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12/6/22 Auburn Articles


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Jason Caldwell's Monday morning quarterback column: Busy week and time to make hay for Freeze and company

Jason Caldwell
4–5 minutes


Time to roll

While there are still some coaches to hire as the transfer portal kicks into high gear on Monday to start a very busy next three weeks, from everything I have been told the first few days with Hugh Freeze on board have been very, very positive. From several people inside the building, the change in having a head coach who values recruiting has been a breath of fresh air right away.

That’s the biggest issue over the course of the next three months for Auburn, bolstering the roster and bringing more talent to the Plains. The first order of business is going to be doing that through the transfer portal.

I think we had an idea of what this portal window was going to look like, but even thinking about how crazy it was going to be isn’t going to prepare us for what it’s like in reality. I believe we’ll see multiple year starters from major programs deciding to make a move for one reason or another. I don’t think any program is going to be free from seeing players leave.

Can Auburn be one of the programs to capitalize with Freeze now on board and the NIL money available to make an impact? I don’t see why not.

If the Tigers can get help on the offensive line, defensive line and at the edge rusher position alone, this is a roster that can compete in a hurry with the right players on board.

Future is bright for in-state recruiting

St. James quarterback KJ Jackson isn’t a well-known name yet, but the 2024 signal-caller has everything a college should be looking for at the position. He is a player who was already on my radar, but his performance in the 3A title game on Thursday showed me that he's an SEC guy at the position. At 6-3, 215 pounds and still with a year to develop physically and grow as a player, Jackson is one of many young guys in Alabama who helped themselves this season.

While the 2023 class has gotten plenty of attention in this state, and rightfully so, Freeze and his new staff are coming into a great situation with top-level talent in the state the next two years as well.

There are already more than a dozen 4-star prospects in the state for 2024 and Jackson isn’t even one of them. Neither is B.B. Comer running back/linebacker Kamore Harris, but that could change as well. He’s 6-1, 235 with good speed and a nose for the football on defense. He finished with 180 yards rushing and 15 tackles in a state title game loss on Friday. Currently with just a Colorado State offer, that will change in a big way in the coming weeks and months.

Another 2024 prospect who showed big potential this season is Andalusia's Landen Marshall. At 6-3, 285, Marshall anchored the line of scrimmage on defense for the Bulldogs and also played some tight end late in the season. He has half a dozen offers with more to come.


At Thompson, 2024 safety Kaleb Harris was overlooked because of the talent on that defense this season, but he played through several injuries and was finally healthy at the end of the year. Auburn is one of 14 offers already for him and he will be a player who rises up the recruiting rankings as he gets on the camp circuit this spring and summer.

The opportunity to stay at home and make a big impact in the recruiting rankings and with the Auburn roster is very real for Freeze and company the next few cycles. Getting your share of the best players in Alabama would be a great starting point to putting the TIgers back on the college football map.

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Auburn set to host former Mississippi State wide receiver Rara Thomas

Taylor Jones
~2 minutes

We are in the early stages of transfer portal season, and Auburn is already set to receive a visitor.

Rara Thomas, who spent two seasons catching passes from Will Rogers at Mississippi State, will visit the Plains this weekend according to Jason Caldwell of Auburn Undercover. Auburn will be his first visit, he also is expected to visit Alabama and Georgia as well.

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Thomas, who signed with Mississippi State from Eufaula High School, caught 62 passes for 878 yards and 12 touchdowns in two seasons at Mississippi State. He did most of his damage this season, catching 44 passes for 626 yards and seven touchdowns. He was the Bulldogs’ leading receiver in yards and was second on the team in touchdown receptions behind Caleb Ducking, who caught eight touchdowns this season.

Thomas did not receive much interest from Power Five programs as a high school recruit, as Mississippi State and South Carolina were the only major programs to offer. But his success at Mississippi State may aid him in draft stock. He was the No. 28 overall prospect from the state of Alabama for the 2021 cycle.

Auburn needs help in the receiving department, and Thomas would give the Tigers a boost. Auburn’s highest-graded receiver according to Pro Football Focus was Ja'Varrius Johnson, who graded at 70.3 and caught just 26 passes despite being targeted 45 times.

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Calzada enters transfer portal for second time in career - The Auburn Plainsman

3–4 minutes

The transfer portal officially opened Monday morning, and Auburn quarterback Zach Calzada elected to enter it for the second time in his career and leave the Auburn program.

Calzada spent one year with the Tigers after spending the previous three at Texas A&M but never took a snap as the quarterback for Auburn. He never made it above the No. 2 QB on Auburn's roster once the season started.

The Georgia native committed to Auburn in early January when former Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin still controlled the offense. Calzada's commitment came when Austin Davis had been announced as offensive coordinator, but Davis stepped down and left Auburn just one week later.

Calzada missed spring practices, including Auburn's A-Day game, when he arrived at Auburn after undergoing shoulder surgery at the conclusion of his final year at Texas A&M but still appeared, due to his starting experience in the SEC, as a favorite to land the starting job over previous starter T.J. Finley, Oregon transfer Robby Ashford and true freshman Holden Geriner.

Finley and Ashford eventually grabbed the first and second string spots, respectively, and Calzada began the season as the third string QB. Calzada was available throughout the first few weeks of the season, but Harsin announced in early October that the transfer QB would undergo another shoulder surgery and miss the remainder of the season.

After Ashford finished the season as Auburn's starting QB for its last nine games, he has seemingly taken grasp of the job for the Tigers after being the sole QB to take snaps in the team's last eight games. Through the two coaching changes, Ashford has only taken off and garnered praise on his athleticism from his coaches.

Calzada's decision comes a week after Auburn officially announced the hiring of Hugh Freeze as its next head coach.

Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.

Jacob Waters | Sports Reporter

Jacob is a sophomore from Leeds, Alabama. This is his second year with The Auburn Plainsman. 

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Hugh Freeze discusses QB development, offensive and defensive philosophies

Published: Dec. 06, 2022, 10:37 a.m.
6–7 minutes

Hugh Freeze fashions himself as a quarterback guru.

During his head coaching career, Freeze has developed a reputation as a gifted quarterback coach and offensive mind. From Bo Wallace and Chad Kelly at Ole Miss to former Auburn transfer Malik Willis at Liberty, Freeze’s quarterbacks have put up prodigious numbers in his system. He hopes to continue that trend of quarterback development at Auburn, where he was named head coach last week and takes over a program that has seen uneven play at the position in recent years.

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So, what is it that has made Freeze such a successful quarterback mentor over the years?

“I think it comes from our system,” Freeze said during an appearance on the Talking Tigers podcast with Voice of the Tigers Andy Burcham. “I think I teach in a way that helps them understand the game and where the game should be played on a given play, post-snap.”

Freeze, who has been the primary play-caller throughout his career, coaches the quarterback position in a manner that affords his quarterbacks a certain level of autonomy within the offense. They don’t always have specific reads they need to go to but instead have more freedom to read and react after the snap.

The results have been bountiful over the years. Wallace threw for 9,534 yards and 62 touchdowns while completing 63 percent of his passes and averaging 8 yards per attempt in three seasons playing for Freeze at Ole Miss. In Kelly’s first season under Freeze after transferring from Clemson, he threw for 4,042 yards, 31 touchdowns and 13 interceptions while completing 65.1 percent of his passes and averaging 8.9 yards per pass attempt. The following year, he threw for 2,758 yards, 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions in nine games, completing 62.5 percent of his passes.

At Liberty, Willis went from a quarterback who couldn’t crack the lineup at Auburn to a Heisman hopeful and third-round NFL Draft pick. In two seasons playing for Freeze, Willis threw for 5,107 yards, 47 touchdowns and 18 interceptions while completing 62.4 percent of his passes and averaging 8.5 yards per attempt.

“Not a lot of coaches feel good about giving up that control, but I’ve got to believe I can teach it well enough for our quarterback to know (what to do post-snap),” Freeze said. “…I think it’s quarterback-friendly, as long as they can be a fundamentally accurate passer. I need help with that. I think my gift is teaching them the game and making correct decisions and getting protections set, and all of that. But man, I’ve had some great fundamentally (sound) quarterback coaches that were really good that’s a great complement to me.”

Among those coaches were Dan Werner, who served as Freeze’s co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Ole Miss for five seasons, and Kent Austin, who served alongside Freeze at Liberty for each of the last four seasons and who Freeze described as “one of the best to ever” coach the position.

“I can’t take total credit for the development,” Freeze said. “I think I’m pretty good at helping them learn the game.”

RELATED: Hugh Freeze confident Auburn can ‘get out of the wilderness,’ turn things around ‘fairly fast’

In discussing his approach to quarterback development, Freeze also spoke about how his offense has advanced over the years, describing his current philosophy as a “multiple, RPO, tempo-driven” system that incorporates NFL passing concepts.

“That’s really what it is,” Freeze said. “I don’t go as fast as I did at Ole Miss, typically. I can, but I’ve really kind of matured into this (mindset that) I want to play complementary football.”

That means slowing things down at times to shorten the game and afford his defense time to rest and, in general, fewer snaps for the opposing offense. Freeze understands that modern offenses are going to have success moving the ball down the field—”the rules are kind of skewed to the offense a little bit,” he said — so the defensive mindset needs to be focused on negative plays, third-down efficiency and red-zone stops.

“Hold them to field goals, man,” Freeze said. “… People are going to move the ball, but I think if you really bow your neck and make them kick field foals, you got a good chance to win the game. Sometimes you get frustrated as an offensive coach, and you foolishly go for it because you don’t want to settle for three. That can backfire on you too, so I think we just got to be stingy in the red zone and don’t give up touchdowns. Let’s hold them to field goals.”

Freeze has yet to hire a defensive coordinator, as he’s still in the process of assembling his inaugural staff, but he intends to give that coach—whoever it ends up being—a level of freedom similar to what he gives his quarterbacks. Freeze is an offensive-minded coach and plans to take a hands-off approach to the defense, entrusting his coordinator to do what needs to be done on that side of the ball.

“Truthfully, that’s it for me,” Freeze said. “I don’t get too involved other than I want to know what’s going on on third down and red-zone defense. The rest of it, I hired you to do it. I’m going to hire someone who has a track record of doing it and doing it well. At some point now, I try to create the culture and create the energy and passion and relationship with those kids, but I’m going to hire a defensive staff and really trust them to get the job done.

“Everybody’s got a different philosophy, so whoever I hire, I got to let them do what they believe in. I hope we’re a team that creates negative plays, though. I think that’s vital in today’s game.”

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.

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I wasn't a fan of Freeze, but I must admit that I'm warming to the hire.  I like his philosophy on each side of the ball and love the way he worded his responses by giving credit to others and not taking full credit for himself.  It also appears that he may have even diplomatically slammed Kiffin for his boneheaded decisions to go for it on 4th down too many times.

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