ATLANTA – Vanderbilt got the first real look at Tua Tagovailoa last season.
Alabama’s then-freshman quarterback saw ample playing time in a 59-0 blowout victory in Nashville. He completed 8 of 10 passes for 103 yards and two touchdowns without an interception.
Vanderbilt safety LaDarius Wiley took note.
“He made a very good impression,” Wiley said, “He made a very big impact with his team, especially going on later into the season.
“Being able to play against him, we were able to see what he is capable of. He’s a great up-and-coming quarterback.”
Wiley watched on television as Tua came off the bench in the second half to lead Alabama to a national championship victory over Georgia.
“You get a taste of what he can do … and for him to prove himself on that stage, he did a great job,” Wiley said.
Auburn won the SEC Western Division, then lost its last two games last season to finish 10-4. After defeating Alabama, the Tigers lost to Georgia – a team they had beaten at home in November – in the SEC Championship Game and fell 34-27 to Central Florida in the Peach Bowl.
“We didn’t get it done,” Malzahn said of the bowl loss. “We laid an egg that day.”
Auburn returns its coaching staff nearly intact from last season.
J.B. Grimes is back as offensive line coach, replacing Herb Hand, who left for Texas. Grimes previously coached at Auburn from 2013-15.
Malzahn, Auburn’s head coach, also hired Marcus Woodson as the program’s 10th assistant – NCAA rules allowed Football Bowl Subdivision schools to add a position starting this season – and assigned him to coach the defensive secondary along with Greg Brown.
Kevin Steele, a former Alabama assistant under Nick Saban, enters his third year as defensive coordinator and Chip Lindsey is back for his second season as offensive coordinator. Rodney Garner (defensive line) and Tim Horton (running backs) are the longest-tenured Auburn assistants, entering their sixth seasons.
“Our staff continuity, our staff chemistry, is very strong,” Malzahn said.
South Carolina returns quarterback Jake Bentley, who has started 20 straight games, passing for 4,214 yards and 27 touchdowns in that span, along with big-play threat Deebo Samuel at wide receiver.
Coach Will Muschamp expects the Gamecocks to be strong up front, enabling South Carolina’s offense to press the pace. Six returning linemen with starting experience have a total of about 80 starts among them.
“We want to be able to dictate the tempo of the game more, play faster,” Muschamp said. “I think Jackie plays better when he plays faster.”
The Gamecocks went 9-4 last season, finishing second in the SEC East.