Tigers Continue To Polish Game Plan For Trojans

Coaches Hugh Nall and Eddie Gran along with tight end Cooper Wallace talk about Tuesday's practice and preparing for USC.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers continued preparations for the USC Trojans Tuesday afternoon with a spirited two-hour workout in shorts and helmets as they tone down the physical workouts after a long two-a-days session. Coach Hugh Nall, Auburn's offensive coordinator, said this team has responded well to cutting back on the hitting and he said they are getting closer to being ready for Saturday's game.

"We spent today polishing up a few things and getting our game plan narrowed down to plays we want to run and executing them," Nall said. "We spent the whole camp against our own defense running a large number of plays with several different formations and several different personnel. We've really narrowed it down now. I think we're way ahead of the deal as far as it goes, but we've still got a lot of polishing to do."

One of the positions that has gotten a lot of looks this fall is tight end, where departed starters Lorenzo Diamond and Robert Johnson got a bulk of the action in 2002. Sophomore Cooper Wallace emerged last season as a future threat and will be making his first collegiate start Saturday when the Trojans come to town. He said this is an exciting time for him and a moment he's been waiting for.

"I've been looking forward to this game since January," Wallace said. "This is my first time to go in as the starter and we'll see what I can do. I have been excited about this game for a while now. It has all built up. I'm still trying to stay cool about it because I don't want to come out there and do anything stupid. It's just another football game, but I'm definitely ready to play."

Carnell Williams returns a punt during Tuesday's practice. Williams is the back-up punt returner behind Tre Smith and Gran said both are his starting kickoff returners with Ben Obomanu and Devin Aromashodu backing them up.

Joining Wallace at tight end is another sophomore in 6-5 Anthony Mix. A clone of Miami's standout tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., Mix should be able to create some problems for defenses down the field. While he's doing that, Wallace will be the one in the trenches and catching the underneath routes. Still, he said that both have improved all areas of their game since last season and have become more versatile.

"We've both been working extremely hard at catching the football and blocking," Wallace said. "Coach (Patrick) Moore emphasizes blocking a lot and that's going to be important because of the backs we've got. It's been a good two-a-days and we've both improved a bunch in both aspects of the game."

A part of the offense that could surprise opponents this fall is the passing game where junior Jason Campbell has looked extremely sharp since the end of last season. Throwing the ball with more confidence down the field and leading the team in and out of the huddle, Wallace said Campbell has captured the attention of this team.

"I think Jason is better than he's ever been right now, which is exciting," Wallace said. "He's developed himself into a team leader, which I think is real important. The offense has worked really hard all summer and you could definitely see that during two-a-days."

With plenty of weapons of their own to go around, the Auburn offense faces what's expected to be a stout defense on Saturday. Returning talent up front and in the secondary, the Trojans will make it tough for the Tigers on Saturday, but Wallace said this game is really all about execution.

"We're hearing a lot about how they might be a top defense in the nation," Wallace said. "For us as an offense I think we're still playing against ourselves. We can't be making a bunch of mental mistakes, like offsides penalties and turnovers, and if we keep those mistakes down I don't think it matters what defense we're playing against we'll be successful."

Defensively Carlos Rogers returned to practice and appeared to be moving fine after sitting out with a sore ankle. Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik said he expects Rogers to be fine for Saturday's game.

With the overwhelming depth on the defensive front, several freshmen could be headed for a redshirt season. While it was known that Marquies Gunn was likely one of those, both Josh Thompson and Tim Duckworth may also be held out of action if the depth in the middle holds up. Chizik said that decision probably won't come until the third or fourth week of the season.

In other injury news offensive lineman Taylor Bourgeois practiced for a portion of Tuesday's practice and had some light contact, but it's not known if he will be available for Saturday's game. Nall said that would be evaluated up until game time.

Michael Gibson punts during Tuesday's practice. Gibson is the first team punter, but freshman Kody Bliss will likely get some kicks in as well in Auburn's first three games.

Special teams has been a major emphasis for the Tigers this fall as Coach Eddie Gran has spent countless practice hours going over formations and schemes to improve the overall group. When the depth charts were released Tuesday the obvious look was at punter and kicker where Michael Gibson and John Vaughn were named the starters. Both have had outstanding fall camps, but Gran said this was a tough decision because of the competition they received and will continue to receive throughout the season.

"It's been a tight race all the way through," Gran said. "Right now we'll start off with Vaughn and Philip (Philip Yost) will be our kickoff guy to start out with. But, if we get into a long situation for a field goal then Philip would probably be the guy for that. It's all about production though. They were so close in terms of what they were doing.

"Kody and Michael, it's unbelieveable how close they are. With Michael having a little bit more experience we'll start him off there, but we would like to get Kody in the game. If that can happen we're going to do that."

The Tigers will practice at Jordan-Hare Stadium Wednesday evening in the final run-through that will focus on equipment checks, substitutions and signals. Thursday's practice will be another polishing practice on the game plan and Friday the Tigers will have a short walk through before getting out of town for the night. Kickoff for Saturday's game is scheduled for 5 p.m. and can be seen on CBS television.

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