What began on Wednesday with a call-out by the defensive unit carried over into Thursday's scrimmage inside Jordan-Hare Stadium as the offense had perhaps its best practice of the spring in a two and a half hour workout that put the finishing touches on practice this spring. All that is left is the annual A-Day game that will take place Saturday at 1 p.m. inside Jordan-Hare Stadium and for Coach Tommy Tuberville Thursday was a good way to head into Saturday's game.
"We did a lot of good things on offense," he said. "We had a lot more big plays. We moved the ball a little more consistently, but we still have a long way to go. The receivers caught the ball a little bit better. Daniel (Cobb) and Jason (Campbell) looked about the same other than some turnovers. That's what we've been working all spring to eliminate and that's what got us in trouble last year. Overall 14 days of practice has been good."
In what has amounted to a dead heat heading into Saturday, the quarterback position was a stand-still during Thursday's scrimmage as both Cobb and Campbell made some positive plays, but had some negative ones as well.
For Cobb the day was about streaks. At one time during the scrimmage he completed eight straight passes and finished the day 12-for-20 for 164 yards and one interception, that coming on the final pass of the day to Roshard Gilyard. Campbell was 9-for-17 on the day for 150 yards with one touchdown and one interception. His touchdown came on a 45-yard pass to Silas Daniels, but his interception also accounted for a touchdown as Karlos Dansby stepped in front of intended receiver Ronnie Brown and raced untouched 40 yards for a score.
Ronnie Brown breaks a tackle by Travis Williams and races for extra yardage.
While there were some negatives, overall the play of the offense was much improved. Perhaps the biggest improvement was the ability to get the ball downfield. In addition to Campbell's touchdown strike to Daniels, wide receiver Justin Fetsko also had several big catches down the middle and finished the day with five receptions for 89 yards. Junior Jeris McIntyre also made plays with three catches for 29 yards although he dropped a perfectly thrown bomb from Campbell. Daniels added two catches for 49 yards and one touchdown.
"It was nice," Cobb said. "We hit them on a couple of third downs. I know Fetsko had a couple of catches and then Jeris and the tight ends also had some good catches. All the way around, hitting a completion 10 yards down field and then seeing them run after the catch was nice."
His offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino agreed with that assessment. "It is good to see," Petrino said. "We've been waiting to do that. We've been kind of pounding our heads against the wall to do it actually. But we had some big plays and we had some runs after the catch. That's always what makes a big difference when you make a guy miss, you throw a nine-yard completion and it turns into a 20-yard gain. That helps a lot. We're getting better but we still have a long way to go."
While the passing game finally developed some teeth, the running game continues to be solid. With consistent blocking up front from Ben Nowland at center and Monreko Crittenden and David Walker at the guard spots, the middle of the line was open for much of the time and the backs responded with some good numbers.
Chris Butler led the way with 55 yards on just eight attempts while Ronnie Brown added 50 yards on 13 carries along with three catches for 20 yards out of the backfield. Carnell Williams chipped in with 40 yards on 11 carries.
Jay Ratliff runs through Carnell Williams on the way to one of his three sacks.
The offensive guys were not the only players proud of their performance. The defense also noticed a change in the offense that began in Wednesday's practice that featured a couple of all-out brawls between the offense and defense. Senior safety Travaris Robinson, who has seen his share of practices, said the last two days have been good for the team.
"I'm real impressed with the offense," senior safety Travaris Robinson said following Thursday's scrimmage. "They're taking it in stride. We're just going to keep going out there competing and they'll get better. Then come time to play USC we're going to put it on somebody else. We're just going out there and working hard. They are working us hard. We're giving them different looks, they're giving us different looks. It's called a good practice. That's all it is."
Travaris Robinson and Reggie Torbor prepare to crunch Carnell Williams as he cuts towards the middle of the field.
Robinson and company on the first-team defense continued their strong spring by making several outstanding plays both up front and in the secondary. Defensive ends Jay Ratliff and Reggie Torbor both harrassed Cobb and Campbell all day with their speed off the corner. Ratliff finished the day with five tackles, including four for losses and three sacks, while Torbor had six tackles and two sacks. While it wasn't perfect, defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said it was another good day by his troops.
"I thought the ones did a nice job on some things," Chizik noted. "We got beat on a couple of balls that we haven't gotten beat on in a long time, but I thought overall--it was a situational scrimmage--we did real well on third and one today. We did real well on second and two and first and 10."
In addition to Torbor, linebackers Mark Brown and Travis Williams tied for the team lead in tackles with six while several players added five tackles including Gilyard, Junior Rosegreen, Donnay Young and Rashaud Walker.
The Tigers came out of the scrimmage relatively unscathed except for a twisted knee by center Danny Lindsey and a strained groin by wide receiver Larry Summers. Escorted off the field by the Auburn training staff, Lindsey was able to put some weight on his left leg. The injury isn't expected to be severe, but Tuberville said the sophomore center will definitely miss Saturday's A-Day game that will kick off at 1 p.m.
The Tigers are off on Friday and will wrap up spring drills with the annual spring game that will match the first offense vs. the first defense and the second offense vs. the second defense.