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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Late night practice notes: Tigers' offensive line trying not to be one-hit wonders

Auburn’s offensive line heard coach Gene Chizik’s challenge to be more physical last week loud and clear.

The front five had their best effort to date against South Carolina, clearing the way for Auburn to run for 334 yards against what was statistically the best rushing defense in the SEC.

“He knew we were capable of playing tenfold better,” center Ryan Pugh said. “When you’re challenged like that to be a man, are you going to stand up? That’s what we did.”

Chizik expressed dissatisfaction with the way his veteran offensive line played the first few weeks, thinking the group that had 125 combined starts could play more physical.

“It started with getting our feelings hurt a little bit, but that had to happen,” left tackle Lee Ziemba said. “We decided that coach Chizik wouldn’t get up there in front of the team and lie and say something that wasn’t true. So we just had to look in the mirror.”

Quarterback Cam Newton ran for 176 yards, but he wasn’t alone. Freshman Mike Dyer got 23 carries for 100 yards, the first Auburn running back to top the century mark this year.

South Carolina, which entered the game first in the SEC in rushing defense, allowing only 59.7 yards per game, dropped to eighth in the league after getting gouged, watching its average rise to 128.2 yards.

“We had to bring a new mindset to practice and I guess just get a kick in the butt and be reminded what our job is and how we’re supposed to do it,”Ziemba said.

With Louisiana-Monroe on the schedule this Saturday, there’s a new challenge.

“You could say there’s more pressure on us not to be a one-hit wonder,” Ziemba said.

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Here are some more quotes and notes from today's interviews:
  • Good moment during the Pugh interview. His cell phone went off. The ringtone? "Lean on Me." Ziemba was off to the side waiting to be interviewing and belted out a line or two of the chorus. Not bad pipes on Ziemba. Bill Withers would be proud.
  • The line started to see the pace catch up to South Carolina a little bit in the second half. "Once you get it going, you start seeing the defensive guys arguing with each other, not even getting in their stance, looking over to see what the defensive call is while we’re calling the snap count out, you think you’ve got them," he said. "You forget about how tired you are. You want to go faster. You can’t go fast enough."
  • Newton, whose name has started popping up on preliminary Heisman lists after being named SEC Offensive Player of the Week for the second time Monday, is not worried about any hype going to his head. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn’s wife won’t let him. Newton has had good relationships with his coaches’ wives in the past. He was close to then-Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen’s wife, Megan, when he was in Gainesville. He’s formed a similar bond with Kristi Malzahn, whom he calls Miss Kristi. “What doesn’t she do?” Newton said. “She’s always texting me on a consistent basis. I like it. She’s one of the most honest people on this earth. She’s always telling me what she thinks I should do, always giving me her opinion. I’m always around a lot of guys and I don’t get a female’s opinion about a lot of stuff. She’s been a big help for me.”
  • Newton said both Gus and Kristi check in on him. "They're always worrying," he said. "If they weren't always worrying, then that's when I'd be worrying. I know they have my best interests at heart."
  • After wrapping up his interview Tuesday, Newton predicted he’d hear from her soon. “She’s probably going to look at this and text me tonight,” he said. “Or whenever y’all post this stuff.”
  • Chizik said a few weeks ago he didn't like seeing his quarterback be the team's leading rusher. He seems more at peace with it now. Malzahn too. "Well we try to build our offense around our quarterback’s strength," he said. "And obviously we don’t want him to take all the extra hits, and ideally you wouldn’t want to run 25 times a game. But we want to take what the defense gives us. We do run some read things, and if they give him -- they gave him the ball quite a bit on the read stuff. But he can run and he can throw."
  • Teams are starting to put a spy on Newton. He's aware. "That kind of limits my game, but I think I'm able to be successful in other ways with a defender spying me," he said. "That's a great deal of respect the defense gives you -- if they feel like they have to spy you and keep you on their mind. That's another thing they have to game plan. I really don't look to run every single down. I feel like I owe it to the receivers -- they're also out there battling and doing their job. I need to get them the ball as best I can."
  • Malzahn still doesn't sound thrilled about Newton taking big hits at the end of runs. But he doesn't want him to shy away either. "I’d rather tell him, 'Whoa!' than having guys run out of bounds on their own all the time," Malzahn said.
  • Regarding Newton's jump the end zone, Malzhan said: "He’s got a good vertical. Yeah. He’s a very gifted athlete." I assume he thought we were asking about the one that got negated to start the fourth quarter.
  • When asked if he was worried about Newton landing on his shoulder the wrong way, like the end of his Superman leap in the first quarter, he seemed more concerned. "He’s a big strong guy, but when you jump that high you definitely worry about coming down wrong," Malzahn said.
  • Obligatory Louisiana-Monroe defense answer from Malzahn: "They fly around. They’ve got a lot of speed. They do a lot of unconventional things. They can give you fits. You look at the way they played Arkansas in the first half. We’ve got to be on our A-game and we’ve got to be ready to play."
  • Interesting way the coaches handled two separate fumbles Saturday. Mario Fannin lost a fumble and didn't get another carry. Dyer lost one and stayed in the game. "Anytime anybody fumbles, a lot of thoughts go through your mind, and you just got to have a feel for the deal," Malzahn said. "You got to understand with Mario, he’s got a shoulder issue, too, so there’s more to it than just that. You have to think about all those situations."
  • Newton on Dyer: "Mike, he's growing up before our eyes. He's embracing it very well."
  • Emory Blake got in the box score, but he wanted to make sure fellow wide receiver Jay Wisner got some recognition for the 12-yard screen pass that went for a touchdown in the fourth quarter Saturday. Blake lined up in the slot and caught a bubble screen from Newton. He made three South Carolina defenders miss, but Wisner provided a key block to spring him, pushing his defender six yards off the line of scrimmage. “He just kept pushing,” Blake said. “I felt him in front of me and I kind of started driving my feet behind him, and it was enough to get me in the end zone.”
  • "That’s a point of emphasis that we tried to get better on blocking the perimeter," Malzahn said. "That’s a great example. Emory made a good run, but Jay blocked his guy all the way in the end zone, so that’s really nice to see."
  • Malzahn came away impressed by how RT Brandon Mosley played, despite a few penalties. He considered the situation. "The thing about Brandon is that he’s a tough guy," he said. "He’s kind of got that Auburn toughness to him. He’s going to get better and better. In his defense, he played right tackle there for a while, left tackle, then back to right tackle. He won the job on Tuesday. They do a lot of things from an odd front, even fronts, moving back and forth ... really felt like he came a long way and did a very solid job for us."
  • As usual, an entertaining interview with DT Jeffrey Whitaker (although I regret to say I didn't get it on video). He began it with some playful back and forth with Pugh, who got the better of him on one block. "I tripped over myself," Whitaker said while laughing. "It looked like a pancake on tape. But I know what happened. He knows what happened."
  • The freshman played only four snaps against South Carolina, but he thinks his game is coming along. "The progression has grown big time, from Game 1, you're nervous, you don't know how you're going to play, you're worried about going the wrong way," he said. "Now, Game 5, you're just ready to get in the game and show what you can do."
  • Tuesday was a physical practice, by all accounts. "You've been out there in practice before [quick note: we haven't], you've heard how practice is," Whitaker said. "That's the way we try to make it happen. Like today, it was a physical practice. Hit, hit, hit, hit, hit. Because this is the only day we get to go out and do that, a physical practice. But Tuesday relates to Saturday a lot. If you would have come to the Tuesday practice last week and saw South Carolina, it was the same thing in practice. We just try to be as physical as we can."
  • Sounds like there's some playful competition among the freshmen defensive linemen about who is going to finish his career with the most sacks. Whitaker jokingly said Corey Lemonier "stole" his sack against South Carolina, when Stephen Garcia was flushed out of the pocket and into Lemonier's arms. "This is a competition," Whitaker said. "I said, 'Hey, when we leave, I'm going to have more tackles than you, I'm going to have more sacks than you and I'm going to have more tackles for loss than you.' And so they're looking at me like, 'Naw, it ain't going to be like that.' So now it's a competition."
  • The Tigers are trying to stress finishing strong. The defense has stepped up to the occasion, forcing four turnovers in the fourth quarter against South Carolina. "Coach Chizik brought up a lot of examples from last year where we had games won, but we just lost it in the fourth quarter," DT Mike Blanc said. "This year, that's something we definitely wanted to capitalize on. When the fourth quarter's coming around, we want to make sure we're doing the right things and don't mess up on the coverage or on the offensive line, don't mess up on the blocking scheme. And defensive line, just know where you're supposed to fit up. It's just the little things at the end of the game where people win or they lose."
  • Blanc likes that the defense is holding up its end of the bargain in some of these games. "We hope that more down the season it can get to that point where, 'Hey offense, you guys go out there and give us seven points and we've got the game won,'" he said. "That's how we would like to see it, like the old Ravens defense where Ray Lewis would be like, 'Hey offense, give us three points and we're going to win the game."
  • Blanc won SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week honors after making seven tackles and recovering a fumble against South Carolina. The senior, who doesn't start, is plenty motivated. "This is my last year, and we've got guys on defense making big plays," he said. "If you're trying to make big plays, you'd better be out there hustling to the ball, because if you don't somebody else is going to make it."
  • Ziemba brushed off Auburn's top-10 ranking. "We’re not even out of September yet," he said. "I’m not really focused on that."
  • Auburn is saying all the right things about not taking ULM lightly. "No one is just going to give us a win just because we're 5-0 or they're in the Sun Belt Conference," Newton said. "It's all even play out there."


Clint Richardson said...

"Chizik said a few weeks ago he didn't like seeing his quarterback be the team's leading rusher. He seems more at peace with it now. Malzahn too."- Even if they wont say, are the coaches starting to turn this into Cam's team?

Great job AB, like always. How do you guys determine who to interview? Is it coaches' decisions, majority vote between you beat writers, or just whoever shows up?


WDEwg said...

Hey Andy, quick question.

Can you find out why Neil Caudle is always announced as a starter, and I think they say "Rover"?

In Arky State, it made sense because he threw that bomb off the lateral to Darvin. But since then, he's been announced and hasn't seen the field.

I presume that it is a respect thing, but I don't even know what a Rover is (I thought it was a defensive position in pee wee football like a safety). Thanks for all you do!

Andy Bitter said...

I believe they know full well that Cam is their meal ticket on offense.

As for interviews, we request whoever we'd like. Chizik has to approve the players on a list. Those who get approved are encouraged to show up. Some don't. The guys that do, we like.

As for Caudle, I believe they announce him as the holder.