Tigers Leaning On Seniors Down Stretch

Coach Tommy Tuberville said Auburn's strong senior class will have a lot to say about how the Tigers finish the 2003 season.

Auburn, Ala.--It wasn't the best timing in the world for the Auburn football program when on Monday it was learned that director of football operations Eldon Hawley had been fired for a verbal altercation with a walk-on football player. On the heels of one of the biggest games of the season this weekend against Ole Miss, Tuberville said that the athletic department and football program took swift action and will now forge ahead after the unfortunate situation.

"It's a personnel matter and we dealt with it immediately," Tuberville said. "There's not anything else to really say about it. When you have a situation like that you handle it and look forward. This team has got a lot to focus on and we can't look back. We just have to focus and look forward."

Saying his team has "great leadership" which will lead them through this time, he said that the incident has been no distraction whatsoever to his team. Much of the reason why can be attributed to a senior class that Tuberville said is the most vocal he can ever remember. Tuberville said that group would be the one the players will lean on during a tough three-game stretch coming up for the Tigers.

"These guys have gone through a lot together," Tuberville said. "I'm excited about going through this month of November with this group. They've got a lot of young guys behind them that need to step up because you're only as good as your entire team not just your seniors. I'm also excited about two of these three being at home because the homefield advantage is big. We're playing three tough teams."

Linebacker Karlos Dansby is one of the players the Tigers will depend on to lead them down the stretch in 2003.

The work of the seniors begins this week when the hot Ole Miss Rebels come to town with the league's best offense and quarterback in Eli Manning. Averaging 38 points per game, the Rebels have been explosive this season, but while most of the attention has gone to Manning and the passing game it has been the running game that has made the difference.

Led by senior Tremaine Turner's 512 yards and three touchdowns, Ole Miss enters Saturday's game averaging 168.1 yards on the ground with 14 touchdowns. That is good enough for fifth in the conference through nine games. Last season the Rebels averaged just 92 yards per game on the ground and Tuberville said that has been the biggest difference in their turnaround this season.

"This year they have another avenue that they've taken which is the running game," Tuberville said. "They've really improved there. Their offensive line has gotten better. That's made Eli Manning that much stronger and more dangerous when you try to defend him. Their receivers are catching the ball and making plays. They have an outstanding offense, one of the best I've seen in this league in a while. We have our hands full."

Defensively, the improvement has been just as drastic up front as the Rebels have become one of the top units in the league against the run, a sharp difference from last season. In 2002 opponents averaged 160 yards on the ground each game, but this year that number is down to just 90.1. Tuberville said that Auburn would see a defense much in the mold of its own Saturday afternoon.

"They're not big, but they're very quick," Tuberville said. "They are very athletic and have good, quick, athletic defensive lineman. They give up some plays, but they also give you a lot of bad plays. Their linebackers have a lot of speed and their secondary has a lot of speed. They're very similar to what we are on defense scheme-wise."

That defense will likely force the Tigers to throw the ball to be successful, something that has been the plan all season against Auburn. Last week Jason Campbell was able to complete early deep passes in a 73-7 rout of Louisiana-Monroe, but Tuberville said it remains to be seen if the improvement in the passing game will carry over the rest of the season.

"Hopefully, we've gotten to the next level because we're going to need to throw it not only in this game, but all of the games that we're going to see the next three weeks," Tuberville said. "Everybody is going to call us out and say we're going to have to throw the ball up the field to beat us and we're not going to let you run it. That's no different than everybody else has done. Sometimes we've been successful and sometimes we haven't."

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