Tigers Tune Up for SEC Football Opener

The Auburn football team is wrapping up preparations for a road trip to play the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Auburn, Ala.--In the world of Southeastern Conference football, Tuesdays are Thursdays when it comes to game planning when one of the league's teams are involved in the Thursday night ESPN national telecast.

For the Auburn Tigers that means their Tuesday evening workout was the end of intensive on-the-field preparations for their SEC opener vs. Mississippi State set for 6:30 p.m. CDT on Thursday at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville.

The Tigers and the Bulldogs head into the first SEC game of 2010 after putting up a large amount of points on the scoreboard on Saturday night. While Auburn was doubling up Arkansas State 52-26, Coach Dan Mullen's Bulldogs cruised to a 49-7 victory over Memphis.

Mississippi State is unranked while Auburn is 20th in the USA Today Coaches Top 25 poll and 21st in the AP ranking. The Tigers moved up three spots in the coaches' poll and one in the AP ranking from the preseason poll.

Auburn running backs coach, Curtis Luper, said the Tigers are looking forward to Thursday night's game. "The guys are excited with this being the first SEC game and the first road game," he pointed out. "It will be an environment similar to Knoxville last year. If you want to do well in this league, you have got to win on the road."

Luper, who is also the recruiting coordinator on head coach Gene Chizik's staff, said that Thursday night's nationally televised game will be a great opportunity for the Tigers to make a favorable impression with recruits who will be watching the game. Auburn coaches have called prospects and invited them to tune in to the contest.

The Tigers, who already have 15 public verbal commitments for the 2011 signee class, are looking to add a couple of running backs to their squad. The team has just three scholarship tailbacks on the roster this season and one of them, Mario Fannin, is a senior.

Luper said that Fannin is still the number one tailback even though backups Onterio McCalebb and Michael Dyer got more carries vs. Arkansas State. With the game under control, the running back coach gave freshman Dyer extensive playing time in the second half.

"We only had three running backs in camp so we couldn't do a lot with them just because we wanted to get them to the games," Luper said. "Generally you have four or even five. We just have three. We have to really take care of them physically and get them to the games."

Commenting on Dyer's collegiate debut vs. Arkansas State, Luper said, "He did okay. Generally, the only thing I tell them (freshman tailbacks) is slow yourself down some. He went a little too quick a few times. He just has to get comfortable, which he will soon. Ultimately for him it will be just like high school as far as the prep, the pre-game, the butterflies and just him getting ready for a football game and competing.

"I think he knows that he can play at this level," Luper added about the all-time leading rusher in Arkansas high school football history. "It was just confirmed on Saturday. If I had known he had 95 yards rushing I would have got him about five more.?I didn't know that until the game was over. He still has got a lot to learn. A lot of that is natural talent."

Another freshman, fullback Ladarious Phillips, sat out of the opener with an ankle injury. Luper said he is encouraged by what he is seeing from the 6-0, 288-pounder who is on the bubble between playing and redshirting this season.

"He is moving around well and we will make some decisions about him," Luper said. "He is progressing."

With a lot of help from quarterback Cameron Newton's 171 rushing yards, the Tigers piled up 367 yards on the ground in the opener. Only four teams around the nation had more rushing yardage in game one.

However, after Tuesday night's practice Chizik said that the Tigers still need to improve running the football, particularly with the blocking up front. "I thought, really, it was average," the coach said. "I?feel like we still have got to be able to run the ball much better than we did. I know everybody is going to look and say, ‘look at all of the yards we got,' but a lot of those were Cameron Newton kind of improvising in a lot of ways. We have got to consistently move the football and have some sustained drives."

In other news:

Coach Dan Mullen

*Mississippi State's Mullen can even his career head coaching record with a victory over Auburn. He is 6-7 since taking over in Starkville.

*Mullen, who uses a tag-team pair of quarterbacks with Chris Relf and Tyler Russell directing the offense, has his team leading the nation in passing efficency (262.99) after one week, a major change from last year when the Bulldogs struggled with their passing. Auburn (257.20) has the second highest passing efficency rating among the 119 Division I teams going into week two.

*Thursday's game will mark the 56th consecutive season the Tigers and Bulldogs have met on the gridiron. Auburn leads the series 58-23-2 and has an 11-4-1 record in games played in Starkville.

Steven Clark punts in practice.

*The Tigers played 13 true freshmen in the opener and may add several more in game two. Possibilities include receiver Trovon Reed, who is trying to get over a knee problem, and Steven Clark is pushing Ryan Shoemaker for the number one spot as a punter.

Shoemaker punted the football four times for an average of 39.2 yards in the opener. The Tigers' net punt average for game one was 37.5 yards compared to 32.8 for Arkansas State.

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