More Physical Practices Paying Off For Tigers

Senior Spencer Johnson talks about the focus of the defense and the senior class and Coach Tommy Tuberville talks about being more physical in practice.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers continued work towards Saturday's game with Western Kentucky on Wednesday and that meant working on defending an offensive attack that features very different things, including the option. A play Auburn has struggled to defend the last several years, option opponents always make defenses work harder during the week in preparation for facing them and the same is true this week for the Tigers.

The primary focus is up front where the Hilltoppers like to control the line of scrimmage and let a pair of big backs control the game. The responsibility for stopping that belongs to the front four for the Tigers, in particular seniors Spencer Johnson and Demarco McNeil. Johnson said he's been impressed with WKU's offense in watching film of them and they will challenge the defense this weekend.

"It's a big challenge for us," Johnson said. "We haven't seen it a whole lot this year. Basically that kind of football comes down to being disciplined and doing what the coaches tell you. Playing the option, that's what it's all about. You have to contain the quarterback and have everybody running to the football. What we really have to pound in our heads this week is staying fundamentally sound and using our techniques."

Spencer Johnson works against the scout team during Wednesday's practice.

Something that was a worry before the season started was the thought that the Tigers might overlook the Hilltoppers with Tennessee coming the next weekend. That appears to be far from the case with last weekend's upsets fresh on the mind of every player and a solid team coming into Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday looking to make some noise.

"Any team can get beat on any Saturday and last week shows that what we really have to do is stay focused and treat every game as a championship game," Johnson said. "We just have to go out and play hard, play Auburn football. One of the things we talked about this summer is not worrying about another team, but worrying about us and how we're going to play on Saturday."

Getting the team ready to play is the job of the coaching staff, but it's also a responsibility that the senior class takes on each year. This season the seniors have become more vocal in recent weeks and the result has been better practices and more enthusiasm on the practice field. Johnson said the group knows the time in now and they don't want to sit back and wonder, ‘what if?'.

"We kind of say this is our team because we're the seniors," Johnson said. "We've been through a lot together. A lot of these young guys have a long way to go, but we're going to put this on our shoulders and move forward because we're going to be remembered for this year. We want to win. Everybody on the team wants to win, but we've taken it upon ourselves to have initiative and do it."

Practicing for just over two hours in full pads, the Tigers worked on polishing up the game plan for Western Kentucky by working against the scout team and also against each other. Coach Tommy Tuberville said they have focused on being more physical in practice and that led to a good day of work leading up to Saturday's contest.

"This was actually one of the best practices we've had," Tuberville said. "Yesterday was a little lackluster coming off no practice on Monday, but today and Sunday were real good practices. We got a lot done. There was a lot more enthusiasm."

One of the players that caught the eye of Tuberville is sophomore wide receiver Anthony Mix. Saying that the offense has really focused on throwing the football out of some new formations and sets the last two weeks, Tuberville said he's excited about the play of the 6-5 receiver now that he's moved back from tight end.

"I'm real impressed by how Mix has picked up going back to wide receiver," Tuberville said. "I think he's really going to give us a boost out there playing on defensive backs and outside linebackers. His match-ups are a lot better. We've worked a lot on throwing the football.

"Obviously running the football is our forte, but we've got to get the ball downfield and we've worked on that. The offensive line had a real good day of blocking. What we're trying to do is put them through a lot of pressure in practice by blitzing and bringing zone blitzes. Mentally we've been pretty good, but the pocket has been collapsing a little bit. We're working on not letting our pocket collapse around Jason (Jason Campbell) and him feeling the pressure around him."

Working on the fundamentals isn't just left up to the offense and defense. The Tigers spent a great deal of time on special teams during Wednesday's practice. With the rash of special teams mistakes costing teams games last weekend, it's no surprise that has been given a high priority this week in practice and is something the Tigers look at constantly to find areas to improve. Tuberville said the kickers only missed one attempt during Wednesday's practice and both punters had solid days kicking the ball.

The Tigers will practice Thursday and have a short walk-through on Friday before leaving town for the night. Kickoff for Saturday's game is scheduled for 4 p.m. and can be seen on a pay-per-view basis only. Alabama residents should contact their local cable company to order the game. C-Band home dish subscribers should call 1-800-TV-STARS to order the game. Dish Network subscribers order the game by going to channel 463 on Saturday and order with their remote.

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