Tigers Turn Focus to Beating Their Arch-Rival

Auburn, Ala.--Before the 2003 Iron Bowl, the Auburn football team had to prepare for Alabama with a big distraction--the Auburn coaches were under the assumption that they would soon be fired.

"It was tough because we thought it was over," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville says about the situation last season. "We thought it was our last game so it was a real tough scenario to go through. There wasn't a lot of pressure of winning the game. We wanted to win it for our players and fans as we do this year.

"Our players and coaches did a good job on Sunday last year," he adds. "We addressed the whole situation--totally block it out of your mind, let's go play and play the best we can because this one is for seniors. It's their last time to play against Alabama. It's for all of the fans who live for it for 365 days. Our players and coaches did a great job last year under the circumstances. It was very difficult, might I add."

One year later, the football team is preparing for Alabama while dealing with a much different distraction--a national championship possibility.

"This week our players and coaches won't discuss anything about polls or bowls because this is our championship game next Saturday," Tuberville says of the Iron Bowl. "Alabama is a team that our fans look forward to playing each year, and their fans look forward to playing us. It will be a game which is always hard fought and hard played. We'll get their best game and hopefully they'll get ours.

"It's so important to everybody," he adds. "You can forget about all of the records. Two teams are going to play and the intensity and motivation is going to be there. Whoever plays the best is going two win. This game means so much to so many people--families, brothers and sisters--we'll get (the players') full attention."

What a difference a year makes.

Auburn moved into a tie for second place in AP Top 25 on Sunday with Oklahoma. USC remained at number one, but the Tigers gained ground on the Trojans as well. In the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, Auburn remained third, just two points behind the Sooners, but was able to make up some ground in that poll, too.

"We did move up in the polls and we made a lot of headway," Tuberville says. "We knew that going into this game we were going to have to gain some ground playing against a top five team. It looks like the voters were very fair to us. Obviously, we still have a lot of work to day, but we'll do that on the playing field."

Tuberville says he believes that the other coaches in the SEC with a vote in the polls--Nick Saban, David Cutcliffe, Lou Holtz, Mark Richt, Houston Nutt and Phillip Fulmer--might give Auburn some first place votes if the Tigers reach 12-0.

"You would think that they would look at you, but everybody needs to be fair with how they do it," Tuberville says. "This is a good football team. We're pretty dang good. Everybody's talking about catching Oklahoma. I don't understand how USC has gotten so far ahead of everybody else. They've won 19 (straight) games and that's all well and good, but you've got to go by this year. We'll have to wait and see.

"Most of those teams (USC and Oklahoma) haven't played any of the teams that we've played," he adds. "I'm sure their non-conference (games) are going to be a lot tougher than ours. We have beaten three Top 10 teams at the time we have played them. I don't think anybody else has done that. I look at, as a coach when I'm voting, how many teams that they've played are good when they've played them. That's the philosophy I take when I look at teams."

Auburn's 24-6 victory over Georgia improved the Tigers to 10-0. The coaching staff was so pleased with the performance that multiple players received the player of the week honors. On offense, the starting line won the award. On defense cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Junior Rosegreen shared the honor and the special teams players of the week are Carnell Williams for his punt returns and Courtney Taylor for his punt coverage.

Carlos Rogers (14) and teammates make a stop vs. Georgia.

Offensive line coach Hugh Nall says his group played its best game of the season vs. a tough Georgia front seven. Tuberville was pleased, too. "They've really played well," the head coach says. "They graded 100 percent on assignments--this is all five guys--91 percent technique and 93 percent production. They had 11 pancakes, 13 cockroaches, 12 rodeos and gave up zero sacks and had 186 yards rushing. That's pretty good."

A pancake block is when is when an offensive lineman pins an opposing player on the ground. A cockroach block is when the offensive lineman shoves a defender to the ground on his back. A rodeo block is when an offensive lineman is engaged in blocking a defender who can't get away until the play is finished.

Tuberville notes that the atmosphere of beating a fifth-ranked team by 18 points certainly helps recruiting. "You can't put a price tag on all of that exposure," he says. "And with the players that were here--we had 350 recruits with their parents and five official visits--it can't get any better than that. The way we played and the atmosphere before and after was just tremendous. Our phones are ringing off the wall. I learned that a long time ago--winning takes care of recruiting. This could be a special year."

The injury report for the game was good for the Tigers as no one was seriously injured. The Tigers should be healthy for Saturday's game in Tuscaloosa at 2:30 p.m. against the Alabama Crimson Tide. The game will be televised on CBS.

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