Staying Strong: Senior Getting The Job Done For AU

Auburn, Ala.--While much attention has been given to Auburn's young defensive ends and tough, speedy linebackers throughout the season, a defender playing as well or better than anyone on this 9-0 Auburn football team is senior cornerback Carlos Rogers.

Rogers' lock-down job on defense and stellar performances on punt coverage have been a key part of the team's consistency as the Tigers are in the hunt for an SEC title and a possible national championship game appearance at the Orange Bowl in Miami.

One of Auburn's toughest tests of the season came on a warm and muggy Saturday night at Ole Miss as the Tigers were in a fight for the better part of four quarters in the 35-14 win. Rogers played nearly every play on defense and special teams.

‘I was real tired," the senior says. "I was glad we had TV timeouts because the trainers kept running to give me water and wiping me down with towels. But we had a purpose and we were playing it like a championship game. I didn't want to come out even though I was tired. I stuck in there and it paid off for us.'

Rogers had another strong game in Auburn's victory over Ole Miss.

The yardage totals were nearly even for the Tigers and Rebels (439 yards to 433 yards), but Auburn had a huge advantage on specials teams. As a gunner on punt coverage, Rogers helped hold Rebel returner Mike Espy to negative seven yards on three returns.

"Offensively, we came out a little slow," he says. "Defensively, they were gaining a lot of momentum on us, too. Special teams held them down from the beginning of the game until the end. It played a big role many people don't think about, but punting the ball and stopping them way back there helps the defense out. They have to drive 80 yards. Or when we get a good punt return, that helps the offense out."

The victory assured Auburn the SEC West Championship and its first trip to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta since 2000. "That's something I never thought about," Rogers says. "I didn't think that far into the season. I was just taking it one game at a time. At the same time I was thinking that we had something special this year, I just didn't know it was going to be this special."

Although the Auburn defense has allowed several big plays in the last few weeks, including a 64-yard touchdown pass by Ole Miss, none have been on Rogers all season. Auburn's opponents have thrown 254 passes. Fifty-four of those have been in Mr. Rogers' neighborhood with only 15 being caught, and most of those 15 were in zone coverage.

Rogers is one of 12 semi-finalists for the Chuck Bednarik Award, given annually to the Outstanding Collegiate Defensive Player. The only other defensive backs up for the award are Georgia's Thomas Davis and Miami's Antrel Rolle. He is also on the watch list for the Thorpe Award given to the nation's best defensive back.

After Auburn's disappointing 8-5 season a year ago, Rogers seriously considered skipping his senior season to enter the NFL draft. With the Georgia Bulldogs visiting Jordan-Hare on Nov. 13, a game he says is his biggest of the season and possibly his career, the Augusta, Ga., native isn't in the least bit concerned with his draft status.

"I haven't even looked at it," he says. "I've looked at a couple of awards I'm up for, but I'm not even focused on that right now. People are starting to recognize how good I am as a corner, but all of it will play out in the end."

The game against Georgia will be the third Top 10 opponent Auburn has faced this year, and at this point the Bulldogs are the biggest obstacle for Auburn's plans to spend New Year's in South Florida. Aside from the national ramifications of the game, Rogers says that the upcoming game is one he's been looking forward to for a long time.

"This is my biggest game, bigger than Alabama," he says. "I'm friends with (Georgia receiver) Fred (Fred Gibson) so I'm going to try to stop him as much as I can.

"I've known him through football in the four years I've been here. We're real close friends and we talk all the time. We talk about games and in the offseason we spend time together. We just chill out, hang out talking football and life in general."

Rogers is shown returning an interception for a touchdown vs. Louisiana Tech.

Although the game is more than a week away and the full game plan won't be put in until game week, Rogers is already familiar enough with what the Bulldogs will bring to the table.

"I like Georgia as a team because I'm from Georgia," he says. "I watch them every chance I get and they have some pretty good receivers. They've got a good quarterback, too (senior David Greene). He can put the ball on the outside shoulder in a spot that the defenders can't get to."

One game that stood out in particular for the Georgia passing game was how it dominated LSU's secondary--one of the most talented in the country. "They really just killed them," Rogers notes. "They took them deep and had it any way they wanted to. They had their way the whole day and that's something we can't let happen to us."

Greene has done a strong job in 2004, throwing for 1,746 yards, 15 touchdowns and only one interception going into Saturday's road game at Kentucky. The senior has guided Georgia to a 7-1 record and will be throwing to two of the more talented receivers in the league, according to Rogers.

"I think they both give you whatever you're looking for," he says. "Whatever you want, they can give it to you. (Reggie Brown) Brown is much faster than Fred, but at the same time, when Fred goes deep he can get high and go get the ball."

Although Rogers says that he would like to avenge Georgia's 24-21 win two years ago in Jordan-Hare and even his career record against the Dawgs to 2-2, there are more important implications at hand.

"(The loss in 2002) is something in the back of our heads but it's not a big key," Rogers says. "They came in here and beat us on our own turf, and we can't let that happen again. But they're in our way. We're looking at it that way. They're in our way of where we're trying to get."

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