Auburn, Ala.--It's safe to say that last season's loss to Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando left a bad taste in the mouths of many Auburn fans. While it seemed like a huge thing at the time it has gradually gone away. That's not the case for the Auburn players though as they have been reminded of the game continuously since the final horn sounded in the loss.
The game was especially tough for quarterback Brandon Cox. A very solid first season under his belt as he led the Tigers to nine wins and victories over Georgia and Alabama to close the season, Cox fell on hard times against the Badgers. Hitting on just 15 of 33 passes for 137 yards with one touchdown and one interception, the outing was easily the worst of the season. Cox said that the game is something that has driven this team daily and they're ready to put it behind them now and concentrate on the season at hand.
"We've been ready since the Wisconsin game to get back on the field," Cox said. "It was a tough way to end the season. We got out there in the spring and got a taste of it. We've had a long summer and a good summer. We've gotten a lot of work done and we're just ready to get going.
"We were reminded about it every day," he added. "That's what we hear about. Now we've moved on and put that behind us. We're concentrating on Washington State coming in September 2. When we go out there today everything in the past will be behind us and we'll be focusing on September 2."
Cox threw for 2,324 yards and 15 touchdowns in his first season as a starter.
Under Coach Tommy Tuberville the Auburn Tigers have become one of the more successful teams in the Southeastern Conference with six consecutive bowl trips, one SEC title, and five SEC Western Division Championships in the last six years. Still, the one thing that has troubled Tuberville's teams has been opening games. That is something that Cox said the team has focused hard on this summer in preparation for Washington State.
"We talked about that last night in our meetings, about getting out and what Coach (Al) Borges says ‘beating them to the punch'," Cox said. "Starting off good and having a good opening game, which we haven't had in a while, should help us throughout the rest of the season."
The Cougars come into the opener after struggling last season to a 4-7 finish. That isn't unusual for the Washington State program though as they have up and down seasons from time to time. That is something Borges knows about having coached against them many times in the Pac 10. He has told this Auburn team to be very wary of the Cougars when they roll into town.
"He has coached against them and knows what to expect from them," Cox said. "He told us a lot about them and how they have a lot of JUCO's coming in and how they are up and down. They can have one bad season and the next season turn around and have a great season. You never know what to expect from them."
With an offense that returns much of the nucleus of a running game that was among the best in the country last season, the questions on offense are on the outside with the loss of three receivers to the NFL after last season. Senior Courtney Taylor returns as the veteran of the group but after him many of the players are inexperienced. Cox said while many guys will have to learn on the fly he feels like the talent is there for the Tigers to be successful.
"Courtney is back and 100 percent," Cox said. "You have Prechae Rodriguez back from last year. He really stepped up this spring. Lee Guess had a great spring and he's looking to be a starter right now in the slot position. You have Robert Dunn and the new guys that came in, Hawthorne (Tim Hawthorne) and Zachery (Terrell Zachery), they each had great summers. Also Montez Billings had a good spring. We've got a lot of young guys that can step up and play. I'm excited about that."