One Key AU Defender Out, Another Questionable

Auburn continues its preparation for nationally-ranked South Carolina with the defense less than at full strength.

Auburn, Ala.--Opening practice with a vivid orange and blue sunset to their west, the Auburn football Tigers continued preparations for their first SEC road game of the year with Coach Gene Chizik putting his team through a session that lasted more than two hours preparing for South Carolina.

"We know we have got our challenges ahead of us," said Chizik, who noted the Tigers followed up a good Tuesday night full pads practice with another solid workout on Wednesday night. The Wednesday practice was in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts.

"The guys have really been excited and very enthusiastic about playing on the road here in our first SEC road game so it should be a lot of fun," the coach said.

The Tigers will be making the trip to Columbia, S.C., without one of their best pass rushers. Junior defensive end Dee Ford, who missed last week's game with an injury, underwent surgery on Wednesday for a herniated disk. He is expected to miss the rest of the season, but should qualify for a medical hardship redshirt because he has played in just three games.

Dee Ford

The former St. Clair County High star from Odenville played in 13 games in 2009 and was in on 12 tackles, including one sack and 2.5 stops for lost yardage. Last season he made 10 tackles with seven solos and two sacks while playing in 13 games with one start.

Another defensive player who was out of action last week, cornerback Chris Davis, is considered questionable for the trip to South Carolina. "He has worked some this week," Chizik said. "Right now it is going to be up to game time.

"To be honest with you he has run around a little bit out there, but there is still a lot of work to go before he would be able to perform," the coach said. "But, we are going to take him on the trip and keep treating him and see if he can get healthy by game day."

Phillip Lolley, who coaches the cornerbacks, said the coaches are trying to take things "a step at time" to make sure Davis has his timing back. "We are going to make sure he is 100 percent," Lolley said. "I don't want him out there guarding those receivers unless he is. You have got to have everything with you when you play against a Coach (Steve) Spurrier football team, especially with the receivers they have got."

New starting punter Steven Clark has performed well through four games despite preseason concerns from the coaches about his consistency. The Tigers are ranked 16th nationally in net punting at 40.2 yards.

Steven Clark

Clark is averaging 43.7 yards per punt, which ranks him 20th nationally, and opponents have only returned three of his 20 punts. The sophomore has nine punts that have forced opponents to start inside their own 20-yard line.

"I think he is progressing nicely," said special teams coach Jay Boulware. "I think he is getting more and more confident as the season goes along."

Boulware said that Clark and kicker Cody Parkey have both being doing well as first-year starters. "Punting is the hardest thing to do in college football, in my opinion," Boulware said because of the difficulty of the mechanics involved and the importance of avoiding a mistake on every play the punter is in a game.

Boulware said even though Clark punted the ball for excellent distance vs. Florida Atlantic, he was disappointed that the sophomore sailed a pair of punts into the end zone vs. the Owls. "We like to give our guys a chance there whether it is a 27-yard punt or a 30-yard punt. We want to give our guys to field the ball inside the 20-yard line somewhere so they (the opposing offense) have to go the length of the field."

The Tigers have also done very well with kickoffs this season. New starter Cody Parkey has the Tigers leading the league in kickoff coverage thanks to his 15 touchbacks, which rank him number two nationally.

The Tigers are second in the SEC kickoff return average at 26.37, which ranks 17th nationally. Freshman Tre Mason is 16th nationally with his average of 29.36 per yards per return.

Nosa Eguae, one of the three starters back from last year's Auburn defense, was part of a group that did a good job of containing South Carolina star Marcus Lattimore two times last season.

Asked what the key is to have success against the 6-0, 232-pound sophomore tailback, Eguae said, "He is a great player. For us up front it is going to be about being physical at the point of attack, getting off blocks, making plays and stopping that running game."

Eguae, a redshirt sophomore, is the most experienced player on Auburn's defensive line. He has played in 18 games with 15 starts. "We have got to stop the run," he said. "Up front we have got to stop the run. After that everything will take care of itself."

Eguae said he isn't sure how the Gamecocks will attack the Auburn defense this year, but noted he and other members of the defense watched video of Auburn's two victories over South Carolina from last season.

The defensive end noted he and his teammates will be playing against many of the same guys they faced last season. "The faces definitely look familiar when you look at the game plan and you see the faces that were there last year and a lot of guys you went up against," Eguae pointed out.

In other news and notes:

*Kickoff time is set for 2:30 p.m. CDT from Williams-Brice Stadium with national television coverage on CBS.

*South Carolina has had success on its home field the past two seasons posting 6-1 marks in 2009 and 2010.

*Senior quarterback Stephen Garcia has a 21-13 record in games he has started at quarterback for the Gamecocks. He moved past Steve Taneyhill, who was tied with him for the second most victories in South Carolina history. Garcia is closing in on the record of 24 held by Todd Ellis, who is the play-by-play man for the school's football games.

*After being out with a minor injury last week, junior Philip Lutzenkirchen is expected to play vs. the Gamecocks and go for a new Auburn record for touchdown catches in a career from a tight end. He has nine, which ties him for the lead with Robert Johnson (2000-2002).

*Freshman Brandon Fulse, who replaced Lutzenkirchen in the starting lineup, was "a little shaky" on Saturday night, according to Boulware, who coaches the tight ends and H-backs. "His eyes were big now. As the game went on he kind of settled in.

Brandon Fulse

"In the second half he started playing kind of how he practices a little bit, being a little more physical, a little more aggressive. That is kind of what we wanted to see so it is invaluable time we got with him while Lutz was out."

*South Carolina is ranked in ninth and 10 in the major polls this week. After that the Tigers travel to play at Arkansas, are home against Florida and travel to play LSU, all ranked teams. If those teams stay in the Top 25 it will be the first time since 1987 the Tigers faced four consecutive games vs. ranked opponents since playing five in a row in 1987.

*Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said after grading video from the Florida Atlantic game that most of the problems his players were having were technique issues, not effort issues. He said like the other parts of the offense, the line is a work in progress.

Grimes said his guys have a major challenge this week blocking what he calls a very athletic group of South Carolina defensive linemen and linebackers.

*Defensive line coach Mike Pelton said that redshirt freshman end LaDarius Owens is continuing to make progress in practice and is a guy the Tigers need to step up. With the Tigers having two ends (Justin Delaine and Dee Ford) out until next season, the defense is looking for all of the help it can get.

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