Tigers Tune Up the Game Plan For FAU Owls

News and notes on the Tigers are featured as they wrap up preparations for Saturday's game vs. FAU.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn football team worked out for an hour and a half during a beautiful fall evening on Thursday in its final on-the-field tune-up for Saturday night's home game vs. Florida Atlantic out of Conference USA.

Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. CDT as the 11th-ranked Tigers look to improve their record to 6-1. The visiting Owls, who had and extra week to prepare for this game, bring a 2-5 mark into the contest after falling 24-23 to the Marshall Thundering Herd on Oct. 12th.

With head coach Gus Malzahn on a recruiting trip to check out a pair of Auburn commitments from the juco ranks, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee directed the Tigers as they put the finishing touches on rehearsing the game plan while working out in shorts and helmets.

Malzahn and wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig visited five-star wide receiver recruit D'haquille Williams and four-star safety Derrick Moncrief at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Moncrief, who played at Prattville High School, committed to the Tigers in May. Williams, who is from East St. John High in Reserve, La., announced for Malzahn's Tigers in July.

Following Thursday's practice Lashlee said the theme this week for the Tigers has been to put last week's exciting victory behind them and get ready for game eight. "We have stressed to the kids all week they have got to be ready to play because Florida Atlantic has a good football team," the offensive coordinator said. "They are really good on defense.

"We have got our work cut out for us," Lashlee added. "They are really, really good and they are long and athletic. They can really run. There are a lot of Florida guys on that team that can run."

Lashlee said teams have a tendency to let down after a big win like the Tigers had at Texas A&M and he wants to see this group avoid that on Saturday night as they go into the game as a big favorite rather than an underdog.

"I think the best thing our guys have done is just kind of work on what they can control and all we can control is Florida Atlantic," he said. "We have got to win this week. We have got to get win number seven and if you don't do that nothing else matters. That is a big challenge to see how mature we are."

Looking at the week of practice as a whole the coach said, "I expect our guys to come out and play really well. They have had a good week of preparation. I think they know what is at stake."

Auburn which is ranked 11th this week, will be facing an opponent that opened the season with a 34-6 loss at Miami and a 31-13 loss at East Carolina. Playing on the road for a third straight time the Owls broke into the victory column on Sept. 14th with a 28-10 win vs. South Florida.

In its home opener Florida Atlantic fell 42-35 to Middle Tennessee State in overtime. Playing on the road the next two weeks FAU fell 18-14 at Rice and on its first trip to the state of Alabama this year won 37-23 at UAB.

After losing at home on Oct. 12th vs. Marshall, Coach Carl Pelini's team will come into Saturday night's game with two weeks of preparation time to face the Tigers, who he called the best team his Owls have faced this year.

A week ago at their Thursday evening practice the Tigers suffered a freak injury that ended safety Josh Holsey's season when he got his feet tangled with a receiver in a non-contact drill and tore an ACL.

With the Tigers already very short on depth at safety the coaches gave senior cornerback Ryan White a crash course on playing the position and he saw a significant amount of playing time at safety during Auburn's 45-41 victory at Texas A&M.

White also accomplished something vs. the Aggies that had eluded him as a college defensive back. "I got my first career interception and that felt good," he said with a big smile. "I was glad I was able to help my team when they needed me."

This week White has practiced at safety and should be more prepared to play position as the Tigers take on Florida Atlantic for just the second time. The Owls from Boca Raton, Fla., made their first appearance at Jordan-Hare Stadium in 2011. They kept the game close until the Tigers outscored FAU 20-0 in the third quarter after Auburn reached halftime with just a 10-6 lead. Auburn finished that game with just 315 yards of total offense to 307 for the visitors who lost 30-14.

White noted that FAU will find a 2013 Auburn team that has a lot of mental toughness. "I think that started in January," the senior said. "Coach Malzahn and his new staff came in here and talked about starting over. Coach Malzahn said it is a new day and there is a new atmosphere around here."

Defensive coordinator Johnson pointed out that he appreciated the way White performed against a very talented Texas A&M offense.

"It couldn't have been a worse scenario," the coach said. "We brought him in that morning. Coach Harbison spent a few hours with him and he had a walk-through that afternoon with the unit. He knew the position mentally. Just being a defensive back he knows what that guy does. On the adjustments and the alignments, and being in the right place and coverage leverage, I thought he did a magnificent job with no practice."

Another Tiger who took an expanded role in the victory at Texas A&M is sophomore middle linebacker Kris Frost. He said the opportunity to make his first college start and do it against an offense led by Johnny Manziel was special. "I had so much fun out there," he said. "There was amazing energy and it was a great experience to get to play in that stadium."

Frost said he grew up watching games on TV at Kyle Field in College Station, Tex., and envisioned himself being involved in one of them. He became a major part of the action as the Tigers rallied from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to defeat the Aggies. Frost's open field tackle on Johnny Manziel on Texas A&M's next to last play could have been a game-saver.

"I knew he was going to get flushed out of the pocket and I knew he could be running the ball because I figured our guys would have great coverage down the field and they did," Frost said. "The important thing was taking a good angle to tackle him and I was able to catch him near the sideline."

Frost tackles Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Frost said it was exciting that the defense came through with big plays when the game on the line. "As a team we are all about improving and having the biggest turnaround in college football this season," he said. At 6-1 going into their final non-conference game of the regular season vs. Florida Alantic, the Tigers have reversed their 1-6 record they had going into game eight last fall.

"We know it is a relentless attitude that we have to approach every game with and that is what we did against Texas A&M," the sophomore linebacker said. He noted that Malzahn is trying to make sure the Tigers stick to that approach.

"Coach Malzahn said it is all about getting better and improving each week," Frost added.

Ellis Johnson, who doubles as defensive coordinator and linebacker coach, said he now considers the sophomore a co-number one middle linebacker along with senior Jake Holland now that Frost is becoming a more consistent performer.

In other news and notes:

*TV coverage of the game is on Fox Sports South with Bob Rathbun doing the play-by-play, Tim Couch is the analyst and Elizabeth Moreau is the sideline reporter.

*Radio coverage of the game is available on Sirius channel 136 and XM199.

*Fans attending Saturday night's game will need to dress warmly. Temperatures at kickoff should be in the low 50s and will drop into the 40s during the contest. There is no chance of rain in the forecast so it should be an outstanding day for tailgating with sunshine predicted and temperatures expected to climb into the low 60s. Tickets are still available for the game.

*On the injury front, in addition to the players out for the season, the Tigers are expected to play without freshman cornerback Kamryn Melton this week.

*Going into Saturday's contest the Tigers are ranked eighth nationally in rushing yardage at 300.1 per game. Four different Tigers have produced 100-yard rushing games this year and overall Auburn runners have reached the century mark eight times through seven games.

Junior center Reese Dismukes and his fellow offensive linemen are having a strong season as run blockers and pass protectors.

*The Tigers are averaging 6.85 yards per snap offensively, up from last year's average of 5.3 yards. Auburn is 10th nationally in this week's rankings in yards per play.

*Last season the Tigers often had trouble making plays behind the line of scrimmage. The 2012 defense averaged 5.5 tackles for lost yardage and 1.83 sacks per contest. Through seven games the 2013 defense is averaging an SEC-best 8.0 tackles per loss per contest, which is 10th nationally. Auburn has improved to 2.71 sacks per game in 2013.

*Auburn's three true freshmen defensive linemen have contributed to the sacks total. End Carl Lawson has two while tackle Montravius Adams and end Elijah Daniel have one apiece. Daniel leads the team in quarterback pressures with seven while Adams is second with six.

*Eleven different linemen have at least one quarterback sack this year and as a group the front four has 17, one more than its 2012 total for 12 games. Senior Dee Ford leads the Tigers in tackles for loss with 6 1/2 and he is also No. 1 in sacks with five despite missing two games with a knee problem and being less than full speed in games he played.

Ford said he is enjoying the chance to be a part of a winning team after going through last season's 3-8 campaign. "We definitely went from playing for nothing last year to playing for a lot this year," said the senior, whose team controls its own destiny to win the SEC West and earn a spot in the league championship game, something that looked to be a longshot in preseason.

"I think the sky's the limit," Ford said of what the possibilities are for his team. "I think we are coming into this thing just trying to keep moving forward. The hardest thing to do is to stay consistent when you're winning, especially when you beat a great team like Texas A&M and stop a great quarterback like Manziel."

Ford added, "Playing a team like Florida Atlantic, we're just trying to keep our composure, keep our focus and just keep moving forward, but it's definitely a great feeling moving forward. It is definitely a big difference between this year and last year."


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