Coming off an easy 48-3 victory over Western Kentucky on Saturday the Tigers spent the majority of Sunday's practice working on correcting the mistakes made against the Hilltoppers, but also began to work on facing one of the more talented teams they will see this season.
Offensively that means executing better than they did the first two weeks of the season against the top two defensive teams they've seen this year. Coach Hugh Nall, in charge of Auburn's offense, said that he was pleased with the effort and performance in Saturday's game and in Sunday's practice. He also said that you could see a little different attitude on the practice field knowing Tennessee was waiting this weekend.
"This is a little bit different tempo," Nall said. "Like I told them ‘there is a big difference between a hilltop and a Rocky Top.' I don't mean that in disrespect, but you understand what I mean. I could sense it (excitement). We better sense it because these guys are really good."
One of the big things to come out of Saturday's bombing of Western Kentucky was the play of the young guys at several key positions on both sides of the ball. Nowhere was the more important than on the offensive line where Drew Kirk, who made his first start, and true freshman backup King Dunlap both had solid days on the field.
"There were of course some assignment errors and a lot of technique errors, but they really played hard," Nall said of the backups. "For the most part they did really good. I was impressed by Drew Kirk's play. I thought all of them for the most part did really good. King Dunlap is going to be really good. If he stays healthy, keeps getting bigger and more physical he's going to be a really good player."
Since being dominated in the first two games of the season up front, the offensive line has shown signs of coming together each of the last two games. While the opponents haven't been as physical as either USC or Georgia Tech or Tennessee coming up this weekend, Nall said that he's been pleased with their progress and the progress of the offense as a whole.
"I think the whole group seems to have a better chemistry about what we're doing," Nall said. "Not just the guys up front, but everybody. For whatever reason, as we all know, it wasn't there early. It seems like we're getting better with it every day. We have to if we want to have a chance to win games, especially like the one's coming up."
One of the positions of importance for the Auburn offense in recent seasons has been the tight end. That was particularly the case last year when Robert Johnson and Lorenzo Diamond combined to give the Tigers a solid duo of veteran pass catchers. This season, through three games, the position had been used very little, but that changed Saturday with five balls caught from the position.
"I love throwing to the tight ends," Nall said. "I believe that's important. I love using tight ends in both the running game and passing game. It just kind of happened the other day that we spread the ball around pretty good and the tight ends wound up catching more balls. That is something we've talked about, but the quarterback has to throw where the opening is and the defense dictates that a lot of the time."
On the injury front the Tigers are in good shape coming out of the WKU game. Offensive tackle Marcus McNeill did not play in Saturday's game because of back spasms and Nall said he seemed to be better on Sunday although he did not practice. He is expected back on the practice field Tuesday and should be ready to go against Tennessee. The same is true of tailback Carnell Williams. He bruised his left leg in Saturday's game, but is fine and will play this weekend. Defensive end Jay Ratliff is still bothered by a high ankle sprain and is questionable to return to practice this week. Linebacker Travis Williams sat out Saturday's game with a bruised shoulder, but returned to practice on Sunday.
Kickoff for Saturday's game against Tennessee is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. and can be seen nationally on ESPN television. This will be Auburn's first meeting with the Volunteers since 1999. The Vols come into the game ranked as the number seven team in the country. In the past three seasons the Tigers are 4-2 against Top 10 teams.