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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Late notes: Punt return remains a major problem

AUBURN, Ala. — When prompted during his weekly Sunday meeting with reporters to talk about looking at new punt returners, Tigers head coach Gene Chizik rolled his eyes and shook his head.

“I don’t want to,” he said. “I don’t want to see any of them.”

The Tigers’ season-long struggles in the punt return game continued Saturday night, one of the few lowlights of a 54-30 win against Ball State.

Freshman Anthony Gulley, who got the nod after Mario Fannin and Demond Washington had gaffes earlier this year, muffed a punt in the first quarter, leading to an early Cardinals touchdown. Later in the half, Gulley fielded a punt and returned it one yard before coughing it up. The Tigers managed to recover that loose ball.

“We’ll continue to say the same things every day,” Chizik said. “Somebody’s just got to step up to the plate. I mean, we’re spending a lot of time on it, but they’ve got to do it in a game. ... It’s very, very disheartening that we spend so much time and we still can’t find somebody to catch a ball.”

Chizik said Auburn will consider all options at the position, even throwing some humorous names out there.

“We’ve discussed everybody from my son, who is 9, to
Jamar (Travis),” he said, referencing a shaky fair catch made by the freshman defensive tackle on a kickoff late in the game Saturday. “We’re looking for answers right now.”

Wide receiver
Quindarius Carr, cornerback Walt McFadden and safety Zac Etheridge are other names that have been mentioned in the past as potential punt returners.

Follow the blog on Twitter. Then read these other notes ...
  • Defensive coordinator Ted Roof didn’t give the impression that 6-foot-5, 252-pound Gabe McKenzie would be Auburn’s answer to depth problems at defensive end. The senior played there and at tight end on Saturday. “We’re looking for all hands on deck,” Roof said. “He’s got a great body. If you were to design a football body, that’s what you’d pick. He’s been around a while — a salty old vet. We’re going to keep working him. How far it goes depends on how far we can take him.”
  • Roof on freshman safety Daren Bates, who continues to mature by the week. "He took a step forward," he said. "He was more physical. He was more exact with his assignments. Still got a ways to go, but he took a step forward and he was better last night than he was the previous Saturday. Now he's going to have to be better next Saturday than he was last night. He took a step forward. That was a great strip he had on the sack. That was a great strip and Josh (Bynes) recovered and made a big hit over there on the sideline. So that was a step forward for him."
  • Two freshmen burned their redshirts Saturday in limited roles — Travis and offensive lineman Andre Harris. Travis, a 6-foot, 308-pound four-star recruit from Brewton, Ala., played on special teams late in the game, making a fair catch on a short kickoff. Roof said several players are ahead of Travis on the interior line, so playing time on the regular defense might be scarce. But he added, “Anything’s possible.” Harris, a 6-foot-3, 325-pound lineman from Lovejoy, Ga., played at tackle late in the fourth quarter.
  • Six freshmen have not played this season — running back Dontae Aycock, quarterbacks Tyrik Rollison and Clint Moseley, tight end Robert Cooper, offensive lineman Aubrey Phillips and defensive lineman Nosa Eguae.
  • Chizik said a variety of players might have a chance to play right guard after Byron Isom was suspended indefinitely from the team. Freshman John Sullen started there against Ball State, but junior Bart Eddins and sophomore Jared Cooper could get playing time as well
  • I'm posting this only for my own sanity, because I've gotten it mixed up today. Sullen is at right guard. Mike Berry has played left guard all season. There was only some confusion because Auburn's official notes package lists Berry as the starting right guard all year, which is not true. I even asked Berry about what it was like to switch to the left side for Ball State and he looked at me like I was from Mars. Deservedly I guess. End of rant.
  • Berry on Sullen's first start: "It was pretty cool. He stepped in there. He did what he had to do. I think he did a good job. We just told him that we were going to rally behind him. We told him, 'Don't worry about a thing, just get out there and play.'"
  • RB Onterio McCalebb came in for an interview today. He didn't seem to be limping at all on his injured right ankle. "I feel a lot better," he said. "I'm going to play Saturday."
  • WR coach Trooper Taylor used to work in Tennessee, so this week gives him some extra motivation. "The first thing he said today was we have to go in and play hard," McFadden said, "because he's sure they got his name on the tombstones."
  • RB Ben Tate had these words of advice for playing against a physical SEC defense: "I just tell him to pop a couple aspirin before the game because it's going to be hard-hitting. I don't know what to tell a guy like that. He's confident in himself. I'll just tell him to focus on the little things and be attentive. And hold on to the ball."
  • We got a lot of stuff on the challenges of playing on the road, especially from a communication standpoint on offense. I plan to write that story for Tuesday, so I'll hold those quotes for now.
  • The last time Chizik faced off with current Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin was the 2006 Rose Bowl, when Texas beat Southern California 41-38 for the national championship. Chizik was the Longhorns’ defensive coordinator while Kiffin was the Trojans’ offensive coordinator. "Obviously when we played them years ago, they were one of the best offenses in the history of college football," Chizik said of USC's offense, which had QB Matt Leinart, RBs Reggie Bush and LenDale White and WR Steve Smith, Patrick Turner and Dwayne Jarrett. "That's how talented they were."
  • Did Chizik have a point total in mind for what he wanted to limit them to? "Whatever was lower than how many we scored," Chizik said. "Really and truly. That's really a hard question to answer. It seems like it was centuries ago. I don't know that there was a number you could really try to pin on that offense."
  • Lot of quotes today on the Tigers' phrase "Do What We Do." Here's what a few players said it meant to them:
  • McFadden: "That basically just a motto for us to let us know we practice this every day. It's something we go over, sudden changes, fumbling, how to get back on the field, turnovers, just being prepared for everything. We do that every day in practice. Do what we do is basically saying don't be shocked if something happened in the game. We already went over this."
  • WR Tim Hawthorne: "It means exactly what it means. It's do what we do. Whatever we do, do it to the best of our ability. And we don't have to change a lot of things when you're playing other teams in conference games. You've just got to stick the basics and perfect what we're doing. And do it as good as we can. For the most part, a lot of teams, like I said, they get away from their scheme and we want to keep it as simplified as possible. You never know what coach Malzahn has up his sleeve, but for the most part, we stick to the basics and perfect what we do. And be the best in the country."
  • Tate: "Doing whatever the team needs me to do to help get a win. If that's picking up in the pass protections or running for 200 yards or pass blocking so Chris (Todd) can throw for 20 yards … it's whatever I need to do to help the team win."


Peter "Big Snacks" Frankenschmidt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter "Big Snacks" Frankenschmidt said...

How did you not know that the notes were wrong on Big Snacks? He's been over there all year.

Peter "Big Snacks" Frankenschmidt said...

So, with so many players mentioned to replace BI, who seems to be in the lead? Sullen started the last game and held his own, so you gotta think he's the man, but I guess the coaching staff isn't sold with a true freshmen there if they're talking about several peeps. What's your take?

Also, what the heck happened with BI? Anyone said ANYTHING?

Andy Bitter said...

Quite honestly, that's not a position you pay too much attention to until you have to. I noticed he was in there but never really noted what side he was on until Sullen went in. (Plus, I feel like they moved around in the preseason.)

As for Isom, we haven't heard anything. Chizik didn't specifically rule him out this week but mentioned the other guys who would play instead.

My guess is Sullen starts. There's a reason Auburn went with him last week. But it wouldn't surprise me if the other guys were worked in, just to get them some experience.

Peter "Big Snacks" Frankenschmidt said...

Ha. Yeah, guess so. Plus, he's played pretty much every spot on the line in the last few years at one point or another.

Aeronaut said...

Sullen didn't hold his own. No offense to the freshman. He will improve leaps and bounds. You just don't put freshmen on line.

It was against BSU. Here's how it went, the first quarter.. five handoffs:

3-2 @ 46 Ben Tate rush up the middle for 1 yard to the AU47

4-1 @ 47 O. McCalebb rush around right end for loss of 1 yard to the AU46

1-10 @25 Ben Tate rush over right guard for no gain to the AU25

3-1 @34 Ben Tate rush over right guard for no gain to the AU34

1-10 @72 Ben Tate rush over right guard for no gain to the 72.

(Credit goes to warblogeagle).