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September 30, 2010

A replay of today’s live chat

Another good chat today. Went for 75 minutes or so. Not bad for ULM week. Sorry if I didn’t get to everybody’s questions. We’ll try it again next week. If you missed it, here’s a replay:

Video: A one-legged kickback, staying grounded and sending Steve Spurrier a check, pronto

Here’s a video I put together after post-practice interviews. It’s got wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor, running backs coach Curtis Luper and offensive line coach Jeff Grimes. Enjoy.

And see you at tomorrow’s live chat at 3 p.m. ET/2 p.m. CT. Link will be up tomorrow.

Late night practice notes: Auburn looking for stronger effort in its lagging punting game

Auburn special teams coordinator Jay Boulware is mostly satisfied with how his many units have played this year.

The punting game is a notable exception.

The Tigers enter Saturday’s game against Louisiana-Monroe ranked last in the SEC in net punting with a 34.8-yard average. They’re 82nd nationally.

Senior Ryan Shoemaker has handled all 16 of Auburn’s punts this year, averaging 38.9 yards. That’s nearly two yards less than Clinton Durst’s average last season.

“You’d like for a senior to be able to handle the responsibilities of punting, since he is a senior, he has played in games,” Boulware said. “He’s done some decent things, but obviously you don’t want him to just do what he’s supposed to do, which is get rid of the ball. You want him to do that and beyond.”

Auburn has another option on the roster. Steven Clark, a strong-legged, 6-foot-5 freshman from Kansas City, battled Shoemaker for the starting job up until the final week before the season. If he plays, he’ll lose his redshirt.

“That’s something that obviously we’ll keep evaluating,” Boulware said. “Steven’s a young kid that’s got a lot of ability. There are some things that he needs to continue to work on as well.”

(Quick blog plugs: Twitter and Facebook. I’ll also be doing my regular live chat tomorrow at 3 p.m. ET/2 p.m. CT. The link will be up tomorrow.)

And now for some more quotes and notes from today’s interviews:

  • Place-kicker Wes Byrum uncharacteristically missed a pair of field goals against South Carolina, coming up short on a 52-yarder before hitting the right upright on a 23-yarder early in the fourth quarter. The senior, who was 16 of 17 on field goals last year, has missed three of his last five attempts. “Wes has been going through a number of other things that nobody knows about,” Boulware said, declining to give further specifics. “Obviously that field goal is inexcusable from our standpoint. … And I think that field goal has really gotten his attention in terms of trying to work himself through those things. We’re hoping that we’ll see last year’s Wes come through.”
  • Boulware, commenting specifically on that 23-yard miss: “You should never miss a 23-yard field goal. Ever. Ever, ever, ever, ever, ever. Ever. That’s the type of thing that you’re supposed to be able to close your eyes and swing and make.We didn’t execute that one. He actually hit it really good, to be honest with you. His aim was off, which is very unusual for Wes, which you guys know.”
  • Head coach Gene Chizik said he couldn’t think of any freshmen who have not played who might. “Off the top of my head, no,” he said. (I’m guessing Clark could be an exception.)
  • Wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor said Trovon Reed (knee) looks better but has not been able to go full speed in practice. The freshman will need to during today’s practice if he is to play against ULM.
  • If Reed is unable to get to full speed, he could apply for a medical hardship waiver, which would allow him to redshirt even though he played in one game already. NCAA rules allow for that if a football player has participated in three games or less and not in the second-half of the season. “I don’t want to go there,” Chizik said, when asked about the possibility. “Obviously, he’s had some injuries we’re trying to tend to, but again, we’ll play it by ear and see how it unfolds.”
  • Running back Mario Fannin practiced without the shoulder harness he’s worn since injuring his left shoulder against Mississippi State. “He looks healed,” Taylor said. “He looks better.” Wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor thinks Fannin shoulder affected him on the fumble. He wasn’t able to bring his free hand over the top to protect it. Apparently removing the harness allows him to do that easier.
  • Chizik said fullback Ladarious Phillips (ankle) hasn’t been able to do anything more at practice. Phillips, a freshman, hasn’t played this year.
  • Taylor said freshman WR Antonio Goodwin (wrist) might have a bigger role this week, both on special teams and as a receiver.
  • Trooper said Travante Stallworth (knee) did better this week. He’s no longer practicing in a brace after having ACL surgery last year. “He actually did pretty good,” Taylor said. “I teased him I was going to take that brace off his knee and put it on his neck if he dropped another ball. But he’s doing a lot better.”
  • Trooper did not think Philip Pierre-Louis (knee) would be ready. “That was a tough injury, and he probably came back sooner than he should have,” he said.
  • It’s a big ball security week for Auburn after it fumbled three times against South Carolina, losing two. Even Mike Dyer, who had not fumbled yet, put one on the ground. “We don’t think it’s a chronic problem, but we want to make sure we nip in the bud,” running backs coach Curtis Luper said. “He was elevated – off his feet – and the ball was exposed to the defense. He naturally has good ball security.”
  • Luper would prefer not to see Dyer in that position again. “I like him to be on the ground – both feet … on … the … ground.”
  • Hey, Eric Smith fumbled too. Here’s why: “We lead with our shoulders,” Luper said. “We don’t lead with our head or our front, we lead with the shoulder, and that in turn, protects the ball because you keep the ball on the side instead of bringing the ball to the front. Eric had the ball in front. He – and we – were very fortunate on that one.”
  • Luper thinks Onterio McCalebb has improved since a disappointing first few weeks. “My expectations – and our expectations – for him are high, and he didn’t come close the first couple of weeks,” Luper said. “He’s added that dimension that we need, speed on the perimeter. He’s a good complement to Mike and Cam, and we need that to keep defenses honest.”
  • Luper said McCalebb occasionally needs to slow himself down. “That’s him, because he’s a mile a minute, and a lot of times his feet are out from under him before he knows it,” Luper said. “He tries to go too fast. I just want him to slow down a little bit initially and on his cuts.”
  • Fannin, by the way, has been working all over the place, “just like he always does,” Luper said. Hold on a second. I don’t believe that was the company line all offseason. He tried to sneak that one past us. I’m guessing Luper would like to take back his “Mario will rush for 1,000 yards: book it” promise from the spring.
  • Luper would like Fannin back in the offense, though. He’s a threat. “He always has a role out on the perimeter for us and at tailback,” he said. “It’s just a matter of health for him. We need to get him back 100 percent so he can get some confidence back, and, hopefully, we can get him in the game this week and get him going and get him in the flow so he can get some of his confidence back and we can get it back in him.”
  • Add Taylor to the list of coaches impressed Emory Blake‘s effort on a screen pass touchdown. “I told him we don’t have a drill for that, kind of made me look bad, that kind of one-legged kickback to the side a little bit,” Taylor said. “But we had talked about him getting close to the end zone and not scoring and if ya’ll remember we threw the bubble earlier and the guy tackled him by one foot and so when he got to the sideline, he got an earful. He was not going to hear that again, so he got to the end zone.”
  • As for Trooper designating Blake the “No. 3 receiver,” he said it doesn’t necessarily work that way. “We really don’t have it based off numbers that way, it’s really based off what’s open,” he said. “With Mario’s shoulder being what it is, we wanted to put Emory in position to catch some bubbles that normally Mario would be the guy. But it’s not based off we’ve got to get him so many touches, it’s based off the defense putting one guy inside the box and not putting a guy on top of him. We’ve got to take what they give us.”
  • South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier gave Auburn offensive line coach Jeff Grimes a compliment earlier this week, saying “I don’t know who their line coach is, but he’s a hell of a coach.” Grimes’ response? “Yeah, I need to send Coach Spurrier a check, I believe.”
  • Grimes, usually a tough critic, was impressed by the play of Auburn’s line. “Normally when I watch a game in person then I come back and watch it on tape, if I thought we didn’t play very good, it’s usually not quite as bad as I thought,” he said. “If I thought we played really well, it’s usually not quite as good as I thought. It’s usually somewhere in between. But the last two weeks have been the opposite of that. Seeing the Clemson game in person, I knew we didn’t play real well but when I watched it on film, it was even worse than I thought. The South Carolina game, I knew we did a good job or we wouldn’t have been able to do some of the things that we did, but when I went back and really looked at it in detail and saw how hard the guys actually played and how physical they were, I was even more impressed. Really, really pleased with their effort.”
  • Grimes liked RT Brandon Mosley‘s effort Saturday. He said it’s been tough on him, losing out on the job initially and the moving to the left side as a backup for a few weeks. “When guys are competing for a starting job and they don’t get it, typically they go in one of two directions,’ Grimes said. “They’ll either go downhill because their focus wanes or they lose motivation. Or they’re driven to do even better. Some cases it helps them get better because the pressure’s off a little bit. I think both of those things happened with him. The pressure was off, and he had an opportunity to just focus on improving as a player. And he was hungry. He wasn’t just going to sit back there and take it. He focused on getting better every day. Really what he’s done the past couple of weeks has prepared him for this opportunity. It really wasn’t just that he did a great job last week in practice. He did. It was a culmination of what he’s done for a while.”
  • Apparently John Sullen tweaked a leg last week that kept him out for a little bit of practice. You have to think that plays a factor in him not getting the starting gig.
  • Safety Zac Etheridge and Ole Miss running back Rodney Scott were nominated for the 2010 Courage Award, which is given to a player or team that displays courage on or off the field. You’ve heard the story before. After Etheridge suffered his serious neck injury last year, Scott lay motionless underneath him while medical personnel came to the field. Etheridge was cleared medically this summer and has returned to action, starting all four of Auburn’s games. His 24 tackles are tied for second on the team.

September 29, 2010

Video: Vertical jumps, hurt feelings, butt kickings and impromptu karaoke

I didn’t get Cam Newton or Jeffrey Whitaker on video tonight (they’re probably the two best video guys on the team right now), but I did put together a video from interviews with offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, left tackle Lee Ziemba and center Ryan Pugh. Enjoy.

(That’s Ziemba singing at the end, by the way.)

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.

(Quick blog plugs: Twitter and Facebook.)

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.”

September 28, 2010

Live blogging Gene Chizik’s press conference

Gene Chizik has spoken. Here’s what he said:

  • “Good to have an early game. First early game we’ve played. … We’ve got to get better as a football team. That’s our focus this week. We’re really worried about ourselves.”
  • On dealing with rising expectations: “I hope nobody’s expectations are greater than our own. I really believe that every week is never about an opponent necessarily, it’s about Auburn. … We’ve just got to go back to work.”
  • “It’s a good feeling to be 4-0. It certainly beats the alternative. But we still haven’t put together a game that we can be proud of top to bottom.”
  • “I think we’re better each game at certain things, but something pops up that we’re not better at.” Said it goes back to consistency message he’s preached since Day 1.
  • Wouldn’t say the issues are frustrating. “The little details of the things that we’re doing are what need to be fixed.”
  • First Louisiana Monroe question. The Warhawks spread teams out offensively. Gave Arkansas some trouble in the opener. Defensively, they use a three-man front. It’s a different look. “But it won’t be about Louisiana Monroe. It’ll be about Auburn.”
  • “Turnovers are an enigma to me.” Said some are forced, some are put in your lap by the offense. “I don’t know why, but sometimes they come in bunches and sometimes they don’t come for a long time.”
  • Brought up the fumbles. Had three, lost two. “That’s unacceptable.”
  • Quarterback Cam Newton is starting to get a lot of attention. “I think Cameron is going to handle it well because he understands the importance of winning games.” Chizik stressed the team aspect. If the team is successful, everyone gets considered for awards. Doesn’t think it’ll be a distraction for Newton. Said he’s very “grounded.”
  • Chizik not getting ahead of himself. Wouldn’t even say he would like to get Barrett Trotter some snaps. “We expect this to go down to the end.”
  • Philip Lutzenkirchen played some more out of the “3″ position, which does H-back things, rather than tight end. “The great thing about Philip is he’s kind of a dual guy. I think he’s becoming a more confident football player as we go forward.”
  • On if he has a feel for this team after four games: “I feel like if we become a better team for four quarters, we’ll have a better chance to win more games.”
  • “I know our football team is going to fight. I know they’re all in to the end.” He must get royalties for saying, “All in.” I think Poker Stars is a sponsor.
  • Thought the team did a good job getting more physical last week after he challenged them. “There’s a lot to our guys. And when you challenge them, I think they respond.” Added, “But that’s got to be a way of life. That’s who you have to be all year long.”
  • Said the interior line guys are playing well. “I think we’ve got a chance up front there to be a good defensive line.”

And that’s a wrap. We’ll have more later.

Tigers reaping benefits of deeper defensive line

My story in today’s newspaper is about the defensive line. Here’s how it starts:

AUBURN, Ala. — Ted Roof was blunt in his assessment of why redshirt freshman Nosa Eguae jumped past senior Michael Goggans to start at one of Auburn’s defensive end positions last Saturday.

“Our decision is based on performance,” the defensive coordinator said, pulling no punches. “Anytime there’s competition, that’s the kind of environment you want to create. And it’ll make everybody better.”

So far, that appears to be true for a defensive line that has been the strongest part of the Auburn defense.

The Tigers’ front four brutalized South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia and neutralized freshman phenom running back Marcus Lattimore in a 35-27 win last week.

Auburn had three sacks and 15 quarterback hurries in addition to holding the SEC’s one-time second-leading rusher to 33 yards on 14 carries, mostly due to the defensive line’s efforts.

Read the whole thing here. Blog plugs: Twitter and Facebook.

September 27, 2010

QB Cam Newton, DT Mike Blanc earn SEC Player of the Week honors

For the second time in a month, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was named the SEC’s Offensive Player of the Week.

Newton accounted for 334 yards and five touchdowns in Auburn’s 35-27 victory against South Carolina last Saturday, the second time he’s been involved in five touchdowns in a game this season.

Defensive tackle Mike Blanc was also honored as the Defensive Lineman of the Week. The senior had a career-high seven tackles (three solos) and a fumble recovery against South Carolina. He was part of the Tigers’ defensive line that held the Gamecocks to 79 rushing yards, 119 below their season average.

Newton ran for a career-high 176 yards and three touchdowns. He now has the second- and third-highest single-game rushing totals by a quarterback in school history.

Newton also completed 16 of 21 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns. He’s the first Auburn quarterback to throw for at least two touchdowns in each of his first four games.

He leads the SEC and is 11th nationally in rushing (121.3 ypg) and is atop the the conference and fourth nationally in passing efficiency (182.46). He’s also second in the league and 18th nationally in total offense (292.0 ypg).

Newton is the first Auburn player to earn SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors twice in the same season since Kenny Irons in 2005.

(Blog plugs: Twitter and Facebook.)

It’s never too early to begin the Heisman hype. Is Newton worthy of that kind of talk? We wrote about that in today’s paper. Check it out.

And just for comparison’s sake, here’s how Newton stacks up through four games against Tim Tebow‘s Heisman Trophy 2007 season:

  • Tebow: 65-95 passing, 1096 yards, 68%, 10 TD; 70 rushes, 368 yards, 7 TD (played Western Kentucky, Troy, Tennessee and Ole Miss, record: 4-0)
  • Newton: 43-68 passing, 683 yards, 63%, 9 TD; 75 rushes, 485 yards, 5 TD (played Arkansas State, Mississippi State, Clemson and South Carolina, record: 4-0).

Tebow had a little bit better numbers (especially passing), although he had an extra creampuff opponent in there. The point is, you put up good stats on an SEC team that looks like it’s going to finish pretty high in the standings, and you’ve put yourself in a good position to be a contender. And now that Auburn is in the top 10 — and if it can stay there — Newton will get plenty more national recognition than before.

Of course, as Ryan Mallett learned, that also means performing your best when the nation is watching. So Newton will undoubtedly need big games against Arkansas, LSU, Georgia and Alabama to warrant serious consideration, which is asking a lot.

Is this premature? Probably. Then again, it’s Louisiana-Monroe week. Got to write about something.

** One scheduling note: Auburn’s game at Kentucky on Oct. 9 will start at 7:30 p.m. ET and be televised by ESPN or ESPN2, according to the schools’ websites.

Video: Heisman hullabaloo, lengthy leaps to the end zone and Nosa’s new starting gig

I put together a video from tonight’s interviews. It’s got quarterback Cam Newton, defensive coordinator Ted Roof and defensive end Nosa Eguae. Enjoy.

Late night practice notes: Cam Newton brushes off early Heisman talk

Heisman talk? Cam Newton‘s not buying into it.

The Auburn quarterback, who leads the SEC in rushing (121.3 ypg) and pass efficiency (182.46) and has accounted for 14 of the Tigers’ 17 touchdowns this year, said he hasn’t given the trophy one thought.

“Oh, my goodness, no,” he said. “I’m just going to continue to do my job. I’m not going to think about that right now because I think that would be selfish of me.

“A speaker came and talked to us one day, past player, and said take one day at a time, take one play at a time, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Newton’s case might gain steam in upcoming weeks. He was named Rivals.com’s National Player of the Week after his 334-yard, 5-touchdown performance in the Tigers’ 35-27 win against South Carolina on Saturday.

His teammate think he should at least be in consideration for the Heisman at this point.

“He’s probably the best player on one of the best teams in the country,” tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said. “So I think he should be up for it.”

(Quick blog plugs: Twitter and Facebook.)

Let’s get on to the bullet points:

  • South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson apparently said much of Auburn’s success was through a finesse running game. Newton disagreed. “I wouldn’t call it finesse,” he said. “I would just call it executing the game plan to the best of our ability.”
  • Newton ran the ball a career-high 25 times Saturday. He felt OK Sunday. “I’m all right,” he said. “I feel like I pick and choose when I’m delivering and taking blows, but all in all, I’m all right. Surprisingly, I’m not as sore as I thought I would be or people thought I would be. I’m OK.”
  • Newton took off from the 7-yard line on the plunge at the end of his 54-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, a Superman-like pose for the leap. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn wasn’t necessarily pleased. “We were watching film and coach Malzahn said, ‘You know, I don’t want my quarterback just diving, landing on his shoulder unless you have to. Did you have to dive?’” Newton said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I had to dive because I thought I was going to get tackles. I guess there could have been an alternate way of handling that, but it was spur of the moment and I thought it was the best way of entering the end zone.”
  • Did he ever think he wouldn’t make it? “That would have been embarrassing,” he said. “But no, I think my momentum was enough that I could have taken off from the 10 if I thought I could make it.”
  • Newton liked what he saw out of freshman RB Mike Dyer, who had 23 carries for a career-high 100 yards. “When it comes down to the nitty gritty, when the game is getting close, he wants the football,” Newton said. “His eyes are gleaming with give me the football. He knows what he’s capable of doing. I think after he fumbled the football, he wanted it even more. Wanted to get a little bit of payback to say the least about all that. Mike is an excellent player and excellent teammate to be around, and he hasn’t even tapped into what he’s capable of doing yet.”
  • Newton goes a long ways in carrying out his fakes when he’s running the zone read, acting as though he has the ball if he doesn’t to confuse the defense. “That can be the difference in you holding the back side safety,” he said. “It’s all the little things that help.”
  • Sticking with the offense, Philip Lutzenkirchen played more snaps in the “3″ position (an H-back role) than tight end. It brought him back in the offense. He caught his first three passes this season for 22 yards and a touchdown. “It was my time I guess,” he said. “I was open.”
  • A lot’s been made of Auburn wanting to spread the ball to more receivers. Six different players caught passes Saturday. Only three did the previous week. “I mean, if you ask anyone, I think everyone wants the ball more,” Lutzenkirchen said. “We’ve got so many weapons on this offense. Cam’s doing a good job spreading it around. When you got guys like Darvin Adams, who’s probably one of top receivers in the SEC last year, guys like T-Zach, I’m not complaining. Just whenever I get the ball, I’m going to do what i can with it.”
  • Lutzenkirchen thinks Newton’s running ability is opening things up on the offense, forcing team’s to use a spy on him. “I think defenses are foolish if they don’t do that,” he said. “Cam is a weapon. He always has the ball in his hands. It’s one of those deals I’d have someone spying on him the whole game. But I’m not a coordinator.”
  • WR Emory Blake made a nice touchdown run after catching a screen pass in the fourth quarter, a play he and Newton credited Jay Wisner for setting up with a good block. It’s Blake’s second touchdown this year after not doing much his freshman season. “It’s tough,” he said. “Sometimes you feel like you can make plays when the coaches don’t think you can, but that’s the coaches’ decision. I’m sure they didn’t feel like I was ready to the end of the year – and I played a little bit more toward the end of the year last year. Now, I’m playing.”
  • Still on offense, Brandon Mosley said he found out Thursday he’s be starting at right tackle. He had an erratic game, getting hit with three different penalty flags but otherwise holding up throughout the night. It helped that he had already gotten in a game as an injury replacement at left tackle earlier this year. “Going from left to right, it doesn’t seem as hard,” he said. “It’s the plays, getting them mixed up. You have to remember what side you’re on. That’s what kind of got me. It wasn’t bad at all because I prepared throughout the week.”
  • One penalty was glaring. He was flagged for a false start on the first play of the fourth quarter, a fourth-and-1 that would have been a Newton touchdown had it not been whistled dead. “It really frustrated me,” Mosley said. “I was just leaning. It’s something so small, something so stupid that really hurts. I kind of forgot about it after that and kept on playing.”
  • Mosley said Auburn’s pace took its toll on South Carolina: “You can tell when they got tired — they were standing up, hands on their hips and weren’t ready. We knew we were whipping them. It felt really good to get that pace going and knock them back.”
  • Let’s jump to defense, where Ted Roof‘s crew had another strong second half. ” I think it’s good the way that we’ve had to be on the field at the end of the last three ballgames, where it’s come down to the last play,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of value in that, so when it keeps happening to us to build some confidence that we can shut the door and end the football game.”
  • Auburn force four turnovers in the fourth quarter after getting just two in the first 15 quarters of the season. “I think some of the pressure that we put on the passer earlier in the game I think adds up,” he said. “Those hits on quarterbacks and toward the end of the game, I think that may have been a factor.”
  • Didn’t notice this the other night, but Auburn’s defense was on the field for six plays in the third quarter.
  • Roof continues to be impressed by Bynes. “He’s really an aware football player,” he said. “He knows everybody’s job on every snap, and I haven’t been around many guys that do that. And he works at the game and as a result of that, he’s very aware. You saw him flash and then drop off the quarterback’s eyes and made a pick. They were giving him a hard time in the film room because he’s dropped several of those, and that thing seemed like it was in the air forever. So they were busting his chops when they were watching the tape and he finally caught one. I thought it happened at a pretty good time.”
  • Roof praised the defensive line, which had a good chunk of Auburn’s 15 quarterback hurries and three sacks. “I think you see some increased depth there, which Tracy (Rocker) has done a real good job rolling those guys,” Roof said. “So we’re playing a lot of people up front and I think it’s helped. And I think that those guys are buying in and doing what coach Rocker is asking them to do. Good things are going to happen.”
  • Nosa Eguae replacing Michael Goggans as a starting DE was performance-based. “We want to reward performance, because if you want to have good things happen to them when they perform, we want them to understand that,” Roof said. “And Nosa played well. And he’s rewarded with a start. Anytime there’s competition, that’s the kind of environment you want to create. And it’ll make everybody better.”
  • Eguae apparently knew last Sunday that he’d be starting. “I’ve been doing my job in games, but I pride myself on trying to be a practice player that makes plays in practice,” he said. “I feel like if you make plays in practice, you’re going to make them in games. Whatever (Roof) saw, I just want to work hard in games and in practice.”
  • Oh yeah, apparently Auburn has a game this week against Louisiana-Monroe. “We can’t overlook anyone,” Newton said. “There are plenty of examples of people overlooking in the past, and especially this season. We don’t want to ever get too complacent or too comfortable with the position we’re in. also, whatever publicity we get over the wins, we can’t get too excited. We’ve got to stay on an even keel because you can’t ever take your foot off the gas.”