RB Ben Tate wasted little time in providing ammo for an SEC-Big Ten dominance debate.
Tate’s intentions didn’t seem to be giving Northwestern material for its bulletin board, but he certainly did so by questioning its team speed.
“It's good to be out there playing those Big Ten guys,” Tate said. “They're not as fast as the guys we're used to seeing. They're a four-down team – a 4-3 typical team – just a typical Big (Ten) team on defense. They're not too fast but they've got a pretty solid defense.”
DE Antoine Carter was more understated when asked the difference between the two conferences.
Yes, the junior thinks the SEC is better. At the same time, he seemed to have respect for Northwestern.
“A lot of players come from the Southeastern part of the states, so you know, in my opinion, I think that’s where the best talent is,” Carter said. “But you can’t look down at the Big Ten. This is my first time playing them, so I don’t know what to expect.”
Though Tate caught some attention with his early week comments, coaches have downplayed any confidence Auburn has. Tigers coach Gene Chizik has been effusive in his praise of Northwestern and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn went out of his way to talk about how tough its defense has been.
Tate might find out about the Wildcats’ physicality.
That is, of course, assuming they can catch him.
BREAKING OUT: Carter considers the 2009 campaign to be his breakout.
It’s hard to argue.
The junior posted decent numbers down the stretch after spring knee surgery caused a slow start to the season. Carter finished with 4.5 tackles for loss and 27 total tackles.
He also earned a starting job for the final half of the season.
One of the biggest differences this season has been Carter’s ability to play the run. He came to Auburn as a pass-rush specialist, but has since added 20-plus pounds.
“You can look at the film and tell it’s a big difference from my previous years,” Carter said. “…Just being more physical.”
Though Carter has flourished in his new role, he looks forward to returning to his more natural pass-rush end once Antonio Coleman leaves this year.
When Carter does make the switch, he will do so with a modified look.
Carter is something of a tattoo sommelier, sporting an untold number of them. He plans to have two regrettable tattoos removed by the spring, though.
When Carter was a teenager, he had “HOT” inked under his right eye and “BOY” under his left eye. Carter’s father, a former military man, was not pleased with the development. Carter now refers to the decision as a “youthful mistake.”
He said the procedure to get the tattoos removed will be expensive, but worthwhile.
“It’s just professional reasons,” Carter said. “I’m going into the business world. Just people make their thoughts about you when they first look at you, so I don’t want anybody getting off to a wrong start about me.”
The good news is that when Carter gets the tattoos removed he said reporters, fans and teammates can still refer to him as “Hot” Carter.
LUTZ ON THE MOVE: Philip Lutzenkirchen will have a chance to win the starting tight end position this spring after Tommy Trott graduates.
During bowl preparation, though, the true freshman has taken time to become more familiar with the H-back spot.
Trott said with H-back Eric Smith missing Wednesday’s practice, Lutzenkirchen worked exclusively at the spot.
“I was happy to see him out there and really delivering blows,” Trott said. “He's not afraid of being physical.
“I guess it's because he's competing for time at a new spot where it really lit a fire under him (Wednesday) and he had one heck of a practice."
Chizik said Smith was “finishing up some academic appointments” Wednesday. He declined to clarify the status any further.
It seems Auburn might be looking for alternatives in the event Smith can’t play in the bowl game.
Lutzenkirchen isn’t the only option. Trott said Auburn also worked walk-on Jason King at the position as well as reserve OL Bart Eddins.
Though Eddins might seem like an illogical choice, Trott said he was impressed on Wednesday.
“He looked pretty good,” he said. “He's always been good as a pulling guard. He laid somebody out in the Tennessee game coming around there. Bart knows how to throw his weight around pretty well and move his feet pretty good.”
HOUSEKEEPING NOTE: I am leaving town for about a week to visit the in-laws and enjoy some pre-Christmas vacation before Outback Bowl preparations hit the road. I'll be here to give some updates.