For the first time this season, Auburn went an entire game without any fumbles or muffs in its punt return game.
Redshirt freshman Philip Pierre-Louis handled the return duties after Anthony Gulley got banged up while covering a kickoff.
Though Pierre-Louis capably filled the role, Auburn coach Gene Chizik did not commit to using him in that capacity next week.
“Philip went in there and alls we asked was just let us keep the ball – just don’t turn the ball over,” Chizik said. “Then he started feeling a little bit comfortable enough to take them and get some return mileage out of them as well, so that was good to see.
“We’re going to work again this week and we’re going to see where we are with that.”
Pierre-Louis missed the first two weeks of preseason camp. Receivers coach Trooper Taylor said he spent the time at home, trying to work through personal problems. The former receiver had not been on the sideline for any of the previous four games.
Pierre-Louis tore his ACL on the opening kickoff in 2008 and was granted a medical redshirt. Chizik said Sunday that his knee seems to be healthy, adding, “that really hasn’t been his issue.”
Chizik has not commented on why Pierre-Louis missed the first two weeks of preseason camp, nor did he address why Pierre-Louis wasn’t on the sideline through the first four games.
There doesn’t seem to be an immediate return to receiver in Pierre-Louis’ future either.
“Philip is going to continue to work with us as a punt returner,” Chizik said. “Right now, we’ve thrown that around. At this point he hasn’t worked any offensive things.”
GAMETIME SET: ESPN announced Sunday that it would televise Saturday’s Auburn-Arkansas game.
The game kicks off Saturday at 11 a.m. at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. It will mark Auburn's earliest kickoff since the 2007 Cotton Bowl.
The gametime was set late because CBS exercised its 6-day option to choose its game of the week. The network ultimately selected the Alabama-Ole Miss game.
LINEMEN’S REWARD: RB Ben Tate enjoyed a 128-yard, one-touchdown performance Saturday night against Tennessee.
To celebrate the performance, the senior said Sunday he plans to treat his starting offensive line and FB Eric Smith.
“For those guys’ efforts this week I’m taking them all out to eat tomorrow,” Tate said. “I’ll probably take them to Golden Corral, something like that.”
Tate joked he had to take them to a buffet-style restaurant because “they all like to eat… that’s too much money.”
The senior tailback said he has set benchmarks before for specific games previously, but had not yet reached the goal to treat his linemen. This time, his line helped him reach the milestone – “about the 130 mark” – and Tate said he was happy to live up to his part of the bargain.
SORTING IT OUT: Weak-side LBs Eltoro Freeman and Adam Herring have split reps throughout the 2009 season thus far.
Saturday night, Herring took on an extended role during the second half against Tennessee.
“We just really look and see basically how they’re fitting in the defense and how they’re adjusting to certain things,” Chizik said. “Are there a lot of new things in the offense that we weren’t expecting? Are there a lot of the same of what we practiced?”
Freeman watched most of the second half from the sideline. He also didn’t join several defensive powwows on the sideline after the unit came off the field.
The junior college transfer has started the last three games, but hasn’t played as much as starting LBs Craig Stevens or Josh Bynes.
“I don’t know if I want to get into what’s holding kids back, but he just needs to keep working,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “It’s a tough position, and because of the depth situation, there is no learning curve, or time for you to season. You’ve got to come play. So, we’ll just keep working him and I’m sure things will work out.”