AUBURN, Ala. — Any sense of satisfaction Auburn’s defenders had following a 61-34 rout of the offense in Saturday’s scrimmage was tempered by concern for an injured teammate.
Starting safety Mike McNeil injured his right leg during the closed practice. The injury was severe enough to prompt several emergency vehicles to arrive at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“I made the tackle and I heard somebody scream, ‘It’s my leg,’” cornerback Neiko Thorpe said.
“Nobody likes to see a guy get hurt, period,” head coach Gene Chizik said. “Whether it’s that or whether it’s a guy twisting an ankle, nobody likes to see these guys out here trying really hard and trying to do what we ask them to do and get hurt.
“That’s part of the game, and we don’t like it, but when you’ve got tough guys that love the game, they deal with what comes, and Michael’s going to do that.”
McNeil, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound rising junior, made 65 tackles last season, second on the team to fellow safety Zac Etheridge. Safeties coach Tommy Thigpen said sophomores Mike Slade, Christian Thompson and Drew Cole will take McNeil’s place.
Coaches hesitated to expound on the severity of the injury or how long McNeil could be out.
The injury was about the only thing that didn’t go the defense’s way in the second full-scale scrimmage of the spring. Thorpe returned an interception for a touchdown and Antonio Coleman registered at least two sacks as the Tigers defense harassed an overmatched Auburn offense.
Despite the lopsided score, Chizik was reluctant to declare a victor. Everyone else obliged, however.
“They handed it to us pretty well today,” running backs coach Curtis Luper said. “It was a good old-fashioned whupping. It’s not all bad. You like to see the defense do well sometimes. We’ve been spanking them pretty good.”
“We didn’t win too many games last year in the second half,” Coleman said, “so it just feels great to come out and just blow someone out of the water.”
Coleman’s strong effort came on the heels of a dispute with coaches during Thursday’s practice that resulted in him leaving the field. An account of the spat made its way to the Internet message boards, where it gained steam the past few days.
“Basically, I was hurt and couldn’t go,” Coleman explained. “I just went in and got some treatment and just tried to get it taken care of. I went back that day and talked to coach (Tracy) Rocker and coach (Ted) Roof and went back out there and started playing.
“It was all a big misunderstanding. … Everything’s fine. It wasn’t a big deal. Some people blew it out of proportion.”
A week after conceding the defense had too many players loafing on too many plays, Coleman was satisfied with the effort Saturday.
“We just got it into our head that we were going to bust it,” he said. “Every time we saw a ball out there, we were going to get it. If a tackle breaks, we’re going to run to the ball. Guys were just out there having fun, and, when you do that, you don’t have to worry about the loafs.”
The offense had a few highlights. Running back Ben Tate scored a touchdown, and speedster Onterio McCalebb broke off a run for more than 50 yards, but the Tigers struggled to find any consistency on offense in their 70 plays from scrimmage.
“Protection-wise, route-wise and quarterback-wise as well, we really weren’t on the same page,” quarterback Kodi Burns said.
“Today was kind of shocking,” cornerback Walt McFadden said. “They slowed down before us. Usually, they’ll just keep pounding it down on us. But, today, we were pounding down on it.”