Post-Kwon era starts for Big ‘O’
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Sep 23, 2011 | 3241 views |  0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
OXFORD — John Grass knew the day would come when the nation’s top linebacker prospect no longer factored in Oxford’s plans. The Oxford coach just didn’t know life without Kwon Alexander would begin so soon.

The 10th-ranked Yellow Jackets (3-1) minus Alexander, lost for the rest of his senior season to a knee injury, see their first test tonight at No. 6 Auburn (4-0) in a rematch of a game Oxford dominated a year ago.

“I’m anxious to see how the team is going to respond without him on the road against a very good opponent,” Grass said.

No doubt, Alexander would be nice to have, chasing dual-threat Auburn quarterback Cameron Echols-Luper.

Alexander was nice to have for an Oxford team which entered the season with high hopes precisely because of top prospects like himself, offensive lineman Michael Flint and wide receiver Trae Elston.

But Alexander suffered a torn ACL in the Yellow Jackets’ 40-24 victory over Austin a week ago. So, what next?

“Everybody’s got to play better,” he said. “I don’t think one guy is going to replace Kwon. I’m working three guys in that spot.

“We’ll know (tonight) in how they respond and how they play.”

Grass will try Damian Cosper and Josh Montgomery. Safety Coty Spurling, back after missing two games with an infected elbow, will also see time at that spot.

“We’re looking for an answer,” Grass said. “Three or four guys working in there, playing wide-open, hopefully will fill the big void.”

Grass doesn’t expect broad scheme changes, but a few tactical staples will be absent.

“It may take us out of a few blitzes and stuff, special things we do bringing Kwon off the edge,” Grass said.

On the upside, Oxford will get guys back who have been out. That includes Spurling, inside linebacker Gary Mason and defensive back Stuart Chandler.

Also, sophomore running back Racean Thomas took a big step forward with his 182-yard, three-touchdown showing against Austin. A stout running game will help a defense missing its best player stay off the field.

“You’ve got to respond to the situation,” Grass said. “Hopefully, our team will do that on the road.”

Auburn will have home field and lots of motivation. Oxford’s 35-23 victory a year ago marked the Tigers’ first regular-season loss since 2007.

Auburn is coming off of a 42-14 rout of Northview, and the Tigers did it without three top skill players, including leading rusher Marcus Harris. He had 500 yards in their first three games but will be out for weeks with an arm injury.

Patrey Hardnett stepped in to rush for 183 yards. Also, receiver Cody Core, a Troy commit playing for another injured starter, scored on a reverse and had a key punt return to set up another touchdown.

“They’re a very good football team,” Grass said. “They have the best offensive line we’ve faced, and just really, really talented.”

Grass said Oxford still has sights set high, and the Auburn game will be a barometer.

“It’s like a practice playoff game, and Auburn is very much like that,” he said. “They are a quarterfinal type game. They’re that good, and we’re going to see how our football team is going to play.”

Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or jmedley@annistonstar.com. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.

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