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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Late night notes: Quick turnaround presents challenge for Auburn as it prepares for MSU

With Auburn facing a short turnaround for a Thursday night game at Mississippi State, head coach Gene Chizik was asked if the publicity gained from being ESPN’s marquee game is worth the trouble.

“I’ll tell you after it’s over,” he joked.

On Sunday, No. 22 Auburn (1-0) began the first of four days of preparation for Mississippi State (1-0), which has an equally short turnaround after thumping Memphis 49-7 in its opener Saturday.

Auburn’s last Thursday night game was a 34-17 loss at West Virginia in 2008, Tommy Tuberville’s final season. The Tigers haven’t played after a short week with their current staff.

“You’ve got to be smart in how you proceed,” Chizik said. “You can’t do too much, yet you can’t do too little.”

It helps that the game is so early in the year. The Tigers were able to work on some things for the MSU game during the summer and two-a-days.

“It’s going to be mental,” defensive end Antoine Carter said. “It’s going to be a quick turnaround so you’ve got to learn fast, study more and try to get things in as fast as you can.”

Monday will be the most physical practice of the week, far enough away from the previous game and far enough in advance of the following one.

"We are going to be smart, but at the same time you've got to get your work done," defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. "So we've got to do that, because this is going to be a physical ballgame. There's a fine line between getting yourself ready to play a physical ballgame and putting in physical work and being smart so we're as fresh as we can be Thursday."

The payoff of a Thursday game is usually worth it, especially from a recruiting standpoint. The game is a showcase, one of two on the night and the only one televised by ESPN.

Chizik doesn’t think the extra attention will change the team’s approach.

“It’s got to be a very business-like nature,” he said. “They need to understand that everybody’s watching and it’s going to be an exciting time, but you’ve got to prepare like every other week.”

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Lots of stuff to cover, so settle in. Here are some more notes and quotes:
  • Chizik did not divulge any further details about linebacker Craig Stevens’ team-imposed suspension. The All-SEC senior did not play in the opener. It’s not clear how long he’ll be out or whether or not he’ll be allowed to practice in upcoming weeks.
  • Must be a touchy subject. One reporter tried to ask Roof about what adjustments need to be made without Stevens in the lineup and he wouldn't even give an answer. "Any questions regarding Craig, go through coach Chizik," he said. "I'm not going to answer that."
  • Carter at least talked about Stevens, albeit vaguely. "He's handling it pretty well. He don't let you see him sweat so you can't really tell. You don't know what to expect. From the looks of it he's handling it pretty well."
  • Fellow linebacker Josh Bynes thinks Auburn’s new-found depth at the position will help while Stevens is gone. Junior Eltoro Freeman (6 tackles) and sophomore Jonathan Evans (4 tackles) rotated series in Stevens’ absence. “It’s no worry at all,” Bynes said. “I feel like the linebackers we got now are able to step up at any point. They have to go with the flow, regardless of who’s out there and who’s not.”
  • Saturday night was the first time most people have seen quarterback Cam Newton show off his running ability. It’s old news for Auburn’s players. “I’ve seen in a number of times,” center Ryan Pugh said. “Y’all have only seen it one game.”
  • Newton ran for 171 yards in the opener, breaking the 36-year-old school record by a quarterback of 160 set by Phil Gargis against Georgia. It’s an element Auburn hasn’t had for a while. Although he had an accurate arm, Chris Todd, the team’s quarterback for most of the previous two years, wasn’t fleet-footed. He finished with minus-116 rushing yards last year, a figure that includes sack yardage. Pugh, for one, welcomes the change. “It puts stress on the defense and causes them to change what they do a little bit,” he said. “It’s nice for us guys up front because we really haven’t had a running threat at quarterback in three years. It’s nice to have somebody who can make you look really good up front.”
  • At least two of Auburn's touchdowns came on busted plays. Newton's 71-yard touchdown jaunt was one. His final touchdown pass to Mario Fannin on a dump off was too. Both were made possible by Newton's mobility. "Some of the offense last night was offense by accident, which involved him, which again that's the chance you take defensively," Chizik said. "If you decide to blitz or do some things, if there is one opening and you're playing man coverage and your back is turned and he breaks the pocket, he can run through it for a long ways."
  • My story for tomorrow's paper is on the running back situation between Fannin, Mike Dyer and Onterio McCalebb and if there is a changing of the guard. Without spoiling much, all you need to know is that Fannin got three carries yesterday, Dyer 14 and McCalebb nine. Fannin also didn't get a carry after he fumbled in the third quarter. "It's just kind of how the game unfolded," Chizik said. "I wouldn't read anything into that."
  • Chizik on Dyer's night: "I thought Michael did well. I thought he protected the football, there were a couple of runs in there where they were really, really trying to claw after the ball and try to punch it out and strip it out. He really protected the ball well. I thought when he saw an opening or a seam in the defense, he hit it downhill and made some physical type yards. Wasn't a lot of indecision, when he saw something, bang, he hit it. When he felt he needed to bounce it outside, he hit that pretty quick, too. I thought he did well for his first night."
  • Fannin thought he had the ball secured enough when he fumbled. He didn't. "That's just football," he said. "You have to have a short memory and you keep going forward. That's just part of the game. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't. You've just got to make sure when it does happen that you've got to correct it."
  • Fannin didn't know what to think about his No. 1 back status. "I mean, that's the coaches' call," he said. "That's something I can't really control, but hopefully that does go up, so you've just got to sit back. The coaches know what they're doing. You've just got to put your trust in them and just keep pressing forward and cheer your teammates on."
  • Dyer thought it was good to get his first college game out of the way. "I can go out there and I know I can compete with these guys on a high level," he said. "And I'm back in the rhythm of playing football. I got a good understanding of how things work and how fast the pace is."
  • Dyer got to know South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore pretty well during the recruiting process. Lattimore, who chose the Gamecocks just before signing day, ran for 54 yards and two touchdowns in his debut. Dyer had 14 carries for 95 yards and a score. "He did pretty good for himself," Dyer said. "I figured I'd try to come out there and do the same."
  • Dyer, by the way, said he prefers to go by Mike. Adjust accordingly.
  • Chizik said WR Trovon Reed (bruised kneecap) is “doing better.” It’s unsure if the freshman will play at MSU. He was held out of the opener. ... Freshman DE Craig Sanders had three tackles on special teams in the opener, catching Chizik’s eye. “His hustle I’m hoping is very contagious to our team,” he said.
  • Chizik didn’t know if the CB Chris Davis would be available after the freshman limped off the field with an ankle injury Saturday night. “That one really is probably going to be day-by-day,” Chizik said. “I don’t know. He’s sore.”
  • It was a big game for Aairon Savage, Zac Etheridge and Mike McNeil, who returned from injuries for the first time. Chizik thinks they got better as the game wore on. "I think even if you talk to them, they would say they were a little bit rusty," he said. "But they're going to get better."
  • Chizik continued to give out kudos to WR/PR Quindarius Carr. "You know, he did some nice things in two-a-days, but we want to see him do it on game day," he said. "And for him being back there for the first time as a punt returner, not just catching the ball but making decisions. He saved one ball that could have been downed on the 1- or 2-yard line. Those things just didn't occur last year, and I think we're making progress."
  • Offensive tackle Brandon Mosley played some at tight end and tackle in the opener. He wore No. 84 so he wouldn't have to report every time he came into the game as a traditional tight end/eligible receiver. "He's able to help our football team in two different ways and that's something we need him to do," Chizik said.
  • Roof spoke at length about the defense. To sum up his thoughts: the unit needs to be more consistent, tackler better and get off blocks more, especially on the perimeter. "Whether there were 10 people doing it right, there was one guy that was inevitably ... when that happens, it seemed like that one guy is always found," Roof said. "We've got to make sure we're operating in a more efficient manner."
  • The short turnaround raises the sense of urgency to improve. "You know the old adage that you make the biggest jump than your first and second week?" Roof said. "Well, we've got a half week, so we've got to make three weeks worth of jump in a half week. We've got to do that."
  • One bright spot on D: the Tigers allowed only 43 rushing yards. The reason? The team was more physical inside. "Any time you do that you're going to have a chance to win football games," Roof said. "And we did do a better job but it's got to get better, though, because the team we're playing this week led the SEC in rushing last year. Was ninth in the country and put up a bunch of yards and a bunch of points against Memphis."
  • Bynes agreed: "To win in the SEC, you got to be able to stop the run. At the end of the day, when it comes down to Georgia, Alabama, games like that at the end of the season, it’s all about the running game. You have to be able to stop the run to win this league, period. I feel like if we can stop the run, we’ll win a lot of games."
  • Roof and Chizik were extremely complimentary of Mississippi State's offense. Chizik said it is "tremendous looking." Roof thinks the Bulldogs are going to be one of the more physical offenses Auburn will play. "I mean, it looks like night and day compared to when we played them a year ago," Chizik said.
  • The Bulldogs' two quarterbacks -- Tyler Russell and Chris Relf -- complicates making a defensive game plan. "It's not just one offense you're preparing for; you're preparing for a couple different offenses," Roof said. "With (Relf) being 6-4, 240 and being fast and a good runner, he's really improved as a thrower. The other quarterback threw for a bunch of yards and they threw for an 80 percent completion rate. One's quarterback rating was 298 and the other's was 200. Those things are off the charts. We've got our work cut out for us because you've got to play games with getting enough in the box and being able to stop the runs and the gap-scheme runs and at the same time not letting it go over your head. That's the challenge and when you do play coverage you've got to have guys get off blocks and make tackles."
  • Don't think you can judge everything these teams will do based on the first week. "They didn't do everything the first week, just like we didn't," Roof said.
  • It gets lost in the shuffle, but Auburn was only 3-5 in the SEC last year. It's not a forgotten fact among the players. "If we want to get to where we want to go -- and that’s the SEC championship -- we have to win SEC games period," Bynes said. "I believe we won two my sophomore year and three last year. That ain’t going to get us nowhere but back to the Outback Bowl. That’s a great bowl, but that’s not where we want to be. We want to be sitting right there in the national championship. We have to win all these SEC games. We got to go out there and beat Mississippi State, LSU, Arkansas....Those are important games. Those are games you have to win to get to that big ship, and that’s exactly what Alabama and Florida have been doing, and we have to do the same thing."
  • There will be cowbells in Starkville on Thursday. Oh, there will be cowbells. Chizik doesn't seem concerned. "In my opinion, every place is really, really loud in the league and every place has its challenges," he said. "We don't really think of that any different, really, with the noise factor. We'll just prepare like we always do." Chizik said the team usually has a day where it pipes in noise to simulate playing on the road.
  • MSU fans apparently followed the cowbell rules in the opener. "I’m glad they put those rules on them, they used to ring them every three seconds," Bynes said. Asked if he thinks the fans will follow the rules Thursday, he quickly said. "Nahh."

4 comments:

Donohoe said...

Wow, lots of good stuff. Thanks!

Clint Richardson said...

How is MSU preparing for the quick turnaround?

Andy Bitter said...

Probably the same way. There's not really a disadvantage for either side, since they both played Saturday.

Tar Heel Tiger said...

I want to see a cowbell penalty...just for the fun of it!