AUBURN, Ala. — Zac Etheridge’s season-ending neck injury puts Auburn in a bind at safety.
“It’s rather slim, but we will get creative to put the best guys out there that give us the best chance to win,” Tigers coach Gene Chizik said. “We obviously have to work through some things in the next couple days to figure out what that is. We’ll explore all the options.”
Sophomore Mike Slade and redshirt freshman T’Sharvan Bell are the primary candidates to take Etheridge’s place as a starter alongside freshman Daren Bates.
Slade replaced Etheridge in the base defense Saturday and finished with three tackles, although Chizik said he performed “adequately.”
Bell, who moved from corner to safety in August, hasn’t gotten much playing time this year.
“He’s an intelligent football player who hasn’t played a whole lot, so there’s some uncertainty there as far as the experience factor,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “As you make your stretch run, you’d rather be putting in experienced (players), but that’s where we are.”
Auburn has been hit hard in the secondary since the spring. Projected starter Mike McNeil broke his leg during an April scrimmage and hasn’t played this year. Chizik said he is not an option at this point.
Sophomore Christian Thompson was kicked off the team for disciplinary reasons during the summer. Senior Aairon Savage tore his Achilles’ heel in July and sophomore Drew Cole has missed the last seven games since suffering an ankle injury against Mississippi State.
Sophomore D’Antoine Hood, a former Central-Phenix standout, worked some at safety in August but will remain at corner for now.
Roof didn’t rule out trying Demond Washington at safety, even though the junior college transfer has made strides as the Tigers’ third cornerback.
“We’ll talk about a lot of things,” Roof said. “It’s our responsibly as coaches to get our best players on the field.”
More rest on the way?
Running back Onterio McCalebb (ankle) didn’t play against Ole Miss last Saturday and there’s no guarantee he’ll play next week.
Chizik said he gave the freshman a chance to rest a nagging right ankle injury that’s bothered him since the Ball State game Sept. 26.
“We’ve got to get him healthy, 100 percent,” Chizik said. “And obviously he’s got a different speed than a lot of guys, and he’s not the same guy without that speed, without being able to make those cuts.”
Mario Fannin replaced McCalebb as the backup tailback, getting six carries for 35 yards. Freshman receiver Travante Stallworth took McCalebb’s spot as the speed sweep option in the Wildcat formation, carrying it twice for 22 yards.
Chizik didn’t say whether or not McCalebb would sit out this week against Furman.
“I don’t know what we’ll do,” he said. “We’ll play that day-by-day. But that’s sort of a possibility.”
Asked why Auburn received a delay of game penalty in the third quarter for snapping the ball before the officials had put it in play, Chizik steered clear of saying anything.
“I’m not going to comment on any of the officiating,” he said.
The SEC took a hard stance after a series of complaints from Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen and Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino following controversial calls the past few weeks. The league office tightened up its policy, threatening coaches with suspensions and fines if they criticize officials publicly.
Chizik merely confirmed that it was a delay of game call Sunday. When asked if he got an explanation for the penalty, he offered little else.
“It was a delay of the game call,” he repeated.
Top RB makes visit
Five-star running back Marcus Lattimore visited the Plains this weekend, according to Auburn’s three major recruiting Web sites.
The 6-foot, 210-pound running back from Byrnes High in Duncan, S.C., is ranked the No. 1 running back in the nation by Scout.com and No. 2 by Rivals.
He has future visits scheduled with Penn State and Oregon, according to AuburnSports.com, but said he probably won’t make his decision known until Signing Day.