AUBURN – if seniors Mike Blanc and Michael Goggans, who must sit out the first half of their final Iron Bowl, were looking for sympathy from their position coach, they didn’t get it.
Both were suspended under NCAA rules when they were ejected after a near-melee that broke out last Saturday near the end of Auburn’s 49-31 victory over the Bulldogs that clinched the West Division championship and a spot in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game.
“Meeting with both of them, I made it clear it was an embarrassment,” Auburn defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said. “It’s not what we teach. It’s not what we’re about. And just let them know that you affected this team. A selfish act affected the whole team. Everybody talks about the defensive line, but it affects the whole team.”
Blanc and Goggans are regulars in Auburn’s playing rotation. In next Friday’s game, rife with championship implications, they will have to watch the first half from the sideline. Jeffrey Whitaker and possibly Kenneth Carter, both freshmen, will fill Blanc’s role. Freshman Corey Lemonier and sophomore Dee Ford will probably fill Goggans’ role.
“I have to get it done, get it cleaned up, get the young players ready to go and just keep moving ahead,” Rocker said.
Whitaker, whose playing time has increased steadily over the course of the season, said he’s ready to take on the challenge in what will be the biggest and most hostile crowd Auburn has faced this season.
“This is what I was recruited for,” Whitaker said. “We all play together. I talked to Blanc after the game. He was just telling me it was important to step it up. He felt like he shouldn’t have made the move like that and regretted it.”
Alabama, led by running backs Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, lives on power running. Last season, Auburn’s defense limited the eventual national champions to 73 yards on 35 rushing attempts in a 26-21 loss. Ingram, who would win the Heisman Trophy, rushed 16 times for 30 yards.
Slowing down the Alabama running game will be the mission again. And young players will have to do their parts, at least until Blanc and Goggans can return in the second half.
“It is what it is,” Whitaker said. “Bama likes to put the ball down and run it at you and play smashmouth football. Our defensive line, we like stopping the run. No matter who we play, we like shutting the run down. It’s good on good.”