The Tigers began putting in the game plan for Ole Miss on a beautiful fall evening while working out in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets. The team will take Monday off and return to the practice field on Tuesday evening.
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said after the practice the Tigers need to be very in serious about this week's opponent.
"We had a good practice," he said. "We got some work done. The biggest thing we are preaching to them, really starting with Coach Malzahn as a whole, is the urgency on offense. We have to have a great sense of urgency every day this week in practice, every time in meetings. This is a big football game.
"Our guys have to practice and prepare like this is a big football game," Lashlee added. "I thought they got off to a good start tonight, but they have to raise their level on Tuesday."
Auburn and Ole Miss both bring identical records into the 6 p.m. CDT kickoff (TV coverage on ESPNU). The teams ae 3-1 overall and 1-1 in SEC play. The Rebels suffered their loss by a 26-0 score on Saturday night at Alabama while the Tigers fell 35-21 the previous week at LSU.
With no game last week the Auburn coaching staff was able to scout itself and come up with a plan for areas to concentrate in the second half of the season. Head coach Gus Malzahn said the Tigers looked at personnel and their approach to attacking opponents with that being an area of concentration for defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and Lashlee in recent days.
"It has been really good for us," Malzahn said. "We have good information now after four games about how our guys react. We know where our strengths are offensively and where our strengths are defensively, and we will try to build on those things. We have a real chance to get better each week."
Looking at his team's defense, Malzahn said the Tigers need to work on "overall execution and alignment" in addition to trying to get as healthy as possible with a week off from game action.
"In the first four games we played without a lot of our playmakers and it would be nice to get of those guys all back at one time and once we get that you will see the defense improve."
The Tigers are hoping to get cornerback Chris Davis back at full speed for the Ole Miss game. Davis was able to practice on a limited basis on Sunday night.
Two other key defenders, who have been bothered by knee problems are linebackers Cassanova McKinzy and Justin Garrett. Those two players could be closer to full speed this week, but Johnson noted that Garrett's foot is painful for the junior.
Senior defensive end Craig Sanders, who missed the LSU game with an ankle sprain, was able to practice on Sunday night and there is a good chance he will be ready to return to action vs. Ole Miss. Sanders, who started the first three games, was replaced in the starting lineup by fellow senior Dee Ford, who has been recovering from a preseason knee issue.
After seeing very little playing time at defensive end the past three seasons, Craig Sanders broke into the starting lineup to begin his senior season.
"Even the guys playing some are not 100 percent," said Malzahn, who noted the No. 1 goal of the off-week was to get as many players closer to full speed as possible.
Cornerback Jonathan Jones (ankle injury) and defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker (knee injury) have yet to play this season, but Auburn's coaches said both of those players are making progress and could return to action. Jones was on the practice field on Sunday night, but not in pads.
Looking at the offense, the Tigers were sluggish in the first half in their previous game at LSU as they had problems dealing with wet conditions in Baton Rouge. After not scoring in the opening half the Tigers scored three touchdowns and racked up 333 yards of total offense in the second half.
"I think we are able to run the football and that is where it starts with us," said Malzahn, whose team is averaging 232.2 rushing yards per contest. A key statistic for the Tigers when playing Ole Miss is rushing for 200 yards. Auburn has won the last 13 matchups vs. the Rebels when reaching that mark on the ground.
"We are a run, play-action team and we needed more consistency in the passing game," said Malzahn, whose team is averaging 207.2 yards per contest through the air while completing 57.5 percent of its passes. The Tigers have passed for eight touchdowns and have been intercepted four times.
"We feel like this week will be really good for us to improve the basics of our timing passing game and Coach Lashlee and the staff has worked extremely hard on that."
Malzahn noted despite the loss at LSU, he liked the fight he saw from his group after falling behind 21-0 at halftime. "That was one my questions at the first of the year about our team," Malzahn said. "If we hit a serious hole on the road, and faced major adversity, how would they react. I?think they answered that. They fought hard.
"We executed the onside and got it, then it got overturned,"?the coach said. "I would have liked to see what would have happened if we would have got that. Our guys were finding to the end and that is something you can build on."
Lashlee said the offense spent a good bit of time working on executing the pass game on Sunday night as well as "ball security," something the coordinator has not been pleased with so far. "At some point it's got to get fixed if we're going to win football games," he said, noting that it is "as bad as we have had in a long time."
Lashlee added "It is just not to our standard. Even the plays that we don't turn the football over. That has been a huge emphasis last week and this week and our guys are really taking it personal and they should. That is the only way we can get it fixed. The other thing is at times the last two games we haven't maybe had the number of penalties. Mississippi State we were pretty good. The last game we had two penalties at critical times that were costly."
Auburn's offensive coordinator said the goal is to have his players be thinking ball security every moment they are on a football field. "Just because a guy doesn't fumble a ball in practice, if you notice that ball is loose or being a little careless with it, you've got to address it right then. Not just to make a guy go do up-downs or punish him.
"What you're doing is emphasizing," Lashlee said. "You're making it every play, every day, it's on his mind--I have got to protect that football' because if you don't do that, when they get in the game, it is not going to be second nature. It's got become something that's a habit, that's engrained so our coaches have really worked hard at really paying attention to those details."
Lashlee added, "We have emphasized it from day one. Obviously, we haven't gotten the point across good enough, but we have re-emphasized it and turned our level of intensity up on that.
In other news and notes:
*Justin Garrett, who was the spring game MVP at "star" rover, is now spending his time at weakside linebacker. Johnson, who is his position coach, said, "Between his foot and his very limited number of practices he has had so far he is still learning the position, but it looks like he is going to be able to be an impact player for us when he gets healthy and learns the position completely."
*Alabama's defense was the first one to shut down Ole Miss this year. Asked if the Tigers can use things the Tide did, Johnson said, "I thought Alabama obviously did a great job," the defensive coordinator said. "Ole Miss had its chances and just couldn't capitalize, but they were threatening two or three times. They moved the ball on Alabama. They just couldn't get the points. Alabama made the big plays when they had to.
"You can get a lot of good ideas from other people's defenses, but if it totally gets outside your scheme of defense it's very difficult to tinker with that in three days. We might see a few things we like, but some things are just not within our system."
*Auburn leads the all-time series vs. Ole Miss 27-10 and is 13-2 in games being played at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
*In three of their four games the Tigers have had minimal problems with penalties. Through four games Auburn has been penalized 20 times with nine of those coming vs. Arkansas State. The Tigers had just one penalty vs. Mississippi State, the lowest total since having just one in a victory vs. UT-Martin in 2008.