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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Auburn will try to avoid letdown against Ball State

AUBURN, Ala. — After a thrilling 41-30 victory against West Virginia pushed Auburn’s record to 3-0 to start the season, Gene Chizik and his coaching staff face a new challenge this week: keeping their team motivated.

Auburn (3-0) welcomes a struggling Ball State (0-3) to Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday night.

“We’re going to do what we always do,” Chizik said. “You hope that you have a focused enough team where a football game is a football game and you only have 12 of them, so you play them all the same. You hope. We’ve got to do a good job as coaches of demanding that part of it.”

The Cardinals, who went 12-0 last year in the regular season, winning the Mid-American Conference Western Division title, have seen their fortunes completely reversed since the end of last season, when coach
Brady Hoke bolted for San Diego State and quarterback Nate Davis left a year early for the NFL.

Ball State has already lost to North Texas and Army, two teams that combined to go 4-20 last season, in addition to New Hampshire, a Football Championship Subdivision school.

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Also, read these others notes and quotes from Sunday night ...

  • Tight end Tommy Trott has been through major knee surgery before, so when he went down with an injury to his right knee against Mississippi State last week, that’s the first thing that popped into his head. “Yeah, it definitely scared me,” Trott said. “I got rolled up on and I felt it not really pop, but I just kind of felt something in there get jolted around.” It turned out to be an MCL sprain of his right knee, far less serious than the ACL tear of his left knee that required surgery last November and a lengthy rehab. The senior didn’t practice much of last week because coaches felt it was more important for him to rest than get reps. “He’s got so much experience,” Chizik said. “He’s really, really a smart player. It was so important for us to give him the healing time than it was for him to run the same route for the 105th time. And really and truly it was touch and go, but we felt pretty confident later in the week that he would be able to go.”
  • Trott ended up starting Saturday and made a couple of big grabs in Auburn’s victory. He caught an 11-yard pass in the second quarter that helped set up a Wes Byrum field goal.
  • In the fourth quarter, he scooped up a low Chris Todd pass just before it hit the ground for a nine-yard gain on third-and-8 deep in Auburn territory. West Virginia challenged the play but replay upheld the catch.
  • Anthony Gulley didn’t take any punt returns to the house, but the freshman did exactly what Auburn needed him to do Saturday night: he caught the football and advanced it. Gulley had two returns against West Virginia. One went for 17 yards, the other for seven. It was a welcome sight for a Tigers return unit that muffed two punts in the first two games of the season and had only one return that went for positive yardage. “He’s a baseball player,” Chizik said of Gulley. “And when you’re a baseball player, being able to judge punts and being able to move like a center fielder in baseball I guess would be the best analogy. He’s got that."
  • “It’s hand-eye coordination,” Gulley said. “It just comes natural. I’ve been playing baseball my whole life. It’s just reflexes.” Gulley figures to continue to be in the punt return mix with Mario Fannin and Demond Washington.
  • I wrote tomorrow's story about how players and coaches had mixed feelings about the team's defensive performance against West Virginia. Here's a sample quote from defensive coordinator Ted Roof: "I rate it good enough to win. That's part of our goals but also we did enough to win but in order for us to continue to win, that's not our goal with how we opened up the game. We missed too many tackles, we didn't get off the field enough on third down and the quarterback kept plays alive. But at the same time, it's six takeaways, you get a defensive score. After what had happened, I think our kids showed a lot of heart and belief and we're going to build on that and we're going to go back to work and get the mistakes corrected because we've got to to accomplish our goals."
  • Plenty of quotes on WR Darvin Adams as well, although I'm writing a feature on Adams for Tuesday's paper, so I'll hold off on that for now.
  • LB Craig Stevens needs some work on his touchdown celebration. The junior got mobbed by teammates before he had a chance to celebrate properly. Then, he forgot to take the ball. "I threw it on the ground," he said. "Should of kept it."
  • Auburn’s win against West Virginia got it more votes in both the Associated Press and USA Today/Coaches polls but not enough to make the Top 25. The Tigers got 100 points in the AP poll, putting them 28th overall. They got 62 points in the coaches poll, putting them 29th.
  • Todd said he had a brief illness last week but it didn’t affect him at all during the game. Todd threw for 284 yards and a career-best four touchdowns.
  • Sick or not, he sure liked winging the ball around Saturday night, for really the first time since he's been at Auburn. "It is fun," he said. "But honestly, we’re having so much fun out there. I think everyone is enjoying themselves. Everybody has realized all the work we’re putting in to the work we’re doing. Whatever way we’re successful, whatever way we get into the end zone, I’m happy with either way and I think the entire team is."
  • Todd's touchdown pass to Adams just before halftime wasn't necessarily a planned route. "That one kind of just happened," Todd said. It happened so quick that Adams didn't even really know what happened. "I don't even remember," he said. "I think I caught it with two. I stuck my hands out like this and it just stuck to that one and I just put my other hand on it. Chris just put it there. I guess he had that trust in me and he knew I would make a play. By the time he threw it and by the time I looked, it was already in my face. We have a drill that we do with coach Trooper (Taylor), it's called 'Facemask.' The ball's right there in my facemask and I just stuck my hands up."
  • Todd also had some interesting things to say about offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who is about as straight-laced as they come when speaking to we media types. "He get pretty intense," Todd said. "A lot of times you have to listen to what he says and not how he says it during a game. You have to understand he’s kind of fired up just like everybody else it. He wants to win. It’s good to see passion like that in your coaches and seeing them want something as bad as you do.He’s pretty fiery and if you make a mistake he’s going to let you know about it. He lets you know when you do something good too."
  • A reporter pointed out that Malzahn and Taylor are like yin and yang in their demeanor. "A lot of times they’re polar opposites but they mingle a little better during games, I guess," Todd said.
  • Todd was in the comforts of the locker room during the rain delay but heard some stories about how wild it was from friends. "I heard it was really crazy," he said. "We were in the locker room. I didn’t actually hear it. I heard about it from other people. They said that they were pretty wild. I actually stepped out one time to see how bad it was coming down and I heard them and they were kinda getting after it.That’s exciting to see. They’re out there sitting through all that and pretty passionate about what’s going on. Everybody appreciates that. We all try to go up to the students before the game and try to get them going because it helps us during the game as far as energy level and everybody getting riled up. We really appreciate that."

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