Tigers Settling Down As SEC Opener Approaches

Coach Tommy Tuberville and defensive end Stanley McClover talk about improving and getting ready for Georgia Tech.

Auburn, Ala.–-Practicing in full pads, the Auburn Tigers continued preparations for the Mississippi State Bulldogs with a two-hour workout Wednesday afternoon. As the team continues to get over Saturday night's loss to Georgia Tech, coach Tommy Tuberville said that he's noticed the younger players on his team are more relaxed at practice this week and he expects that to carry over into the game this weekend.

"The biggest thing is nerves," Tuberville said. "They'll feel a little bit more comfortable in this game. It takes a while. First year players are going to see things at a different speed. They'll make mistakes, hopefully they correct them. If they don't it might take two or three games. It's one of those things where last week we had a lot of upperclassmen makes mistakes, it wasn't the younger players. Everybody has to check their hold card this week and not only improve as individuals, but play as a team."

A player that has to bounce back strong is sophomore quarterback Brandon Cox. Despite throwing for 342 yards, his five turnovers were costly to the Tigers as they fell to the Yellow Jackets. Tuberville said he has seen his quarterback make some strides this week with the mental part of the game.

"I see him more comfortable," Tuberville said. "He's made some mistakes in practice, they all do because you put in a different gameplan and you run a different part of your playbook and there are different things he does against different defenses. Now that we're getting in a game week mode every week he'll get more comfortable. There will be a lot more repetitions on plays every week. There will be some duplicate plays we ran last week, but there will be some plays we didn't run last week. That's going to be a change for him, but as we go through the year there won't be much he hasn't worked on. Repetition is going to make him better."

Defensive end Stanley McClover is recovering nicely from a bruised ankle and should play Saturday against the Bulldogs.

On the injury front the Tigers will be without the services of wide receiver Lee Guess for the second-straight week after he injured an ankle during a practice leading up to the Georgia Tech game. Tuberville said he should return in a couple of weeks, but in the meantime true freshman Robert Dunn has used the opportunity to get more work in practice and is in position for playing time this Saturday.

One of the players that was banged up in Saturday's loss to Georgia Tech is defensive end Stanley McClover. After missing the second half with a bruised ankle, he returned to practice on Tuesday and said he felt much better and was back on the practice field against Wednesday along with fellow defensive lineman Josh Thompson. Tuberville said both are about 95 percent, but should be 100 percent by game time.

That is important for the defense because tackle Neil Brown has been bothered by muscle spasms in his neck. While Tuberville said he should be fine, he admitted that this is a big opportunity for both Pat Sims and Tez Doolittle to make some noise on the defensive front for the Tigers.

"They need to start playing," Tuberville said. "They're here and they've been here long enough. They need to start participating and making plays. As I said earlier we've got to play more players and get them in the game. If they don't make it we're going to have to move somebody else in there who can go. We hope the light comes on."

Never one to back away from a challenge, McClover said he is confident he'll be ready to go Saturday and the defensive front is working on improving after an up-and-down performance against the Yellow Jackets.

"We're working on all of the things we saw from Georgia Tech," McClover said. "We're working on cut blocks, a lot of mis-directions, a lot of cutbacks. We're working on all of that to better our game as defensive linemen."

Even with McClover ready to go, the Tigers are planning to play more players up front this week than they did the first game. At defensive end that means sophomore Octavoius Balkcom should get the call for action to spell the starters and back-ups for a few plays. McClover said he feels like Balkcom is ready to help the team.

"Oct (Balkcom) is coming along real good," McClover said. "You can tell he wants it. He wanted to get out there real bad and help us for Georgia Tech, but Coach Price wasn't really confident with him yet. I think he's proven himself this week and hopefully he can get in there and get some snaps and do some good things."

Tuberville said that linebacker Merrill Johnson is ready to go and will back up Antarrious Williams at weak side linebacker this Saturday.

One thing that is plain to see is the Tigers are anxious to get back on the field Saturday and get the feeling of a loss out of their minds. Defensive coordinator David Gibbs said on Tuesday he's looking for improvement out of the defense after a performance he called not even average. McClover said that's a way to fire up the guys heading into the second game.

"That's a big challenge whenever your defensive coordinator says something like that," McClover said. "He's basically saying that to challenge us and see how we're going to respond to it. We're not going to do too much talking, we're just going to go out there and show the world. We had a rough first game, but we've still got 11 more games to play."

The Tigers will practice Thursday afternoon and have a short walk-through on Friday. Kickoff for Saturday's game against Mississippi State is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. and can be seen regionally on Jefferson Pilot Sports.

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