After Doubling Up, Tigers Back Down

Comments from Auburn players and coaches are featured as the Tigers wrapped up on the field preparations for their SEC opener.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn wrapped up on-the-field preparations with a light workout on Thursday after intense full pads workouts the previous two days that Coach Gene Chizik said he hopes will get his Tigers ready for Saturday's SEC opener.

Auburn and Mississippi State will square off at 11:21 a.m. CDT at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Both teams bring a 1-0 record into the contest. The visiting Bulldogs cruised past Memphis 59-14 on a Thursday night while two days later the Tigers had to rally for a 42-38 victory over Utah State.

Practicing for 70 minutes the Tigers rehearsed their offensive and defensive game plans for game two. After physical practices on Tuesday and Wednesday in which the Tigers "doubled" their normal amount of contact, according to Chizik, the Tigers had a light, non-contact practice on Thursday. Chizik said the Tigers have to back off on Thursdays so the Tigers will have fresh legs to play on Saturday.

Chizik said the Tigers must be more physical this week on the offensive and defensive lines and that was one of the reasons for the extra contact work this week. "I am not just talking about being physical and being able to run the ball," he said. "I am talking about protecting the quarterback. I am talking about Barrett (quarterback Barrett Trotter), at times, was under much duress.

"I am talking about getting a pass rush," Chizik said. "It's just not stopping the run. It is being physical and dominating at the line of scrimmage. That is something I think is going to come with time. We want to see significant improvement in this area because this Mississippi State football team, on both sides of the line, is extremely talented and extremely physical. We have got to be able to match that man for man."

Gene Chizik talks to Auburn students on Thursday night at a pep rally.

Chizik said he was disappointed with the play of the entire defensive front seven vs. Utah State. Tommy Thigpen, who coaches Auburn's safeties, said the Tigers need to step it up on the backside of the defense, too.

"We're looking for 300 percent improvement this week," Thigpen said. "I think we have a lot of room to grow. The kids take a lot of pride. They have been coming in every day.

"They come in after class and watch tape," Thigpen said. "It's Auburn so kids want to do well. The pressure to do well is great and tremendous here.

"We've set the culture here the right way so guys like Zac Etheridge and (Aairon) Savage have taught kids how to watch tape," he pointed out. "We're going to continue to have that kind of culture here where guys want to learn the game of football and then carry it over to the football field."

Commenting on areas he wants to see the secondary improve, Thigpen said, "Last week was just guys being comfortable and getting checks. The communication wasn't what we wanted it to be.

"We went back to the drawing board and are getting guys to talk more on the field and get the communication right and provide some leadership," the coach said. "There were some times out there we needed somebody to step up. Last year we had guys that did that. This year we are searching for some guys to take that role."

In other news and notes:

In addition to Travante Stallworth catching his first collegiate touchdown, wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor said there were other things from the opener that pleased him.

Commenting on the receivers as a group, Taylor said, "I was actually proud of them. We didn't have any drops. There were some things we needed to clean up on the perimeter. On the very first play we missed the block. That was a crucial block. We always want to get started on a positive note. I was disappointed some in that, but the rest of the game they picked the tempo up so doing what we expected them to do. I was really proud of the way they went out and executed."

*Auburn netted just 78 rushing yards vs. Utah State, the first time since a loss to Alabama in the 2008 season the Tigers didn't gain 100 or more yards in a game. The last time the Tigers won a game when rushing for 80 yards was a 23-13 victory over Kansas State in which the Tigers gained just 62 yards.

*The Tigers will be looking for a big game from junior running back Onterio McCalebb who is averaging 6.5 yards per carry in his two previous appearances vs. Mississippi State. He has run the ball 28 times for 182 yards and a touchdown vs. the Bulldogs.

McCalebb said the Tigers did not panic after falling behind in the fourth quarter vs. Utah State because the team performed so well in the clutch last season. "We knew we could do it," he said of the comeback.

*Auburn's other top running back, sophomore Michael Dyer, gained 48 yards on nine carries last year vs. Mississippi State.

*Defensive tackle Gabe Wright, who made his college debut last Saturday, said he hopes he can make a big contribution this week. "We are still trying to get our (playing) rotation set," said the freshman who said he expects to be one of around a dozen players who see action on the front four at tackle or end this week. "Right now it is defense by committee," he said. "We are all in this together."

Mike Pelton, who coaches the defensive linemen, said he may substitute more frequently this week than he did in game one. Wright said he won't be surprised to see the Tigers substitute fresh players in every four downs on the defensive front this week and for the rest of the season.

*AU officials said Thursday night that there are still tickets available for the game on Saturday that Mississippi State was unable to sell for the game. The tickets are $50.

*This week's game will be carried on SEC TV with Dave Neal, Andre Ware and Cara Capuano describing the action. The Auburn Radio Network, which features 50 stations in the southeast, will also carry the game Rod Bramblett, Stan White, Quentin Riggins and Paul Ellen describing the contest.

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