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November 24, 2012

Notebook: Mason, Blake reach milestones; Iron Bowl loss one for the history books

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – A couple of personal milestones were in reach entering Saturday for key Auburn offensive players, and Tre Mason and Emory Blake didn’t disappoint – even if it took until the very end of this wayward season.

The Tigers’ sophomore running back and senior wide receiver weren’t satisfied with being shut out for the second time in as many SEC games, but they could settle for landing themselves on some impressive individual lists.

Mason came in knowing to become Auburn’s 22nd 1,000-yard rusher and the fifth in the last four seasons, he had to get 80 yards against the nation’s No. 3 rush defense. Alabama had only permitted LSU’s Jeremy Hill and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel to surpass 80 yards on the ground.

Add Mason to the list, who on his 21st carry ate up 5 yards on the final play of the season to get to 82 yards Saturday, and 1,002 on the year.

“With all the guys up front, it’s a blessing to have a line in front of you like that,” Mason said. “(Fullback) Jay Prosch is also a blessing. I just tried my hardest to get that 1,000 yards.”

Blake, in his final college game, moved into the top five on Auburn’s all-time receiving yards list, becoming one of only two Tigers (Karsten Bailey 1995-98) to be in Auburn’s top five for receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns.

“I didn’t even know how close I was or anything like that – I’ve just been concentrating on the game,” said the understated Blake. “It’s a good accomplishment, though. I’m glad I set that milestone.”

The NFL prospect hauled in a gorgeous over-the-shoulder pass by Jonathan Wallace in the final minute of the third quarter, good for Blake’s third reception of the day and finishing him out at 2,022 career yards.

“I have a lot of great memories at Auburn,” Blake said. “Even though it’s a tough season, I wouldn’t change anything. I learned a lot, and I can’t believe my time here is over.”

Low points: Alabama led 42-0 after 30 minutes, its largest halftime lead ever on Auburn. Never before in the Iron Bowl’s 77-game history had one team banked 40 points in back-to-back matchups.

Alabama converted on its first 11 third-down plays, not requiring the use of a punter until 13:12 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Auburn was knocked around by chief rivals Georgia and Auburn by a combined 87-0. The Tigers had not been shut out by the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide in the same year since 1906.

If Alabama’s second-stringers had punched it in from the Tigers’ 5-yard-line in the closing moments and followed up with an extra point, it would have been Auburn’s most lopsided SEC loss in school history.

On this 10-game SEC losing streak, Auburn has been outscored 359-102.

Parting gift: In the closing moments of enjoying the rout, the Alabama student section began rhythmically mocking their opponent’s head coach.

The students chanted “Chizik! Chizik” all the way until Gene Chizik had taken cover in the visiting locker room – flanked by a dozen security personnel.

Poor Parkey: When Alabama elected to receive the opening kickoff, Auburn junior placekicker Cody Parkey booted his 33 rd touchback of the season.

Since the Tigers never scored, that was the last time Parkey appeared on the field – before the game clock officially began running.

Hobbled veterans: A pair of Auburn senior defenders, cornerback T’Sharvan Bell and linebacker Daren Bates, each had to be helped off by the training staff in the first half. Bell returned to action, but Blake was replaced by freshman Kris Frost, and the Tigers’ top tackler finished with just three takedowns.

No Flo: Defensive back Erique Florence did not dress for the third time this season due to “personal issues”.

Every other regular traveled to Tuscaloosa and was in uniform. Freshman guard Christian Westerman (ankle) dressed but did not play, while temperamental safety Demetruce McNeal was benched in favor of Ryan Smith.

Alabama 49, Auburn 0: Actions speak louder than words, one last time (with Chizik video)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Again, Auburn coaches and players spent all week swearing they were improved, promising practice went well, convincing anyone who would listen they would play with pride and passion on Saturday.

For the final time of too many to count, actions spoke louder than words.

The final nightmare was administered by rival Alabama, which outplayed, outcoached and out-everythinged the woebegone Tigers 49-0 Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

The 77th Iron Bowl figured on paper to be one of the most lopsided matchups in series history. It played out exactly that way, as the Crimson Tide starters scored touchdowns on every one of their seven possessions and Alabama’s vaunted top defensive unit did not allow Auburn to come within 40 yards of the end zone.

Auburn surrendered its tenth SEC loss in a row, sentenced to its first 0-8 SEC campaign in school history. Auburn surrendered its tenth SEC loss of 17 points or more in the last two seasons, getting pummeled on national television by chief rivals Georgia and Alabama in consecutive years.

All of this, less than 24 months following a national championship on the Plains.

With the on-field product gone historically sour, and Auburn facing multiple off-field distractions – capitalized by a rumored NCAA investigation – fourth-year coach Gene Chizik’s future is expected to be addressed within the next 48 hours, as is that of his staff and his boss, athletic director Jay Jacobs.

Alabama led 42-0 after 30 minutes, its largest halftime lead ever on Auburn. Never before in the Iron Bowl’s 77-game history had one team banked 40 points in back-to-back matchups.

Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron completed 15-of-21 passes for 216 yards and four touchdowns. Freshman receiver Amari Cooper hooked up with McCarron five times for 109 yards and two touchdowns, while Eddie Lacy rushed 18 times for 131 yards and a pair of scores.

Alabama converted on its first 11 third-down plays, not requiring the use of a punter until 13:12 remaining in the fourth quarter.

A pair of Auburn senior defenders, cornerback T’Sharvan Bell and linebacker Daren Bates, each had to be helped off by the training staff in the first half. Bell returned, but Blake was replaced by freshman Kris Frost.

On a positive note, Tre Mason barely grinded his way to 82 yards on the day, giving him 1,000 for the season. He became the fifth Tiger in four years to rush for 1,000 yards.

Senior Emory Blake, in his final college game, moved into the top five on Auburn’s all-time receiving yards list, becoming one of only two Tigers (Karsten Bailey 1995-98) to be in Auburn’s top five for receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns.

Blake hauled in a gorgeous over-the-shoulder pass by Jonathan Wallace in the final minute of the third quarter, good for Blake’s third reception of the day and pushing him over 2,000 yards for his career.

No. 2 Alabama (11-1, 7-1) took care of business to clinch a trip to Saturday’s SEC Championship Game against No. 3 Georgia (11-1, 7-1) at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The winner will likely represent the SEC in the BCS National Championship game, which Alabama has won two of the three previous seasons.

Pregame Pep Talk, Part II: X-Factors

Five X-Factors when the Tigers have the ball

#21 Tre Mason, 5-10, 198, so., RB, Auburn. We’ve discussed this during the week – as far as individual milestones go, really there’s none bigger than Mason needing 80 yards to get to 1,000. He’d be the fifth Auburn player to do that in Gene Chizik’s four seasons.

#80 Emory Blake, 6-2, 193, sr., Auburn. Speaking of milestones, and the number 80, Blake needs 33 yards to move into Auburn’s top-five all-time receiver. He needs 34 to reach 2,000 for his career. OC Scot Loeffler and QB Jonathan Wallace will be sure to get him there.

#51 Patrick Miller, 6-7, 288, fr., DB, Auburn. His name has been quiet recently. That’s a good thing for the young, previously-struggling tackle.

#32 C.J. Mosley, 6-2, 232, jr., LB, Alabama. Far and away the Tide’s top tackler, he’ll be Tre Mason’s worst enemy today.

#28 Dee Milliner, 6-1, 199, jr., DB, Alabama. Wallace has got to mark where No. 28 is on the field at all times.

Five X-Factors when the Crimson Tide has the ball

#4 T.J. Yeldon, 6-2, 216, fr., RB, Alabama. The former Auburn Tiger gets a chance to show the Plains up close what they’re missing.

#89 Michael Williams, 6-6, 269, sr., TE, Alabama. Security blanket for quarterback AJ McCarron to dump off in case Dee Ford and Corey Lemonier create some pressure. But also an excellent lead blocker to open lanes for Yeldon and Eddie Lacy.

#65 Chance Warmack, 6-3, 320, sr., LG, Alabama. Try not to get trucked by Warmack and Barrett Jones too much today, Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright. You too, Jeff Whitaker and Ken Carter.

#55 Corey Lemonier, 6-4, 246, jr., DE, Auburn. Last chance to show NFL scouts he deserves to be a first-rounder. This junior season has not been a resounding audition.

#25 Daren Bates, 5-11, 215, sr., LB, Auburn. If he has a massive day, 18 tackles would tie him with Takeo Spikes for 10th all-time in the Auburn recordbooks. But more importantly, if Auburn has any prayer of an upset, Bates has shockingly been the defense’s top playmaker.

Five players you should watch since I can’t be at every game Saturday

#31 Kenny Miles, 5-9, 193, sr., RB, South Carolina. He’s got his starting job back since Marcus Lattimore went down. Of all the verbal bombs going back and forth between the head coaches, I loved this one the most from Clemson’s Dabo Swinney: “They’re never going to be Clemson, to be honest with you. No three-game win streak is going to change that … he’s exactly right. They ain’t Alabama. They ain’t LSU. And they’re certainly not Clemson. The university in this state always has been, always will be, Clemson. Print that. Tweet that. Whatever.” Get your popcorn ready, y’all.

#29 Jarvis Jones, 6-3, 241, jr., LB, Georgia. Tech runs that gimmicky triple option, so it’s important for the Bulldogs’ defense to fill their gaps all day long. This won’t be as great an opportunity for Jones to blow up a quarterback.

#17 Orwin Smith, 6-0, 202, sr., RB, Georgia Tech. Questionable with an ankle injury. The Yellow Jackets could really use the Central-Phenix City product, who’s averaging nine yards a tote for the team with more rushing yards than any other BCS school.

#14 Jaylen Watkins, 6-0, 187, jr., DB, Florida. One of the SEC’s top pass defenders will have to be active to slow Florida State’s top-flight attack.

#9 Marquis Lee, 6-1, 195, so., WR, USC. If the Trojans are to have a chance to shake up the national title picture again – another all-SEC affair, anyone? – without Matt Barkley, Lee’s gonna need to help out young QB Max Wittek big-time.

-AB

Game Week Links: Previewing The Iron Bowl

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — We’re finally here.

The end of a long road. For many Auburn fans, a merciful conclusion to a brutal fall.

And yet, there’s still the formality of possible college football’s most fervent rivalry to be played. Sixty minutes of football which, no matter what, will be dissected in full for the next 370 days (yes, there’s a year and a week separating Iron Bowl 2012 and Iron Bowl 2013.)

To get you properly pumped, here’s twenty links (20!!!) from the week in @WarEagleExtra coverage, leading up to Auburn at No. 2 Alabama.

Saturday

GAMEDAY PREVIEWWhat do the Tigers play for? The Auburn family, not knocking out Alabama

Friday

LIVE CHAT | Recap the fan chat, pushed back a day to Black Friday

SATURDAY SELECTIONS | Aaron Brenner breaks down and predicts the biggest games around the country

BEAT COLUMN | Brenner: Hang in there, it gets better

LOCAL ANGLE | Jonathan Wallace excited to see former Central center on Alabama sideline

Thursday

BEHIND ENEMY LINES | 5 Questions with Decatur Daily sports editor/Alabama beat writer Mark Edwards

TIGERS IN THE NFL | Nick Fairley highlights Week 11 edition

IRON BOWL PICKS | 22 of 23 state writers, editors tab Alabama to win the Iron Bowl

DEAL OR NO DEAL? | So much has changed since Chizik’s contract was reworked to add buyout clause

Wednesday

YAHOO! REPORT | Add Yahoo! Sports to the list of outlets reporting possible NCAA investigation of Auburn recruiting practices

SABAN SPEAKS | Alabama coach says Iron Bowl has “special edge”, praises Auburn freshman QB Jonathan Wallace

SEC POWER RANKINGSPlus Brenner’s bowl projections for the league’s best

TUESDAY NOTES | Chizik, Saban share mutual respect; Auburn D-Liners recall nastiness in Tuscaloosa

TRE MASON GRAND? | Just 80 yards from a milestone, Auburn sophomore tailback won’t get to 1,000 easily

Tuesday

BATTLING THE ODDS | History not on Chizik’s side with SEC coaches who produce winless league slate

THE HANGOVER, PART XI | Scouting the Alabama Crimson Tide

Monday

SUNDAY NOTES | Jonathan Wallace continues to draw rave reviews

‘NO REGRETS’Chizik sticks with his decision to go pro-style over spread

Sunday

UNDERDOG FOR THE AGESAlabama opens as 34-point favorite over Auburn

SEC TIEBREAKER SCENARIOSJust in case Auburn rocks the SEC West boat (**NOTE: Texas A&M has been eliminated from SEC title game contention, by virtue of LSU’s victory over Arkansas Friday. If the Crimson Tide OR Missouri wins today, Alabama meets Georgia in Atlanta; if the Tide loses and A&M beats Mizzou, LSU will meet the Bulldogs.)

November 20, 2012

Tre Mason on the doorstep of 1,000 yards, but Alabama won’t let him reach milestone easily

AUBURN, Ala. – Well, he won’t reach his stated preseason objective.

“My personal goal – I set goals high for myself – I feel like I want to bring 1,500 yards,” Auburn sophomore running back Tre Mason said on July 11. “Because I know that I really want to make it big in life.”

Mason, however, has had an impressive season, considering the circumstances. He’s carried 150 times for 920 yards, the most impressive figure in the SEC’s second-worst offense.

Forget the 1,500 yards. The number Mason seeks is 80, the number of yards it will take in Auburn’s season finale Saturday in the Iron Bowl against No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa to give the Tigers sophomore his first 1,000-yard rushing season.

“It would mean a lot to me,” junior fullback Jay Prosch said. “I take a lot of pride in the people who run behind me and their accomplishments. So hopefully he’ll get that.”

It won’t be easy. The Crimson Tide’s rush defense (75.6 yards allowed per game) ranks third in the country. In 25 games over the past two seasons, only five opposing teams have rushed for 100 yards or more. Only one individual (LSU’s Jeremy Hill) has topped the century mark this year, though he needed 29 hauls to reach 107 yards.

“This is a big, powerful, stout front,” Auburn offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said. “They understand their job, they play great team defense, they play together as a unit … We have to manufacture yards in the run game as best as we possibly can.”

On Auburn’s side of the ball, Mason has churned out yards in chunks against non-conference foes to inflate his season numbers, but it’s been bits and pieces in seven SEC defeats.

He wrested the starter’s job from veteran Onterio McCalebb with a three-game stretch against Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M when Mason’s production stayed consistent – 82, 85 and 80 yards respectively, with at least a touchdown in each game.

But that’s been Mason’s ceiling within the league. He was only given 23 carries in the first three league games, barely getting over 100 yards in that stretch, and was stifled two weeks ago by Georgia (11 rushes, 33 yards) in between picking on New Mexico State and Alabama A&M for dominant performances.

Mason’s rushing average against the SEC is 4.9 yards per carry, but Alabama has smothered opposing backs into 2.3 yards a try. If Mason split the difference at around 3.6 yards, he would need 22 carries – matching his season and career high – to reach the 1,000-yard mark.

“It starts with our offensive line,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us. That’s a very, very talented, physically-strong front seven. It’s just hard to line up and run the ball at that front seven with a traditional running game.”

The structure of that offensive line isn’t set in stone. Right guard Chad Slade moved over to left tackle, as Greg Robinson was benched for the first time this year and Christian Westerman got his first crack as a starting guard.

“Our offensive line is going to have to have the best game that they have played all year to give Tre Mason or anybody else that touches the ball a chance to run it,” Chizik said. “Obviously, we know that Tre has to have an opportunity to get in there and run it some.”

The normally talkative Mason wasn’t available for interviews this week leading up to the Iron Bowl. He’s attempting to become the Tigers’ fifth 1,000-yard rusher in Chizik’s four seasons and the 22nd in school history.

“Tre is exactly like a little brother to me,” McCalebb said. “He works hard every day. I think he’ll get that (milestone) on Saturday. Everybody on offense knows who we’ve got to get it to once we get down there.”

GRAND RUNNER

Since 2000, the last nine Tigers to rush for 1,000 yards in a season

2011 | Michael Dyer, 1,242

2010 | Cam Newton, 1,473

2010 | Michael Dyer, 1,093

2009 | Ben Tate, 1,362

2005 | Kenny Irons, 1,293

2004 | Carnell Williams, 1,165

2003 | Carnell Williams, 1,307

2002 | Ronnie Brown, 1,008

2000 | Rudi Johnson, 1,567

November 19, 2012

The Hangover, Part XI: Scouting Alabama

Who: Auburn (3-8, 0-7 SEC) at No. 2 Alabama (10-1, 6-1)

When: Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CT

Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821) | Tuscaloosa, Ala.

TV: CBS (Verne Lundquist, Gary Danielson, Tracy Wolfson)

Radio: Auburn IMG Sports Network (WVRK-FM 102.9 in Columbus)

Line: Alabama -31.5

What to know about the Crimson Tide: For the second straight league game, Auburn’s opponent looks at a win-and-they’re-in to the SEC Championship game scenario. So the stakes are fairly high … after Saturday night’s upsets to K-State and Oregon, the second-ranked Crimson Tide and third-ranked Georgia control their own destiny to the BCS Championship game … how’s this for symmetry: Alabama, nationally, ranks first in scoring defense (10.1 points per game), second in total defense (240.1 yards), third in rush defense (75.6) and fourth in pass defense (164.4). All figures are tops in the SEC. No matter what measure you use, the Nick Saban-Kirby Smart defense is pretty stout … the Crimson Tide’s offense has shown up too: its 38.1 points per game ranks second in the conference, and is up a field-goal average from the 2011 champs … A.J. McCarron’s 172.44 passing efficiency ranks third in the country. He’s just a hair behind Georgia’s Aaron Murray, the national leader (174.33) who carved up Auburn for three passing touchdowns two weeks ago … cornerback Dee Milliner is one of five finalists for the Nagurski Trophy, awarded to the nation’s best defender … Alabama’s 49-0 win over Western Carolina last weekend is the program’s 21st shutout in 21 seasons.

When last they met: No. 2 Alabama 42, Auburn 14 … Nov. 26, 2011 in Auburn: The Crimson Tide sailed through on their ultimate journey to the national championship, behind Trent Richardson’s 203 rushing yards and McCarron’s three first-half passing touchdowns. Auburn scored touchdowns defensively (Corey Lemonier forced a McCarron fumble which Kenneth Carter recovered in the end zone) and on special teams (Onterio McCalebb’s 83-yard kick return), but the offense were smothered to just 140 total yards and nine first downs. Clint Moseley completed 11-of-18 passes for 62 yards, and Quan Bray made five grabs.

All-time series: Alabama leads the rivalry 41-34-1. On campus, however, the Tigers hold a 14-5 advantage, including an impressive 7-1 in Tuscaloosa. The Tide’s lone home win was 36-0 in 2008, but the Tigers garnered revenge two years later by erasing a 24-0 deficit and roaring back to win 28-27 on their way to the national title. Auburn has won seven of the last ten matchups. The series took a two-generation hiatus from 1908-47 over financial and officiating discrepancies, after which the series remained in Birmingham for the next 40 years.

Which Tiger is licking his chops: Sophomore tailback Tre Mason, who needs to etch out 80 yards for his first 1,000-yard season. It would give Auburn its fourth straight season with a 1,000-yard rusher. As the previously mentioned Alabama run defense would indicate, though, it won’t come easily.

Who’s keeping the Auburn coaches up at night: It’s not an exaggeration to say Alabama plays team football better than anybody else in the country, in all three phases of the game.

Extra point: Mason and McCalebb’s yards-per-carry against non-SEC opponents: 8.3. Their YPC against the SEC: 4.2. They’ll need to find no worse than a middle ground to have a fighting chance Saturday.

-AB

November 18, 2012

Chizik: ‘No regrets’ dumping spread offense

AUBURN, Ala. — How far Auburn’s offense has fallen in two short years in between trips to Tuscaloosa.

One of the contributing factors, Heisman winner Cam Newton heading to the NFL, was uncontrollable. But Tigers head coach Gene Chizik made the conscious decision to usher in a pro-style attack, leaving behind the spread offense which won Auburn the 2010 BCS National Championship.

“There’s no regrets,” Chizik said Sunday. “We’ll go back and evaluate everything very thoroughly and see how we need to move forward.”

Chizik wasn’t apologizing for the change, and backed his first-year offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, who oversees the nation’s 115th-rated offense.

“He’s a smart, young coach and he’s enduring what’s been a disappointing season for all of us,” Chizik said. “We’re all going through it. That’s part of my job — to keep these guys going in the right direction. He’s fine. He’s doing OK.”

Auburn (3-8, 0-7 SEC) has one game left this year, and it’s a big one – the Iron Bowl against No. 2 Alabama (10-1, 6-1) in one of college football’s most heated rivalries.

“The intensity and passion of the rivalry, it’s second to none – and I have been in a lot of different great rivalries,” Chizik said. “That’s what makes college football great. This one is very unique. Obviously it’s in-state and there is a lot of passion that goes behind this one, more so than any of the other ones I have been in.”

The defending champions lost its top ranking two weeks ago to Texas A&M, but after Saturday night’s carnage to Kansas State and Oregon, Alabama finds itself once again controlling its own destiny to the national title game in South Florida.

“When you deeply study them, (they’re) very similar to last year. Very physical, very talented in a lot of areas, and they don’t make a lot of mistakes, on both sides of the football,” Chizik said. “Very efficient on offense. When it comes to turning the ball over and doing the things that keep you from winning, that’s not what they do. Defensively, very sound. They’re in the right spots. (They’re) talented. So it’s very similar to the Alabama teams that we’ve seen for the last three times we’ve played them.”

Alabama opens as a 34-point favorite, according to VegasInsider.com. That’s the highest recorded point spread in the series’ history, topping last year’s 21.5-point line. But Chizik won’t change his approach in getting the Tigers to believe they belong on the field Saturday.

“I feel like our guys know and feel like in every game that we go into we’ve got a chance,” Chizik said. “I don’t know how much they pay attention to all that. I’m sure they hear it. We’re going to do our best to make sure that’s not how we feel when we go into a game, I can tell you that.”

Auburn will feature true freshman Jonathan Wallace at quarterback, whose production in three starts has been mildly predictable – an efficient game manager in blowouts of New Mexico State and Alabama A&M but overmatched against mighty Georgia. But the Central-Phenix City product continues to impress the coaching staff with his poise and precocious learning curve.

“I think it’s probably been a little bit of a surprise. He’s just come light years since he got here, throwing the football,” Chizik said. “He’s gotten rid of the ball quicker than I expected him to. He’s made decisions quicker than I expected him to. He’s gotten himself out of harm’s way sometimes because of that. He just makes a decision and he goes with it. It’s not always perfect throw, but he’s made quick decisions and the element of toughness that he’s had when he runs the football and protecting the football.”

Running the football effectively will be critical to the Tigers. Lead tailbacks Tre Mason and Onterio McCalebb, in four non-conference games, have rushed for 956 yards (8.2 per carry) and nine touchdowns, but those figures in seven SEC games drop to 537 yards (4.3 per carry) and five scores.

Chizik hasn’t seen the execution change – just the quality of opponent. Alabama’s run defense ranks third in the nation, at 75.6 yards allowed per game, and opponents garner just 2.3 yards per attempt.

“You know when we play in this league, it’s a whole different animal,” Chizik said. “So when we play in these conference games we have to execute better. I think that’s just the bottom line.”

Chizik had a chance to reminisce on the last time Auburn visited Tuscaloosa – Nov. 26, 2010, when Newton and the Tigers erased a 24-0 lead and stormed back to a 28-27 victory to preserve their title journey.

“It was a great day. It was a very fun day. It was obviously a memory that will last forever for everybody,” Chizik said. “It was very unique and hadn’t probably happened very much over the test of time with anybody that has gone into that stadium. It was great for our fans. It was great for our coaches and players. Obviously, the rest of the season was history. That was a great day.”

November 17, 2012

Notebook: Senior Day goes according to plan

AUBURN, Ala. – The fifth season T’Sharvan Bell has spent in Auburn didn’t go according to plan.

But there was one of those rare moments of happiness this 2012 season when Bell ran onto the Jordan-Hare Stadium field for the final time Saturday, embracing his mother and brothers.

Three hours later, Bell’s family sat proudly in her longtime seat behind the Tigers’ sideline, as safety Trent Fisher’s 60-yard interception return polished off Auburn’s 51-7 victory over Alabama A&M. Bertia Williams looked up at the videoboard, beaming as her son leapt onto Fisher as part of the celebration.

“He’s come a long way,” Williams said, wearing her son’s No. 22 jersey. “There’s been some tough times, but he’s very strong and very determined. He’s always a leader. That’s what he does best.”

The second senior honored behind linebacker Daren Bates, Bell led 10 other seniors onto the field during pregame ceremonies. Bell, who fought off a litany of injuries during his career, said this week he’d try to block out the emotion until gametime.

Then, it’d be time to soak it in.

“It was bittersweet. I had a lot of emotions. Seeing my mom and brothers out there on the field, it was heart-warming for me,” Bell said. “Everybody’s like, man, you’re going to cry, you’re going to cry. I said, no, I’m gonna hold it together.”

Bell didn’t cry, joking that he saw injured tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen shed a tear or two. Bell hasn’t had many chances to display that luminous smile, but took the opportunity after the game.

“I’m definitely going to miss being out there at Jordan-Hare,” Bell said. “It hasn’t sunk in yet, and I can’t tell you when it’s going to sink in, but I’m definitely going to miss it.”

Of all the contributing seniors, the brightest effort Saturday went to tailback Onterio McCalebb, who sprinted to 104 yards and two touchdowns on a team-high 15 carries. He’s only the second player in SEC history to top 2,000 yards rushing, 1,000 kickoff return yards and 500 yards receiving.

“It’s a blessing to go out there and do that because when I got out of high school, a lot of people said, ‘you’re too small to do this or that in the SEC’ and I basically have to go out there and prove them wrong,” McCalebb said.

“It really didn’t hit me until Tiger Walk. It really hit me hard, because I am going to miss playing here.”

No comment: University President Jay Gogue said Friday after a board of trustees meeting he would take the final two games to assess the job security of athletic director Jay Jacobs and head coach Gene Chizik.

Asked about the subject Saturday, Chizik, who has consistently deferred job status inquiries, said, “I’ve already addressed all of that stuff.”

End of the Rhodes: Immediately following Chizik’s postgame press conference, Auburn spokeswoman Shelly Poe received word that senior middle linebacker Ashton Richardson was not selected among the two Rhodes Scholarship recipients out of 12 district finalists Saturday.

Richardson, an animal sciences major and aspiring equine veterinarian who plans to attend graduate school somewhere, missed Saturday’s game while interviewing in Birmingham.

Good times: Auburn’s 512 total yards were the most since it gained 519, in the 2010 BCS Championship Game against Oregon.

Sophomore Tre Mason’s 165 rushing yards in the first half counts as the third-highest total in school history. The only man with more first-half success (twice)? Bo Jackson.

Gone Fishin’: Fisher, a former walk-on, finally gave the Auburn secondary some street cred.

The Tigers hauled in just their second interception of the year Saturday, and the first was by Bates back in the season opener against Clemson. The linebackers group had constantly reminded the defensive backs of this fact.

“They’ve been giving us a hard time about the DBs not getting any,” Fisher said, “so it was good to finally get one today.”

Fisher said he could barely remember the last time he scored a touchdown, and he’d never enjoyed a pick-six at any level.

Oddly enough, the Tigers are now 2-0 when Fisher starts at safety and 1-8 when he doesn’t. Demetruce McNeal, Auburn’s leading tackler entering Saturday, was benched early and only played special teams and garbage-time defense.

“When you look at production, that doesn’t always tell the story,” Chizik said. “It’s because there’s a lot of other things involved than just tackling. That’s why we made the move.”

Ryan Smith also saw heavy playing time alongside Jermaine Whitehead Saturday.

Lineup shift: Other new starters included senior wide receiver DeAngelo Benton, tight end C.J. Uzomah, freshman left guard Christian Westerman and safety Ryan White.

Benton’s career-long 51-yard grab from Jonathan Wallace was just his second reception of the season and 16th of his career.

Westerman played in his third game this year and made his first start at left guard, which sent John Sullen to right guard, Chad Slade to left tackle and Greg Robinson out of the lineup. Westerman did leave the game in the third quarter with a left ankle injury.

Safety dance: Auburn got credit for its first safety this season when Alabama A&M oversnapped its punter in the fourth quarter. With the ball settling at the 2-yard-line and a gunner closing in, Bulldogs punter Chance Wilson batted the ball out of the back of the end zone, awarding the Tigers two points.

Tough Wallace bounces back, leads Auburn to 51-7 romp over Alabama A&M; Tide to follow

AUBURN, Ala. – Jonathan Wallace got his bell rung. Remained down a couple moments, then rose a little woozy. Could’ve come out, talked to the trainer, with his team already leading by four touchdowns.

However, Auburn’s drive was extended by the careless personal foul Alabama A&M committed for illegal contact to Wallace’s head on an incomplete third-down pass. So the Tigers were awarded 1st-and-goal from the 9-yard-line with still 30 seconds left in the second quarter.

Instead of slinking over to the sideline, the precocious Wallace finished the drive and half he started, firing a touchdown dart to Sammie Coates on the very next play – the exclamation point of a 51-7 rout Saturday on Senior Day at Jordan-Hare Stadium before an announced attendance of 74,832.

“It felt great, actually. I don’t mind getting knocked around a little bit,” said Wallace, a freshman from Central Phenix-City now 2-1 as a collegiate starting quarterback. “It took a toll on me a little bit, but I just got to ice it up. It’ll be fine.”

VIDEO: Auburn QB Jonathan Wallace postgame

Wallace flashed his grit and poise, but overall for the second time in three games was content in his role of game manager. He finished 10-for-18, passing for 171 yards and the one score. He also rushed five times for 22 yards, registering his first turnover-free start in three tries.

“He’s a little bit beyond his years when you talk about toughness and maturity for a young guy,” head coach Gene Chizik said. “Our players see that in him and really respect it. Our coaches see it and respect it.”

Wallace has taken several hefty shots this year, going back to his first appearance as a Wildcat quarterback on Sept. 22 against LSU. He continues to absorb hits in the pocket while delivering passes, like the 51-yard bomb to DeAngelo Benton that also drew a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty earlier in the second quarter Saturday.

That furthered a 91-yard touchdown drive, capped by fullback Jay Prosch’s second career short-distance touchdown.

“He always bounces back, and he does not want to come out of the game,” Chizik said of Wallace. “That (shows) how much football means to him, and how much it means for him to be out on the field.”

Wallace traded in his helmet for a baseball cap after senior Onterio McCalebb’s second rushing touchdown in the first minute of the fourth quarter, stretching Auburn’s lead to 42-7 over the overmatched Bulldogs (7-4), an FCS squad which had never before played any BCS conference members.

McCalebb and sophomore Tre Mason trotted out their two-headed monster attack once again, both going over 100 yards for the second time in three games. The pair combined for at least 188 yards in all four non-conference games.

Auburn rolled up 294 yards on its first 20 plays. For comparison, the Tigers have had less than 240 total yards against five SEC opponents.

“It’s the offensive line, of course,” Mason said. “Everyone did what they were supposed to do, and with them doing that we were able to execute plays.”

Mason’s 86-yard touchdown run was the seventh-longest offensive gain in school history, and Auburn’s longest run since Brent Fullwood went for 88 yards against Mississippi State on Oct. 25, 1986.

“I think he’s just gotten better as the season’s gone on,” Chizik said. “I thought the offensive line covered people up well enough today to give him some cracks and be able to run the ball. Tre has become a more physical runner. He’s playing with good vision and protects the ball.”

VIDEO: Auburn coach Gene Chizik postgame

The Tigers outgained their guests 512-208. Auburn’s rush defense was as stout as its offensive teammates, smothering A&M into 22 yards on 25 carries. Former walk-on safety Trent Fisher made the most of Auburn’s first interception this season by a defensive back, bringing it back 60 yards for the game’s last touchdown.

Obviously, next week brings Auburn back to the reality of the SEC, where the Tigers are hoping to avoid their first 8-loss campaign in school history, and it’s a hated rival waiting for them. Auburn travels to No. 4-ranked Alabama (10-1) for the Iron Bowl, which hasn’t seen a 7-win differential between the rivals since 1950.

“No time to celebrate,” senior cornerback T’Sharvan Bell said. “Those guys down the road are the real deal. Everybody here knows it.”

November 4, 2012

McCalebb, Mason take control in second half

AUBURN, Ala. — It took a little longer than desired, but for the first time this year, Auburn showed some killer instinct.

The offensive line wore down New Mexico State, and Tre Mason and Onterio McCalebb took care of the rest with their legs in a 311-yard team rushing performance, including 221 in the second half to alleviate fears of a catastrophic upset.

“We feed off each other greatly,” Mason said. “I learn things from him and he said that he learns things from me. But he’s like my brother, and we’re in this together.”

Mason muffed an exchange with quarterback Jonathan Wallace (Central-Phenix City) on Auburn’s first offensive snap. McCalebb didn’t even have a carry in the opening quarter. The Tigers led just 7-0 at half. McCalebb recovered his own fumble on the second-half kickoff.

An auspicious beginning, it was not. And with the way Auburn hasn’t closed out games this year, fans were prone to start fleeing Jordan-Hare Stadium, averting their eyes from an ugly first half.

But Mason and McCalebb played a game of ‘can you top this?’ in the third and fourth quarters. They had 44 and 33 yards, respectively, at the break. By the time Maino’s “All The Above” was blasting throughout Jordan-Hare Stadium to bridge the fourth quarter, they had each topped the century mark — the first Tigers teammates to do that since Cam Newton (217) and Michael Dyer (2010) did the deed against LSU two years ago.

“We knew they were putting eight or nine guys up around the line of scrimmage, and we just felt like we still needed to run the football,” coach Gene Chizik said. “We went back to some counter game. Sometimes they had to make a guy miss that was unblocked or whatnot, but they ran the ball well.”

Mason has proven he can be a workhorse, even if he isn’t used like one. His 22 carries Saturday tied a career-high, and 152 yards set his new standard. Even as opposing defenses stack the box on him, the sophomore’s yards per carry increased the past four games: 4.6 at Ole Miss, 5.3 at Vanderbilt, 6.7 vs. Texas A&M and 6.9 Saturday.

“He’s running with a lot of confidence,” Chizik said. “He’s very adamant — he wants the ball.”

McCalebb has become something of an afterthought during Mason’s breakout, but he reminded Auburn fans he’s one of the school’s top yard-guzzlers over his career. Eight carries was enough for the explosive senior to rack up 113 yards, scoring twice.

McCalebb has had a penchant for getting brought down for a loss in 2012. It didn’t happen Saturday.

“We knew that we had to run the ball to be successful,” McCalebb said. “All of the offensive line did a great job today. If it wasn’t for them, Tre and I wouldn’t have been able to get all those yards.”

Following Saturday, McCalebb’s 2,469 yards ranks him ninth among Auburn’s all-time rushers. His 38- and 7-yard scores gave him 22 for his career, passing Newton and settling into 10th in the school recordbooks.

Mason notably beat himself up after the season opener when he fumbled the football, and with it momentum, in a 26-17 loss to Clemson. His response after an early mixup showed how he’s matured as the feature back in an offense that needed Saturday’s outburst (a season-high 475 total yards) in the worst way.

“Sometimes, fumbling for a running back can get in your head, and all of a sudden it becomes an issue,” Chizik said. “He’s not that type of player. He can rebound very quickly.”