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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Late night practice notes: Auburn debuts at No. 4 in Bowl Championship Series rankings

Auburn came in at No. 4 in the initial Bowl Championship Series rankings, which were released Sunday night.

The top three teams were Oklahoma, Oregon and Boise State. TCU was fifth, followed by LSU, Michigan State and Alabama.

Tigers players, who were getting out of practice as the rankings were unveiled, brushed off the Auburn's lofty position.

“That’s music to my ears, but at the same time we can’t dwell on anything like that,” quarterback Cam Newton said. “That’s not really important right now. We just have to continuously do our job and execute and play good football.”

The Tigers were fifth in both the coaches' and Harris polls. Their average computer rankings was third, behind Oklahoma and LSU.

Auburn, which has a chance to boost its standing with a win against LSU this weekend at Jordan-Hare Stadium, isn't concerned about making believer out of the doubters.

“We’re not trying to convince nobody,” linebacker Josh Bynes said. “As long as the 150 guys and the coaches in the room believe that we can handle it, that’s all that I really care about.”

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Here are some more notes and quotes from later interviews Sunday:
  • Auburn has been pretty highly-ranked this late in the season not too long ago. Left guard Mike Berry was on that team. Now an elder statesman, he's trying to keep the younger players level-headed. "Being here in '06, we were undefeated going into the Arkansas game, we were undefeated and we had beaten a real good LSU team," he said. "Being a young guy myself, I was on the bandwagon. I was like, 'We're going to the national championship. We can do this.' It's one of those things where you can't talk about it too early, because you can get beat any game. You've got to stay focused and humble."
  • A lot of folks like to say Les Miles has been lucky this year. Newton turned it around. "You also could turn that on us and say: What if this wouldn't have happened in our game?" he said. "Luck is such a big word we use in the game of football."
  • Newton said he watches a lot of ESPN. He claims not to see any highlights of himself on there. "No, I don't. I catch it on the wrong time," he said. "I catch it on Baseball Tonight or First Take."
  • He finally admitted maybe he has seen a highlight or two of himself. "A couple times," he said. "I really don't want to see it because I'd be blushing a little bit too much."
  • Newton on his first touchdown run Saturday, when he ran over Arkansas linebacker Jerico Nelson. "I didn't know I did that," he said. "I was just trying to score a touchdown by any means necessary. I was just doing my job." (Did not know this until now, but Nelson is the player who crushed Mario Fannin last year, getting his facemask entangled with Fannin's.)
  • Newton took the blame for the delay of game penalty third quarter, right after Onterio McCalebb's 99-yard kick return to the 1. "I didn't see the game clock," he said. "It was a lack of clock management, but I was unaware of the clock at the time. I cost the team five yards. I'm the quarterback; I say 'hut.' I had the play. It was a bad quarterback play, so to speak."
  • Newton's scooter gang is growing. DE Joel Bonomolo has one now. "His is faster," Newton said. "I think I need to invest in something. I caught him at the stoplight. I didn't know it was him at first, but then he lifted up his shield. Then we looked at each other. Then he beat me. What did he do to his that I didn't to mine? I've got to get that turbo."
  • Auburn has rushed for 300 or more yards in its last three SEC games. That's the first time its happened since the school began keeping accurate date in 1967. "Not even when Bo was here?" Berry asked. Umm ... no. "That's real big, putting up these offensive numbers like that is definitely big. We're definitely proud of it."
  • LSU will challenge that number. The Bengal Tigers lead the SEC and are third nationally, giving up only 83.6 yards per game. Auburn leads the SEC and is sixth nationally in rushing offense at 283.7 yards per game. (That is what we in the business call a "key matchup.") "I know they've got a good defense. I know they're ranked in the top of just about every defensive stat you can have," Berry said. "I know we've got our hands full, I know they have great players. It's just one of those things where you've got to go out and have great practices and get yourself prepared."
  • Last year's LSU game did not go well. Auburn finished with 193 yards of total offense in an ugly 31-10 loss. "It just seemed like we couldn't get things clicking," Berry said. "It was just one of those things where the offense wasn't hitting on all cylinders. It definitely puts an emphasis on this game that we've got to bring our A-game and we've got to come prepared to work."
  • Defensive coordinator Ted Roof's assessment of the Arkansas game: "I was disappointed in some of the things we did. There are a lot of things we’ve got to get better at to have a chance against LSU. That’s an Arkansas team that made some good throws that stretched us. We had a couple quarters back to back where we struggled. I was proud of the way we snapped back and made some plays that puts us in position to score points."
  • With Aairon Savage set to undergo surgery Monday and T'Sharvan Bell dealing with a hamstring injury, Auburn is running out of experienced players in the secondary again. "We are what we are and we are who we are," Roof said. "That’s not going to change. Regardless of what, we’ve got to make sure everybody has a sense of urgency to improve. That’s part of being a team. Next man up. By this time of the year, most teams have issues somewhere. Most teams across the country and whatever level, after you play seven games you start to get beat up and the nicks and the bruises start to add up. That’s football and the next man has to step up. That’s what we’ve been able to have so far. The chemistry that we have is good. Now we’ve got to continue to work to get better with our performance.”
  • Mike McNeil will likely start in Savage's place, but Auburn had a good three-man rotation going with Savage, McNeil and Zac Etheridge. Walk-on sophomore Ikeem Means said he might get in a new three-man rotation. "I’m deeply sorry seeing that," Means said. "I just hope to, not exactly fill his shoes, but to improve. I know my playing time will increase a little bit, but I’m deeply sorry for the incident that happened."
  • Means has heard all the stuff being said about the secondary: "You hear that our defense, and basically the secondary, is making us weak. We just really feel all that talk on ESPN that we’re the weak links. We’re just going to improve that. ... I always wanted to be in a big game, and I think I’ll get my shot. It’s up to me to do what I want to do."
  • Asked if anyone played well defensively Saturday, Roof said, “Well when you give up 43 points, you don’t hand out a lot of superlatives."
  • He did say that Mike Blanc, Craig Stevens and Daren Bates did a good job on the play that resulted in a fumble that Etheridge returned for a touchdown. He also gave defensive tackle a nod. "A guy who is playing well and not getting a lot of recognition is Zach Clayton," Roof said. "He’s a guy who has played really good.”
  • Defensive tackle Nick Fairley put the hit on Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett. He says it's not something he tries to do. "I try to take advantage of my three seconds after they (snap) it," he said. "Sometimes they throw the flag, sometimes they don’t.” Fairley didn't know how hard he hit Mallett. "I knew I had got a hold of him, but I didn’t know until we watched film," he said.
  • Fairley knows the defense can't play like it did Saturday the rest of the way: "We aren’t going to win every game if we give up 43 points."
  • 'What went wrong on the defensive end? "We've just got to make better plays on the ball," linebacker Josh Bynes said. "We'd be in position right there. We just need to make plays on them, be football players out there. They've got the right technique, they just need to make plays on the ball. We give up too many long passes down the field. It was heartbreaking because we didn't do that all year."
  • Bynes' two interceptions against the Razorbacks give him three this season, tops on the team. Some players got on him about it Sunday, but he reminded them of a forgotten fact. "I'm like, you need to remember I led the team in interceptions two years ago, my sophomore year," he said. "So it ain't like it's something new to me." Bynes said he dropped four or five interceptions last year because he got too anxious.
  • LSU runs a more traditional offense than Arkansas, meaning a healthy dose of running plays should be in the game plan. "I look forward to running," Bynes said. "A lot of these teams we've played so far have gone with outside stuff. I don't even have too many tackles. I've been missing the action a little bit. They're making me run all the way across the field to make a tackles now, but it's all good."

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