Furman eyes upset that another FCS team, UT-Martin, almost achieved
By ANDY BITTER
AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn got a lesson in overlooking a Football Championship Subdivision opponent last year, when the Tigers rested several starters and needed a second-half rally to pull away from pesky Tennessee-Martin.
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They are determined not to make that mistake again today against Furman.
“We’re going to keep our same focus,” Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes said. “Of course, when people look at teams like this, you just let them go ahead and slide by. Last year, we struggled because of the simple fact that we started in practice playing lazy. We’re going to make sure that doesn’t (happen).”
The Tigers (6-3, 3-3 SEC) would like to rest some starters while giving valuable playing time to less-experienced players against the Paladins (4-4, 3-3 Southern Conference), but they vow that won’t come at the expense of winning.
“It’s a football game we’ve got to win,” Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “To say that because it’s outside the league it’s less important, it’s a football game we’ve got to win. So that’s how we’re going to prepare.”
The Tigers rested banged-up defensive linemen Antonio Coleman, Sen’Derrick Marks and Tez Doolittle during last year’s UT-Martin game. It nearly cost them. The Skyhawks tied it at 20 with 8:59 left in the third quarter before Auburn put the game out of reach with 17 unanswered points in a 37-20 win.
The temptation for Auburn to rest its starters, even for a few quarters, is there. This is the 10th game in as many weeks for the Tigers, who won’t get a bye until after they travel to Georgia next week.
For a team that has depth problems, that’s a concern.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik has looked for opportunities to rest his players . Last week, he gave them Sunday off, in part to give them a mental break in the midst of a three-game losing streak and in part to keep them physically fresh for the stretch run.
Getting the reserves in early is a constant goal.
“I’d like that to be the hope every Saturday,” Chizik said. “If that situation presents itself and we’re able to do that, then that would be great. And we would if the situation arose, but we’ve got to go win the game this week like all the other games. We’ve got to go in to battle to win it.”
Furman hasn’t been a pushover in recent years. Although the Paladins have lost 18 of their past 19 games against teams from the Football Bowl Subdivision, including a 52-12 loss at Missouri earlier this year, they have been competitive.
The Paladins lost to eventual Orange Bowl winner Virginia Tech 24-7 last year. In 2006, they lost at North Carolina 45-42. And in 2004, they fell in overtime 41-38 to Pittsburgh, which would qualify for the Fiesta Bowl.
Bobby Lamb coached all of those Furman teams. He has gone 60-33 in seven years at his alma mater.
Despite that recent success, Furman still represents a break for Auburn from the grueling SEC grind, meaning Chizik and the coaches will have to guard against a letdown.
“You always worry about that, obviously,” Chizik said. “But, as a general rule for us and our team, I don’t think (it’s a problem). They’ve been really focused. They understand we have to get better every week and it doesn’t matter who we’re playing or what the circumstances are.”