Tigers Take A Small Step Forward

Coach Tommy Tuberville talks about his likes and dislikes following Auburn's shutout win over Mississippi State.

Auburn, Ala.--A handful of Tigers, including a pair of offensive starters, are feeling the effects of a physical SEC opener and are questionable for Saturday's contest against Ball state.

"(Tailback) Tre Smith is 50-50 for this game," says Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville. "He twisted his knee in the first half. He could probably play this week but we just have to wait and see.

"(Offensive tackle) Marcus McNeill is 50-50," Tuberville adds. "He also twisted his knee and he's sore today. Knowing Marcus he'll come back. We'll move somebody up there and look at them to start this week. I'm sure Marcus will play if at all possible, but he needs to be back by Wednesday's practice."

On the defensive side of the ball, three linemen are battling through injuries. Tackle Neil Brown missed the Mississippi State game with a strained neck and is still questionable heading into preparations for the Cardinals on Sunday.

Two other linemen battled through ankle injuries and performed in a limited role against the Bulldogs. "Stanley McClover played 17 plays which was probably a few too many," Tuberville says of the defensive who played in a reserve role Saturday. "We pushed him and tried to see what we could get out of him. He's still pulled up a little bit because he got cut several times in last week's game (against Georgia Tech). He pushed through it all week, but right now he can't change directions as well as he normally can."

Noseguard Josh Thompson injured his ankle against the Yellow Jackets as well and only received a handful of snaps against the Bulldogs.

While Thompson was limited, it gave starter Tommy Jackson an opportunity to play much of the game and earn team Defensive Player of the Week honors.

"Tommy has played good the last two weeks and he's been consistent with pass rush, pushing the pocket, and playing the draw like we had worked on all week," Tuberville says of the senior. "I don't know how many yards we gave up rushing but it couldn't have been a lot. He had a lot to do with it."

One aspect the head coach was not pleased with after watching film was special teams. Kody Bliss and Zach Kutch continued to struggle keeping the ball in the field of play on kickoffs, and place kicker John Vaughn missed badly on his first field goal attempt of the season. However, one bright spot on special teams was sophomore Tony Bell, who earned the team honors in the kicking game.

"Tony Bell just looks better every week on special teams covering kicks and in the return game," Tuberville says. "He's far above those other guys. He's a step above and it goes back to him playing some last year."

Offensively, the coaches thought quarterback Brandon Cox showed enough improvements from week one to week two to be named the team's Offensive Player of the Week. Cox committed five turnovers in the season opener but rebounded and limited his mistakes against the Bulldogs. The sophomore QB had zero turnovers while completing 12 of 18 passes for 202 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

"We didn't challenge Brandon very much," Tuberville notes. "He made a couple of errant throws that he should not have made and had a couple of bad decisions. We went back and looked at what he did calling plays and what we asked him to do, and we graded him at a B. He looks a lot more settled in the pocket and he showed signs of improving from the first to the second game."

Overall, Tuberville says that he was pleased with the shutout and defensive performance, but the team must continue to make strides in all facets.

"Getting a shutout for the first time in the SEC since 2000, that's a good momentum builder, but we understand that we've got to get a lot better," he says. "We didn't do a lot on defense. We went in and played mostly base defense, and blitzed only a handful of times.

"I thought we made some small steps forward (as a team)," Tuberville adds. "We didn't make as many steps as we had hoped. I thought we played better and kept our concentration better. We played tentative on both sides of the ball. We did see improvements in grades from top to bottom on both sides of the ball in technique, assignment, fundamentals and finish. Finish was our word of the week last week--finishing off the play--and we did better at that. We still have room for improvement there."

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