Auburn planning to lick wounds against Skyhawks
Posted: Wednesday, November 5, 2008 7:18 pm
By: By JOHN ZENOR, AP Sports Writer
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Sometimes, Walt McFadden’s gaze strays over to the sidelines in practice or a game, taking in all the injured guys who normally would be on the field with him.
Auburn’s defense has sustained more than bruised egos in recent weeks. The physical bruises, and sprains have been pretty hard to deal with, too.
“It hurts to see you have six or seven guys on the sideline just watching,” said McFadden, one of Auburn’s few healthy cornerbacks.
At least five defensive regulars and leading receiver Rod Smith were reduced mostly to spectator roles in Tuesday’s practice.
The status of defensive linemen Antonio Coleman, Sen’Derrick Marks, Tez Doolittle and Mike Blanc, cornerback Jerraud Powers and Smith is in question for Saturday’s game against UT Martin.
Several other defenders are banged up, too.
The timing might be good for the Tigers (4-5), who could rest some players against a Football Championship Subdivision team to get them healthy for the closing games against rivals Georgia and Alabama.
Quarterback Kodi Burns gave what likely amounts to a state-of-the-team summation: “Guys are really mentally beat up and just really tired of losing, just sick of it.”
The latest injuries were to Blanc (badly sprained wrist) and Smith (hip bruise).
“He’s not responding very well,” Tuberville said of Smith. “A bad hip-pointer’s pretty tough.”
Cornerback Neiko Thorpe did return to practice Tuesday from a high ankle sprain, but Tuberville isn’t sure yet if he will be game ready Saturday.
The Tigers have been especially hard hit on the line. Marks, who has made a team-high 35 consecutive starts, has two gimpy ankles.
Coleman, who is tied for the Southeastern Conference lead in sacks and tackles for loss on the season, is battling neck and leg injuries.
“We’ve just got to close ranks and fill in where we’re needed,” said defensive lineman Zach Clayton, who works at both end and tackle. “It’s difficult any time you lose key guys like we’ve lost due to injury. We’ve got to fill the spots and perform.”
The Tigers have had troubles stopping the run with the mounting injuries.
Despite the losing and injury setbacks, Tuberville said there should be no shortage of motivation for the Tigers entering the last three games.
“This team’s got a lot of pride,” he said. “We’ve got this game and we’ve got the two biggest games of the year coming up.”
Tuberville is also facing battles off the field, with no offensive coordinator and other coaches potentially trying to use the tough times to sway recruits who have given nonbinding verbal commitments to play for Auburn.
He said he spoke to all the commitments on Monday evening.
“It’s like anything else, the buzzards start flying from other schools,” Tuberville said. “You’ve got somebody committed and other schools go in and start feeling them out, is there a chance you might change your mind? You have that every year, whether you change a head coach or you might be changing a system or a coordinator. It’s no different. That’s what we’ve got to do right now, just kind of work through that.”