Starting senior safety Aairon Savage is definitely out with a severe ankle injury suffered Saturday against Arkansas and sophomore cornerback T’Sharvan Bell, part of what has been a three-man rotation at cornerback, is listed as “day-to-day” after also suffering an ankle injury against the Razorbacks.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik says the secondary rates as a concern but that the defense has to play better overall when the 5th-ranked Tigers (7-0, 4-0 SEC) take on 6th-ranked LSU (7-0, 4-0) Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“You note the positives, which there were some. You note the negatives, which there were many, and proceed to move on,” Chizik said of the Tigers’ play in Saturday’s 65-43 victory over Arkansas. “You don’t belabor any of the points. They know what they did well. They know what they didn’t do well. So you just move on to the next week.”
Making those corrections will be harder because of the injury situation.
Auburn ranks 11th in the 12-team SEC in pass defense, allowing 266.1 yards per game and the Tigers have allowed 13 touchdown passes, most in the league.
Chizik said sophomore Anthony Morgan and freshman Chris Davis would be in the mix at cornerback if Bell is unable to go.
At safety, juniors Mike McNeil and Drew Cole and sophomore Akeem Means will be called upon to step up.
Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof says he has confidence in the players who will be asked to step up this week.
“We are what we are and we are who we are,” Roof said. “That’s not going to change. Regardless of what, we’ve got to make sure everybody has a sense of urgency to improve. That’s part of being a team. Most teams across the country, after you play seven games, you start to get beat up and the nicks and the bruises start to add up. That’s football and the next man has to step up. That’s what we’ve been able to have so far. The chemistry that we have is good.”
Chizik said freshmen Demetruce McNeal and Ryan Smith will also get more reps this week.
McNeal has played extensively on special teams this season and Chizik said that will be of benefit if he’s called on to step in in the secondary.
“He loves football, and you can see by the way he plays on special teams, his kickoff coverage and his knack for getting free and kind of sifting through all of the blocks and garbage in there,” Chizik said. “The ability to make plays on that, you can see his knack for the game. All the special teams work he’s gotten certainly helps him.”
Savage is scheduled to undergo surgery today and it’s uncertain when or if he will return.
He missed all of the last two seasons with injuries but had battled back to earn a place in the starting lineup this season.
Through seven games, he was third on the team in tackles with 37.
“Seeing him last night, talking to him today, the only thing I can say is your heart goes out to him, with just what he’s been through,” Chizik said. “But he’s a tough guy, and he’ll move past this like he has all the other things. But our team is extremely sensitive of that because of how much he meant to our team. That was a hard one to look at.”
Charles Bennett covers Auburn University sports for The Star.