Tigers Getting Physical For Volunteer Attack

Coaches Gene Chizik and Steve Ensminger talk about Auburn's matchup with the Tennessee Vols Saturday night.

Auburn, Ala.--Expecting a physical football game against the seventh-ranked Tennessee Volunteers this Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Auburn Tigers went through a spirited and tough two and a half hour practice on Tuesday that focused on learning the game plan for this weekend's SEC showdown. Coach Gene Chizik said he was pleased with the effort out of the team during the practice and is looking for continued improvement out of his group.

"I thought this practice really went well," Chizik said. "I thought the tempo was a little bit better and there was more excitement in the air than there has been. We made some mistakes on some things, but I thought the kids were really into it mentally and I thought they were focused. We have to go out tomorrow and correct the things we didn't do real well today, but I think they're into it."

One of the keys for the defense on Saturday will be slowing down a running game that has been consistently tough this season. Featuring a pair of top running backs and an offensive line that doesn't have a player under 300 pounds, the Vols have been tough to slow down on the year to this point and are third in the SEC in rushing through four games. Chizik said it's always the goal of the defense to stop the run first and that will be the task this weekend.

"With these guys you have to do everything you can to stop the run," Chizik said. "If you have to put seven, eight or nine up there you have to do that first or the game is over. There won't be any third down situations or anything. You have to step up to these guys. They are going to keep pounding at you. They don't care if you've got seven in there or eight in there, it doesn't matter. They are just going to keep running it at you till they wear you down and pound you."

Defensive tackle Demarco McNeil works on his tackling with Coach Terry Price looking on. McNeil and the front four will be very important in Auburn's defensive plans Saturday night.

Offensively the Tigers will try to move the ball against a defense that has been stingy to this point against the run. Ranked 25th in the nation, giving up just 94.2 yards on the ground, the Vols feature a tough front seven with speed. In the first three games Tennessee's opponents gained just 160 total yards on the ground, but South Carolina torched Coach John Chavis' unit for 217 yards last weekend in an overtime loss. If Auburn can establish the run early it will go a long way towards a win Saturday night.

To help accomplish that goal the Tigers worked on blocking at the point of attack in Tuesday's practice. Coach Hugh Nall, Auburn's offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, put his troops through the paces with blocking sleds and one-on-one drills the order of the day for the offensive line.

In order to run the ball successfully, it may take the passing game to click early in order to loosen up the Tennessee defense. That was missing in both of Auburn's first two losses, but quarterback Jason Campbell and the passing game has been hitting on all cylinders the last seven quarters of play. Coach Steve Ensminger said that balance is something they have been shooting for and they finally feel like they are getting closer to being that team.

"Going back and self-scouting and looking at it, we are more balanced right now especially on first and second down," Ensminger said. "I think in the last two games if you look at what we are doing on first and second down we are more productive by throwing the football with play-action passes and we're running the football. We're getting what we've been getting, which is people putting everyone in the box, we've been productive on that.

"I like to look at third down stats. Last week we had two third and longs and the week before we had three third and longs and all of those were because of penalty. If we can stay in that third and medium range or third and short range we'll be more productive, you're going to be on the field, you're defense isn't going to be out there and you'll have a better game."

On the injury front there was both good news and a scare during Tuesday's practice. The good news is that linebacker Travis Williams is back to full speed after sitting out Saturday's game because of a bruised shoulder. He will fill his customary starting role at weakside linebacker with Derrick Graves backing him up. The scare came when senior defensive end Reggie Torbor went down during special teams work, but fortunately he just got his foot stepped on and he returned to practice without missing a beat. Sophomore offensive tackle Marcus McNeill should be back for Saturday after missing last weekend's game with back spasms. Junior defensive end Jay Ratliff is still listed as questionable for Saturday's game and did not practice on Tuesday.

The Tigers will return to practice Wednesday and again Thursday before heading out of town on Friday. Kickoff for Saturday's game is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. and can be seen nationally on ESPN.

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