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Asante starts well for Tigers

by Bob Holt | September 14, 2023 at 2:15 a.m.
Linebacker Eugene Asante (7), shown in 2021 while at North Carolina, has turned into a surprise contributor for Auburn this season, earning SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Week honors this week after collecting a career-high 12 tackles against California. (AP file photo)

Coming into the season there wasn't much talk about Auburn junior linebacker Eugene Asante.

That has changed.

Asante, a junior who had one tackle in four games for the Tigers last season after transferring from North Carolina, was the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Week for his role in the Tigers' 14-10 victory at Cal. He had a career-high 12 tackles, including 9 solo stops, and a sack for an 11-yard loss in the fourth quarter that resulted in a missed field-goal attempt by the Golden Bears as Auburn held Cal scoreless in the second half.

"It's surreal, to be honest with you," Asante said Monday of his SEC honor according to "I'm grateful to God that I didn't give up on myself.

"When I first got here, my dad passed away in February, I had to go through spring ball battling a whole lot of things and as a young man in this world, you need your father. It was a hard thing losing him because he was my best friend. So just to experience being the SEC Player of the Week, I'm just praying I made him proud."

Hugh Freeze, in his first season as Auburn's coach, said Asante had a strong training camp to earn playing time.

"He's really, really brought a spark to us, and hopefully that continues and he can build upon that," Freeze said. "We're very thin at linebacker, so we really need him to play well every week and stay healthy."

Asante, who worked on Auburn's scout-team defense much of last season, didn't start this season's opener, but he had a team-high six tackles off the bench in the Tigers' 59-14 victory over Massachusetts.

With Austin Keys suffering a thumb injury against Massachusetts that required surgery, Asante started at Cal.

"It was a big thing for me because I played on scout team last year," Asante told reporters after the game. "That kind of thing fuels me, just being out there."

Auburn defensive back DJ James told reporters after the Cal game that Edwards brings energy to the defense.

"We feed off Eugene as a defense," James said. "He starts [saying], 'Let's work,' and we know to work."

Not since Big Shootout

When Texas won 34-24 at No. 3 Alabama last week, it marked the first time the Longhorns won on the road over a team ranked among the top three nationally since Dec. 6, 1969.

That was the day No. 1 Texas beat No. 2 Arkansas 15-14 in Fayetteville in a game dubbed "The Big Shootout" by Longhorns Coach Darrell Royal.

Coen OK

Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said on Wednesday's SEC coaches teleconference that offensive coordinator Liam Coen will be calling plays and working in his usual capacity for Saturday's game against Akron after he experienced a "medical episode" Sunday, according to a UK news release.

Stoops wasn't specific about what happened to Coen, but he was admitted to UK Chandler Hospital on Sunday afternoon. He posted on social media Tuesday that he was doing well and thanked everyone for their support and concern.

"I will refrain from saying too much," Stoops said when asked what happened to Coen. "I'm sure Liam will tell the story as he wishes. I just want to respect him that way.

"But it most definitely is a scary situation any time you see any of our people that we work with or anybody that you're close to going through any type of medical situation. It's challenging.

"Fortunately things happened while we were in work hours and a lot of people were around, and our trainer and doctors were here on Sunday morning checking out our players as we were up watching the film."

Rare road trip

For the first time in Nick Saban's 17 seasons as Alabama's coach, the Crimson Tide are playing a road game against a team that isn't in a Power 5 conference.

Alabama is playing at South Florida -- a member of the American Athletic Conference -- on Saturday.

So what's up with that?

It's a plus for Alabama in scheduling and helps with the budget along with having a game in Tampa, Fla., which is a prime recruiting area.

South Florida agreed to play two games at Alabama -- in 2024 and 2026 -- in exchange for a home game against the Crimson Tide.

Alabama also is getting a discounted rate of $1 million for the guarantee it has to pay South Florida for the 2026 game. That's a lot of money, but still a bargain considering that in 2022 Alabama paid guarantees of $1.9 million each to Utah State and Louisiana-Monroe, the Tuscaloosa News reported, and $1.6 million this season to Middle Tennessee State.

For the first two Alabama-South Florida games this season and in 2024, the home team is paying the visiting team $400,000 to help cover travel expenses, according to the News.

Saturday's game also figures to draw a lot of Tide fans.

"This just made so much sense because of geography," Alabama Athletic Director Greg Byrne told the News. "We have a lot of fans down on the Gulf Coast that we're going to be able to have a lot of them get to this game easier maybe than coming to Tuscaloosa."

The last time Alabama played a road game against a non-Power 5 conference opponent was in 1992 when the Tide beat Tulane 37-0 in New Orleans en route to winning the national championship.


Tennessee is looking to win at Florida for the first time in 20 years.

Going into Saturday's game in the Swamp, the Gators have won nine in a row at home over the Volunteers since Tennessee took a 24-10 victory in 2003.

Vols tight end Jacob Warren, a fifth-year senior, said the losing streak at Florida isn't a focal point for the players.

"I think it's something that, in the nicest way possible, everyone outside of the building cares about and talks about and thinks is a big deal," Warren told reporters this week. "To most of the guys on the team ... it doesn't really matter.

"When we're on the field, who cares how long it's been? Whether it's here or there or whatever, just going out there and trying to compete. Be the best on this day.

"Obviously it would be great to win there for sure after all these years. Just something that we're not necessarily worried about."

Tennessee also is going for its first back-to-back victories over the Gators since beating Florida 38-33 at Neyland Stadium last season.

Ground Raid

Mississippi State junior Jo'Quavious Marks is leading the SEC in rushing with 43 carries for 250 yards through two games going into the Bulldogs' conference opener against No. 14 LSU on Saturday at Starkville, Miss.

The run-oriented offense under new Mississippi State Coach Zach Arnett is a departure from the "Air Raid" attack the Bulldogs used under Mike Leach, who died from a heart condition last December.

Mississippi State senior quarterback Will Rogers completed 13 of 17 passes for 162 yards with 3 touchdowns in the Bulldogs' 31-24 victory over Arizona in overtime last week, ending a streak of 27 games in which he had passed for 200 or more yards.

Marks rushed 24 times for 123 yards and also caught 4 passes for 32 yards.

"This year, those guys are committed to running the ball," LSU defensive lineman Mekhi Mingo told reporters. "They're 65% run, and that's crazy thinking about Mississippi State and this is what they're putting on film.

"The exciting part of the matchup is that they're hanging their hat on running the ball this year. In this defense, we hang our hat on stopping the run. It's definitely going to be a physical game."

Home sweet home

Georgia now has the longest home winning streak in the nation thanks to Texas.

Alabama had the longest steak at 22 games before the Longhorns beat the Crimson Tide 34-24 at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

The Bulldogs have won 20 consecutive games at home since losing to South Carolina 20-17 at Sanford Stadium on Oct. 14, 2019. when Will Muschamp was the Gamecocks' coach.

Muschamp is now on Coach Kirby Smart's staff at Georgia as defensive coordinator.

Mullen on Napier

Dan Mullen, who now works for ESPN after being fired as Florida's coach, talked about his successor, Billy Napier, during an appearance on "The Matt Barrie Show," which airs on YouTube.

Napier's Gators play host to Tennessee on Saturday.

"He hasn't won a rivalry game yet," Mullen said of Napier going 0-3 against Georgia, Tennessee and Florida State last season. "I think that is a huge deal

"You want to win championships, but the rivalry games, you get wins in those, it just means a little bit more for everybody, as everything in the SEC does."

Florida has won nine consecutive home games against Tennessee.

"This would be a big, big win for Billy Napier and for the direction the program is headed," Mullen said. "A loss, he could be looking at 0-6 after two years against his rivals. That's not how Florida fans want to see things."

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