Tigers "Locked In" for UT Game, Malzahn Says

A report on the Auburn football team is featured as the Tigers practice for a road game at Tennessee.

Auburn, Ala.--Practice can become a grind late in a college football season, but following Wednesday evening's workout Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said that has not been the case with the Tigers as they prepare for game No. 10, a road trip to meet the Tennessee Volunteers.

"That is a challenge sometimes, but this year has been quite a bit different," Malzahn said. "Our guys have been extremely locked in this week and that has been very encouraging to me.

"There has been good intensity, there has been good leadership," the coach added. "That is usually a good sign."

On a beautiful fall evening the Tigers practiced both indoors and outdoors in shoulder pads, helmets and shorts in a session that lasted more than two hours.

"We have had a good week of practice so far," Malzahn said. "Yesterday was one of the better Tuesday practices we had all year and I was encouraged by that. Today was solid.

"I think our guys were attentive," he pointed out. "They know we are playing a good opponent in a tough place to play and we are going to have to play well to win."

With the Tigers kicking off at 11 a.m. on Saturday in Knoxville, Malzahn said the Tigers are taking a little different approach to this week's game.

"It's definitely early," he said. "I think we have played one other game at one o'clock so this will definitely be the earliest kick and it's on the road.

"I just try to keep the same routine as possible,"?he said. "We will try to get a little bit more rest, not just Friday night, but we have asked our players to get off their feet and get to bed 30 minutes earlier each night. We just want to be fresh. We will get up that morning and try to keep our same routine the best we can."

One of the key matchups for Saturday's game will be the Auburn running attack vs. the Tennessee run defense. The Tigers are averaging an SEC-best 306.2 yards per game on the ground while the Vols are giving up an SEC-worst 201.7 rushing yards per game.

Auburn junior Tre Mason comes into the contest averaging 102.3 rushing yards per game and has been effective running the football on the corners and inside.

Malzahn said he has been impressed with the running back. "I recruited Tre," the coach said. "Tre was a tough guy as a true freshman and played some. He has put on a lot of weight and he's worked hard in the weight room. He's really established himself as a very tough downhill runner this year. He's made a lot of hard yards."

Asked if Mason is underrated as a running back, the coach said, "There is no doubt about that. What Tre has done this year has really been something else with running between the tackles, the hard yards and yards after contact. He has done an excellent job for us."

Last week against Missouri the Tennessee defense struggled trying to stop quarterback Maty Mauk from running the ball. The freshman rushed 13 times for 114 yards vs. the Vols.

Quarterback Nick Marshall is Auburn's second-leading rusher with an average of 65.0 yards per game. Marshall's average of 5.8 yards per carry is even better than Mason, who averages 5.7 per carry.

Malzahn said that the coaches have been pleased with how Marshall continues to develop as a first-year player for the Tigers. "We ask a lot of our quarterback, even before the play is snapped," the coach said. "Then, once the play is snapped, we are very specific on our reads and everything that goes with that.

"The thing that has really stood out to me is that he is very hungry to learn," Malzahn added. "He has a great attitude and very rarely makes the same mistake twice. He's a mentally and physically tough young man."

Nick Marshall is a junior QB for the Tigers.

Marshall, who was limited in practice last week with a bruised right shoulder, has been "doing everything" in practice this week, Malzahn said.

The quarterback threw just eight passes last week vs. Arkansas and completed seven while his backup, Jeremy Johnson, completed his only pass attempt.

Malzahn said the low number of passes, the first Auburn game since 1984 when the Tigers didn't throw 10 or more passes, was an unusual situation with Marshall doing very little passing practice leading up to the game in Fayetteville.

"We were fairly successful running the football and, like I said, we got a lead and it was like a unique game the way it unfolded. We were successful and we kept doing it. We have confidence we can spread the ball around and throw it."

One of the reasons the Tigers ran the ball effectively last Saturday is because the Arkansas defense had a difficult time containing the zone read plays with Marshall doing a good job with his reads and fakes. "He is very good at that,"?Malzahn said. "He is really good at making the right decisions--really with all three running backs. That has been very critical so far."

In other news and notes:

*Tennessee should have a good scouting report on Auburn's personnel with former Tiger assistant coaches Tommy Thigpen and Willie Martinez on the staff of Coach Butch Jones. Both coached Auburn's defensive backs last season. Thigpen was on the AU coaching staff with Malzahn from 2009-2011.

Tommy Thigpen is shown during the 2012 season.

"Tommy is a friend of mine," Malzahn said. "I have a lot of respect for Tommy as a coach. He has a great mind. The fact that we went against each other numerous times in practice, he knows our personnel very well. He's a very intelligent coach."

*Tennessee ranks third in the SEC in turnovers forced with 12 interceptions and five recovered fumbles. Seven of those turnovers came in one game vs. Western Kentucky, including an SEC-record of four consecutive defensive plays in the opening quarter. The Vols are 11th in the SEC in turnover margin at plus 0.11 per game, which trails Auburn at 0.22.

Auburn moved into positive numbers for turnover margin for the first time since game two when the Tigers came away with three takeaways vs. Arkansas with no turnovers. Missouri leads the league in turnover margin at plus 1.67 and Arkansas is last at minus 1.00.

*Auburn goes into Saturday's game with 10 interceptions, which ranks fourth in the SEC statistics behind Missouri (17), Texas A&M (14) and Tennessee (12).

*Malzahn said on Wednesday that there is still good competition for the starting spot at right tackle, but noted that Avery Young is running first team ahead of Patrick Miller. Miller opened the season as the starter, but lost his spot to Young after being suspended for three games. Miller started the first five games and Young has started the next four.

Avery Young is a redshirt freshman for the Tigers after receiving a medical hardship redshirt in 2012.

*Tight end Brandon Fulse, a part-time starter who did not play vs. Arkansas, will make the trip to Knoxville and be ready to play, Malzahn said. The Auburn coach also noted the Tigers came out of the Arkansas game with bumps and bruises, but everyone who played in that game should be ready to see action vs. the Vols.

*One of the players who was shaken up last Saturday night, Jonathon Mincy, said he is full speed and ready to go. Malzahn had praise for the junior cornerback. "He is a competitor. He is one of those guys that likes the ball being thrown at him. He has done well in practice and it has carried over into games."

*Tennessee freshman quarterback Josh Dobbs has thrown 54 passes and has two interceptions and no touchdowns. Redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Peterman, who is back from an injury and available to play this week, has thrown 23 passes and has two interceptions without a touchdown pass.

*Tennessee's leading tackler, linebacker A.J. Johnson, drew praise from Malzahn on Wednesday night. "I am impressed with him--very impressed with him," the coach said. "He has a very good motor, he has a nose for the football and he is one of the best we have seen."

*TV coverage of Saturday's game will be on ESPN. Dave Pasch will do the play-by-play, Brian Griese is the analyst and Tom Luginbill will be the sideline reporter. Radio coverage of the game is available on Channel 91 on both Sirius and XM.


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