Sunday, September 21, 2008

Doolittle shines for Tigers

AUBURN — Tuberville said Sunday that sixth-year senior defensive tackle Tez Doolittle played the best game of his collegiate career on Saturday.
As a reward, Doolittle will make his first career start this week against Tennessee.
“It means a lot to me. I’ve been working my tail off trying to get to that spot, and I finally got there now,” Doolittle said. “I’m really excited about it. I’m just hoping I can hold it down.”
Mike Blanc started ahead of Doolittle against LSU, but Doolittle played 35 plays while Blanc was in the game for only 18.
Doolittle finished the game with four tackles, including half a sack.
Doolittle was granted a medical redshirt last year after he tore his Achilles heel. At the time, Doolittle was told to expect a 16-month recovery.
It took him just half that time — eight months — to get ready to start playing football again.
Now he’s earned his way into the starting lineup.
Auburn defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said he didn’t expect such rapid improvement from Doolittle.
“I didn’t think he would start playing until about this next game,” Rhoads said. “I really believed it was going to be five, six, seven … somewhere around midseason before we could start counting on him. That he was ready to go in the first game and played as well as he played in the first game has been a tremendous asset to our defense this year.”
• Final play: Rod Smith revealed on Sunday that the final play, on which he was tackled three yards shy of a first down, was intended to be a hook-and-lateral.
Smith caught Chris Todd’s pass along the sideline, but was hit as he caught it. When Smith was tackled, he didn’t have first-down yardage and LSU was able to take a knee to end the game.
However, Smith was supposed to pitch the ball back to fellow receiver Mario Fannin.
“He said he was there, but I didn’t even have a chance to look at him,” Smith said. “As soon as I caught the ball, I got tackled.”
• Lester to get MRI: Brad Lester suffered an injury to his leg during the third quarter of Saturday night’s game with LSU.
Tuberville initially said the injury was to Lester’s ankle, but said Sunday that Lester would get an MRI on his knee.
“I talked to Dr. (James) Andrews afterward,” Tuberville said. “He said it felt stable but there’s really no reason to predict the future. We’ll just have to wait to see how the MRI came out. There’s a lot of guys beat up on both sides.
“That was a pretty tough deal. He got twisted around and his cleats got caught in the ground. It’s just one of those things. Brad’s had a tough start.”
Tuberville didn’t immediately know Lester’s status for Saturday’s game against Tennessee.
Several other Auburn players were hurt during Saturday’s game. Safety Zac Etheridge (bruised shoulder), receiver Robert Dunn (ligament in right hand), tailback Tristan Davis (head) and Doolittle (sprained wrist) all suffered injuries.
Etheridge, Dunn and Doolittle all finished the game.
• Line problems: Some of Auburn’s offensive problems Saturday night came from the offensive line.
Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin was asked to describe the line’s performance.
“Not very good,” Franklin said. “It was obvious, compared to how we normally block, it wasn’t as good. Pass protection was good with the exception of a couple of blunders. It wasn’t physical, it was mental. Outside of that, we did a good job in pass protection.”
Franklin made a point to talk about LSU and how strong its front seven is, but this marks back-to-back sub-par performances for an offensive line that was supposed to be a team strength.
Offensive tackle Lee Ziemba, in particular, had some difficulties. Most notably, Ziemba was beaten on a first-down sack during Auburn’s final possession.
Todd lost 15 yards on the play and Auburn fell three yards short on a fourth-and-25 two plays later.
“He either heard or assumed a call that was made that wasn’t,” Franklin said. “He thought that he was taking the right guy.”
Against Mississippi State two weeks ago, there were nine penalties called against the Auburn offensive line.
The unit cut down on the penalties this week, but couldn’t control the line of scrimmage. Auburn never set up the run and allowed Todd to get sacked twice — both in critical situations.
One sack knocked the Tigers out of field goal range and the other forced Auburn into a long-yardage situation.
— Luke Brietzke

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