Last season Auburn rushed for more than 100 yards in every game and more than 200 eight times, but in the 2003 season opener the Tigers managed just 43 yards in a 23-0 loss. Coach Tommy Tuberville said that is the biggest concern for Auburn this week as it prepares for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
"We didn't play a very good game yesterday," Tuberville said. "We made a lot of mistakes and got beat by a very good football team. When you don't score points you're not going to win very often and that's basically where it started. We kind of hit a brick wall with out offense. We didn't block very many people and didn't control the line of scrimmage. We weren't able to establish anything."
The lack of offense begins up front, where the USC defensive line dominated in all phases of the game. That especially became apparent when sophomore offensive tackle Marcus McNeill when down with a bruised shin. Freshman Jonathan Palmer, in his first college experience, had problems playing outside at tackle and that's something Tuberville said the Tigers would try to remedy this week with jack-of-all trades Taylor Bourgeois forced to give up football because of a chronic shoulder problem.
"Bourgeois being out, he was our ace in the hole because he played several positions," Tuberville said. "What we're trying to do is we put Jonathan Palmer in last night. He's had to play weak guard and strong tackle and it's kind of tough to put him in a situation like that. What we did today is we put down a two-deep. We're going to go down a two-deep with those guys and let everybody learn their certain position and go from there.
"We have to get some continuity where guys have some confidence in what they are doing," he added. "It's hard enough to learn the offensive line in one position, but to move around and play two or three positions. We're going to have more injuries as the year goes on. We have to be prepared for that."
Tackle Marcus McNeill, shown with Monreko Crittenden from action last spring, is expected to be fine for this week's game with Georgia Tech after bruising his shin against USC.
With that in mind, the Tigers will work on adding depth to the offensive line with the return of promising junior college transfer Thomas Anderson following a bout of mono. Also in the mix at the back-up spots will be true freshman Jarrod Britt, sophomore Steven Ross and possibly true freshman King Dunlap. Tuberville said this week will be one of close inspection on the offensive line.
"King Dunlap is the key," he said. "If they want to move him into the two-deep we just have to bite the bullet. We started with Bourgeois trying to get the best of both worlds. We tried to do that with a couple of these young guys and you just can't do that with younger guys. It cost us a touchdown. Jonathan Palmer didn't know the right guy to block when they knocked the ball out of his (Campbell) hands on the 10 or 15 yard line. That's just all mental. We have to make sure that we can work 10 guys and practice 10 guys and keep it as simple as we can."
One positive was the punting of true freshman Kody Bliss. Despite not starting the game, Bliss showed good poise and didn't appear nervous as he averaged 38.7 yards on six punts. Included in that are four kicks that were downed inside the 20-yard line, something the Tigers have been looking to improve on since last season. Tuberville said the performance was enough to move Bliss ahead of Michael Gibson in the punting race.
"I'll let them punt every week and look at them, but I think right now Kody obviously had the better night with consistency," Tuberville said. "His average was hurt a little bit because we had a couple of short punts we wanted short. The punting game overall, I thought he did a good job. Michael, I thought was a little nervous. He shanked a couple. If we had to punt right now Kody would be the guy. We'll get into this week and look at both of them. We'll keep both of them going and competing."
While the offense struggled to get anything going, the defense played solid Saturday night. Tuberville singled out linebackers Karlos Dansby and defensive ends Reggie Torbor and Doug Langenfeld as players who had good games against the Trojans. He also said one of Auburn's most important defenders had his best game since his freshman season.
"Doug Langenfeld played well," he said. "He made some mental mistakes, but he played hard and that's the whole key. That's the best game that Demarco has played. He played 52 snaps. He probably played a little too much. Our rotation wasn't quite as good as what we want, but those guys wanted to stay in which was a good sign. They wanted to stay in and play."
The Tigers now begin preparations for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets with a practice on Monday. Pretty healthy following the USC game, Tuberville said the job this week is to build back the confidence of a shaken Tiger team.
"You would have hoped to play better than what we played to get a little something out of what we were doing," Tuberville said. "We just basically got stymied and took away our rhythm. When that happened we just lost all of our confidence. We don't have any confidence coming out of this game. We just have to go back out and make things simpler and come back and try to be more productive."