Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tuesday notebook

When the polls came out Sunday, Auburn found itself as one of just three unranked 4-0 teams and one of four total undefeated teams currently unranked.

It marks the first time since 1963 that Auburn started 4-0 and was not ranked. Back then, though, the Associated Press only ranked 10 teams.

South Florida and Wisconsin are the only other 4-0 teams not ranked. Texas A&M is 3-0 and is also not in either top 25 poll.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik said during his Tuesday press conference that he has not given any thought to the rankings.

“I don’t control that and I don’t even have a thought on it,” Chizik said. “Week to week we have to win and all that other stuff takes care of itself. I don’t spend a lot of energy on things I have absolutely no control over.”

Of everyone, Chizik should know firsthand how important rankings could be. As defensive coordinator of the 2004 Auburn team, he watched the undefeated Tigers get frozen out of the national championship game. USC and Oklahoma, both of whom ran the table after starting 1-2 in the polls, played for the title that year.

Auburn, meanwhile, was left out of the championship mix.

USC won the national title after pasting Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. The Tigers topped Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl to finish their 13-0 season. They settled for “The People’s Choice National Championship.”

Still, Chizik does not seem alarmed that his team remains unranked despite staying perfect through September.

“I think the circumstances of each year – there are a lot of moving parts in those decisions,” Chizik said. “Again, it’s something I have no control over. So do I worry about it? No, I really don’t.”

Most players have followed their coach’s lead in dismissing the lack of national attention.

“It’s kind of frustrating, but it’s something we can’t control,” LG Mike Berry said. “We go out there and try to win every game that we can.”

Auburn will have another national stage when ESPN televises Saturday’s road game against Tennessee.

Berry knows a statement victory could elevate the Tigers into the top 25.

“They’re not talking about us now, but they’re going to have a reason to talk about us,” Berry said. “It’s about us going out there and putting up big numbers and having a great offense that can put up points.”

LB Craig Stevens said Auburn is accustomed to not being in the national spotlight.

“We talked about it the other week,” Stevens said. “Sooner or later if we keep winning, they're going to have to show us. We're used to not getting no love around here. Even when we were No. 2, we weren't getting no highlights on SportsCenter. We kind of used to it. I know the older guys are used to it.”

KEEPING TABS: When Auburn’s defense takes the field on Saturday, one of its first tasks will be finding Tennessee S Eric Berry on the field.

The reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year has 13 career interceptions and has returned them for 487 yards. He has also recorded 31 tackles through the first four games.

Chizik said Berry is the type of player a team must be able to locate at all times.

“Well I think you are always aware of where he is and where he is in aligning and who he’s on,” Chizik said. “What they decide to do, if they do decide to put him on a certain guy or take a certain guy out of the game, because he can do that; he can take a guy out of the game.

“From a whole defensive perspective, he is one of the guys that if you put him on somebody and you have him take somebody out of the game, you’ve got to know that, you’ve got to make previsions for that.”

ISOM QUESTIONABLE: RG Byron Isom missed Saturday’s game because of a suspension stemming from him violating team rules.

Chizik said Tuesday that Isom practiced on Sunday. Chizik opted against specifying whether the junior would play Saturday against Tennessee.

“If you guys see him out there, he’s going to do all the things that we said that he needs to do to get out there and play,” Chizik said.

Freshman John Sullen started in Isom’s place at right guard last week against Ball State. Chizik has also mentioned the possibility of playing either Jared Cooper or Bart Eddins at guard.

RETURN GAME: With Auburn still looking for a punt returner, RB Onterio McCalebb got a shot this week in practice.

The true freshman, along with WR Philip Pierre-Louis, has tried out in the return spot this week. Mario Fannin, Demond Washington, Anthony Gulley and Quindarius Carr – the four players that have been on the field to return punts so far this year – have also worked in the spot this week.

McCalebb said he hopes he gets an opportunity on Saturday.

“I’ve been wanting to do it since Day 1,” McCalebb said. “But they wouldn’t put me back there because I was doing a whole bunch of other stuff.”

BACK FROM INJURY: DE Antoine Carter said the time he missed in preseason camp and early this season stemmed from knee surgery he had in April.

Carter missed the first three games before returning last week against Ball State.

The junior underwent surgery on April 7. He tried to come back during the preseason, but re-aggravated the injury.

BETTER THAN THAT: Both Stevens and DE Antonio Coleman are displeased with the way the defense has played lately.

Auburn enters the game against Tennessee ranked 69th in scoring defense and 106th in red-zone defense.

“I think we're a lot better than that,” Stevens said. “Rankings don't mean anything, it's just going out there and stopping the other team whenever you get out there. I don't really buy into that stuff.”

Coleman is more dissatisfied with the stats. He said the 30 points the Tigers surrendered to Ball State looked bad.

“It doesn't sit with me... at all. We're a much better defense than that,” Coleman said. “To give up 30 points to Ball State? That's just bad. Like I said before, we can't do that. We're a much better defense than that -- much better unit than that. We're making a lot of small mistakes. Guys not fitting like they're supposed to and leaving guys wide open. You get in the SEC and you can get blown out just like that. We can't go down to Tennessee with that or any of these other games we've got left. It doesn't sit well with me at all. I don't like it.

“Met in a meeting and I just told them this is not a great thing. Opponents look at us on film and say, 'Ball State hung 30 on these guys.' It makes you look vulnerable on defense. Just talking to the guys, it's a lot of small things. So when a guy is in practice and he misses a fit or misses a tackle, I'm all in his ear. I feel that's my duty to do that just to make us a better team.”

CAST OFF: Coleman played last week with a cast on his right hand. DT Mike Blanc said last week that he likes playing with the cast. Coleman... not so much.

"I'm down on the line. I've got to have my hands. I've got to shoot my hands. I've got to get off blocks. I'm still adjusting to it. I'm messing with the trainers every day, but it's for my own safety and I respect that.

"I try not to let it affect me. Just do what you got to do. I'd rather be out there on the field than not at all on the sideline bandaged up or slinged up. I just try to make the best of what I can do out there on the field."

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