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Devon Achane making a move in the 2021 Orange Bowl

Former UNC linebacker Eugene Asante (No. 7 pictured) squares up Texas A&M's Devon Achane in the hole during the 2021 Orange Bowl.

Is former North Carolina linebacker Eugene Asante, once a highly-touted consensus four-star recruit, finally ready to liftoff for Auburn? Tigers fans clamoring for Asante’s breakout on the Plains could be rewarded.

Ironically, a popular catch phrase he coined made the rounds and established him within the program.

Special teams contributions

That work in his coined “catch phrase” extends to special teams.

He used a fine technique after rushing off the edge against UMass last Saturday. As a left end on the punt team, he executed what is known as a “brush block.” Coaches teach the technique after the NCAA rules committee took out the “crack back” block.

On cornerback Keionte Scott’s 56-yard punt return in the first quarter, Asante set up the block by simply running by the would-be tackler with his hands up. In this case, it prevented the player from making the tackle. In addition, he did not hit the player from the blindside. There are still crack blocks, but not the blind kind that Asante could have delivered -and gotten penalized for- last weekend.

Eugene Asante hits Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond in the 2021 Orange Bowl
Eugene Asante (No. 7 pictured) hits quarterback Kellen Mond in the 2021 Orange Bowl.

Starting assignment?

Auburn starting middle linebacker Austin Keys suffered a hand injury versus UMass that could keep him out for weeks. Former North Texas linebacker Larry Nixon III could slide into that role. If so, then Asante will remain a backup behind Cam Riley at weak side linebacker. Nevertheless, teammates such as Keys look up to him in a positive manner.

“He keeps the standard and he’s really one we look at as a watchman,” Keys said earlier this year. “He holds everybody accountable and you feed off Eugene. You gotta love the dude.”

Asante never fully materialized into a starter at UNC. His 10-tackle performance in the 2021 Orange Bowl, however, showcased the potential. The Westfield High School (Va.) product ranked 292nd in the ESPN300 Class of 2019. By no means devoid of talent, Asante’s inauspicious debut put the Auburn faithful on an APB alert.

As a result, his Week One performance against UMass provided a breath of fresh air. Asante led the Tigers with six tackles, posted a half-quarterback sack and one-and-a-half tackles for loss. Does new defensive coordinator Ron Roberts present a beacon of light for Asante?

“I think Eugene has made some huge strides,” Roberts said Monday. “Early in the summer, I thought he did a good job of understanding the defense more, and that’s put him in a spot. Right now he’s in a spot to go compete for a job, a starting job.”

Ultimately, Cam Riley beat him out for the weak side linebacker job. Cal’s Jadyn Ott rushed for 178 yards versus North Texas last weekend. The Bears ran for six touchdowns and had nearly 350 yards on the ground (347).

Auburn travels to Cal this weekend to take on Ott and the Bears. Asante’s re-emergence could be right on time for the Tigers.

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