AUBURN - Willie Martinez, Auburn's first-year secondary coach, knows a lot about Georgia football players. He coached some of them and recruited more of them.
Auburn secondary coach Willie Martinez
Martinez followed Brian VanGorder in 2005 as Georgia's defensive coordinator and remained until 2009. He'll coach against his old team for the first time Saturday when Auburn (2-7, 0-6) plays the No. 5 Bulldogs (8-1, 6-1) at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Kickoff time on ESPN2 is 6 p.m.
Martinez readily admits it will be a different kind of night.
"Right now, in preparing for the game, you are just focusing on trying to defend their offense, which is quite a task in itself," Martinez said. "I think maybe about gametime and seeing some of those players I had the opportunity to recruit and coach, it will probably be a special feeling. Right now, it's just like any other opponent, focusing on the people you have to defend. They are very good in all phases, throwing the ball and running the ball."
Martinez played a major role in recruiting Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. He joked Wednesday that maybe he regrets helping to lure him to Georgia.
"Being around Aaron and the recruitment of Aaron, he comes from a great family," Martinez said. "He's highly competitive and comes from a great program. Sometimes you wish you didn't know all those things. He's been very successful wherever he's been. You start right there. He's done such a great job, and he's a great leader."
Auburn head coach Gene Chizik dismissed a question about security guards who were hired early in the season to make sure Auburn players abide by strict curfews.
"We always do what is in the best interest of our team," Chizik said. "We have a curfew check and we have to employ people to help us with some of the kids off-campus. Other than that, I'm not going into any detail. I've got one focus, and that is Georgia. We have our work cut out for that."
Once again, Chizik said his players had an outstanding week of practice in preparing for the Bulldogs.
"I thought we had a good practice tonight," Chizik said. "I thought we had a lot of energy. It's actually been a good three days of practice. Tonight, a lot of energy and a lot of focus and, overall, I was just very pleased with it. We obviously have some more work to do and we have a great challenge in front of us, but tonight I was very pleased."
With junior Jake Holland battling an ankle injury, linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen said there is uncertainty at middle linebacker. If Holland can't play, true freshman Cassanova McKinzy will start at middle linebacker and be backed up by senior Ashton Richardson, a former walk-on.
"We are waiting on Jake," Thigpen said. "He's been gimped up a little bit. Cassanova has been going. If Jake can't go, we'll rotate with Ashton Richardson a little bit."
Holland, Thigpen said, is even more important because of his knowledge of the defensive calls required of the middle linebacker.
"It gives us a guy that is smart to get us lined up," Thigpen said. "He's gone through some of the drills, some of the checks we are going through. He's watched a ton of film. He's out there with us. He knows exactly what to do on defense. We'll just wait and see."
True freshman Jonathan Wallace, who will get his second start Saturday, has had a good week of work, Chizik said.
"He's one of those very even-keeled guys," Chizik said. "His week of practice has been good. His focus is always good. It will be a great challenge for him. He's always working and always doing everything he can to prepare. I'm proud of him.
Fullback Jay Prosch scored his first career touchdown in last Saturday's 42-7 victory over New Mexico State, and his teammates celebrated.
Jay Boulware, who coaches tight ends and fullbacks, celebrated, too.
"It was extremely fun," Boulware said. "We talked about it, because we knew we had that play in. I was kind of shocked to hear he'd never scored a collegiate touchdown, being he'd played at Illinois. He has some decent ball skills, really. He has decent vision and he's fast.
"Coach (Jeff) Grimes, who is a good friend of mine, when we got down there near, he said let's give it to Jay and let him score his first touchdown. He's actually the one that suggested that over the headset. It was very entertaining, probably moreso from the standpoint of who it is. He is a phenomenal, phenomenal young man. He's a leader in our room. He's probably going to be a leader on this football team next year. I just like everything about him - his work ethic, his demeanor, his personality. He always has a smile on his face. It was awesome."
Through nine games, Auburn's secondary has yet to intercept a pass. Martinez admits it has become a source of frustration.
"Pretty frustrating," Martinez said. "The times we've had the opportunity to do it, we've had our hands on them. I don't sense any pressing. A lot of thing have to happen for that to happen - affecting the quarterback and causing him to make decisions he doesn't want to make. A lot of times you get lucky on tipped balls. We haven't been part of those.
"It's not from a lack of effort and not from a lack of working on it. They are very aware of it and improving on it every day from a ball skills standpoint."