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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Late notes: Days off did wonders for Auburn

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn's players returned to the practice field Sunday night for their first full-scale workout since last Thursday. It was a welcome break.

"You hope that just mentally as well as physically that it was a good time to escape away from all this craziness here for a day and a half or so," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "I think it'll be big. I think, again, it came at a time where we could use it."

Chizik gave the players Monday and Tuesday off during the team's bye last week. After Wednesday and Thursday practices, the Tigers had a brief walkthrough Friday before getting Saturday off.

"A lot of guys have fresh legs today and that's something we haven't had in a while," right tackle Andrew McCain said. "I think that's really important to have that bye week, not so much for scheme reasons, which always helps to get a jumpstart, but just to be rested is a big help."

Auburn has the added bonus of not having class this week because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

"Obviously, it's somewhat of an advantage simply because they don't have a lot of other things on their mind as far as going to class and things of that nature," Chizik said. "They can really spend a lot of their own free time voluntarily coming in and looking at stuff and spending more time preparing for the game."

Despite the extra available time, Chizik is trying to keep this week's schedule as normal as possible.

"I'm not a guy that likes to vary off the things that we've done," he said. "We feel good about our preparation and how we do it. We're at a point in the year where there's not anything new you're going to do. We've been doing it now going on 12 weeks. We're more concerned with doing what we do and not deviating from that."

Follow the blog on Twitter. And read these other notes ...
  • Because of the holiday this week, I'll be doing a live football chat on Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET/2 p.m. CT. I'll have a link up when there is one. Hope to see you there.
  • Auburn hoped to see linebacker Eltoro Freeman at practice Sunday after the sophomore missed all of last week's workouts with a right ankle injury and a concussion he suffered during the Georgia game. From the sounds of it, he still wasn't full bore. "He took some mental reps today," said defensive coordinator Ted Roof, without getting much more specific. "Got some good mental reps. Moving forward."
  • Chizik said the weekend off helped the sophomore recuperate from his ailments but added that it was still too early to know if he'll be ready for Friday's game, something that probably won't change as the week progresses. "Again, that's going to be day-by-day," Chizik said. "And I'm going to say you're going to ask me that question again and it's going to be the same answer for about four days and it won't change until gametime." Freeman, who wore a protective boot on his right foot last week, did not have the boot on Sunday. In the five games since he returned to the team following a brief leave for personal reasons, he has 23 tackles.
  • Chizik pulled out some old footage to try to get the team pumped for the game. "He came in our team meeting and showed us some film, a clip from 1989, something like that, the first time Alabama came and played," running back Ben Tate said. "He showed clips from that. It was just nice to see that with them winning and everything like that. I think Alabama was undefeated and No. 1 team in the country that year and something like that. Just seeing that whole emotion and seeing coach (Pat) Dye giving that speech after they won, it was pretty exciting."
  • McCain sounded pumped to finally be a contributor in this game. "It's real exciting," he said. "It's one of those games that growing up in this state, it's a big deal to a whole lot of people. Then once I got here, it becomes even a bigger deal and now I have an opportunity to get there and play and some direct impact on the game is real exciting for me. Couldn't be more thrilled about the opportunity."
  • He doesn't mind the underdog designation that Auburn will have (Alabama is a 12-point favorite, by the way): "I think anybody who follows college football would call us underdogs and we understand that and that's part of it," McCain said. "They've got a great team and they haven't been beat all year and they've been playing real good football. And that's the way that it should be. They've played better than we have and more consistently so we know that we're underdogs. But at the same time, we're working hard to do everything we can to give ourselves a shot at winning."
  • James Willis helped recruit a large number of players currently on Auburn's roster, so it will be an odd reunion for them to see the linebackers coach on the Alabama sideline Friday. Willis, who was briefly the lone holdover on Chizik's staff from Tommy Tuberville's tenure, left for Alabama and an associate head coach title in January. It was an unusual move in a state with strong team allegiances, especially for someone who played at Auburn from 1990-92 and coached on the Plains for a total of six seasons, first as a graduate assistant, later as a linebackers coach. "He's got to do something for his family," Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes said. "Of course in this state, that's a big thing to do, going to Alabama. That's something they take hard. But he had to do what he had to do to take care of his family. But ultimately he's not the matter right now."
  • DE Antonio Coleman on Willis: "I don't look for coaches on the sideline. It's a business. I don't hold anything against him. He's a great coach."
  • I'll be writing about Auburn's defense going up against Alabama's highly-touted running game for Tuesday's newspaper, but defensive lineman Michael Goggans had a good quote about running back Mark Ingram on Sunday: "I know d-line as a whole, we said he's not going to win the Heisman on us. So we're going to definitely stop him and stop that run. They've got a great running attack, but if we do our job as a d-line, it shouldn't be a problem."
  • Coleman hasn't quite forgotten last year's 36-0 rout in Tuscaloosa: "It happened last year. That's last year. I can look back and say I'm mad, I'm pissed. That's still last year. I've gone back and watched the film. We started off the game — we weren't playing bad football. We had a couple misfits here, a couple misfits there and they busted a couple runs. They got up on us."
  • Coleman couldn't think of a better way than a win against Alabama for his last game at Jordan-Hare Stadium: "It would be big-time. This is the reason I came back -- big games like this, big wins like this. It would mean a lot to me."
  • Tate still thinks his comments from two weeks ago about being the best running back in the state are being blown out of proportion. "I've definitely been surprised by it because despite of what I said, they kind of took it out of context because of all the things I said about Mark Ingram as well," he said. "I said I think he's good, I said I hope he wins the Heisman and all of that. They're just trying to make me like a bad guy. But, nah, I'm not really worried about all of that."
  • Tate said he has to stay confident. "You don't have to be cocky, but you have to be confident to believe in yourself," he said "If you don't believe in yourself then who else is going to believe in you? If you're the quarterback of the team and you don't believe in yourself first and show confidence, you know what I mean, then how are other guys going to follow? That's just with any player."
  • He relishes the opportunity to go up against Alabama's No. 1 ranked overall defense. "It's just a really good opportunity for this offense," he said. "The No. 1 defense in the country, it's a really good opportunity to show what we can do as an offense and just actually get to see where we're at. They're a great defense, we're a pretty good offense and we'll see who's better on that day."
  • Tate said Auburn has to be aware at all times of the whereabouts of three Alabama defenders: DT Terrence Cody, LB Rolando McClain and DB Javier Arenas.
  • Tate thought a win would be huge too: "For us it would be great because coach Chizik is in his first year here at Auburn and it would be good for us as a program just to get the program jumpstarted and getting it going again. Those guys are undefeated. I don't think we'll probably keep them out of the national championship if they win the SEC Championship, but we could definitely say we beat that team and we just won the Iron Bowl. It would mean a lot to the program. It would help us turn the program around a lot. "

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