Rain Drives Tigers Indoors for Practice

News, notes and quotes are featured in a report on Auburn's preparations for the SEC Championship Football Game.

Auburn, Ala.--Heavy rains sent the Auburn Tigers indoors for Tuesday evening's football practice as the Tigers prepare for Saturday's SEC Championship Game.

Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said despite the cramped quarters, the Tigers had a productive workout in helmets and shorts.

"It was pretty good for us," he said of practicing indoors. "That is a loud place (the Georgia Dome) we are fixing to play in so we turned on some music and some noise. Our guys really focused well.

"I think back to last Tuesday's practice, this was quite a bit better than last Tuesday as far as our focus and our approach," Malzahn said.

The coach said that he didn't have to change the plan "too much" practicing indoors instead of outside. "Obviously, throwing the football when you are in a smaller place, but we will get a chance to do all of that stuff tomorrow."

Malzahn has been mentioned as a hot candidate for head coaching jobs, but he didn't want to talk about that on Tuesday night. "The only thing I am focused on is this game and trying to do the best job I can to try to help this team," he said.

Malzahn would say he "guesses" it is flattering to be mentioned as a head coach candidate.

The offensive coordinator would talk about being a finalist for the Frank Broyles Award, which is presented annually to the college football assistant coach of the year.

"Anytime you are up for award like that you think about the Curtis Lupers, the Trooper Taylors, Jeff Grimes, Jay Boulware--it is a team deal here," he said. "That is a huge honor and I am very flattered to be considered among all of those other coaches."

Malzahn, who is from the state of Arkansas, said he knows Broyles well from his tenure as a head coach and athletic director at the University of Arkansas. "He is a legend," Malzahn said.

On Saturday the Tigers will be playing their second game on artificial turf this season. The first one was at Ole Miss and Malzahn said it is a plus that this isn't the first game for the Tigers on the fake grass.

"I think it helps, there is no doubt about that, but we have only played one game on turf," Malzahn said. "Still, our guys will have to get used to the footing. All of the turfs are a little bit different, too. We will have to adjust to that, too."

The Tigers will practice in the Georgia Dome on Friday afternoon, something Malzahn said will be helpful.

Malzahn's offense ranks sixth nationally in rushing yards per game (291.3), seventh in scoring offense (41.6 points per game) and eighth in total offense (490.1 yards per game). Auburn is on pace to break the school single-season records for points per game (38.5 set in 1995) and total offense per game (485.0 in 1970).

The Tigers are averaging 291.3 yards per game in rushing offense, which is second behind the 1985 team featuring Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson.

The Tigers have reached the 50 point mark five times this season, something never done before in AU history. With Malzahn directing the offense, Auburn has reached the 500-yard mark 10 times in 40 games with six of those coming this season. Prior to his arrival from Tulsa, the Tigers hadn't reached the 500-yard mark since the 2005 season, a streak of 40 games.

Auburn scored 35 points in its regular season victory over South Carolina while the Gamecocks finished with 27. Auburn senior linebacker Craig Stevens said that South Carolina will offer a formidable challenge in the rematch.

"Those guys came here ready to play," Stevens said of the first Auburn vs. South Carolina match in which the Gamecocks jumped out to a 20-7 lead in the second quarter. "They jumped out on us kind of like last week. They have a lot of big-play receivers and also the running game. They have the team together. I know we are going to have to come to play both offensively and defensively."

The Tigers will try to break a trend of slow starts to open the game the plagued them in the opening quarter of the Georgia and Alabama games.

Commenting on what the defense needs to do to play better early in games, fifth-year senior linebacker Craig Stevens said, "I think overall as a defense we have to go into games more focused. I think last week we kind of let our emotions take control of us."

The linebacker said that the Tigers got "out of whack" early. "We just have to calm down and play our game from beginning to end...and not wait for a team to get up us before we actually calm down and get our stuff together."

Craig Stevens is one of Auburn's most experienced players.

Stevens said the Tigers need to make sure they don't get into an early hole on Saturday at the SEC Championship Game. "It is very important because there is so much riding on this game--a trip to the national championship."

In other news:

Freshman tailback Michael Dyer said that practicing indoors wasn't a problem for the backs because there was plenty of room to work on running plays. Construction has begun on a larger indoor practice facility that is expected to be ready prior to the start of the 2011 season.

*Cameron Newton and Lee Ziemba were named to the first major All-America team of the season selected by the American Football Coaches Association. Gene Chizik said that junior defensive tackle Nick Fairley is worthy of similar accolades.

"Nick Fairley has played as well as any defensive tackle in the country," Chizik said. "I haven't seen them all, but I've seen my guy and what he deserves and what they recognize and how all the awards and all that go. I don't make that call, but I know he's playing great football right now."

Commenting on Malzahn being named a finalist for the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant, an award Chizik won in 2004, Chizik said, "He is huge to us and our staff. Again, we're focused on our team and the game and the whole deal, but as I said about players and I'll say the same about coaches. When you have success and guys are being brought up, whether it's our guys as All-Americans or whatever the award, I'm extremely happy for them. I'm extremely happy for the coaches who are certainly being considered to be recognized for things.

"Gus has been a huge part, obviously, of what we've done here. He's a great football coach and anything he gets, I'm all in, he deserves it."

*Newton heads into the SEC Championship Game as the leading rusher in the SEC with Marcus Lattimore No. 2. Newton has been as impressive throwing the football. This week he ranks second nationally in passing efficiency (185.57). Newton has thrown two or more touchdown passes in each of the past four games and has accounted for five touchdowns in three games this year including the 35-27 victory over South Carolina in September.

*Newton leads the SEC and is 11th nationally in total offense (299.2 yards per game).

*Auburn is ninth nationally in third-down conversions at 51.1 percent. In the last four games the Tigers have converted 58.3 percent of its opportunities.

*Big plays have been a key factor in Auburn's offensive success this year. Through 12 games the Tigers have made 29 plays that have covered 35 or more yards with 20 of those guys for touchdowns. Last season Auburn made 22 plays of at least 35 yards in 13 games. In 2008 playing 12 games before Malzahn came to Auburn, the Tigers made nine plays that covered 35 or more yards in 12 games.

*For Saturday's SEC Championship Game, which has been sold out for months and is a very tough ticket, Auburn officials will show the game on the high definition big screen scoreboards at the new Auburn Arena. Admission is free for fans who arrive after halftime of the Auburn women's basketball game that starts at 1 p.m. vs. Temple.

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