Tigers Focused On Slowing Gordon

Auburn's defense is focused on slowing down Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon as they prepare for the Outback Bowl.

Tampa, Fla.--Auburn hit the practice field at Jesuit High School for the first time on Saturday as the Tigers get ready to face Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day at Raymond James Stadium. It’s an important time for the defense as the Tigers look to rebound from allowing 55-points in a loss to Alabama in last month’s Iron Bowl.

Working to improve under the watchful eye of incoming defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, Auburn’s defensive players have taken their intensity level up a notch with the fiery coach looking on and evaluating them during preparations for Auburn's final football game of the season. Even though he won’t be coaching them in the game on New Year's Day, Muschamp’s impact is already something the players notice said senior defensive tackle Gabe Wright.

“Any time a defense gives up 50 points, 40 points, it can be frowned upon,” Wright said. “I can't speak for Wisconsin, but I know we got after it in our practices and that's with (Will) Muschamp. He set the tone from day one and we've been following suit. Guys are really taking up his leadership. He hasn't missed a beat so I definitely feel like we'll bounce back.”

Gus Malzahn and Will Muschamp talk during practice on Saturday.

Doing that will require the Tigers containing one of the best players in the country, running back Melvin Gordon from Wisconsin. Leading the nation in rushing yards per game (179.7), Gordon has scored 29 touchdowns on the ground this season. That is the eighth-best single season total ever in Division I.

“He's a great player, no doubt about it,” Wright said. “He does some things where you think he may be tackled, but he's still trucking along and that's typically the sign of a great running back to me--guys who just refuse to be tackled by one or two guys. I think that's something he possesses.”

Having already lined up against quality backs such as Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins from Arkansas, Leonard Fournette from LSU, Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb from Georgia and T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry from Alabama, Auburn’s defense has been tested time and time again from quality running backs. This time might be the cream of the crop, however, with Gordon’s special talents and big-play ability, but Wright said how well he stacks up remains to be seen.

“Headed in, it's kind of hard,” Wright said of the comparisons. “You watch film, but I can tell you, until I get my own feel personally for what he's able to do against myself, against the defense as a whole...Right now I'd say going into it, there's no doubt he's top-five.”

Tiger Ticket Notes: Wide receiver Duke Williams and linebacker Cassanova McKinzy missed Friday night’s welcome dinner from the Outback Bowl, but both are now in Tampa with the Tigers as they get ready to face Wisconsin. While McKinzy is ready to go for the Auburn defense after practicing on Saturday, there are still plenty of questions surrounding Williams as the Tigers get ready for practice number two on Sunday. Dealing with an illness and treatment issues dating back to the Iron Bowl, the junior hasn't practiced since the Alabama game week.

If he is unable to go vs. the Badgers, it will put more pressure on a receiving corps that will also be without junior Jaylon Denson as well. Just getting healthy after a knee injury cut short his 2013 season, the Hoover native is out with another knee injury, according to a source, and his status moving forward is unknown at this time.

Saturday night Auburn and Wisconsin had an outing at the Tampa Bay Lightning NHL game where three Tigers stole the show. Walk-ons Ben Durand, Alex Kviklys and Mack Van Gorder defeated three Wisconsin players in a shootout on the ice to win the event for Auburn. The teams will have a bowling competition on Sunday night following the second practice at Jesuit.

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