Marcel Willis, who was expected to be one of the prime receivers on offense, has yet to play as the Tigers have built a 2-0 record. However, based on Tuesday's practice the athletic junior looks ready to make an immediate contribution. The same is true of sophomore Jeris McIntyre, who is just returning to full speed after also going down with a preseason injury.
"We have a lot of people who can make plays in our wide receiver group now that everybody is healthy," noted Joe Walkins, a redshirt freshman who will be making his collegiate road debut. "I am looking forward to playing on national TV," he added. Walkins also said he is excited that Tuberville predicted that the Tigers would play with a more "wide open" style on offense vs. the Orangemen.
Defensively, the Tigers continued to work on assignments as they prepare for a Syracuse offense that counts heavily on deception by using a variety of formations and at least three different types of options.
Defensive coordinator John Lovett said after practice that recognizing and reading the formations was again a primary focus of the session that was lighter and shorter than the normal Tuesday workout. "We've had extra time to get ready for Syracuse which has been good. They are a team that we can use the extra preparation for because they do a lot of shifting and motion. They use a lot of different personnel groups and run a lot of different plays. They run all kinds of options and other things. Our players are picking it up and they seem to be in good spirits."
Auburn's defense didn't allow the opposition into Tiger territory for six quarters to open season, but will be challenged by the national TV intersectional game that matches the SEC and Big East, "They give you motions and shifts and try to get your in a bad situation or an advantageous situation for them," Lovett said. "They will look at your defense and pick several places where they think they can attack it. We are not doing anything special for them. We are just running our package."
Syracuse officials announced that gates at the Carrier Dome will open at 6 p.m. local time (5 p.m. CDT) for the 6:50 p.m. CDT kickoff. The contest is being televised nationally by ESPN. Officials are urging fans to arrive early so they can have plenty of time to implement the increased security checks that will be in place.
Syracuse University will pay tribute to victims of the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks with a special pre-game show by the SU band. Also, 150 Syracuse athletes dressed in 'Cuse Cares T-shirts will be taking donations for the United Way's special New York City relief fund. As part of pre-game ceremonies, there will be American flags in all 49,550 seats to allow the fans to participate in the tribute.
The Tigers have had what their coaches have called a series of good practices since finding out on Thursday that the LSU game was cancelled. Redshirt junior kicker and punter Damon Duval agreed. "We have gotten a lot accomplished on the field," he said. "Off the field, too, you can see this team is coming together and growing closer. You can see that improvement and development. Coming together as unit, which is something that last year's team did, is definitely a big key to this team."
Duval said not playing last week has helped the Tigers physically. "The players who needed some time to heal from nicks, bumps and bruises are going to be ready to go this week. I think we will definitely go into this game with more depth than we would have had if we had played LSU last week. At the same time, I think Syracuse is going to be healthier because they didn't play last week so that should make for a better game."
Duval said that "it is always fun to play on TV" and senior offensive tackle Kendall Simmons agreed. "We look forward to playing on ESPN and showing our stuff to everybody."
Saturday's game will be just the second ever football matchup of the Tigers and the Orangemen. The teams tied 16-16 in the 1988 Sugar Bowl, spoiling Syracuse's chance for a perfect season and a national title.