Following a team meeting on Sunday to clear the air among the troops and an off-day on Monday to re-energize their batteries, the team returned to the practice field Tuesday evening to continue working towards Saturday's game against the Vanderbilt Commodores.
When they do that there will be some old faces at new positions on both sides of the ball as Coach Tommy Tuberville said the coaches want to look at some changes to see how the players respond. While he's not ready to say what those changes are, he said there would be plenty of experimenting to try to find the right combinations on both offense and defense.
"We won't announce those until we look at them first," Tuberville said. "We'll look at some changes on both sides of the ball, how we're playing guys and what positions they'll play. If they don't look good in practice we'll go back and it will all be for naught. We'll just look in practice for a couple of days and see how these changes affect not only the performance, but the attitude of the team. We'll go from there."
Even with the changes, Tuberville said he likes the attitude of this team heading into the SEC opener. With a collection of senior leaders who have spoken up in recent days and shared their feelings with the young players, the Tigers are working towards getting the conference schedule off to a good start.
"We're going to work out of it," Tuberville said. "As long as we keep our players playing like they're playing with the intensity and the effort then we've got a chance. We've still got a chance to have a good football season. The season starts this week going up against a SEC opponent. We have eight of them. It will be interesting to see how we react. This is what our players have been working for. It's a chance to get to Atlanta and win in Atlanta."
Defensive tackle Spencer Johnson scores a touchdown on a fumble return against Vanderbilt last season. Auburn forced the Commodores into four turnovers last season, something the defense has to start doing again if the team hopes to get out of it's current funk.
Getting the feeling back won't be easy against a Vanderbilt team poised to end a 17-game losing streak in SEC play. With one win and one loss on the season, it might not seem like Vanderbilt is that much better than usual until you look at the numbers. In a win over Division I-AA Chattanooga last weekend, the 'Dores held the Mocs to just 93 yards of total offense. The Commodores are averaging 276.5 yards per game and 36 points per game through two games. Tuberville said this is going to be a big challenge for the Tigers.
"We've got our hands full," Tuberville said. "I think Vanderbilt is one of the most improved teams in our league. They should have won their first conference game against Ole Miss, but they turned the ball over. Jay Cutler is probably going to be one of the better quarterbacks in our league for the next couple of years. He's very accurate and throws high percentage passes plus he'll take a few chances. He's a guy that likes to make plays and has made plays."
Much improved from a season ago, when he was one of the surprises in the league because of his running ability and gritty play, Cutler has turned into a good passer over the course of one year. Through two games he has thrown for 434 yards and three touchdowns while completing 59.6 percent of his passes.
Another cahllenge facing the Tigers this week is the road trip to Nashville. As unusual as it may seem, in the last three meetings between Auburn and Vanderbilt in Nashville the Tigers have won by scores of 24-21 (2001), 14-10 (1993) and 24-22 (1991). Tuberville said that history dictates this will be a close game.
"I'm sure they're anxious to get us in Nashville," Tuberville said. "They always play great there. No matter who they play they play hard and aggressive. After looking at our first two games I'm sure they feel like they have a great chance to win a game in this league. We can't worry about what's happened in Nashville, we have to worry about what happens now and get better. We have to try to get better, not only in one or two areas."
That starts offensively where the Tigers are trying to find some rhythm before playing on the road for the second-straight week. Normally when a team is struggling to score points the way Auburn is right now you do that by cutting down the playbook and working on execution, but Tuberville said that's not the answer for his team because of the things they are doing right now.
"We can't cut down any more," Tuberville said. "Last year the best ball games we played were a lot of the same personnel and about as simple as we could get it. We didn't overload the players and they knew what to do going out on the field. That's what we took going into the USC game and this past week.
"We're not basic because you have to give yourself a chance to attack on both sides of the line of scrimmage by run and by pass. It's simple enough to where we should have the opportunity to execute it. We're not going to overload or do anymore because we haven't been successful. We have to execute what we're running. That's the case on both sides. Our players believe in what we're doing--I don't think there's any doubt about that. Now we just have to go out and execute on both sides."