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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Late notes: Thin Tigers starting to feel the pinch

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s depth problem is starting to rear its ugly head.

The Tigers knew they were thin heading into the season, but they are finally starting to see the repercussions from a low number of contributors, particularly on defense after a 44-23 loss to Arkansas on Saturday.

“You’ve got to really watch what you do so you don’t overload your players and force them to make unforced errors by being confused,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said.

“There’s a fine line in having enough bullets in your gun to shoot to be able to do the things you need to do and at the same time not overloading your guys and making good players slow down because they’re thinking too much.”

With Eltoro Freeman dealing with what the coaches has termed “personal things,” the Tigers basically played three linebackers — Josh Bynes, Craig Stevens and Adam Herring — for all of Saturday, when Arkansas ran 82 plays and held the ball for over 38 minutes. Stevens and Bynes combined for 20 tackles.

The lack of depth has had a trickle-down effect. With its starters swamped, Auburn has been forced to play younger, inexperienced players on special teams as a result.

The Razorbacks took advantage, turning momentum around at the end of the third quarter on a 70-yard kickoff return by Dennis Johnson, who sidestepped three would-be Tigers tacklers on the play.

“You want your best guys on those cover teams and there’s no question about it, but where we are right now, we’ve got some starters on it and some that aren’t on it,” head coach Gene Chizik said.

“The bottom line is at some positions if we lose that starter, there’s such a dropoff to the next guy that we’re playing a lot of young guys and we’re going to have to have some different answers. We’re just in a little bit of a bind there.”

Click here to follow the blog on Twitter. And then read the rest of these notes from Sunday's practice ...
  • Chizik said there’s a chance punt returner Anthony Gulley returns this week. He missed the Arkansas game with an undisclosed injury.
  • The coach gave no concrete update on cornerback Walt McFadden, who missed the second half Saturday with a right leg injury. “Obviously today he came back in and we looked at him,” Chizik said. “Right now we don’t think it’s anything catastrophic, but it will be day-by-day with him.”
  • He didn’t sound optimistic that safety Mike McNeil would be back soon from a broken leg suffered last spring. “To be honest with you, I don’t know where Mike is in the big picture of coming back,” Chizik said.
  • Stevens said Freeman wasn't at practice Sunday.
  • Running back Ben Tate’s career-best 184 rushing yards against Arkansas gives him 742 for the season to go with four touchdowns, numbers that already top what he did in a full 12 games last year. “I knew with coach (Gus) Malzahn’s offenses that I would have a pretty good chance to put some numbers in,” Tate said. “He told me that at the beginning of the year, it’s just all about hard work and it’s about staying humble. And if I stay humble and I keep working hard, hopefully these things will keep happening for me.”
  • Tate said to have the career rushing day in a losing effort was bittersweet: "It's mixed feelings. Of course, I'm glad I ran for that many yards but it doesn't mean the same because you didn't win the game. It's a big difference between running for that many yards when you win and when you run for that many yards and you lose. I was kind of glad I ran for that many yards, but I was more mad that we lost the game."
  • Tate's eyes lit up momentarily when a reporter told him that Kentucky has the worst rushing defense in the league, allowing 177.8 yards per game. "You can't really go in there thinking about that," he said. "It's an SEC defense. Any time they can buckle down. You always have to go in thinking that you're running against somebody like Tennessee or Florida, because those are great defenses and you have to approach every game the same."
  • I wrote my main story for tomorrow about how Chizik sensed the Tigers might have had a tough time against Arkansas, just judging by the way they practiced late last week. But it wasn't all bad. Here's what he though auburn did well: "There are some things that happened in the game that were good. Obviously we're highly disappointed in the outcome. We rushed for 240-something yards. Third-down defense was better typically than it's been. We had points in the game where we really fought back and caught some energy and breathed some life back into our team again. There's those types of things that went on. The outcome was very disappointing."
  • Chizik thinks the early success of wideouts Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery has made them targets for opposing defenses. "I think they're starting to know where they're at," he said. "I think maybe they're more aware of where they're at than maybe they were leading up to the last two weeks. A lot of defense is just awareness of the good players. I think that they've gotten a lot of people's attention."
  • Quarterback Chris Todd couldn't help but cringe a little bit thinking about the surefire touchdown pass he overthrew to a wide-open Zachery in the first quarter. "I didn't actually realize how open he was until I went back and watched it," he said. "They brought a twist off the edge and changed up the timing, but it's a throw you need to make. We make it every day in practice. That's one you'd like to have back. You just have to move on from it."
  • I'm planning on writing a story on DE Antonio Coleman tomorrow, so I don't want to use a lot of the information now, but know this: the senior, who's battled wrist and knee injuries this year, DOES NOT have a tackle the last two games. That's a shocking stat.
  • I didn't put this in my lead note, but Stevens said the extra plays don't affect him too much. I don't know if he's just trying not to let on he's tired. "I'm used to it now," he said. "It doesn't even really faze me now. I don't feel myself wearing down throughout the game or anything. I don't think it has as much impact on me now."
  • Even with the depth problems, Auburn having a hard time getting freshman linebacker Jonathan Evans up to speed so that he can play meaningful snaps this season and give the starters a spell. "We got him a few reps at the end of the game or whatever," Stevens said. "It takes a lot, especially coming straight out of high school, to adjust to the game. I feel like they're making it slowly but surely."
  • Here's Roof's take on Evans: "That's an area this week that he's got to come on. Part of the transition is knowing what to do and being accountable and that's where Jonathan has to make some strides this week so we feel comfortable putting him in the game at any time."
  • Roof said once Auburn gets up to a full complement of linebackers and defensive linemen, presumably in the future, that he will be able to be more aggressive in terms of blitzing because the players will be more fresh. "That's what I've been in the past and that's what I'm going to continue to be," he said. "But at the same time, I think as a coach you just can't say 'This is what we do' and if that doesn't fit your personnel...you've got to have some flexibility within your package to be able to pick and choose based on what your personnel is."
  • Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline will miss at least two-to-four weeks and possibly the season after injuring his knee last week against South Carolina, Wildcats coach Rich Brooks told reporters during his Sunday teleconference The Wildcats might use a variety of players in his place. Junior Will Fidler replaced Hartline and completed 2 of 8 passes last Saturday. Brooks said receiver Randall Cobb, who started four games at quarterback last season, will be used in an expanded Wildcat role. He also said freshman Morgan Newton will compete for a starting spot and might burn his redshirt.

1 comment:

Aeronaut said...

I'm really concerned about Eltoro Freeman. I hope it was a one time malfunction and the guy gets a second chance.