Gene Chizik, head coach of the Tigers, said his team made progress as they prepare for Saturday's SEC football opener vs. Mississippi State.
"We have had two really, really good days of practice in a row," Chizik said. "I feel like we got better as a football team. I fully expect us to play better on Saturday than last Saturday.
"We have got one more day of preparation," Chizik added. "This is an extremely talented, very well coached team (Mississippi State)."
Chizik said the emphasis on Wednesday night was being physical, something that disappointed him in Auburn's season opener. Auburn's defense struggled to stop Utah State's running attack, making it difficult to get the Aggies' offense off the field. Chizik said Auburn's front four and linebackers have to get tougher in week two.
"We are expecting to see a more physical game up front--better run fits, a more aggressive style from those guys," he said. "They are going to have to be this week. This going to be an extremely physical game."
Chizik noted that Mississippi State's offense features four experienced linemen and a running attack he said is "clicking on all cylinders."
One of the players in the front seven, junior linebacker Jonathan Evans, said he "dinged his shoulder a little bit" against Utah State as he led the Tigers in tackles, but added he will be ready to go for game two.
"I think it went pretty good for me, but I still have to work on the little things," Evans said of his play in the opener. In that game he was making his second college start and the first since his true freshman season in 2009 when he filled in against Alabama when the linebacker group was hit hard by injuries.
"My eyes and my alignment, I still have got to get that right," said Evans, who is following in the footsteps of his older brother, Chris, who was a starting linebacker for the Tigers.
The younger Evans, who had seven solo tackles and seven assists vs. Utah State, said he is expecting a physical football game this week as the Tigers open SEC play vs. Mississippi State. He noted the defense was "disappointed" in its opening day performance against the Aggies.
Evans said the Tigers need to "buckle down" and added, "We have got to do better this week." The linebacker added, "We have got to talk more. It is going to be a fast game--fast and physical."
The defense's number one priority on Saturday will be stopping Mississippi State's running game, according to Evans. The linebacker group, which could be a big part of making that happen, will be bolstered by the return of senior Eltoro Freeman, who did not play in the opener because he had to sit out due to an administrative error that made him ineligible for one game.
Evans said getting Freeman back in the mix "is going to help a lot." He added, "Toro is a fast, explosive player and we need that out there."
Eltoro Freeman has starting experience for the Tigers.
Another Auburn starting linebacker, sophomore Jake Holland, agrees with Evans that the Tigers need to improve their on the field communication. "It wasn't there last game and that is one of the main objectives we need to work on this week," said Holland, who made his first college start vs. Utah State.
Holland pointed out as the middle linebacker it is his job to make sure everybody gets the defensive calls that are being sent in to him from the sidelines. "I give the call and I have got to make sure everybody receives it," he said. "It is definitely key for everybody getting lined up and knowing their assignment."
Holland said to expect the Tigers to focus on the basics this week after struggling to stop the Aggies last Saturday. "We are going to simplify the defense just so we can get lined up and play," he pointed out. "We have a lot of young guys out there who can get wide-eyed. I feel like if we simplify a lot of good things can come out of that."
Holland said this is an important week for the players to study video of the first game of the season so they can see their mistakes and try to avoid making them this Saturday.
Mississippi State likes to run the football inside the tackles, which means that Holland should be busy vs. the Bulldogs. He was Auburn's second leading tackler in game one with four solos and seven assists. "I have a big opportunity to make a lot of plays this game as well," he said. "That is always a lot of fun."
Chizik said he believes the physical practices this week have been good for his young team, particularly the defensive linemen. "I think the younger guys got better this week," he said. "For two days now we have really kind of ramped up the physicality part of the game."
Defensive line coach Mike Pelton said he has seen improvement from his group in practices this week. The coach noted his group has "a long way to go," but said he is excited about them. He said it was invaluable to give them playing experience vs. Utah State and to see their strengths and weaknesses and to try to improve on them this week.
"Now they are on tape and now they understand they have a book out there on them," he said. "The book we presented wasn't very good against the run. They knocked us around and they had some good stuff against us.
"I am sure teams in the SEC will see that and they are going to attack us on the ground," Pelton said, noting that as a defensive line coach and former defensive tackle that is something he really dislikes.
"It is always bothersome. To run the ball on the defense is like challenging your manhood. When somebody just basically takes it and stuffs it down your throat it is like coming in your house and beating you up in front of your family. You take it personally, especially as a D-line coach because it starts up front. Those are my guys.
"I tell my guys the ball comes by us first," Pelton added. "We have the first opportunity to make a play. If it gets by us, it's our fault. I think they are going to take ownership of it. I think they understand the importance of being physical."
Pelton said the Tigers will keep the same starting lineup on the front four as in game one and will continue to rotate players, perhaps even more frequently than they did vs. Utah State when the Tigers played the second and third string players at all four spots.
Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said after practice that he was disappointed with his group's performance vs. the Aggies, a 2011 debut which he said "was not very good," but Grimes did not say the Tigers would make changes in the starting lineup this week. However, the coach did say that he told his players that changes certainly could happen concerning who plays and who watches from the sidelines if the on the field performance does not improve.
"I think we had a combination of things going on," Grimes said of game one. "We had a couple guys in there who obviously it was their first time to ever play in a college football game. It was the first time for this group to play together.
"With different guys it was a different set of factors," Grimes said. "I had a couple of guys who I think at times were a little bit awestruck with the whole situation just being in their first college game. They played nervous, they played hesitant, didn't really ever cut it loose.
"I had a couple of other guys who were just the opposite," he said. "At times they were overly aggressive and out of control, which isn't any good either I would certainly rather have that than the other because I can teach and coach that if a guy wants to give great effort, but in the offensive line I always tell the guys you have to start the block under control and then finish it mad.
"You can't go mad from the very start because you get over-extended and wind up just missing people," he said. "We had a number of things going on."
While Grimes said he gave his players examples of changes he made in the lineup of former teams he coached included the benching of a player who was starting for a fourth season.
In other news and notes:
*Chizik and special teams coordinator Jay Boulware had praise for the kickoffs from Cody Parkey. Both noted he had been kicking that way throughout preseason drills. Boulware said strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall really helped Parkey in the offseason.
*Auburn will be looking to extend its Jordan-Hare Stadium winning streak to 10 games on Saturday. The Tigers have a winning streak of 16 games at all sites. Stanford has the second longest winning streak in major college football at nine.
*In the SEC the second longest winning streak is three by Mississippi State.
*Auburn also owns a 10-game winning streak for contests played in the month of September.
*Saturday's game is scheduled to kick off at 11:21 a.m. and will be televised by the SEC Network. Dave Neal will handle the play-by-play with Andre Ware the analyst and Cara Capauno the sideline reporter.
*Mississippi State toyed with Memphis State in the opener last Thursday winning 59-14. In the process the Bulldogs racked up 645 yards of total offense, the most for a single game in MSU history.
*The Bulldogs will bring an experienced defense to Auburn on Saturday. Although Mississippi State lost three starting linebackers and a defensive end from last year's 9-4 team, a dozen defenders are back who have at least one start for the Bulldogs.
*Mississippi State has a dozen players on its roster from the state of Alabama including starting quarterback Chris Relf, a senior from Montgomery's Carver High. The only Auburn player from the state of Mississippi who saw action in game one was freshman cornerback Jermaine Whitehead from Elzy High in Greenwood, who played on special teams in his first college game.