Tigers Wrap Up Preparations For Road Trip

The Auburn football Tigers had a light workout on Thursday evening as they get ready for a road trip to play the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn assistant football coach Tommy Thigpen said his team's road game on Saturday could be the toughest test so far this season for players on the defensive side of the football as the Tigers travel to play the University of South Carolina.

Commenting on the Gamecocks' offense, Thigpen said, "They are a really balanced football team with a proven quarterback and probably a Heisman Trophy winner at the running back position, a first round draft choice at wide receiver and an experienced line that is really physical.

"This is probably going to be our first real big test as far as lining up against guys that are skilled at every position and experienced at every position," added Thigpen, who coaches Auburn's safeties.

Auburn wrapped up on-the-field preparations on Thursday evening with a light workout in shorts. During the workout that lasted one hour and 10 minutes the Tigers rehearsed their offensive and defensive game plans for an opponent that is 4-0 and ranked ninth and 10th in the major polls this week. The Gamecocks are 2-0 in the SEC while Auburn is 1-0 in the league and 3-1 overall.

Kickoff for the contest is set for 2:30 p.m. CDT from Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia where the Tigers are making just their third appearance. Auburn's record is 2-0 in previous games there and is 8-1-1 all-time vs. South Carolina. The game will be televised nationally on CBS.

Thigpen said the defense will have its hands full on Saturday facing tailback Marcus Lattimore and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery along with veteran quarterback Stephen Garcia. The coached noted this is the type of opponent that will really test his safeties.

"They have got a quarterback who can get it out there and a receiver who is probably the best one-on-one guy out there in space," he said of Jeffery, who is listed at 6-4, 229 pounds but looks bigger. "Somehow he always comes down with the ball and then you've got a big home run hitter in the tailback and you've got a quarterback that you kind of hesitate to blitz because he has a way of getting out of traffic so they get you in some binds and you've got to keep them all in front of you.

"In the same sense you have got to be aggressive as well," Thigpen pointed out. "Lattimore is a tremendous challenge and he's predicted to carry the ball 30-40 times a game. He's that kind of guy. The longer the game goes, the stronger he gets. This is truly our first test as far as seeing a guy of his caliber."

Marcus Lattimore

Thigpen noted that he plans to rotate five safeties into the playing rotation with Neiko Thorpe starting with Demetruce McNeal backed up by Erique Florence, Ryan Smith and Ikeem Means. "Fatigue is what gets a lot of guys," he said in explaining why it is difficult to tackle a player like Lattimore, who is averaging just under 27 rushing plays per game this season. Thigpen also notes that the tailback has the strength to run through would-be tacklers. "They just fall off of him in the second half," Thigpen said.

If the Auburn offense can slow Lattimore like the Tigers did in two victories over the Gamecocks last season, a huge if considering the Tigers are playing with much less experienced personnel on defense, that doesn't mean the Tigers have done what is necessary to control South Carolina's offense.

Keeping quarterback Garcia from getting off to a good start is a big key because he has a tendency to play well when he does that and poorly when he doesn't, Thigpen points out. "That's been kind of the M.O. on him, but he's one of those guys in the same sense once he starts out hot, he's hot," Thigpen said. "He s one of the best in the SEC when he gets going.

"Our challenge is going to be just making sure he keeps everything in front of us," said Thigpen, who added. "You just don't know which guy will show up, but the kid is a proven winner."

In other news and notes:

*Head coach Gene Chizik said after Thursday's practice, which he called another good one, that this week's opponent has impressed him and is probably better than the team the Tigers defeated in the SEC Championship Game last season. "The faces and names have not changed much since we played them in December," Chizik said.

*The Tigers held out a half dozen first and second string players in the Florida Atlantic game. This week it is all hands on deck, however, one of the players who did not see action on Saturday, junior defensive end Dee Ford, had surgery on Wednesday and is out until next season.

*Another key defender, sophomore starting cornerback Chris Davis, is questionable and will be a game-time decision on whether or not he plays. He was held out last week after being injured in the Clemson game.

Jonathan Evans

*Good news for the defense is that junior linebacker Jonathan Evans, who opened the season as a starter, could be back in the starting lineup after missing two games with a shoulder problem.

The Tigers are expected to get back one of their key players on offense, tight end/H-back Philip Lutzenkirchen, who rested an ankle problem last week. However, the team's second-leading receiver, Trovon Reed, injured his shoulder vs. FAU and will be replaced as a receiver and punt returner by true freshman Quan Bray.

*In addition to television coverage on CBS with Spero Dedes, Steve Buerlein and Otis Livingston calling the action, The Auburn Radio Network's call of the game can be heard on a network of 50-plus stations as well as channel 220 on Sirius and 199 on XM. It can also be heard nationally by the Touchdown Radio network with Frank Frangie, Gino Torretta and Roxy Bernstein doing the broadcast.

*Saturday's game is the first of four consecutive contests for the Tigers against SEC teams ranked in the Top 20 this week. Three of those contests are in the road. The last time the Tigers had to face that many back-to-back ranked opponents was five straight in 1987.

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