Offensive linemen love gaudy rushing numbers. That’s exactly what Auburn put on display in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday against Arkansas.
It came at a good time for recruiting purposes, with the nation’s No. 1 center in attendance for his official visit. The 543-yard performance caught the attention of Cesar Ruiz from IMG Academy (Fla.) who attended the game with his high school teammate Tre’ McKitty, an Oregon commit also officially visiting the game.
Ruiz awed over the rushing success.
“It was at the point where I looked at the scoreboard and the stats in the second quarter and it was already 200-something rushing yards and I thought it was a typo,” Ruiz said. “Then I started thinking about it and said, ‘Man, they have been running the ball pretty good.'”
RECRUITING: How commits, targets reacted to the win
Michigan has long been considered the favorite to land Ruiz. He has officially visited Ann Arbor. Ruiz has also taken official visits to Florida and North Carolina. Oklahoma will get his final official visit.
The trip to Auburn gave Ruiz the opportunity to check out the campus without his entire team. The IMG Academy powerhouse has so many Division I targets that the whole squad visited the school the only other time Ruiz was in Auburn.
The personalized visit gave him a better impression of what to expect with the Tigers.
“It helped Auburn. It definitely helped Auburn a lot. The only time I was there was with my team, so I got to get the actual feel for it and everything I wanted to see,” Ruiz said.
The Ruiz connection to Tigers coaches goes beyond Auburn city limits. Ruiz and offensive line coach Herb Hand developed a rich relationship when Hand was at Penn State. Ruiz also got an opportunity to have a pregame conversation with offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, along with McKitty.
It set the tone for the night to come at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“Actually Coach Lashlee came up to me and Tre’ and he said, ‘We’ll see you later celebrating in the locker room,'” Ruiz said. “Really, a 17th-ranked team and they were ranked 21, you’re expecting a close game. Auburn was toting the ball and they handled them.”
Conversations with Hand gave Ruiz a forecast of his expectations and potential path to playing time at Auburn.
As written multiple times in these notebooks, Hand told offensive line targets and eventual commits that he expects the (unofficial) No. 1 offensive line class in the country for his first full recruiting cycle with the Tigers. Calvin Ashley, Austin Troxell and Nick Brahms are a great start, but adding Ruiz — the only certified center of the group — would make it a complete offensive line class with potentially another spot to fill.
Ruiz understands his fit at Auburn.
“(Coach Hand) uses a bunch of his equipment and he definitely showed me a lot of the technique that he has the centers do.” Ruiz said. “The center this year is a junior and he could possibly move to left tackle and the backup tackle is a senior and will be leaving most likely.”
The No. 1 center in the nation will make his final decision Dec. 18, unless he elects to push it back to announce during the Under Armour All-America game.
Auburn still contends, despite Michigan’s favoritism among 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions. In fact, Ruiz said all five schools getting official visits still have a chance to impress the IMG Academy offensive lineman.
“Auburn is definitely up there. Right now the five schools I’m taking officials to are the ones I’m focusing on,” Ruiz said. “They are definitely in the mix.”
I repeat: No need to worry about Wooten
Chandler Wooten probably got more attention than he wanted last week after he announced Georgia’s offer.
Auburn poached the North Cobb (Ga.) linebacker from Bulldogs territory early in the process, and Georgia entered the equation last week when the Bulldogs told Wooten he’d had an offer all along, but a clerical miscommunication didn’t pass along the message.
Wooten spent some time talking with colleague Jeff Sentell with DawgNation about what this might mean for Auburn going forward.
Here is what he told Sentell, as it pertains to Auburn.
- “With me being committed to Auburn since May, I’ve been pretty solid. That’s still where things stand. I’m an early enrollee, so I’m enrolling in January. It would be pretty hard for me to switch.”
- “I’m still 50-50 (on taking official visits) … If I took them, it would be to Michigan State and Ohio State, for sure. And I would probably go to Oklahoma too.”
- “I’m still very much committed to Auburn right now.”
Since Wooten’s commitment, he’s consistently said he didn’t plan on taking official visits elsewhere. Following his Under Armour All-America game ceremony, he indicated it was a decision he’d want to think about with his family and potentially consider some trips before enrolling in January.
He has since said he won’t take official visits, but again: I wouldn’t make a big deal about the visits here. Wooten is all Auburn at this point.
Shaun Shivers decision upcoming
Auburn’s weekend in running backs:
- Tigers rush for 543 yards vs. Arkansas.
- 2017 commits Devan Barrett, Octavius Matthews and Alaric Williams have been putting up video game numbers at their respective institutions.
- The 2018 class has a chance to set its running back foundation.
There still are 11 or so spots to fill in the 2017 class, but 2018 running back Shaun Shivers will make his college decision Wednesday. Shivers, from Chaminade-Madonna Prep (Fla.), sent out some cryptic tweets recently, interacting with Auburn quarterback commit Joey Gatewood, who attended the Arkansas matchup Saturday.
Auburn has reciprocated love through the early stages of Shivers’ process, showing particular interest in the 5-foot-7, 160-pound running back with Olympic track speed. Shivers is ranked the No. 6 all-purpose back in the 2018 class. Auburn, West Virginia and Virginia Tech are considered his favorites.
— Joey Gatewood (@Joey1gatewood) October 17, 2016
The Tigers currently sit at No. 17 in the 2018 class, with two commits — Gatewood and JUCO defensive end Daquan Newkirk. To me, a Shivers commitment would mean so much more. Auburn has itself in great position to re-establish itself as the rushing presence in the SEC. Moreover, the run-game performance Saturday has a chance to help pick up steam on the recruiting trail.
It’s been a waiting game for Auburn since the season started, but the Tigers may have some real momentum to get behind now. Shivers would be a 2018 addition, but in some ways, that might even go further in solidifying faith in Auburn so far in advance.
Keep an eye out for Shivers’ decision later this week and how it might set the tone for Auburn’s recruiting trend in the coming months.
Tidbits from the trenches
Auburn hosted a star-studded group of recruits at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday. Here are a few quick hitters from recruit experiences for the Arkansas game.
Auburn quarterback of the future Joey Gatewood got some personal time with offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, who has developed a strong relationship with the 2018 quarterback commit. Lashlee visited Gatewood earlier this season, and Gatewood loves the bond he’s forming with Auburn’s offensive coordinator.
Gus Malzahn had a couple get togethers with recruits at midfield Saturday before the game. One of those was with linebacker commit Tadarian Moultry and his Jackson-Olin teammate Coynis Miller, a top priority in the 2018 class at defensive end. Moultry and Miller appreciated the gesture.
Malzahn also brought a pair of 2018 teammates from Stockbridge (Ga.) before the game: 3-star ATH Marquez Ezzard and 3-star DE Brenton Cox. At Stockbridge, the tandem has been a big reason why the school has gone 20-1 the last two seasons. They’re only juniors and will be major wants by many schools when it’s said and done. Malzahn wisely took advantage of the chance to personally chat with the duo in a big-game atmosphere.
Hand and Lashlee spent a majority of their time with official visitors Tre’ McKitty and Cesar Ruiz. Hand’s relationship with Ruiz will be a big factor in Auburn edging out Michigan and others.
Want a way-too-early recruit to keep an eye on? Octavious Palmer. He’s an athlete target in the 2020 class that attended the Arkansas game. Palmer spent some time with Kodi Burns.