Dealing With the Ducks: Tigers Practice Fast

Auburn continues its on-campus preparations for the national championship football game. This report features news, notes and quotes from Auburn's Wednesday evening practice.

Auburn, Ala.--The defense worked at an ultra-fast pace in Wednesday night's practice as Auburn continued preparations to play the Oregon Ducks in the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 10th.

Working for two hours and 25 minutes at the Hutsell-Rosen Track and Field complex, the football Tigers put on the full pads with the defense working against its scout team and the offense doing the same thing.

Defensive coordinator Ted Roof said he liked the look the defense got from the scout team as well as Gus Malzahn's offensive unit.

Oregon leads the nation in scoring with an average of just under 50 points per game. "They have been very focused, they have been fast-paced and I?thought they have come back (from the Christmas break) very attentive and they working on getting ready to go play for a championship," Roof said of the Tigers.

Commenting on the importance of practicing at a high-tempo like Oregon's offense plays in games, Roof said, "You have got to get to a fatigue position and you have got to be able to function and communicate because that is what they do--they limit your time to process their formations and the pre-snap information some teams give you.

"As a result of that you have to process the information faster and you have to communicate," he said. "It is tougher for communication, if that makes sense, to get our guys to talk when they are uncomfortable."

The defensive coordinator said it is important that the coaches get their defensive calls relayed to the players on the field as soon as possible because the Ducks know how to take advantage of a defense that is still trying to get lined up properly.

"A big deal is getting yourself aligned, everybody putting their eyes where they are supposed to be and everybody playing the same call," Roof said.

Roof said that by the time Tigers finish on-campus practices on New Year's Day they want to have all of their game plan installed so when they get to Arizona all of the practice time will be rehearsal of what the players have already learned.

Gene Chizik is shown at the ESPN studios in Connecticut on Wednesday where he traveled to do interviews on a variety of TV and radio shows. The coach returned in time for Auburn's Wednesday evening practice.

Senior Wes Byrum said the Tigers have been working on the kicking game "a good bit" since beginning preparations for Oregon prior to Christmas. "Every time we are out there practicing we are going through all of our stuff," he pointed out.

Byrum said he has been asked 1,000 times about what he will be thinking if he has a chance to kick the game-winning field goal in the national championship game. "It has been pretty cool to think about it," he said. "Hopefully, it won't be needed and we will take care of business, but if the time calls for it, I will deal with it then."

Byrum has made 74.4 percent of his field goals as an Auburn player and has made a school record total of 58 field goals. His 355 career points are also a school record and the fifth most in SEC history.

This year he has broken his record for points in a season. The old record was 99 and he heads into the game vs. Oregon with 115 points.

This season he has hit 15-20 field goals, down from last season's percentage when he made 15-16. "I would have liked to have done better," Byrum said of his season's field goal accuracy numbers. "After last year having only one miss it is a little tough having five this year. I hit the upright twice, one which was from 50 plus. It is all part of the game. I think I am getting the job done, but I always want to do better."

The national championship game will be played at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., which has a grass field and a retractable roof that will be closed for the game. Byrum said that should be a good setup for the kickers. "It's indoors which is nice because we won't have to deal with the weather issues," he said.

Wes Byrum

Byrum and the Tigers will practice on campus through New Year's Day before flying to Arizona on Jan. 3rd to resume practice there. Auburn hasn't played since Dec. 4th since defeating South Carolina 56-17 in the SEC Championship Game. Oregon closed its regular season that day, defeating Oregon State 37-20.

Commenting on the layoff, Byrum said, "It's been tough because you are so excited and you want to get there and play the game. It has definitely been interesting."

In other news and notes:

*Byrum has made 30 of his last 36 field goals. He had a streak of nine consecutive made field goals dating back to 2009 snapped vs. Mississippi State this year by a blocked kick. The senior started another streak of consecutive made field goals that reached eight prior to a miss vs. LSU on a 39-yard attempt.

*Roof had praise after Wednesday's practice for senior middle linebacker Josh Bynes, who the defensive coordinator and linebacker coach said is an extension of the coaching staff on the field because of his poise and understanding of the game. "I feel very fortunate as a coach to have coached him," Roof said.

*Roof said that the extra practices have been good for redshirting freshman linebackers Jawara White and LaDarius Owens. "I am confident that both of those guys are going to be good football players for us," said Roof, who added that it was the right decision for the players and the team to redshirt them this season.

*The freshmen defensive linemen who are didn't redshirt (Jeffrey Whitaker, Kenneth Carter, Corey Lemonier) and who are in the playing rotation have really improved since the start of the season, said Roof, who gives their position coach, Tracy Rocker, credit for helping those guys learn how to be effective against college offensive linemen.

*Going into the BCS Championship Game freshman safety Demetruce McNeal leads the Tigers in special teams tackles. McNeal has 13 solo tackles and two assists.

Linebacker Jonathon Evans is next with seven solo tackles and four assists. Wide receiver Emory Blake is third with six solos and three assists. Defensive end Craig Sanders has six solos and one assist while safety Mike McNeil has five solos and two assists.

*The Tigers had a walk-through on Wednesday morning before having a regular practice in the evening at the Hutsell-Rosen Track and Field.

*Through 13 games the Tigers have scored 87 points following turnovers by their opponents. Auburn has gien up 44 points off of turnovers.

*Cameron Newton is in striking range of an SEC record set by a former teammate in 2007. Tim Tebow holds the league record for total offense in a season with 4,181 yards. Tim Couch of Kentucky is No. 2 with 4,151 yards in 1998. Newton has 3,998 yards with 1,409 on the ground and 2,589 passing yards. Newton's receiving yards are not included as part of collegiate total offensive statistics.

*Roof said that Auburn's 13-0 recorrd this season has opened doors on the recruiting front. He noted adage that "success breeds success" is true, but noted just because doors are opened doesn't mean it is still easy to sign the top-level prospects. "Nothing is easy about it, but it unlocks maybe a couple of doors that were shut, but at the same time it is not like you are going out to recruit those kids against nobody," he said.


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