Tigers Bracing For Test From Tennessee

Coach Tommy Tuberville talks about what he expects to see from Tennessee on offense in Saturday's game as well as Auburn's offensive improvements.

Auburn, Ala.--Following back-to-back nearly flawless games against Vanderbilt and Western Kentucky, the Auburn Tigers get back into action this week against the #7 Tennessee Volunteers Saturday night at 6:45 on ESPN. Undefeated at 4-0, the Vols bring a very physical team into the first match-up between the schools since Coach Tommy Tuberville's first Auburn team in 1999. The coach said this would be a test for his team to see how far they've come since beginning the season 0-2.

"Our attitude has been great all along we just haven't executed," Tuberville said. "We have no excuses the first two games, we just didn't get the job done on offense or defense. A lot of people pointed the finger at our offense, but our philosophy is to play good defense and good field position and try to force turnovers. We didn't do that the first couple of games and offensively we didn't make a lot of things happen.

"It's a team sport and we didn't make it happen on either side of the ball. We didn't play like we should have and didn't coach like we should have. I think we had our back against the wall and we've responded on offense, defense and the kicking game the last two games. Obviously the competition will be much increased and we'll have a better idea after this game of where we stand."

Karlos Dansby will lead the Auburn defense into perhaps their toughtest test of the season to date against a balanced Volunteer offense led by senior quarterback Casey Clausen.

If Auburn hopes to come away with a win Saturday the defense will have to continue to play as well as they have the first four games. Despite causing just one turnover the first two games, the defense kept the Tigers in the ballgame against both USC and Georgia Tech. Against Vanderbilt and Western Kentucky they were downright dominant in easy victories. Ranked second in the nation in total defense, Tuberville said his unit has gotten better at forcing the opponents into mistakes and that will have to happen this weekend to give the offense some easy scoring opportunities.

"The field position has not been very good for our offense and it all starts with the defense going out and having a lot of three and outs, forcing bad punts and forcing turnovers," Tuberville said. "That's something we've tried to concentrate on the last few weeks and we've been pretty successful doing it."

The challenge will be a tough one for the defense this week facing a Tennessee offense that is averaging 382 yards of total offense per game. Much of that is due to a strong running game that features two of the top running backs in the league in Cedric Houston and Jabari Davis. The duo has the luxury of running behind a strong and veteran offensive line, something that Tuberville expects Coach Phil Fulmer to lean on during Saturday's game.

"Tennessee is usually one of the most physical teams you will play," Tuberville said. "Phillip is a former offensive line coach and enjoys running the ball. They'll have probably the best offensive line that we'll see all year. They are big and that's just their philosophy, it always has been. They won the national championship with this philosophy and Phillip has only lost 25 games in 12 or 13 years that he's been there. They are doing something right."

While the defense has worked on being more physical, the offense has focused on becoming more versatile and unpredictable. That was in evidence Saturday as the offense torched the Hilltoppers from a variety of sets and formations. The biggest area of improvement was at wide receiver where sophomore Anthony Mix caught five passes in his first game back from tight end to give a hint of possible things to come in the future.

"At tight end we just weren't getting him the ball," Tuberville said of Mix. "He was playing well as a blocker, but we felt like we were losing the edge of having him as a player running option routes and catching seven or eight yard passes and turn them into 15 or 20 yard plays. It worked well against Western Kentucky last week. Obviously the competition gets a lot stiffer and the players get a lot faster. We'll see how well it works this week."

Auburn will resume preparations for Tennessee with a Tuesday afternoon practice and will work out Wednesday and Thursday as well before heading out of town Friday afternoon.

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