War Eagle Extra

Auburn football: Tigers say all the right things about playing ho-hum non-conference opponent today

Heavily favored against ULM


abitter@ledger- enquirer.com

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn has seen the cautionary tales. It doesn’t want to become one.

The No. 10 Tigers (4-0) will be heavy favorites when they play today at Jordan-Hare Stadium against Louisiana-Monroe (1-2), a game featuring an SEC West contender versus a middle-of-the-pack Sun Belt team.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik has said all he can to get his team to avoid a letdown.

“Every game is big,” Chizik said. “The James Madisons beat the Virginia Techs. The Jacksonville States beat the Ole Misses. We’re focused in. We’re locked in. We’ve got to play a lot better than we did last week.”

History suggests Auburn won’t have to break too much of a sweat. The Tigers have won all seven meetings against ULM and are 15-0 against current members of the Sun Belt.

Auburn has not lost a non-conference game to a non-BCS conference team since 1991, when it lost to Southern Mississippi 10-9.

The Tigers have said all the right things this week.

“I’m just going to go out here and play Auburn football,” quarterback Cam Newton said. “There’s nothing different. It’s been evident with a lot of teams this year that they take one team for granted or look down upon a team.

“At the end of the day, you don’t have to be the best team in the nation. You just have to be the best team on the field. No one is just going to give us a win just because we’re 4-0 or they’re in the Sun Belt Conference. It’s all even play out there.”

ULM has knocked off an SEC team. The Warhawks upset Alabama 21-14 in 2007, the last time the Crimson Tide lost in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

The Warhawks stuck close with Arkansas in their season opener this year, trailing only 7-0 through 2 1/2 quarters. But the score was not indicative of the lopsided game. Arkansas out-gained ULM 499-188 in a 31-7 win.

The Warhawks lost the next week 34-20 to Arkansas State, a team Auburn beat 52-26 in Week 1.

Nevertheless, Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said ULM can “give you fits.” The Warhawks run a blitz-heavy defense from a 3-3-5 formation, with three down linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs.

Offensively, ULM runs a new spread attack in coach Todd Berry’s first season. Redshirt freshman quarterback Kolton Browning, a left-hander, leads the team in passing (590 yards, four touchdowns) and rushing (183 yards, one touchdown).

While trying to avoid a letdown, Auburn must deal with rising expectations. The Tigers are back in the top 10 for the first time in two years, seeking their second straight 5-0 start under Chizik.

“Nobody’s expectations are really greater than our own,” Chizik said. “I say that to the players all the time. If anybody’s expectations are greater than each one of our players’, then we’ve got a problem.”