The suspension of senior linebacker Craig Stevens opened the way for Eltoro Freeman to earn a start. The 5-11, 225-pound junior has played well in recent practices after battling ankle and turf toe injuries.
Commenting on the suspension of Stevens, who had started 26 straight games, Chizik said, "As I've said many times, we hold our guys to a certain dard of excellence, and that is on the field and that is off the field. If they are not living up to that certain standard right now then I've got tough decisions that I have to make.
"I think our football team understands that it doesn't matter whether you are a starting guy or a potential All-American or a third-team guy," Chizik said. "Everybody lives by the same rules. When you are not living by those rules, again I have to make tough decisions.
"I am not going to go into the details of his status in terms of what, when and things of that nature. But, as I said last year and as I've said many times, as long as those guys are wearing the Auburn uniform, you know they are doing right. So when you see him again, and he is dressed out in an Auburn uniform, then he will have proved to us that he is living back up to our standards."
Antoine Carter (45), Zach Clayton (98) and Eltoro Freeman (21) help the defense back up Arkansas State near its goal line.
True freshman cornerback Jonathon Mincy was also suspended for the game and his situation is similar to that for Stevens, Chizik said.
On offense sophomore Onterio McCalebb was a surprise starter over Mario Fannin at running back while senior Kodi Burns opened ahead of sophomore Phillip Lutzenkirchen at the tight end/wide receiver slot. It was the former quarterback Burns second career start. He opened at wide receiver against Mississippi State in 2009. Freeman had opening roles in 2009, his first season at Auburn after transferring in from junior college.
Offensive starters for the Tigers against Arkansas State were Terrell Zachary and Darvin Adams at wide receiver; Burns at wide receiver/tight end; Byron Isom and Mike Berry at the guards; A.J. Greene and Lee Ziemba at the tackles; Ryan Pugh at center; Cameron Newton at quarterback; Onterio McCalebb at running back; and Eric Smith at H-Back.
Greene was making his first start with the four veterans on the offensive line. Newton was also making initial start after two years at the University of Florida and a season during which he led his team to the national junior college championship.
Defensive starters were Antoine Carter and Michael Goggans at the ends; Zach Clayton and Nick Fairley at the tackles; Eltoro Freeman at left linebacker; Josh Bynes at middle linebacker; Darren Bates at right linebacker; Demond Washington and Neiko Thorpe at the corners; and Zac Etheridge and Aairon Savage at the safeties.
Etheridge drew the largest cheer in pre-game introductions from the Auburn crowd after missing much of last season with a serious neck and spine injury. He was only given clearance to return to action shortly before fall camp. Savage was granted a sixth year of eligibility after missing the past two years with injuries.
"It felt great," Etheridge said after the game. "It was a blessing just to be out there, be with my teammates and play in front in front of 80,000 people.
"It was extremely loud tonight and I felt great. It was exciting just to be out there. I felt like I got my feet back under me, but I still have a lot of work to do. I am going to go watch film and go work on things like keep my head up while I'm making a tackle."
News and Notes:
*In an unusual situation, two of Auburn's three captains wore the same number. Wide receiver Kodi Burns and placekicker Wes Byrum both had on number 18 when they were joined by linebacker Josh Bynes for the opening toss. Players can be assigned same numbers if one plays defense and the other offense. The Tigers won the toss and deferred with Arkansas State receiving the opening kick.
*Auburn special teams featured several newcomers along with some familiar veterans. The kickoff return team consisted of true freshman Craig Sanders, Nosa Eguae, Eric Smith, Ikeem Means, Kodi Burns, Derek Winter, Dee Ford, Harris Gaston, Phillip Lutzenkirchen and returners Onterio McCalebb and Demond Washington.
*Quindarius Carr returned punts and won praise from Chizik for being steady. He was joined on the punt return team by DeAngelo Benton, Demetruce McNeal, Antonio Goodwin, Ryan Smith, Anthony Morgan, Shaun Kitchens, T'Sharvan Bell, Mike McNeal, Dee Ford and Chris Humphries (who was wearing number 40 while being listed as number 96 on the roster).
*Sharing duties kicking off were veteran Wes Bryum and freshman Cody Parkey. Covering kickoffs were Ikeem Means, Craig Sanders, Mike McNeal, Neiko Thorpe, Emory Blake, Chris Humphries, DeAngelo Benton, Shaun Kitchens and Drew Cole.