SEC: Ben Tate

AUBURN, Ala. -- When running back Cameron Artis-Payne arrived at Auburn in January, there were high expectations. He was ranked No. 35 in the ESPN Junior College 100 and No. 2 at his position. In the spring game, he rushed for 117 yards and took home offensive MVP honors.

[+] EnlargeCameron Artis-Payne
AP Photo/Dave MartinCameron Artis-Payne is averaging 4.9 yards per carry this season.
However, he’s been relegated to running-back-by-committee duties this season with fellow backs Corey Grant and Tre Mason. In the last game against LSU, he took a backseat to Mason who carried the ball 26 times for 132 yards. Meanwhile, Artis-Payne had just seven carries.

“Tre was hot,” head coach Gus Malzahn said. “You could tell he was running good, running strong, so we just kind of stayed with the hot hand. The good thing for us is that we’ve got three guys that we feel good about. Obviously, Tre is the most experienced guy in that group, and he just did an outstanding job and made some very tough yards.”

Don’t expect Artis-Payne to get discouraged. He’s been part of a three-back system before.

Back in 2005, the Pennsylvania native was a sophomore at Bishop McDevitt High School where he and fellow classmate Mike Jones backed up a guy named LeSean McCoy. Jones went on to play at Syracuse while McCoy has established himself as one of the top running backs in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles.

“To coach a guy that some say is the best or one of the top three running backs in the NFL right now, and then coach another kid that went up and played at Syracuse and another kid that’s playing at Auburn, you feel pretty good as a coach,” McDevitt coach Jeff Weachter said. “You had a chance to have all those kids all in the same backfield. We knew back then that it was a special group.”

Now, eight years and five schools later, Artis-Payne finds himself in a similar situation at Auburn. His former coach believes Auburn is a perfect fit for him.

“Everybody is going to more of a two-or-three-back set just to keep their guys fresh,” Weachter said. “With Cameron, he’s a between-the-tackles runner. He’s a physical runner. So it’s good. It’s not wearing him down.

“… It looks like the two kids are real nice complements to each other.”

Through four games, Artis-Payne has rushed for 207 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. In week two, he rushed for a career-high 102 yards against Arkansas State and scored his first touchdown with the Tigers.

Artis-Payne reminds some of former Tigers running back Ben Tate, and it’s not just because they both have No. 44 with the Tigers. Tate, a big, strong back who has surprising quickness like Artis-Payne played under Malzahn during his senior season at Auburn and rushed for 1,362 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Tate was drafted in the second round by the Houston Texans, and now he finds himself in his own backfield timeshare, splitting carries with NFL star Arian Foster.

“Sometimes it's tough,” Tate said. “But at the same time, there are positives to it as well. You're fresher at the end of games, and you're more liable to make a longer run because you're fresher towards the end of the game. That's when teams are getting tired.”

Tate is making the most of his opportunity with the Texans, and Artis-Payne plans to do the same while he’s at Auburn. He knows his number could be called at any time, and no matter the situation, he needs to be ready to deliver.

“You can't just be satisfied with mediocre play by anybody on any certain play,” Artis-Payne said. “We're aiming to be the best and that's what Coach Malzahn wants from us. We're aiming for perfection at this point.”

All three running backs are likely to be called on this weekend when Auburn hosts No. 24 Ole Miss in an SEC West battle.

“We’ve got three running backs that we feel very good about,” Malzahn said. “Week to week, we’ll see what they’re giving us. Week to week could be a little different.”

Hogs lead way with 1,000-yard rushers

April, 7, 2011
Going back to my post on potential 1,000-yard rushers next season in the SEC, I thought it would be interesting to see who has produced the most 1,000-yard rushers in the league over the past five seasons.

That would be Arkansas with six, including four different players. Darren McFadden did it twice, and so did Felix Jones. In fact, they both rushed for 1,000 yards in the 2006 and 2007 seasons.

Florida and Vanderbilt have not had a 1,000-yard rusher over the past five seasons.

The Gators’ last 1,000-yard rusher was Ciatrick Fason in 2004 with 1,267 yards. The last time the Commodores produced a 1,000-yard rusher was Jermaine Johnson in 1995 with 1,072 yards.

Last season, Marcus Lattimore became the first South Carolina player to rush for 1,000 yards since Derek Watson had 1,066 yards in 2000.

Here’s a rundown:

Arkansas: 6 (Darren McFadden 1,830 yards in 2007, Darren McFadden 1,647 yards in 2006, Knile Davis 1,322 yards in 2010, Felix Jones 1,168 yards in 2006, Felix Jones 1,113 yards in 2007, Michael Smith 1,072 yards in 2008)

Auburn: 3 (Cam Newton 1,473 yards in 2010, Ben Tate 1,362 yards in 2009, Mike Dyer 1,093 yards in 2010)

LSU: 3 (Charles Scott 1,174 yards in 2008, Stevan Ridley 1,147 yards in 2010, Jacob Hester 1,103 yards in 2007)

Ole Miss: 3 (Dexter McCluster 1,169 yards in 2009, BenJarvus Green-Ellis 1,137 yards in 2007, BenJarvus Green-Ellis 1,000 yards in 2006)

Tennessee: 3 (Montario Hardesty 1,345 yards in 2009, Arian Foster 1,193 yards in 2007, Tauren Poole 1,034 yards in 2010)

Alabama: 2 (Mark Ingram 1,658 yards in 2009, Glen Coffee 1,383 yards in 2008)

Georgia: 2 (Knowshon Moreno 1,400 yards in 2008, Knowshon Moreno 1,334 yards in 2007)

Mississippi State: 2 (Anthony Dixon 1,391 yards in 2009, Anthony Dixon 1,066 yards in 2007)

Kentucky: 1 (Rafael Little 1,013 yards in 2007)

South Carolina: 1 (Marcus Lattimore 1,197 yards in 2010)

Auburn spring wrap

May, 4, 2010
2009 overall record: 8-5

2009 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 7; Defense: 8; Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

RB Onterio McCalebb, RB Mario Fannin, WR Darvin Adams, OT Lee Ziemba, C Ryan Pugh, LB Josh Bynes, LB Daren Bates, CB Neiko Thorpe

Key losses

QB Chris Todd, RB Ben Tate, TE Tommy Trott, DE Antonio Coleman, CB Walter McFadden

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Ben Tate (1,362 yards)

Passing: Chris Todd (2,612 yards)

Receiving: Darvin Adams* (997 yards)

Tackles: Josh Bynes* (104)

Sacks: Antonio Coleman (10)

Interceptions: Walter McFadden (6)

Spring answers

1. Newton named No. 1: Auburn went out and got Cameron Newton from the junior college ranks to be its quarterback, and Newton didn’t disappoint this spring. He’s a 6-6, 242-pound specimen who can both run and throw and quickly earned the confidence and trust of his teammates with the way he performed and diligently went about his business. Auburn coach Gene Chizik named Newton the Tigers’ No. 1 quarterback at the conclusion of the spring, and it’s going to be hard to wrest the job away from him.

2. Picking up the pace: If you think the Tigers played fast on offense last season, wait until you see them in 2010. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn wants to play even faster, keeping defenses off balance, and thinks he has the personnel in place to do that next season. It helps that it will be the second time through Malzahn’s system for most of these guys. If Newton responds in the fall the way the Auburn coaches think he will, look for the Tigers to delve even deeper into Malzahn’s playbook.

3. Bates moving up: Even though he didn’t practice this spring because of a bum shoulder, Daren Bates made a little news. The Tigers plan on moving him to a hybrid linebacker role after he earned Freshman All-SEC honors last season at safety. The idea is to get faster on defense, and Bates was one of the Tigers’ most aggressive tacklers last season. It’s also a way to build depth at linebacker, which was a huge problem a year ago. Bates is a quick learner. He proved that last season after arriving in August and starting all 13 games.

Fall questions

1. In a rush: Chizik says the Tigers have to be a better power running team next season. Who’s going to be the go-to guy at running back now that Ben Tate is gone? Senior Mario Fannin will get the first crack after bouncing around between receiver and running back the last two years. Onterio McCalebb is healthy again and more of a change-of-pace guy, while redshirt freshman Dontae Aycock has also shown some promise. And, oh yeah, coveted freshman signee Michael Dyer arrives this summer. The best news is that Auburn returns four of five starters in the offensive line.

2. Defensive depth: The Tigers simply didn’t have the numbers nor the depth a year ago to play consistent defense for 12 games, which is a big reason why they lost five of their last six SEC games. They should be a little deeper next season, especially when everybody from the 2010 signing class gets on campus. Still, there are concerns. It’s never ideal to count on true freshmen, which means players such as sophomore linebacker Eltoro Freeman and redshirt freshman defensive lineman Nosa Eguae need to come through in a big way next season.

3. Walking wounded: The Tigers have three veteran safeties returning from serious injuries – Mike McNeil, Aairon Savage and Zac Etheridge. There’s a chance all three could come back and make major contributions, and there’s also a chance that they won’t ever be able to get back to where they once were. Savage has missed the last two seasons because of injuries, and Etheridge had a scary neck injury last season. Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof is hopeful on all three, but will reserve judgment once he sees them on the field in the fall.

Lunchtime links: Berry awaits call

April, 22, 2010
Checking in on what's making headlines around the SEC:

Auburn, Chizik look to take next step

April, 2, 2010
AUBURN, Ala. -- It’s fair to say we know a little bit more about Gene Chizik than we did this time a year ago, when some on the Plains were still scratching their heads over his hiring.

In that same regard, we also know a little bit more about where the Auburn football program is headed under Chizik.

“Last year, everybody was still trying to feel each other out,” senior linebacker Josh Bynes said. “Now, everybody is fully aware of how it works here. We know each other. We know what coach Chizik is about.

Otto Greule Jr./Getty ImagesAuburn coach Gene Chizik is ready to get back to work for his second season with the Tigers.
“We also know for a fact that there’s nothing else we want other than a championship. It’s one thing to say that’s your goal, but we actually feel it in our bones.”

To say there’s some serious momentum right now in Auburn’s program would be akin to saying that Tiger Woods might face a smidgen of scrutiny next week at Augusta.

An eight-win season and Outback Bowl victory during Chizik’s maiden voyage in the SEC was followed up by a recruiting class that was ranked No. 4 nationally.

The Tigers head into their second season under Chizik with 24 seniors, including a couple of key leaders returning from injury, and they were the only team in the league to keep their entire coaching staff intact.

What’s next?

Good luck in getting the no-frills, tell-it-like-it-is Chizik to make any grandiose predictions.

He’s too busy worrying about the next practice, the next meeting, the next recruiting tape he needs to watch.

What he will tell you is that he likes the tone that has been set and the attitude he sees on the practice field this spring.

“Everybody knows what the expectations are and what we’re trying to do,” Chizik said. “Now, it’s trying to make our football team a more consistent football team all the way around.”

In a lot of ways, the Tigers were close to double-digit wins last season. But they were also, in Chizik’s words, a feast or famine team.

“That’s a classic sign of a very inconsistent team,” Chizik said.

A lack of depth was a huge issue, particularly on defense. The Tigers finished 11th in the SEC in total defense.

And even though Ben Tate had a big year running the football, the Tigers’ power running game wasn’t nearly as productive as Chizik would like. They dipped to an average of 133.2 rushing yards per game in their last four SEC outings.

“There were games in there where we didn’t run the ball very well. There were some games we ran it great,” Chizik said. “You can make stats look however you want to make them look. But when you look at SEC games, were we consistently moving the football running it?

“We’ve got to get better.”

Returning four starters on the offensive line should help, and while Tate is departing, the Tigers went out and signed one of the top running back prospects in the country in Michael Dyer of Little Rock, Ark.

Defensively, Chizik said it’s a given that first-year players will have to play next season.

In fact, he said it’s going to be that way the next couple of seasons.

“That’s just the way it is until we build our roster back up,” he said. “Roster management is going to be extremely big for us, how we handle the roster. The young guys coming in are going to have to contribute. That’s just where we’re at in terms of depth.”

And, really, when you look deeper at the numbers crunch the Tigers faced a year ago, coupled with the fact they had to play 11 straight weeks without a bye, it’s pretty remarkable they were able to scratch out eight wins.

The players don’t necessarily see it that way.

“A couple of plays here or there, a little more focus, and we’re 11-2,” Bynes said. “We have a lot of seniors, a lot of guys who’ve played. The chemistry is going to be tremendous. When we get the numbers right, and we will, I can’t wait to see what this team can do.”

Even more so than what the Tigers did on the field last season, Chizik and his staff really made their presence felt on the recruiting trail.

They reeled in highly rated prospects from just about everywhere -- Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, Arkansas, and yes, from inside the state, too.

The Tigers never blinked in the face of Alabama’s massive recruiting machine, which was only bolstered by the national championship.

Instead, they got creative.

The Big Cat Weekend led to secondary violations, and the Tiger Prowl limo tour drew some snide comments from rival coaches in the league.

But nobody was arguing with the results.

“We’ve got to continually find ways to upgrade the way we’re recruiting, what we’re selling, how we’re selling it, what our ideas are,” Chizik said. “It’s no different than a multimillion-dollar company trying to figure out how to generate more revenue than they did the year before. It’s the same idea.

“It’s not easy. I can promise you that. In-state battles for recruiting in the state of Alabama are extremely challenging, certainly when you’re recruiting against somebody who can now say they recently have another national championship. We’ve got our work cut out for us, but it’s not like we don’t know where we’re at. We know exactly where we’re at.

“We know what we have to tackle and how we have to do it, and we’re going to go full steam ahead.”

Don’t expect Chizik to waver, either.

He’s as grounded as they come, which is why the negative chatter surrounding his hire following a 5-19 record at Iowa State never registered a blip with him.

It’s the same reason he refuses to get caught up now in any “Auburn is back” chatter.

“The reception when I came here a year and a half ago was great,” Chizik said. “The bottom line is there were a couple of outspoken guys, and you’re never going to be able to control that. The ones that are negative and the loudest sometimes give the perception that they’re the majority, and that’s not necessarily the truth.

“The majority of the Auburn people have been phenomenal, because they love Auburn.”

And so does Chizik, who calls it a dream come true to be leading this program after serving as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator from 2002-04.

“We need to continue to work toward the vision we have for this place, and that is that we need to be better this year than we were last year,” Chizik said. “That’s not going to be easy to do.”

Perhaps not, but there’s no mistaking the buzz around Auburn’s campus these days.

“This first season … all it did was confirm all the goals and dreams we had when we first got here,” offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said.

Keep an eye on Tate at the next level

March, 10, 2010
You gotta love Ben Tate's attitude.

There's a swagger about him that's genuine and not trumped up. And like most great athletes, he's pretty skilled at finding all the motivation he needs.

The former Auburn tailback helped himself at the NFL combine last week with his 4.43 in the 40-yard dash, the third fastest time among running backs. He also had a 40.5-inch vertical leap, which was second among running backs, and tied for the most reps on the bench-press among running backs with 26.

Still, the highest you're seeing the 220-pound Tate projected in the upcoming NFL draft is the third round, which is probably fitting. Last season, with all the strong performances by running backs in the SEC, Tate sort of got lost in the shadows despite his 1,362 yards rushing.

That's OK, though, because that underdog role drives him, and will only pay dividends at the next level.

He chose not to run again during Auburn's pro timing day on Tuesday, and who could blame him given his time in Indianapolis?

But he made it clear that he's pushing as hard as ever.

"I think I've been underestimated my whole career," Tate told reporters. "It drives me. It keeps me working hard. I don't mind being the underdog. One day the underdog will be on top."

SEC combine report: Tate sparkles

March, 1, 2010
The NFL combine wraps up Monday and Tuesday, and already several former SEC players have helped themselves.

A few might have hurt themselves, too.

Auburn running back Ben Tate had a super workout session. Weighing 220 pounds, he turned in the third fastest 40-yard dash time among the running backs (4.43), was second among the running backs with a 40.5-inch vertical leap and tied for the most reps on the bench-press among running backs with 26. He also had a 10-4 broad jump, which tied Tennessee's Montario Hardesty for first among the running backs.

Hardesty, who had bulked up to 225 pounds, ran a 4.49 40-yard dash and did 21 reps on the bench.

The defensive linemen and linebackers are working out on Monday, and Georgia defensive tackle Jeff Owens set the bar pretty high on the bench-press with 44 reps. His teammate, Geno Atkins, did 34 reps. As a comparison, Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh did 32 reps.

Kentucky linebacker Micah Johnson put up 31 reps Monday morning.

The strongest former SEC player of the combine was Arkansas offensive guard Mitch Petrus, who did 45 reps over the weekend. That tied a combine record (since 2000).

The fastest former SEC player was LSU return specialist Trindon Holliday, who ran a 4.34 40-yard dash.

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow didn't throw at the combine. He'll show off his new delivery at the Gators' pro day on March 17, but he did demonstrate what kind of athlete he is. He ran a 4.72 40-yard dash, fourth fastest among the quarterbacks, and tied Josh McCown's record for quarterbacks with a 38.5-inch vertical leap. Tebow's hands (10 1/8) also measured the largest of the quarterbacks.

One of the biggest surprises of the combine so far was that Ole Miss' Dexter McCluster didn't turn in a faster 40 time. Weighing 172 pounds, McCluster ran a 4.55, but did show off his strength with 20 reps on the bench-press.

LSU receiver Brandon LaFell also had a disappointing 40 time (4.6), while Ole Miss' Shay Hodge was even slower (4.63).

Some players chose not to run the 40 and/or work out because they were injured or simply wanted to wait until their school's pro day. Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez had a strained back and didn't run.

The defensive backs work out on Tuesday.

The SEC's 30 best players: Nos. 20-16

February, 8, 2010
This is when it really gets tough, because there’s not a lot of difference in the 10th best player in this league and the 20th best player.

Of the first 10 players to make the cut, five will be back next season.

Let’s see how many of these next 20 will be back.

Here we go with selections No. 20-16:

No. 20: Maurkice Pouncey, C, Florida: Versatile enough to play just about anywhere up front, Pouncey remained at center and was the anchor of the Gators’ offensive line this past season. Go back and count how many times he cleared the way for one of Tim Tebow’s key conversions on third or fourth down. Pouncey won’t be easily replaced -- on the field or off the field. He started in 39 games in three seasons and was one of the strongest leaders on the team. He’s giving up his senior season to turn pro.

Jim Brown-US PRESSWIRETennessee running back Montario Hardesty broke through this season with 1,345 yards and 14 touchdowns.

No. 19: Mike Johnson, OG, Alabama: As a junior, Johnson was overshadowed somewhat by first-team All-Americans Andre Smith and Antoine Caldwell. But this past season, with the Crimson Tide losing three starters up front, Johnson stepped up front and center as one of the most complete offensive linemen in the league. He was a consensus first-team All-American from his left guard position and anchored an offensive line that was rock-solid all season. All the while, Alabama went 14-0, won its first national title in 17 years and put up even better offensive numbers than it did a year ago.

No. 18: Montario Hardesty, RB, Tennessee: One of the comeback players of year nationally, Hardesty saved his best for his senior season. He’d been inundated with injuries through much of his career and really didn’t get much of a chance as a junior. But this past season, he plowed his way to 1,345 rushing yards and scored 14 touchdowns. Hardesty carried the ball an SEC-high 282 times and didn’t fumble a single time on a rushing attempt. Prior to this past season, Hardesty had never rushed for more than 387 yards in a season.

No. 17: Ben Tate, RB, Auburn: Tate was one of those guys who didn’t quite make the cut on the preseason list. He was hurt by how dysfunctional Auburn was on offense in 2008. That wasn’t a problem this past season. The Tigers fed him the ball, and he delivered. The 5-11, 218-pound senior rushed for a career-high 1,362 yards and 10 touchdowns. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry and proved to be one of the toughest backs in the league to bring down. Despite carrying the ball 263 times, Tate lost just 44 yards all season. He also showed that he wasn’t just a power back and had three touchdown runs of 35 yards or longer.

No. 16: Dan Williams, DT, Tennessee: Williams had been a solid player for the Vols prior to this past season, but he certainly hadn’t risen to the level where he could be considered one of the top 30 players in the league. That all changed during his senior season. He was consistently the best interior defensive lineman in the league in 2009 and likely played his way into the first round of April’s NFL draft. Williams led all SEC defensive tackles with 70 total tackles and led the Vols with nine tackles for loss and nine quarterback hurries. He stuffs the run with the best of them, but is also an effective interior pass-rusher.
  • No. 21: Rennie Curran, LB, Georgia
  • No. 22: Randall Cobb, QB/WR, Kentucky
  • No. 23: Shay Hodge, WR, Ole Miss
  • No. 24: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
  • No. 25: Pernell McPhee, DE, Mississippi State
  • No. 26: Malcolm Sheppard, DT, Arkansas
  • No. 27: Mark Barron, S, Alabama
  • No. 28: Terrence Cody, NG, Alabama
  • No. 29: Brandon LaFell, WR, LSU
  • No. 30: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama

Kentucky's Conner participating in Senior Bowl

January, 27, 2010
I wanted to make sure I pointed out that Kentucky fullback John Conner is also playing in the Senior Bowl. He was a late addition.

The 5-foot-11, 240-pound Conner is an outstanding blocker and would fit in nicely with any team that still uses the fullback a lot. He's athletic enough to catch the ball and has more than held his own during the first two days of practice.

Four of the five running backs playing on the South team are from the SEC. Mississippi State's Anthony Dixon, Auburn's Ben Tate and Alabama's Roy Upchurch are also on the active roster.

Dixon weighed in at 245 pounds, but it wasn't a flabby 245 pounds. Scouts were impressed with his solid build, and he's also going to get some work at fullback this week.

Here are the official heights and weights of SEC players who were present for the weigh-in:

  • Javier Arenas CB Alabama 5-8.5/195
  • Geno Atkins DT Georgia 6-1.3/286
  • Ciron Black OT LSU 6-4.5/331
  • Jamar Chaney LB Mississippi State 6-0.6/241
  • Terrence Cody NG Alabama 6-4/370
  • Antonio Coleman DE Auburn 6-1.5/255
  • Harry Coleman SS LSU 6-1.4/206
  • Riley Cooper WR Florida 6-3.4/214
  • Morgan Cox DS Tennessee 6-2.6/248
  • Anthony Dixon RB Mississippi State 6-0.6/245
  • Shay Hodge WR Ole Miss 6-1.3/208
  • John Jerry OG Ole Miss 6-5.4/332
  • Mike Johnson OG Alabama 6-5.3/306
  • Trevard Lindley CB Kentucky 5-11.1/178
  • Dexter McCluster RB Ole Miss 5-8.1/165
  • Eric Norwood OLB South Carolina 6-0.7/246
  • Jeff Owens DT Georgia 6-1.2/304
  • Colin Peek TE Alabama 6-5.4/250
  • Mitch Petrus OG Arkansas 6-3.1/304
  • Charles Scott RB LSU 5-11.3/239
  • Ben Tate RB Auburn 5-10.7/214
  • Tim Tebow QB Florida 6-2.6/236
  • Leigh Tiffin K Alabama 6-0.1/198
  • Roy Upchurch RB Alabama 5-11.7/210
  • Dan Williams DT Tennessee 6-2.2/329

SEC players invited to the NFL combine

January, 12, 2010
Here’s a look at the SEC seniors invited to participate in the NFL scouting combine Feb. 24-March 2 in Indianapolis. There will also be some underclassmen invited once the deadline passes for early entry into the draft.

LSU had the most players invited in the SEC with 11. Alabama was second with eight:


CB Javier Arenas

NG Terrence Cody

DE Brandon Deaderick

OL Mike Johnson

TE Colin Peek

K Leigh Tiffin

DE Lorenzo Washington

S Justin Woodall


OL Mitch Petrus

DT Malcolm Sheppard


RB Ben Tate


WR Riley Cooper

DE Jermaine Cunningham

RB/RS Brandon James

LB Brandon Spikes

QB Tim Tebow


DT Geno Atkins


FB John Conner

LB Micah Johnson

CB Trevard Lindley

LB Sam Maxwell

DT Corey Peters


DE Rahim Alem

DT Charles Alexander

OT Ciron Black

LB Harry Coleman

CB Chris Hawkins

RS Trindon Holliday

WR Brandon LaFell

LB Perry Riley

RB Charles Scott

RB Keiland Williams

DT Al Woods


RB Anthony Dixon


CB Marshay Green

DE Greg Hardy

WR Shay Hodge

OL John Jerry

S Kendrick Lewis

RB Dexter McCluster


LB Eric Norwood

S Darian Stewart


RB Montario Hardesty

OT Chris Scott

DT Dan Williams


CB Myron Lewis

OT Thomas Welch

Instant analysis: Auburn 38, Northwestern 35 (OT)

January, 1, 2010
A quick look at Auburn’s 38-35 overtime victory against Northwestern on Friday in the Outback Bowl:

How the game was won: After seemingly winning the game on two previous occasions, Auburn finally survived when defensive back Neiko Thorpe slammed Northwestern’s Zeke Markshausen out of bounds and kept him from getting into the end zone on a fake field goal attempt in overtime. The Wildcats had the ball at the 5, but had already missed three field goal attempts – one that would have won the game at the end of regulation. So they tried to win it in regulation with a little trickery, but the Tigers weren’t fooled

Turning point: Auburn had a 35-21 lead with 7:32 to play in regulation and appeared to be cruising to a win. But the Tigers turned the ball over twice in a span of two minutes. Ben Tate lost a fumble at the Northwestern 31, and Demond Washington lost a fumble at midfield after a long kickoff return. The Wildcats were able to score a pair of touchdowns in the final three and a half minutes of regulation to force overtime.

Turning point II: Walter McFadden’s 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter changed the whole complexion of the game. It looked like Northwestern was about to tie the game at 7-7. The Wildcats had a first-and-goal at the four. But on third down, McFadden tipped a pass to himself in the end zone and raced untouched down the right sideline for the touchdown to give Auburn a 14-0 lead.

Stat of the game: Where do you start? The two teams combined for 1,074 yards of total offense and 53 first downs. Northwestern had 35 first downs, and the Wildcats’ quarterback, Mike Kafka, passed for 532 yards. But Kafka, who threw a Big Ten-low seven interceptions this season, was intercepted five times by the Tigers.

Stat of the game II: The Tigers overcame 12 penalties for 139 yards, including a couple of personal fouls toward the end of regulation and in overtime.

Player of the game: McFadden had two of Auburn's five interceptions. His first pick set up the Tigers' first touchdown, and he returned his second pick 100 yards for a touchdown to give Auburn a 14-0 cushion.

Unsung hero: Auburn receiver Darvin Adams capped a big sophomore season with perhaps the best game he played all season. Adams finished with 12 catches for 141 yards and made several plays to help keep drives alive.

What it means: Getting to eight wins in Year No. 1 under Gene Chizik has to be considered a success on all fronts for Auburn, which also stopped the bleeding. The Tigers (8-5) closed the regular season by losing five of their last six SEC games. Still, the way Northwestern moved the ball up and down the field is a reminder that Auburn still needs to upgrade its depth on defense and its talent on that side of the ball if the Tigers want to be a player in the Western Division race over the next couple of seasons. That’s where these next couple of recruiting classes come in.

Senior Bowl loaded with SEC players

December, 24, 2009
The 2010 Senior Bowl will have a definite SEC flavor.

Already, 10 SEC players have been announced as participants. The latest two were Tennessee teammates Montario Hardesty and Dan Williams.

Five Alabama players were selected -- offensive guard Mike Johnson, tight end Colin Peek, nose guard Terrence Cody, cornerback Javier Arenas and kicker Leigh Tiffin. Also selected were Auburn teammates Antonio Coleman and Ben Tate as well as Mississippi State running back Anthony Dixon.

It hasn't been announced yet, but look for Ole Miss running back Dexter McCluster to also get an invite.

Auburn season recap

December, 9, 2009
The beginning of the Gene Chizik era at Auburn was better than most people expected. The Tigers (7-5, 3-5) won their first five games and soared into the national rankings.

But with a serious numbers problem and an even more serious lack of depth problem, Auburn hit the skids once it got into the teeth of its SEC schedule. The Tigers lost five of their last six SEC games, although that final loss might have been the best game they played all season.

Coming off their bye week, the Tigers jumped out to a 14-0 lead on Alabama and hit the Crimson Tide with everything they had. But Alabama staged a late drive to win 26-21 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The Tigers were a lot of fun to watch on offense, and when they had it going, they were difficult to stop. First-year coordinator Gus Malzahn spread teams out with his no-huddle attack and wasn’t afraid to try anything. They seemed to hit a lull, though, in back-to-back losses to Kentucky and LSU in which they didn’t score more than 14 points in either game.

The real problem was on defense. The Tigers were last in the SEC in scoring defense and gave up 41 touchdowns this season.

Offensive MVP: Ben Tate, RB. He prospered in Malzahn’s offense and had a huge senior season, rushing for 1,254 yards and eight touchdowns. Tate averaged 5.2 yards per carry and was easily the Tigers’ most consistent threat. Receiver Darvin Adams also had a big year with 10 touchdown catches.

Defensive MVP: Antonio Coleman, DE. Despite not having big numbers at the beginning of the season, Dunlap closed with a flurry. He led the SEC with nine sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss and was a consensus first-team All-SEC selection.

Turning point: Having lost three in a row after its 5-0 start, Auburn put the brakes on its skid and whipped Ole Miss 33-20 at home in a game that was absolutely a must-win for the Tigers.

What’s next: The Tigers were picked over several other 7-5 teams to play in the Outback Bowl and will face Northwestern. It’s another chance to put a positive stamp on Chizik’s first season on the Plains. To take that next step in 2010, the Tigers will need to get better on defense. They should be deeper next season.

Outback Bowl

December, 6, 2009
Auburn (7-5) vs. Northwestern (8-4)
Jan. 1, 11 a.m. (ESPN)

Auburn was one of six teams in the SEC this season finishing 7-5, but emerged out of the pack as the Outback Bowl’s top choice. The Tigers were one defensive stand away from knocking off Alabama in the regular-season finale two weeks ago and really putting a memorable stamp on Gene Chizik’s first season as head coach.

The long break before the bowl game should help Auburn as much as any team in the SEC. The Tigers battled depth problems all season, which explains in part their fast start and rocky finish to the season. They wound up losing five of their last six SEC games. But the way they played against the Crimson Tide gives everybody on the Plains hope that there are better days ahead.

Gus Malzahn’s offense is one of the more unpredictable units in the country. The Tigers like to spread you out and will run everything from reverses, to direct-snap packages to throw-back passes. Their bread and butter this season, though, was turning around and handing the ball off to Ben Tate, who rushed for 1,254 yards.

Defensively, it was a struggle for Auburn. The Tigers finished last in the SEC in scoring defense (26.9 points per game). But, again, they looked like a different defensive unit against Alabama and turned in their best effort of the season on that side of the ball, holding Mark Ingram to 30 yards rushing.

Three keys: Alabama vs. Auburn

November, 27, 2009
Let’s examine three keys to Friday's game for both Alabama and Auburn:


Spreading the wealth: Quarterback Greg McElroy has done a much better job of that the past few weeks and has connected on big plays to a number of guys, including Julio Jones, Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks. With the Crimson Tide spreading the ball around to different players, the Tigers won’t be able to concentrate on Mark Ingram as much.

Shutting down Tate: The Alabama defense has been stingy against the run all season and has now gone 31 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher, the longest such streak in the country. Not allowing Auburn running back Ben Tate to get started means quarterback Chris Todd is going to be in a lot of third-and-long situations, which is where Alabama’s defense is lethal.

Playing well early: The last thing Alabama wants to do is give Auburn a reason to believe it can win, and more importantly, give the Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd hope. A fast start by the Crimson Tide takes the fans out of the game and allows the Tide to play at their place, running it when they want to and throwing it when they want to.


Forcing McElroy to beat them: That’s easier said than done, because it requires shutting down Mark Ingram and the Crimson Tide’s running game. McElroy has shown that he can throw the ball this season, but he’s yet to be in a position against an SEC defense where he has to bring a team back in the second half from a double-digit deficit. The Tigers would like to put him in that position.

Red-zone defense: Auburn has been the worst team in the league when it comes to red zone defense. Alabama has struggled to score touchdowns once it gets into the red zone. The Tigers have to make sure that continues. They have a chance to win this game if Leigh Tiffin is finishing Alabama drives by kicking field goals. They have no chance to win if Ingram and Julio Jones are the ones finishing drives.

Quick strikes: Nobody has taken the ball and consistently driven the ball against Alabama’s defense all season. That’s probably not going to change now. The Crimson Tide are just too strong up the middle. What that means for Auburn is that somebody, be it Darvin Adams, Mario Fannin, Onterio McCalebb or Terrell Zachery, needs to come up with a few big plays to soften up that Alabama defense.