September 6, 2011 10:42:00 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Everybody in power on the campuses of Auburn University and Mississippi State are saying there''s no extra motivation entering their matchup at 11:21 a.m. Saturday (WCBI).
Despite a year-long controversy about the recruitment of quarterback Cam Newton, who went on to win the Heisman Trophy, MSU coach Dan Mullen and Auburn coach Gene Chizik are focused on the 60 minutes that await them at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
After being heavily recruited by Mullen, his old position coach at the University of Florida, Newton committed to Auburn in December 2009. Afterward, the NCAA discovered Newton''s father, Cecil, attempted to solicit money from MSU assistant coaches in a meeting at a hotel in Starkville in exchange for his son''s signature on a national letter of intent.
MSU turned in this evidence to the Southeastern Conference office last year and no on-the-field penalties were given to Newton or have been levied against Auburn.
However, NCAA officials have stated its Eligibility Center still considers the investigation into the Auburn program open.
Mullen said Sunday he considered the matter closed last December when Newton signed with the Tigers.
"What was that 20 months ago?" Mullen asked. "I haven''t thought about him since. I did when we played last year because he''s such a good player."
Mullen said Sunday he and his staff don''t have a relationship with Chizik on any level. The Bulldogs third-year head coach joked the first time they met was the SEC head coaches'' meeting three years ago when they got a job in the league.
"I''ve moved on," Chizik said Sunday. "I''m worried about Mississippi State."
Mullen also quickly dismissed talk of his record at MSU (0-8) against the top four teams in the SEC West (Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, and LSU) as a factor for him to get this victory Saturday.
"Our incentive is we have to win games to win the SEC West," Mullen said.
MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin, who worked as the associate media relations director at Auburn from 1993-98, hopes fans focus on the magnitude of the matchup between two programs ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll and the off-the-field history between the schools.
"Auburn is a great place. I''ve spent five years of my life (there), so
it''s always a special place," Stricklin said. "I''ve got a lot of friends over there, but they won the SEC last year and that''s where we want to be. That''s why it''ll be a special game."
Ballard named SEC offensive player of the week
MSU senior tailback Vick Ballard found out about his first SEC weekly honor by checking his Twitter account.
"It was about 30 people told me on Twitter. Probably more than that," Ballard said with a smile.
Ballard became the first MSU player since Anthony Dixon in 2009 to
be named the league''s offensive player of the week after rushing for a career-high 166 yards on 10 carries in a 59-14 victory against the University of Memphis on Thursday.
When asked if he was shocked about the award, the overlooked high school recruit and junior college transfer admitted he was surprised he failed to secure any high-profile honors last season.
"I never had an award this big," Ballard said.
Ballard led the MSU with 968 rushing yards and a school record 19 rushing touchdowns last season. His success in 2010 helped him earn a spot on the watch lists for the Doak Walker Award (best running back in college football) and Maxwell Award (best college football player).
"The honor goes to the other 10 people on the field because I couldn''t do that by myself," Ballard said.
In just 13 games at MSU, Ballard has 22 touchdowns and has had five games with at least three touchdowns.
"Our tailbacks have all put up good numbers since we''ve been here, and that''s a compliment to what we''re doing schematically," MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. "Vick is such a quiet, unassuming person that you love to have on your football team."
LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu and University of Arkansas return man Joe Adams were named defensive and special teams player of the week.
The SEC offensive lineman of the week is South Carolina tackle Rokevious Watkins. Florida''s Jaye Howard and Kentucky''s Luke McDermott shared defensive line honors.
Alabama linebacker Trey DePriest and Auburn running back/return man Tre Mason are co-freshmen of the week.
Swedenburg says fake punt "an inch away from going the distance"
MSU sophomore punter Baker Swedenburg said the fake punt pass call against Memphis was "an inch away" from a 30- to 40-yard gain.
Swedenburg was asked in his third punt sequence to fake the kick and hit sophomore tailback LaDarius Perkins with a basketball jump shot over the defensive line on a fourth-and-8 call.
"We practiced it some during the week and I felt comfortable with it, so when (Mullen) called it we were all about to find out if I can perform a fake under pressure," Swedenburg said.
The pass from Swedenburg to Perkins went for a 4-yard loss. After the game, Mullen, who is the special teams coach, joked he would have to criticize the special teams coach for putting together what he called "something silly."
"The fake punt was not a very good (call)," Mullen said. "I''m going to get after whoever coaches those darn special teams I''ll tell you that much."
Swedenburg said the play would have worked as it was drawn up if the defensive lineman, who got tangled up with Perkins at the line of scrimmage, blitzed without contact.
"If he''d come all the way to me like he was going to block the kick it was easily a first down," Swedenburg said.
Swedenburg, who had a four of his five punts land inside the 20-yard line, said it was the second fake punt call he has had to perform in his career. He''s 1-for-2 on conversions.
"My ninth-grade year (at Heritage Academy in Columbus) we ran a fake punt that was a pass and it was a 30-yard completion for a first down," Swedenburg said. "I played a little quarterback in high school, too."