Tigers Close To Full Strength For Rebels

A healthy Auburn Tiger squad will face the Ole Miss Rebels in one of the biggest SEC football games of the year.

Auburn, Ala.--The health of a football team is normally something coaches are dealing with this late in a season, but that's not a major problem with the Auburn Tigers heading into the final three games of the 2003 season.

Offensive tackle Marcus McNeill, who sat out Saturday's game to rest his back, practiced on Sunday and looked good on Tuesday as the Tigers were out in full pads for just over two hours working on the gamep lan for the Ole Miss Rebels.

In addition to McNeill, running back Ronnie Brown appeared to be moving fine after suffering a bruised thigh in Saturday's win. Others expected back this week include defensive end Doug Langenfeld, who has missed the last four games with a high ankle sprain. Coach Gene Chizik said being close to full strength meant a very good practice on Tuesday as the Tigers prepare for the Rebels.

"Anytime you have the depth on the defensive line that's great," Chizik said. "I don't know how well he (Langenfeld) moved around, but certainly we'll love to have him back for the game. He was really making some great strides before he got hurt. We need all the help we can get on the D-line because it's going to be a long day."

Auburn's defense has been much-maligned this season, particularly the secondary in a win over Tennessee and a loss to LSU. In reality the unit has been very solid for much of the year and is currently ranked fifth in the nation in total defense and 14th in the country in pass defense. Those numbers don't tell the entire story, but Chizik said he's got a unit that he feels like is getting better and is prepared to face a tough closing stretch of games against Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama.

"I think we've got a good defense," Chizik said. "We've had one bad football game. Obviously that was certainly a big game and we want to rebound from that, but I think we've got a good defense. I think we've got players that care and are very intent and focused on playing as well this week as they've played all year.

"We're going to go out there and just give it a whirl. We're going to go out there and have fun and play the game hard and knock folks around and see what happens. We've got a good defense. We're certainly not going to go out there and lay down and let them have their way with us."

Brandon Johnson says he believes the Tigers are ready for Saturday's game against Ole Miss.

Offensively, the Tigers will face an Ole Miss defense that has improved a great deal since Auburn pounded the Rebels with the running game last season in Oxford. A defense that will put eight or nine men in the box to stop the run and has been successful this season in doing just that, Ole Miss could present the Auburn offense with some problems Saturday. Fullback Brandon Johnson said it's going to be a good matchup of strength against strength when the Tigers and Rebels face each other.

"They're a lot better than they have been in the past," Johnson said. "They have a good defense. They swarm to the ball well. We're going to have to execute well in order to run the ball on them and I think we need to pass a little bit to keep them off balance.

"It's not different than anything we've seen already," Johnson added. "It's the same type blitzes. We've picked it up earlier in the season. I don't know that blitzing will be a big problem for us. If we execute like we're supposed to then we shouldn't have a problem."

One area the Tigers continue to work on is special teams where they are coming off a game in which they blocked three punts against Louisiana-Monroe. Tuesday Tre Smith, Carnell Williams and Silas Daniels all worked on catching punts while Smith, Williams, Devin Aromashodu and Montae Pitts were back deep on kickoffs. Coach Eddie Gran said that the next three weeks would see more veterans on special teams as the weather gets cooler and the importance of every snaps increases in the SEC race.

Kickoff for Saturday's game is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. CST and can be seen nationally on CBS television. Auburn leads the all-time series with Ole Miss 20-7 and the Tigers have won nine of the last 10 against the Rebels and 18 of the last 20.

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