Auburn did not take precautionary moves with the five regulars who didn’t play Saturday against Florida Atlantic. It took necessary ones.
“It was not to keep anybody out,” Tigers head coach Gene Chizik said. “It was because, health-wise, they needed to be out.”
Cornerback Chris Davis (head, ankle), linebacker Jonathan Evans (shoulder), defensive end Dee Ford (undisclosed), tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen (ankle) and right guard John Sullen (undisclosed) did not play against the Owls for injury reasons.
Davis, Evans and Ford did not even dress. Considering the opponent and the schedule that lies ahead, it figures that anyone of borderline health right now would be held out.
Auburn got beat up during the game, too. Running back Onterio McCalebb appeared to take a hit to the head on a fourth quarter run, needing help off the field.
Punt returner Trovon Reed hurt his shoulder on the Tigers’ final punt return. Tight end Brandon Fulse also had to leave the game briefly.
McCalebb and Fulse were at post-game interviews, suggesting they are OK. Reed has declined to do interviews all season, so although he was not present afterward, it is no indicator.
“We’re going to continue to evaluate exactly where they’re at,” Chizik said. “Again, that’s going to be a scenario where we’ll probably know more toward the end of the week. You can group those guys with the rest of them.”
Lots of interviews tonight. Here are more notes and quotes:
- The Tigers knew Lutzenkirchen wasn’t going to play in Saturday’s game, so they went about preparing offensive linemen Blake Burgess to play as a blocking tight end. His thoughts after one game in the No. 86? “Coach says I look good in an eligible number,” Burgess joked.
- The sophomore played mostly on the outside in Auburn’s unbalanced Wildcat formation, supplying an extra blocker for the run-first formation. The Tigers first tried the backup center/guard there early last week, with plans on using him later this year. That schedule got moved up, though. Burgess runs routes before and after practice, although he doesn’t think any passes are coming his way. “The last time I touched the ball, I was a second grader playing fullback because I was the largest player on the team,” Burgess said. “So it’s exciting and definitely a change of pace. But anyway I can help this team, that’s my job.”
- Quarterback Kiehl Frazier threw his first career pass Saturday, although the freshman knows he probably shouldn’t have, considering the coverage. “I was so nervous going in,” he said. “I had two options so even though it was double-covered, I had to try to get it in there. It was definitely fun to get my first pass, though.”
- It continues to be a slow process for Frazier, who was in for only a handful of snaps against Florida Atlantic, which was still more looks than he’s had all year. Frazier hasn’t gotten any first-team work in practice, but he continues to be brought along, getting about half his reps in the base offense and half in the Wildcat. Out of the Wildcat, he’s run four times for 33 yards, with a long of 15. Will that be his role the rest of the season? “Whatever coach (Gus) Malzahn thinks,” Frazier said.
- Auburn is to the point of the season where freshmen who haven’t played likely won’t to preserve their redshirt year, barring an unforeseen injury that would thrust them into the lineup. “Off the top of my head, I would say that’s accurate,” Chizik said.
- Nine freshmen who are eligible to play this season fall into that group — defensive linemen Keymiya Harrell and Jabrian Niles, linebackers Kris Frost, Chris Landrum and Anthony Swain, wide receiver Sammie Coates and offensive linemen Christian Westerman, Greg Robinson and Thomas O’Reilly.
- Defensive coordinator Ted Roof was asked one thing he thought the Tigers made the most strides in. His response? “Tackling. We made some individual tackles in space that we didn’t make the week before. And the yardage after missed tackles was decreased as well. Anytime that happens, that’s a positive thing.”
- South Carolina, with running back Marcus Lattimore and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, has some weapons. Auburn did an OK job of containing Lattimore last year (he had 127 yards on 30 carries in two games). Jeffery torched the Tigers in the first game (8 catches, 192 yards, 2 TD). Here’s Roof’s recollection: “Oh, yeah. I remember him. He what, caught 23 balls against us the first time we played? I know exactly who he is. But you know if that’s not clicking they can give it to Lattimore over and over again.” More on these two in Tuesday’s newspaper story.
- How do you tackle Lattimore? “We’re going to make sure we get more than one person on them because just one guy isn’t going to bring them down,” cornerback T’Sharvan Bell said.
- DT Jeffrey Whitaker goes way back with Lattimore. They were both recruited to Auburn two years ago and played in the All-American game together. “I look at Marcus like a relative,” Whitaker said. “That’s how I look at Marcus. We’ve been knowing each other and we talk from time to time. The deal is — when you go to a relative, you don’t put your mind into hate. If my brother walked into this room and we had to compete right now, it doesn’t mean I hate him. I’m going to try to take his head off. At the same time, I don’t hate him. I have love for him. It’s a competitive matchup.”
- DE Corey Lemonier had his best game of the year, with 6 tackles, 2 TFLs and his first sack. He said it’d had been frustrating taking his pass rushing moves that worked in practice and not having them work in the game. “I tell you what, he was much more active this week, much more sudden,” Roof said. “I thought that he cut it loose this week and it was good to see him cut it loose.”
- CB Jermaine Whitehead said he got “lucky” when he jumped the route for the interception he returned for a touchdown. Once he got it, it was a great feeling. “I looked in front of me, and I ain’t seen nothing but the white lines and the crowd,” he said.
- Whitehead, a true freshman who dabbles in the nickel and out wide at corner, has been making strides. “My confidence is definitely going up, just every rep, every situation,” he said. “Coach is trusting me more. He lets me make my mistakes and, even in film when we’re watching, makes me call my own mistakes out. I’m growing a lot from that.”
- The offensive line didn’t have a great game against FAU, failing to establish the run and having protection breakdowns that led to quarterback Barrett Trotter taking some hits. Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes didn’t yell at his line Saturday. As for Sunday … “It was a little different mood today than it was last night,” left guard Jared Cooper said. “There’s a lot of things we’ve got to get fixed. Coach Grimes does a good job of telling us in a way that keeps everybody upbeat, keeps us encourage not just a beat us into the ground kind of deal.”
- The biggest problem up front remains communication. “It’s something that you always hear people talk about chemistry on the offensive line,” Cooper said. “And that’s something that doesn’t just pop up overnight. That’s something you have to build. With a different group, I think that’s something we’re still in the process of doing.”
- This stretch coming up will tell a lot about Auburn. The Tigers play at No. 10 South Carolina, at No. 18 Arkansas, at home vs. No. 12 Florida and at No. 1 LSU. Cooper said Auburn had a saying a couple years ago: October Victories Equal Respect, or OVER. “That’s something we’re going to have to carry with us this week,” Cooper said. “October is by far our toughest month. I’m sure it is for a lot of people. It’s going to be a grind.”
- T-Bell had a good take on it: “It’s going to separate the men from the boys. Hopefully I don’t have no boys fighting next to me because it’s going to be tough in October. We’ve got a lot of guys … and that’s why they come to Auburn, for this long stretch we’ve got. I don’t think anybody is going to shy away from the challenge.”