Arkansas St.-Auburn Preview
While Auburn enjoyed a successful first year under coach Gene
Chizik, it would like to finish better this season.
Looking for another quick start, the 22nd-ranked Tigers will try
to extend their perfect record against the Sun Belt conference
Saturday when they face Arkansas State at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Hired in December 2008 following the resignation of Tommy
Tuberville, Chizik was not a popular addition to the program after
posting a 5-19 record in the previous two seasons coaching Iowa
The former Auburn defensive coordinator, though, has received a
better reception lately after leading the Tigers to an 8-5 record
last season, capped by a 38-35 overtime victory over Northwestern
in the Outback Bowl. While Auburn made a three-win improvement from
2008, it dropped five of seven after opening 5-0.
“We’ve got to finish,” said senior linebacker Josh Bynes, a
preseason All-SEC selection. “That’s what our coaches are
preaching…. We lost key games and we’ve got to finish on top now
instead of finishing on the bottom of those.”
The return of safeties Aairon Savage, Mike McNeil and Zac
Etheridge could help the Tigers accomplish that goal. Savage, a
sixth-year senior, missed the 2008 season with a torn knee ligament
and was sidelined last season due to a torn Achilles’ tendon.
McNeil missed last season with a broken leg, while Etheridge
suffered a cracked vertebrae and torn neck ligaments against
Mississippi on Oct. 31.
“What we’ve all been through, it’s self-explanatory,” Etheridge
said. “All of us have had an injury where it could have been our
last play. I think that’s the motivation in itself, that we go out
there and compete every day. We’re all excited to be back out there
Daren Bates started every game at safety last season as a
freshman, but he will move to linebacker this season alongside
Bynes and senior Craig Stevens. Bynes and Stevens led Auburn with
104 and 95 tackles, respectively, but the defense yielded a
school-record 4,863 yards in 2009.
Auburn was ranked 68th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in yards
allowed per game (374.1) and 79th in scoring defense (27.5 per
With the Tigers’ defense on the field for a SEC-high 945 plays
last season, Bynes and Stevens did not get much rest.
“We’re in a position where we don’t have to do that this year,”
said defensive coordinator and linebacker coach Ted Roof, “but
they’re still going to have to carry the load.”
While the defense looks to improve, transfer quarterback Cameron
Newton replaces Chris Todd to lead an offense that totaled a
school-record 5,613 yards last season.
Newton, who led Blinn (Texas) College to the NJCAA national
championship in 2009, returns to the FBS level after spending 2007
and a portion of 2008 as one of Tim Tebow’s backups at Florida.
“As I’ve told him, as I’ve told everybody else, he’s got to get
on the field now and deliver,” Chizik said.
Newton should not only benefit from one of the nation’s most
experienced offensive lines, led by left tackle Lee Ziemba, he will
have multiple weapons in the backfield and at receiver.
Senior Mario Fannin and sophomore Onterio McCalebb should see
plenty of carries for the Tigers with second-team All-SEC running
back Ben Tate gone, but highly touted freshman Michael Dyer is also
expected to make an impact.
“The thing about Mike is he ran for 8,000 yards in high school
(at Little Rock Christian Academy in Arkansas),” said running
backs coach Curtis Luper. “That’s all he’s ever done, is gain
yards. That’s just all he knows. He’ll do the same thing
Junior wide receiver Darvin Adams, who was second in the SEC
with 997 yards and 10 TDs last season, will likely be one of
Newton’s favorite targets, along with senior Terrell Zachery.
While Auburn is 14-0 all-time against the Sun Belt, Arkansas
State will try to improve its 1-46-3 record versus current SEC
Coming off a 4-8 season and ranking second-to-last in the
conference in rushing (135.3) and passing yards per game (193.6),
Red Wolves coach Steve Roberts is looking for quarterback Ryan
Aplin to run the team’s new spread offense installed by first-year
offensive coordinator Hugh Freeze.
“They’ve got a new offense that is fast-tempo,” Chizik said.
“It’s very similar to ours in that regard with a new offensive
coordinator, so we’re going out and trying to win.”
Auburn won 27-0 in the only meeting between the schools in