Tigers Preparing for High-Scoring Ducks

The Tigers continue their on-campus preparations for the national championship football game.

Auburn, Ala.--Cornerbacks coach Phillip Lolley said on Friday that the Auburn coaching staff has a high-level respect for Oregon as the Tigers continue to install their game plan for their Jan. 10th date vs. the Ducks in the BCS National Championship Game.

"They are very, very well coached," said Lolley, who along with Chizik was the only current Auburn coach who was on the staff when the Tigers had their last unbeaten season in 2004.

"They do a tremendous job of attacking you diagonally, vertically--the whole bit," Lolley said. "The option keeps you honest. They run it every conceivable way you could possibly run the option. They run it from all different types of sets, all different types of motion.

"If you try to get the extra guy to put on the quarterback or on the punch they have their quick throws and their play action where they run right by people," Lolley said.

"The secondary has to be involved to stop the option because you don't have enough defenders to cover it," he noted. "You have to get the quarterback and pitch covered along with the great tailback inside who everybody knows about. Out there, you better have your ducks in a row or you are going to be in trouble."

Lolley said that Oregon's offense, which is averaging just under 50 points per game, is so good the Ducks can score quickly against a defense that makes mistakes in alignment and execution.

Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said he has been impressed by Oregon's offense, too, and noted the offensive line plays very well together.

Rocker has counted on his depth on the defensive front to make a positive difference this season and he said that won't change on Jan. 10th vs. Oregon.

One of the guys providing depth is freshman tackle Jeffrey Whitaker. "When he got here this summer we told him we didn't have time to wait for him to grow," Rocker said. "We told him we needed him to be ready to play this season and he has worked hard to make that happen. W need him to continue to improve and I think he will do that."

Jeffrey Whitaker is shown at practice.

Whitaker said his goals for his first season have been modest--not getting redshirted and helping the team win games. He has played in 12 of the 13 wins and has four solo tackles with three assists backing up seniors Nick Fairley and Zach Clayton.

Asked how much has improved since game one, Whitaker said, "I think I have improved, but I am not the type of player who really grades myself. I just try to get better and better in the practices and games. I just try to take any little thing I learn in the film room and apply it on the film.

"I will say I am more comfortable now than I was at the start of the season," he added. "I am more confident and when you a chance to play with guys like Zach and Nick that really helps."

Whitaker and fellow freshman Kenneth Carter have backed up All-American Fairley, Clayton and Mike Blanc. "I have gotten great experience this year playing in front of big crowds and being part of great comebacks," Whitaker said. "It has been a great year.

"It is something I have to build on," the former Warner Robins High star said. "I cherish this year because I am learning how to become a champion. I am learning from guys like Zach Clayton, to Nosa Eguae, to Nick Fairley to Antoine Carter--everybody. I am learning to be a great leader, I am learning how to be a great player. I am learning how to be a champion. I just have to keep going."

One of the team's most experienced players, redshirt senior offensive guard Mike Berry, said he is trying to savor his final days as an Auburn player. "I am coming down to my last couple of practices," he pointed out.

Berry redshirted in 2006 after playing at Brentwood, Tenn., Academy. He goes into the national championship game with 31 consecutive starts on what he said he believes is one of the top offensive line groups in college football this season.

The senior said the Tigers have had good practices on-campus in December and will arrive in Arizona ready to tweak what has already been installed. "Once we get out there everything is going to be set in stone as far as game plan," he noted. "It is just fine-tuning the little things and executing."

Berry said his team is serious about its postseason trip. "If you look at it as going out there to just have a good time you are going to leave with a loss and you are going to look back and be disappointed."

In other news and notes:

*Cornerback Ryan White, who began preseason practice getting work at quarterback, has practiced some at quarterback on the scout team to give the defense a good look at the speed expected from Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas, a sophomore who was one of 10 finalists for the Manning Award that oes to the nation's top QB. White played quarterback last fall as a high school senior.

Ryan White is shown in action vs. Ole Miss at cornerback.

*Wide receiver Philip Pierre-Louis, one of the quickest players on the team, was getting some work imitating Oregon star tailback LaMichael James, but he is currently hurt and can't work in that role with the scout team.

*The Tigers worked out for little less than two hours on Friday at the Hutsell-Rosen Track as they continue to install the game plan for their first-ever football game vs. Oregon. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said he is pleased with what he has been seeing. "The focus has been a lot better," said Malzahn, who is reportedly under consideration for the vacant head coaching position at Maryland, a subject he avoided discussing on Friday. "Each practice you can tell they are a little more urgent."

*The players will take Saturday off and will have their final on-campus practice on Sunday.

*The Tigers will take a charter flight from Columbus, Ga., on Monday and will arrive in Phoenix that evening. Gene Chizik will do a press conference at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.

*Practice will resume on Tuesday at Scottsdale Community College. The practices are closed.

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