Williams 'Running Late' As AU Gets To Tampa

Auburn arrived in Tampa to begin preparations for the Outback Bowl, but the status of wide receiver Duke Williams remains in question after he missed the first week of on-campus work.

Tampa, Fla.--With Christmas break behind them it is business at hand for the Auburn Tigers (8-4) this week as Coach Gus Malzahn’s team prepares to face Wisconsin (10-3) in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day at Raymond James Stadium. The first function of bowl week was held Friday night with both teams meeting for a welcome dinner, but Auburn did so without two players in attendance.

Wide receiver Duke Williams, who missed the first week of bowl prep because of sickness and treatment issues dating back to the Alabama game, wasn’t at the dinner. The same is true of linebacker Cassanova McKinzy. While he wouldn’t go into detail about the status of his leading receiver when asked about his availability for the game, Malzahn said both players are heading to Tampa.

“He's on his way,” Malzahn said of Williams. “He and Cassanova McKinzy are both running late.”

Duke Williams leads Auburn in catches this season

Even when Williams gets to the bowl site there is no guarantee he’ll be ready to go when the Tigers take the field on Jan. 1. If that’s the case the Tigers will need someone to step up in that role and senior C.J. Uzomah said they’ve got the guys to do it.

“We'll be fine,” Uzomah noted. “We have Melvin Ray, who produced fantastically. He's graded out phenomenally in every game we've played. Him, myself, and we have other players who can fill in that position.”

The week is an important one for Auburn as the Tigers try to finish on a positive note heading into the 2015 season. Trying for the ninth win of the season against a Big 10 opponent makes for a work week, but it won’t be without some fun as well with trips to a Tampa Bay Lightning NHL game as well as Busch Gardens on tap for the players. In the end it’s still all about getting the win said Malzahn..

“You come here to win the football game and you’ve got to practice and be in meetings, but they have enough fun stuff for the players to keep it entertaining,” Malzahn said. “In 2009 our guys had nothing but great things to say about everything we got from the bowl and the bowl game itself.”

With the uncertainty around Williams’ status the Auburn offense will get much of the attention leading up to the game, but for the Tigers to come away with a win it starts with the defense. A group that has had a week under the watchful eye of new coordinator Will Muschamp, Auburn’s defense won’t be a different group in terms of scheme with interim coordinator Charlie Harbison running the show, but senior Gabe Wright said he’s looking for the hard work they’ve put in to pay off in his final game.

“It's our objective we want to be the most improved team since that last loss,” Wright said. “That what Coach Malzahn preaches, and, as players, that what we've been putting out on the practice field. We went seven straight days of practice. We've really been getting after it. It's time to get back to work.

Auburn will open practices for the Outback Bowl in Tampa on Saturday with a workout at Jesuit High.

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