AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn wide receiver Emory Blake backed off of his Sunday night statement that some of his teammates “shut it down” in Saturday’s loss to Georgia.
“That’s not what I really meant,” Blake said. “More of what I really meant was young guys not being in that situation before, just us as leaders doing a better job of bringing them along when they’re down.”
A year ago, Auburn had an experienced roster that was filled with players who had been through a 5-7 season in 2008, the subsequent coaching change and learning coach Gene Chizik’s system.
Auburn has played 17 freshmen this season, the second-highest number in the nation behind the 18 Texas has played.
“One thing Coach Chizik said coming back this year is that it was going to be a season where we were going to literally weather the storm,” defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker said. “To have the youngest team, not making an excuse, but it’s just a learning deal.”
The loss of starting cornerback T’Sharvan Bell to a season-ending knee injury has opened an opportunity for young corners Jermaine Whitehead, Robenson Therezie and Jonathon Mincy.
All three will have a chance to fill Bell’s shoes.
“Each one of us is trying to step up and get on the field this week and bring the spark (Bell) brings to the team,” Whitehead said. “I think it’s going to be by committee.”
Spreading the wealth
Blake, Philip Lutzenkirchen and Onterio McCalebb have been targeted on 30 of Auburn’s last 38 passes. Blake has been targeted on 17 of those passes.
But there is good reason, teammate Travante Stallworth said.
“They’re three of our big playmakers,” Stallworth said. “There’s only one football. Everybody can’t touch the ball at the same time.”
Message to McNeal
Placing Ryan Smith in the starting lineup Saturday over Demetruce McNeal, who had started the other nine games, was meant to motivate McNeal, according to Chizik. McNeal finished with seven tackles against Georgia.
“Demetruce is a very talented young man, and the message was simply, ‘You have to play better, and if you don’t play better, it doesn’t matter who you are, the next guy will come in, take your spot, and we don’t have any problem with that,’” Chizik said.
At first, Stallworth said he didn’t know much about Samford head coach Pat Sullivan, only that Sullivan was a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Auburn who had his jersey retired. So he knows plenty. Auburn’s loss to Georgia was the Tigers’ second loss of 35 points or more this season. The last time Auburn had two such losses was in 1950. Chizik said freshman safety Erique Florence (Valley High) is developing well.