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AUBURN — Auburn edge rusher Eku Leota is likely out for the rest of the season due to a pectoral injury he suffered during last Saturday's hard-fought loss against LSU.
“Eku Leota injured his (pectoral muscle) in the game and is going to get that repaired tomorrow, so most likely that is season-ending,” said head coach Bryan Harsin on Monday.
Leota was a strong addition to the defense last season, coming to the Plains from Northwestern. In his first season in the orange-and-blue, Leota had one forced fumble, 23 tackles and seven sacks; second-most on the team and more than in his first two seasons at Northwestern combined.
This season, he already had two sacks and 16 tackles through the first four games before he went down with an injury in the first half against LSU. Along with captain Derick Hall, Leota was part of the defensive front that has held the defense together through the first five games.
“Eku was a big loss, and this has nothing to do with anybody behind him. He's an emotional leader. He's one of the smartest football players we have,” Harsin said. “He is a guy that you want on your team because of how he prepares, all the things he does and the respect he has on his team.”
With Leota out, Harsin and defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding will turn to the defensive line's depth, namely Marcus Bragg.
Bragg stepped in for Leota on Saturday and made an impact, finishing the rivalry game with four tackles, one tackle for loss and one sack. He has been one of Auburn’s best rotational pieces along the edge of that defensive line, with 10 total tackles this season.
“I thought Bragg did a really good job,” Harsin said. “We got beat on the edge a couple times, but he was very close to being in the right position, and just that experience of getting out there and playing more as the game went on, he did better and better.”
The defense will need Bragg to step up once again as they travel to Athens and face Stetson Bennett, one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the SEC.
Harsin also confirmed to the media that Zach Calzada is out with another scheduled shoulder surgery.
“Zach Calzada, on his repaired shoulder, will get another surgery on that,” Harsin said. “That will be Wednesday, and so they'll go in there and repair some of what had happened from before, so he'll be out, and it'll be season-ending.”
With Calzada out and T.J. Finley still injured as of Saturday, Auburn has been down to Robby Ashford and Holden Geriner, though Harsin did reveal that Trey Lindsey has been put on scholarship.
Ashford and the young quarterback room will have a tough road ahead at their first true road test inside Sanford Stadium on Saturday.
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