Tigers Face Tough Challenge In Badger Offense

Auburn worked on all phases of the game plan for the Jan. 2 game against Wisconsin during Wednesday's practice.

Orlando, Fla.--Continuing work towards a Jan. 2 date with Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl, the seventh-ranked Auburn Tigers practiced for two hours in full pads at Freedom High School on Wednesday. Defensive coordinator David Gibbs says that this team continues to practice well as it gets ready for the season finale.

"They are the same as they were in Auburn," Gibbs says of the practices. "We practice hard and practice fast all the time. You guys that know me know I say that all the time. I have been very impressed with the kids' tempo. We go out there to get better every day and we usually do. Going against our offense is a challenge so when we go out there against those guys it's full go. It's good work."

The work on defense for the Tigers has mainly been concentrated on stopping a very explosive Wisconsin offense led by running back Brian Calhoun. Gibbs says that while the Badgers have always been able to run the football, this season they have a different weapon because of Calhoun's abilities as a player.

"I coached against Wisconsin for four years and they've got as good of a running attack as anybody in college football," Gibbs says. "They know how to run the football and have since Coach Barry Alvarez has been at Wisconsin. Now they have a different weapon back there because Calhoun is not only a powerful runner, but he's also a skilled wide receiver lining up in the backfield.

"Every time he gets his hands on the ball he can go the distance. He's done it time and time again and has scored a bunch of touchdowns. We've got our work cut out for us. He's as good of a running back as we've seen all year and our kids know that."

Auburn comes into the game a healthy team for the most part, but one defensive reserve may miss the game because of an old injury. Defensive lineman Tez Doolittle dislocated his kneecap on Tuesday, the same injury that kept him hobbled through much of the early season. Although it won't require surgery he's doubtful to play against the Badgers on Jan. 2. If he's unable to go then the middle will be backed up by Josh Thompson with freshman Andrew McCain also a possibility.

Noseguard Tommy Jackson will be important to Auburn's success on defense.

Tuesday the team went to the Gatorland Zoo for a tour of the place, beginning the whirlwind adventure awaiting them in Orlando. Wednesday the team will have a get-together with Wisconsin at Tinker Field before heading to the Epcot Center for a look at one of the biggest attractions in town. Trips to Universal Studios and Sea World are also scheduled, making it a tough week for the players to keep football on the brain.

While they're having fun, coach Tommy Tuberville says the team is pretty much free for the early week, but they know football is always the number one goal for being in town.

"We tell them they can stay out as long as they want, as long as they can get up at six o'clock and practice real hard," Tuberville says. "That eliminates a lot of the things they do at night. These guys are pretty good. Most of them have been to a bowl game before and they understand what is expected of them. We push them hard in practice, but we also understand this is supposed to be fun."

The present talks to the future as senior linebackers Antarrious Williams and Travis Williams talk with true freshman Tray Blackmon during the practice.

Through two practices the Tigers have continued to work some of the younger players on both sides of the ball in what amounts to a preview of spring practice. Defensively, that means players such as Tray Blackmon, Patrick Trahan, Aairon Savage and Walter McFadden are getting a long look by Gibbs and company. Tuberville says that while the work on the field is important there's also a lot of learning to be done off the field for the young players in their first bowl environment.

Wideout Prechae Rodriguez makes a catch in practice on Wednesday.

"A bowl experience is totally different than a regular season game," Tuberville says. "All of the younger guys that are not playing have an opportunity to go through it and watch the older guys and how they handle it and prepare themselves. There has to be a lot of work put into it, but there's also fun added to it. You have to be able to separate the two. When you're young sometimes you don't understand that. Our older guys have good experience and they're good leaders."

The Tigers will return to the practice field Thursday morning for another practice that will feature a short scrimmage with the younger players at the end of the session. The team will practice Friday and have a short practice Saturday before Sunday's walk-through. Kickoff for the game is set for Monday at noon CST and can be seen on ABC.

Tailback and fullback Carl Stewart, who has been sidelined with an injury, will be ready for action vs. Wisconsin.


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