Published Tuesday, October 02, 2012
BY JOHN ZENOR
AP SPORTS WRITER
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) – Quarterback Kiehl Frazier and Auburn's short-handed passing game might be facing their biggest test. Call it pass-or-fail.
The struggling Frazier faces a vulnerable Arkansas secondary on Saturday that other quarterbacks have been picking apart to the tune of 400 yards lately, give or take a few. Auburn (1-3, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) and Frazier haven't shown anywhere near that kind of capability but there's not too much shame in faring poorly against the likes of No. 20 Mississippi State and No. 4 LSU.
There's less respectability in failing to perform in a battle between the nation's 114th-rated passing offense against the No. 117 pass defense.
"Kiehl the past two games has played a lot better and grown a lot from where he was against Mississippi State," Tigers tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen said. "Kiehl has played a lot better, and we need him to keep progressing and play even better, especially against Arkansas. We'll do different things to help him out but I think his head's in a good place and his confidence is in a good place going into this game."
Frazier, who committed five turnovers in Starkville, Miss., was able to focus on preparation and improving last Saturday even as Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel was firing away for 453 yards against the Razorbacks (1-4, 0-2) in a 58-10 victory. Gary Nova of Rutgers threw for 397 yards against Arkansas and Louisiana-Monroe's Kolton Browning had 412 passing yards.
Frazier spent the open date studying some of offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler's former pupils at Michigan, especially Chad Henne but with a little Tom Brady and others thrown in.
It was all about the basics, like tempo, his drops and timing. Frazier thinks that extra work can pay immediate dividends.
"We kind of went through our first four games and kind of compared my footwork to old big plays that coach Loeffler had had," said Frazier, who's an Arkansas native. "Just kind of the comparison, my footwork was a little slow and made the timing off. It made me look a little timid in the pocket because my read wouldn't be open when I got to the top of my drop because I wasn't doing my footwork right, so that's just something we've got to fix from last week to next week.
"That's something that I can improve on a lot in a short period of time. Seeing that and kind of comparing that, I think that can help me a lot. I should look a lot different from LSU to Arkansas."
Frazier has completed just 52.8 percent of his passes for 546 yards, throwing for two touchdowns against seven interceptions. He's not among the top 100 FBS passers listed by the NCAA in either passing yards or rating. Freshman Jonathan Wallace is expected to come in as a Wildcat quarterback at times as he did against LSU.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik agrees that the extra study time could benefit Frazier.
"I feel like any time he gets is certainly beneficial," Chizik said. "He spent a lot of time up here on his own. He spent a lot of time looking at one month's worth of cut-ups and game film and looking at his decision-making and looking at his technique. Anytime you can have an opportunity to do that without a game right in front of you - when you can reassess and reevaluate everything you do - is invaluable. Last week was a really great week for him to be able to improve."
It's not just about Frazier, though. Emory Blake has been by far the most consistent wide receiver but his closest competition Quan Bray is suspended for at least the Arkansas game following an arrest last week for a driver's permit violation and other charges.
None of the other wideouts have caught a pass in more than one game, their seasons more notable for mistakes or drops than anything else.
If they don't have their act together for this game, it won't matter so much if Arkansas has been giving up 349 passing yards a game.
"They've got to grow up," Chizik said. "They've got to step up. They've got to play better. It's that simple. If the ball hits them in the hands, they've got to catch the ball. We haven't done that every time. When we ask the route to be at 15 yards, it has to be at 15 and not 12. We haven't done that all the time.
"That whole group of receivers, from top to bottom, it doesn't matter who's playing in the game, they've got to improve their game. They've got to step it up and they've got to be productive."
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