Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker is expected to get help this week with the return of Antoine Carter at end. A player who was projected to push for a starting job this year as a junior, Carter missed Auburn's first three games while recovering from a knee injury.
Commenting on what it will mean to get another proven player back with Carter's return, Rocker said, "It means a whole lot. You have to understand that guys like Jake Ricks and Antonio Coleman have played up to 65 snaps (per game). That is a lot of football so it is big to have him back. Hopefully, knock on wood, we can keep playing, get better and we can eliminate some of those reps if we can get off (the field) on third downs."
Carter, 6-4, 263 pounds, started in one game last year and played in eight others. He had 11 tackles with 2 1/2 quarterback sacks.
Rocker said "if everything goes well" Tiger fans could also see senior Gabe McKenzie make his 2009 defensive debut vs. Ball State. McKenzie, who played both tight end and defensive end last year, was moved back to defense this week to try to give the Tigers more depth on the defensive line.
Rocker has praise for the play of his starting tackles, Mike Blanc and Ricks. "The biggest thing is out there on the practice field, both of those guys are working hard," Rocker said. "For me to see it on game day, I am not surprised. The selling point I keep telling them, if you do it out there in practice it will happen on game day. That has been a big thing for both of them. I have been proud of those guys for getting better."
Blanc and Ricks each came through with big plays forcing two of the six turnovers the defense came up with in Auburn's 41-30 victory over West Virginia to improve to 3-0. Blanc's sack forced a fumble recovered by defensive end Antonio Coleman and Ricks intercepted a pass to set up a touchdown.
"The thing is, it was a situation where we thought we needed to make something happen," Rocker said about the turnovers. "The philosophy we have in the (defensive line meeting) room is that you either watch, you either wonder or you make something happen. We have always talked about trying to make something happen and to do it within the defensive structure.
"All of the sudden, Blanc makes a great play, they are up by 14 and we gave the offense back the ball and we have got a chance to get back on the board," said Rocker, who added that the interception by Ricks was a huge momentum-changer in the second half.
Tracy Rocker is in his first season coaching at his alma mater where he was an All-American.
Another defensive lineman, redshirt freshman Derrick Lykes, is improving, said Rocker, who added, "Now I have to get Zach Clayton back in the fold, get him back feeling good about himself and going." Clayton, who can play tackle and end, has been slowed by injuries after playing well in spring drills and the start of preseason practice.
Ball State, the defending champion of the Mid-American Conference West Division, is coming off a disappointing 24-17 road loss at Army to slip to 0-3 for the season.
The Cardinals will be counting on the running of senior H-back MiQuale Lewis to try to pull off the upset. He is sixth in school history in rushing yards with 2,604. The majority of those came last year when he set a single-season school record with 1,763 rushing yards while adding 35 pass receptions. So far this season he is well off that pace with 41 carries for 141 yards. He also has a team-high 11 catches, but is averaging just 3.1 yards per reception.
Part of the problem for Lewis is likely the loss of four offensive line starters from last year's team plus standout quarterback Nate Davis, who skipped his final season to play in the NFL.
Ball State is counting on a redshirt freshman quarterback to direct the offense. So far Texan Kelly Page has had less than impressive results. He has completed 42-92 passes (45.7 percent) for 408 yards. Page has thrown two touchdowns and has been intercepted five times.
BSU's top receiver in yardage is Torieal Gibson, who has six catches for 109 yards.
Defensively, the Cardinals returned their top tacklers from last year, safeties Alex Kipp and Sean Baker, who was the MAC Freshman of the Year. He has 16 tackles with one interception this year and Kipp 21 tackles and has forced a fumble.
Davyd Jones, a linebacker, is the top tackler through three games with 33 stops plus a forced fumble.
The Cardinals feature a player who is older than five of the team's assistant coach. Brandon Crawford, who is co-captain of the team, is 33-years-old. He began working after graduating high school prior to joining the Marines. He enrolled at Ball-State in 2006 and has been a second team and third team All-MAC defensive end.
In other news and notes:
*Tickets are available for Saturday's contest that will kick off at 6 p.m. CDT at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The game is being carried by Fox Sports Net South and will be available live on Fox Sports Southwest, Fox Sports Midwest, Fox Sports Houston and Sun Sports.
*Auburn leads the series 2-0 vs. Ball State. The Tigers won 63-3 in the last matchup in 2005.
*The weather forecast for kickoff is for temperatures in the mid-70s with a 60 percent chance of a thundershower at game time.