Tigers Brace For Powerful Hog Ground Attack

Defensive coordinator David Gibbs talks about the Razorback running game and how it poses problems to defend.

Auburn, Ala.–-Following a physical week of practices during the off-week, the Auburn Tigers got back to work on Tuesday in shorts and helmets as they tone down the work heading into the Arkansas game. Defensive coordinator David Gibbs said that the team was focused on Tuesday following a day off and he likes the way they're responding in practice.

"We had a good Tuesday practice on Sunday," Gibbs said. "Today was another Tuesday, another good practice. Anytime you get extra practices in you definitely feel like you have better preparation than you do in a short week. Hopefully we've taken advantage of it, but you won't find out until Saturday night. Hopefully we'll keep having a good week of practice and we'll play good."

While the injury situation is good for the Tigers with Courtney Taylor and Josh Thompson both practicing on Tuesday, the news isn't good for center Steven Ross. Expected to be the starter coming into the season, Ross had problems with a hip flexor in the preseason and lost the job to walk-on Joe Cope.

This week against Arkansas Ross was going to be the starter after his solid performance against South Carolina, but again the hip flexor has given him problems. The injury has kept him out of the last three practices, including Tuesday. Because of that Cope is likely to be the starter against the Razorbacks Saturday night unless Ross can get back on the practice field Wednesday. In the meantime junior Jonathan Palmer has also worked at center with Ross out and could see some action if needed against Arkansas.

"It's getting better every day," Ross said. "It's still pretty sore. I'm just trying to get back tomorrow if I can. I went out (today) and ran around with the trainers a little bit. I'm just trying to get back as soon as possible.

"It's pretty frustrating," he added. "But, it's just one of those things you have to deal with and try to get back."

Offensive tackle King Dunlap works against freshman defensive end Antonio Coleman during Tuesday's practice.

This week the Tigers will face an Arkansas offense that leads the SEC and is third in the country in rushing, averaging 286.4 yards per game. They lead the league in attempts with 235 and the next closest is Florida at 232 with one more game under their belts. That means Auburn is going to get a good dose of power football on Saturday from a team Gibbs calls one of the best at doing just that.

"They know how to run the football," Gibbs said. "They are big, physical, and coach (Houston) Nutt obviously has known how to run the football for a long time. I don't know what their stats are specifically, but they pound everybody. They ran for 200 yards against USC and 237 yards against Alabama. They run the ball on everybody.

"For us to think we're going to go out there and stone them to 100 yards is ridiculous," he added. "They're going to run the ball and they're going to make some first downs. We have to find a way to slow them down and get them off the field and make them kick some field goals. They run it on everybody. You can't fool yourself. They're good, they're well coached and they're physical. I don't have anything bad to say about them."

Because of their style of play, Arkansas makes it tough for a defense to slow them down running the ball because of what they do. Gibbs said this is going to be a huge week for the defensive line not necessarily to make plays, but to keep in plays and help the players behind them.

"I think in their base run game they are so good at cutting defensive linemen and getting guys off their feet," Gibbs said. "Their backside reminds me of the Denver Broncos running game or the Atlanta Falcons where they're always cutting and always knifing on the backside. Then when the ball cuts back there is no one back there. That's where those big runs and big plays occur. Not only do your defensive linemen have to keep your linebackers free, but they've got to keep themselves alive. They can't be on the ground. You just see it time and time again, defensive linemen on the ground. Again, that's easier said that done because they're good at what they do."

The problem on defense comes in how to defend the Razorbacks when they have the ball. With almost a one-hundred yard lead in rushing stats, the Hogs are just that poor throwing the football. Last in the league, averaging just 128.2 yards per game, Arkansas doesn't throw it much or very well this season with quarterback Robert Johnson. Gibbs said that makes for a tough week of preparation because you can't afford to abandon the pass defense and give up big plays to a team that doesn't usually have them throwing the ball.

"The problem is that you have to commit extra people to stop the run," Gibbs said. "They know that and they're going to take their shots. You have to be ready. You have to get pressure when you can. They make it hard because everything looks like a run and they've got a big ole 6-6 wideout (Marcus Monk) out there that can jump.

"It makes it harder on you. You've just got to try to prevent the big play. You can't so sell out against the run that you're not sound against the pass. There's a fine line there. There's no magic answers. You know what they want to do and you have to try to slow them down without being too susceptible to the big play."

The Tigers will practice Wednesday and Thursday before leaving for Fayetteville Friday afternoon. Kickoff for Saturday's game is scheduled for 6 p.m. and there is no television for the contest.

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