Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn liked what he saw as the Tigers practiced for more than two hours in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts instead of their usual Tuesday night routine of going in full pads. The Tigers took the same approach last week before playing Ole Miss to make sure they are fresh for games after not having an off-week so far this season.
"Practice, I think, went well," Malzahn said. "Our guys had a good attitude and seemed excited to practice so that was very encouraging."
For the most part the coach said he liked what he saw on Saturday night at Ole Miss. "Our guys tried to play and tried to play physical," he said. "They gave great effort."
Malzahn said he continues to be impressed with the performance of the offensive line, the wide receivers and quarterback Cameron Newton. However, even though the Tigers are leading the SEC in total offense and flirting with an average of 500 total yards per game, the coach isn't satisfied.
"We are still making too many mistakes," he said. "That is what we are focusing on. I really feel like we are in a good spot if we can continue to improve and eliminate our mistakes."
Malzahn, whose offense has made him a much discussed assistant coach when head coaching vacancies are mentioned, was asked about that after practice and said he is in his own "world" focusing on his assignments as Auburn's offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.
"My whole focus is on this team and making it the best it can be," he said. "I am extremely happy. I have said it time and time again. I love working here and working for Coach (Gene) Chizik and I love coaching these kids. My only focus is trying to win games and trying to win championships...I have said it before--we have a great thing going here and I would like to see it through."
Defensive coordinator Ted Roof said that he thought the Tigers played well in the second and third quarters vs. Ole Miss and part of the fourth period, but was disappointed the Tigers allowed the Rebels two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, a period when the defense has been at its toughest throughout the season.
Roof said the defensive theme at Tuesday night's practice was performing at a higher level for the full 60 minutes this week vs. Chattanooga. "I thought the focus was really good tonight," he said, adding he hopes to see the same type of effort from the defense in Wednesday's workout. "I think they understand--they get it," the coach added.
Cameron Newton is receiving more attention than any college football player has so far this season, but the quarterback said on Tuesday he is not having a problem with his focus. He said if he did try to keep up with all of the hoopla he would get behind in his preparation for the coming opponent.
Newton added that his focus is on this season and after it is done he will expand his interests to other topics including the possibility of entering the 2011 NFL Draft.
"There's a time and a place for everything," Newton said. "I'm not sitting up here and giving you a definite decision on how I'm feeling right now. How I'm feeling right now is Tennessee-Chattanooga and trying to dissect their game plan with Coach Malzahn."
Asked if he thought he was ready to move on to the NFL after his junior season, Newton said, "That's not up to me. My opinion really doesn't go far when it comes to talking about the next level because I'm still a college athlete and I'm trying to grasp something that hasn't been done around here in a long time.
"We have a chance right now to seize the moment, and we can't have those types of selfish thoughts to run through our mind because it can be contagious and we don't want that around here," the quarterback said.
Newton added, "We're here after week nine, and we're still trying to do great things around here. Take one day at a time and play Auburn football."
Head coach Gene Chizik said he has seen no signs that the Heisman Trophy talk and other publicity has had an effect on Newton. "I think he's handling it really well," Chizik said. "I think he's been very grounded with it. That's his personality and I don't expect that to change."
"It makes you feel good, but I have a long way to go," Clayton said when asked about the comments he has been receiving from his coaches. "I have got a lot of things I need to do better as far as I am concerned. I still have to work each day in practice to improve."
Next on the agenda for the Tigers is Saturday's Homecoming game vs. Chattanooga, a I-AA (Football Championship Subdivision) team that has a 5-3 record. The Mocs will arrive at Jordan-Hare Stadium as a major underdog. So what will be Auburn's focus going into game 10 this Saturday? "This is one of those weeks where you go back and focus on the little things you do, the things we haven't accomplished in previous games," Clayton said.
After finishing 8-5 last season, the Tigers are on a 10-game winning streak including a bowl victory over Northwestern on New Year's Day to close the 2009 season. Clayton is enjoying his team's success.
"I couldn't ask for anything more than to be playing on a team like this as a senior," Clayton said. "Your senior year is a special time so it is good to go out with as many wins as you possibly can."
Clayton is particularly enjoying his role as a key player in Auburn's 9-0 start after missing most of the 2009 season with an ankle injury. "Last year was a little bit frustrating, but I have bounced back this year," he said.
Chattanooga is a team that features a strong passing game. "It is one of those games where we are going to have to focus up and get our pass rush right," Clayton said. "I think it will be a lot of fun."
Auburn has played nine weeks without a letdown and Clayton isn't expecting one this week even though the rivalry games are up next against Georgia and Alabama. "The focus is not to take any team for granted and stay focused each week," the senior tackle said. "We have done a good job of that this fall."
While the defensive line having a good season, the offensive line has been more impressive. Clayton is impressed.
"They have gotten a whole lot better," Clayton said of the guys he has butted heads with countless time in practices. "They were always real technically sound, but they have gotten better each week and it is very obvious out there on the field."
In other news and notes:
*Saturday's Homecoming game will kick off at noon. The Tigers are currently riding a school-record 18-game winning streak in Homecoming contests. The Tigers have an all-time record of 70-8-5.
*Auburn and Chattanooga have played 20 times with the Tigers winning each meeting. One of Auburn's top teams, the one-loss 1972 Tigers, were nearly upset by the Mocs before pulling out a 14-7 victory.
*Auburn heads into this week's game with a 172.61 pass efficency rating, which ranks third nationally.
*Auburn's seniors will be honored in pre-game ceremonies before Saturday's game. The group includes starters Mike Berry, Kodi Burns, Wes Byrum, Antoine Carter, Zach Clayton, Zach Etheridge, Byron Isom, Ryan Pugh, Craig Stevens, Demond Washington, Terrell Zachery and Lee Ziemba. Other seniors who have started this year include Mario Fannin, Michael Goggans and Ryan Shoemaker.