Veteran Tiger Wary Of Talented Trojans

An Auburn offensive player gives his opinions on his team's opening day opponent.

Auburn, Ala.--Senior offensive tackle Mark Pera says he likes the idea of opening his final college football season with a major test against West Coast power Southern California.

"I think it is a good deal that we start off with a real strong team like Southern Cal," Pera says. "It will give us a good feel on where we are as a team. They are a Top 10 team like us. It should be huge game with a lot of excitement. I am really looking forward to it. I think it is going to be a real tight game."

Mark Pera

The Trojans will arrive at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday ranked eighth nationally while Auburn, which will try to avenge its 2002 opening day loss to the Trojans in Los Angeles, is ranked sixth. "We are looking forward to this first game with USC," Pera says. "We have been practicing hard and getting the game plan in."

Tommy Tuberville says the offensive line will play a major role in Auburn's success or lack of it for Saturday's game that will kick off shortly after 5 p.m. The head coach says that the Trojans have one of the best defensive lines he has seen after watching lots of video of the team that is picked to win the Pac 10 Conference. Southern Cal's athleticism is particularly impressive to him.

Tuberville notes that his Tigers finished the 2002 season against three strong defensive fronts belonging to Penn State, Alabama and Georgia and says the Trojans have similar talent. Pera agrees and says, "They compare really well to Georgia, Alabama and Penn State last year, but I think this defense is a little bit faster and maybe not as big. They are probably not quite as strong, but they are definitely just as good if not better than some of those. We are going to definitely have to get ready for them. It is going to be a good challenge because they are supposed to be the best. If you are going to play the best, you have to get ready for it."

Mark Pera works on his snapping at Sunday's practice.

Pera says if the offensive line isn't performing well on Saturday, the Tigers will have problems. "I think the offense starts with the offensive line," he notes. "If we are not clicking up front nothing is going to be going right in the running game and in the protections, especially when you are going up against a group that is supposed to be as high class as these guys."

The senior offensive tackle says he and his fellow linemen, plus the tight ends, are taking the opener as a personal challenge. He also says he likes the guys he will be lining up to this season.

"Since I have been here, I think this is the closest we have been as friends, not only on the field but off the field. We kind of know what each other is thinking a little bit. As far as our family aspect goes, I think this is the closest we have been."

Pera says the 2003 offensive line is more than just close. "We have had a lot of good players since I have been here like Jeno James and Kendall Simmons. As far as a group as a whole, it is probably the most talented."

Tiger Ticket Extra: A smart and versatile performer, Pera spent time at Sunday's practice at center, polishing his technique there. He is available for emergency duty at that position if needed. The Tigers were shorthanded on Sunday at center with Danny Lindsey's top backup, Jeremy Ingle, out with flu-like symptoms. "If we have a couple of injuries the coaches want me to be able to help them out at center and I will be glad to do it," Pera says...A year ago going into the USC game, Pera was limited in his practice time with a hip injury that he says was very painful and the year before he had mono in the offseason. "Everything is fine now and I am ready to go," he says.

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