in Auburn.
Prediction: Auburn 31, Kansas State 10.
Ross Dellenger, DAILY sport writer
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