Tuberville Says Cougars Offer Early Test

Comments from Auburn's head football coach are featured.

Auburn, Ala.--Coach Tommy Tuberville says his Auburn football team is expecting a serious challenge on opening night as the Tigers prepare for the Washington State Cougars.

"We are playing a very good football team," Tuberville says of the Pac-20 foe, which will be at Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium for a 6:45 p.m. kickoff on Saturday.

"If I could say anything about Washington State, over the years I have watched them and how they have done things and the thing that they do the best is they keep doing the same things over and over, and their players kind of grow up in their system." Tuberville says. "They haven't changed much on offense or defense in many years so their players will come in here pretty confident in what they are doing. We'll get their best shot as hopefully they will get ours. We'll see what happens."

Coach Bill Doba's Cougars run a pro-style offense and a 4-3 defensive front. His team is trying to bounce back from a disappointing 4-7 season as the Cougars play Auburn for the first time in football.

"They have won over the years," Tuberville says. "I can remember (former WSU coach) Dennis Erickson won by running the football, but also being able to throw it. Same thing with (former WSU coach) Mike Price, same thing with Coach Doba.

"Last year they had an excellent running back, and I am sure they will have one again this year in an offense that is predicated on obviously spreading the field, being able to create running lanes, but also being able to run play-action passes off those running plays and throw short passes, but also be able to take advantage of a good wide receiver, which they do have, a guy that can get open and make plays and run after the catch."

Washington State rushed for 212 yards per game last season and passed for 277 so offensive production was not an issue. The problem was on defense where the Cougars gave up 289 yards passing per game and 153.5 on the ground.

"I think that just looking at their team, the first game of the year there is always a lot of guess work on the coach's part about players and the positions they play and what they can do," Tuberville says. "(Some players) didn't play much last year, but now we are putting them in a spot and can they play? They have a lot of starters back. They have a lot of guys returning from last year's team.

"Although they didn't have a great season, they were very close on some games," Tuberville says. "Their players learned. They learned how to play the offense and defense. They have a lot more starters returning than we do and probably will have an opportunity to perform at a higher level because of that and be able to play their offense or defense maybe a little bit more consistently. That's our challenge going in is trying to keep up with that experience they have and put a game plan together that our guys feel comfortable about against a team that is a little bit different that what we normally see.

"They are a little bit more wide open than we see in this league," Tuberville notes. "They have a very good defense. They have a very good defensive lineman (All-American candidate defensive end Mkristo Bruce) that is probably going to have an opportunity to attack our inexperienced offensive tackles so there will be some games within the game this week for our young guys playing against some of their more experienced players."

With hot and humid weather in the Auburn area this week and day games scheduled for weeks two and three, conditioning has been a high priority for the Tigers this preseason. Tuberville says his backups will be needed to contribute. "Because of the heat we are getting two groups ready to play. We know that we are going to have to play as many players as we have on our team, not just this week, but the next few weeks because the next two games after this are at 11:30 and at 2:30, so we are trying to get everyone ready to play on the first two-deep, and we'll play all those guys going into this game Saturday night.

Tuberville also made these points on Wednesday:

*(Commenting on his team's high national ranking): "We haven't talked much about it. Our players understand there is no reason for it, it is just a prediction, a projection, and we have a puzzle to put together as coaches. Each year the puzzle is different, you have different pieces that you have to put different places. I can remember in 2004 I thought we had a lot of pieces of the puzzle that weren't there and we ended up winning all of our games so you never know how those are going to work out.

"You never know if you are going to find enough of those pieces and a lot of it depends on the other puzzle that you are playing during the week, how many pieces do they have in the right spots, and are they going to be ready to play their young guys that they are going to have to fill in. Predictions are great, it gives everyone something to talk about during the month of practice in August, but that's all they are. We are going to try to play the best we can, as Washington State will. Hopefully, it's a good football game and both teams are healthy and ready to play, and it's the first game of a long season for both teams."

*(Commenting on players who have improved recently) "When you lose three very good receivers, we've got to have some young guys step up. Robert Dunn played some last year, and obviously will play quite a bit in this game. Rodgeriqus Smith, a walk-on, does not have a scholarship, but he will be a starter this week because of how he's practiced, how he's played and how he knows the offense. Again, when it comes to our offense at a skill position, it is as much what you know as it is if you can do it. You have to be able to know what to do before you can use your talents, and sometimes players can play just by knowing, and having the experience of going out there and going through it. But we have a lot of good, young players at the wide receiver position. We will play some this year, some will get an opportunity to play Saturday night. How much we will just have to wait and see.

"As I said a while ago, there are a lot of pieces to that puzzle we will have to move around, even after this game to try to find if they go in another spot, but that's what coaching is all about and hopefully we have enough in place this week to where we play a good game. No matter what the outcome is, we want to go out and find a lot of those pieces before we get into the SEC play next week."

Redshirt freshman Tray Blackmon, a standout in spring training, will not play in the opener.

*(Commenting on the status of suspended linebackers Kevin Sears and Tray Blackmon, who were potential starters) "They will miss this week and we will take it one week at a time. It is going to be several weeks, and they're practicing. They will start practicing some with the scout team next week. They still have a price to pay to get back and be a part of the team on Saturdays, but they are a part of the team in everything other than that."

*(On not playing well in opening games in recent seasons) "We haven't talked about that much. We take the same approach each year, which is try to get the guys in the right positions, try to come off a good spring practice each year, put a game plan together and hopefully we play well. Last year, it was as much my fault as anyone's that we didn't do some things against Georgia Tech, but you have to give them credit. They came in and played well. They executed better than we did and they got the win.

"Again, when you go into your first contest, you are playing against yourself as much as you are playing against the team on the other side, because it's new. We don't have preseason games. We've had some scrimmages, as Washington State has had, but you really don't know how your team is going to react in certain situations until you get out there and get to playing. So it's all new. There are a lot of new faces on each side. They will have some new faces, we'll have some new faces and we'll see how those guys react in success and sometimes situations where they are not successful."

*(On the importance of starting quick) "You have a game plan and you go in and you understand that both teams are going to be up and ready to play, and ready to hit somebody other than their own teammates. And openers are always funny. They could start out fast and the offenses could be ahead of the defenses, or it could be the other way around so you just don't know how you are going to start. But again, we have SEC play next week, we're going to go in, we have a game plan, and we are treating this like an SEC game. We are going to try to play as hard as we can, and hopefully when we come out of it we played a good game."

*(On Auburn's defense with new coordinator Will Muschamp) "The defense is not much different than what we have been playing. We are still a four-man front and we are playing with three linebackers. But I think this is the fastest defense we have had. And sometimes you tend to get to the ball a little bit quicker and you are able to get more people to the point of attack. But again there are a few new things that we always add each year. And we've talked about things over the summer that we'll do throughout the season, maybe not all in this game, on defense that will help make us a better defense. But you have to start at the bottom and work up. We'll look to the naked eye probably a lot like we did last year in terms of how we line up. Hopefully, we'll play harder. Hopefully, we'll make plays and we'll execute. It's good the first game to give ourselves some confidence going into SEC play next week."

*(Commenting on can senior cornerback David Irons be a star like Carlos Rogers was in 2004) "I think he can. I think that David is quicker than Carlos in some situations. Carlos had the height, he is 6-1. Finding a 6-1 corner that can run like Carlos is hard to find. David is not quite the height that Carlos was, but David is a little more quick-twitch. He can turn, he can flip his hips a little quicker. He is probably a better man player overall. You have to remember, David is playing only his second year of football in the last what, five? He had, last year, what I thought was a good year because he had come off the last two years not playing because of injury. So he had a good year, not a great year, he had a good spring with a lot more contact in the spring, and I think he has a lot more confidence in his knees now after he has had all of those surgeries.

"He is back and if he can stay healthy I think he has a chance to be a great corner, but again he has to do it. He has worked for it hard in two-a-days, he understands what is going to be asked of him, and he is going to be covering usually the wide receiver that is going to be the most experienced on the other team, so he is going to have a challenge each week, and he is going to have a challenge definitely this week in playing their wide receiver."

*(Commenting on the running game, which struggled in the opener last year.) "Offense is hard to play. You can look at your running backs. You have to block and you have to be consistent. There are 11 guys on offense, and if one guy breaks down on offense, usually the play is not going to be as good as you had hoped. Two or three guys can make a mistake on defense and you can still have a good defensive play if someone makes up for that mistake, but it's hard to miss a block and a running play work. It's hard to get consistency when guys are working in a synchronization group and we haven't had a lot of continuity with our offensive line in two-a-days.

"That has been a concern of Coach (Hugh) Nall's the last couple of weeks, but they have worked together for the last probably 10 practices, and I think they have improved. We just need to see now if they are ready to play. Having a good running game, people are going to stack up on us. We know that this week, next week, and the week after. We are also going to have to be able to throw the football, but we all know that we are more of a running team, as most teams are, that works at running the football each week. And, hopefully, we can have some success whether it is this week or next week or the week after at running the ball."

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