Tigers Ready for a Game, Tuberville Says

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers practiced for 90 minutes in shorts and helmets on Thursday as they continued to fine-tune the offensive and defensive game plans for Saturday night's season opener vs. Washington State.

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville says he believes his team is prepared to play a football game. "It has been done since last Friday," he says of the major preparations for the game. "We have been biding time."

"We are fortunate we have got most of our guys healthy after such a physical two-a-days," Tuberville says. "We rolled the dice and it worked for us. We found out a lot about some of the younger guys probably we wouldn't have had if we had not had a physical two-a-days. We would have found out, good or bad, in the first game. I think we have eliminated, hopefully, some mistakes by doing as much physical work as we have done.

"We have covered every area very thoroughly as we do every first game," the coach says. "Now it will go by pretty quick, but we are ready. Spirits are high. They are tired, but they are tired every game when you get to Thursday."

One of the major challenges in the opener will be facing what is expected to be a high-powered offense led by quarterback Alex Brink and wide receiver Jason Hill. The Tigers will defend those players with a secondary featuring returning starters David Irons at cornerback and Jonathan Wilhite at the other corner plus Eric Brock and redshirt freshman Aairon Savage at the safety spots.

Brock was a part-time starter last year at strong safety. Savage takes over at free safety where Will Herring, now a strongside linebacker, has started the past three seasons.

"The only thing I am confident about is that they have practiced hard and they have worked hard together," Tuberville says of his secondary. "We haven't played so you have got to see what happens--see if you have got the right combinations, see if you have touched everything enough.

"Both teams make mistakes and you make more mistakes in the first game than you do anytime of the year, normally. You go in, as both teams will, to try to eliminate as many as you can by practice and then you learn."

One of the Tigers drawing a challenging assignment will be senior cornerback Irons. He will be matched up against All-American candidate Hill, who caught 62 passes for 1,097 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.

"They have a very good wide receiver and I expect I will be covering him most of the night," Irons says. "I plan on playing a lot better than I did in the first game last year. I am playing a lot better than I did last year. I am full speed ready to go."

Irons missed some preseason practice time with a hamstring pull during two-a-days, but has been back in action the past two weeks.

"My hammy is wonderful," he says. "It is 100 percent and my knee is finally 100 percent. Last year it was about 90 percent. This year my knee is 100 percent."

The senior cornerback says he feels like he is going to have his best season and notes he is looking forward to seeing his younger brother Kenny have a big year at tailback," he says.

David Irons is shown at Thursday's practice. He is a sixth-year senior who received a special waiver to play one more season due to unusual circumstances surrounding his knee surgeries.

"I feel really good about things," the cornerback says. "I like our defense and I like the way I am playing. I have my confidence and I am ready to go.

"I think Kenny should have a big year because the whole offensive line is just great," Irons adds. "I think the offensive line has worked harder than anybody. With that offensive line he has got and with the quarterback he has got and the wide receiver corps it is going to be hard to stop him. He has gained some weight and has gotten quicker and faster...I think he should have a wonderful year."

In the secondary, Irons says a key to success on opening night is doing a good job of communicating with the safeties. "They are going to be real good," Irons predicts, who adds a note of caution. "If the secondary doesn't talk it is going to be hard for us to win the game. If we don't communicate with each other we probably won't win the game. That is a big thing about this game because they like to pass on every down. It will be a key thing for us to do what Coach (Will) Muschamp told us to do. He wants us to do everything he taught us in practice and not go off and do our own thing. If we do that we can win this game."

Last year in the opener, the Tigers had a new starting quarterback on the field with Brandon Cox calling the signals. This year Cox is expected to be one of the team strengths as a redshirt junior.

Tuberville says having Cox's experience on the field should be a big plus on Saturday night. "It makes everybody more relaxed," the coach says. "Defense, offense, I think everybody on the team is more confident when the quarterback is back and he has proven he can play well.

"It is hard to start a new quarterback. There are so many things you have to think about. On defense you have to think about how we are going to play defense with a quarterback that you don't know how he is going to do. It changes the whole attitude of your entire team."

In other news:

*The Tigers will have a light walk through on Friday evening before boarding buses to spend the evening in LaGrange, Ga., their traditional spot to stay the night before home games.

*Tuberville says the Tigers plan to dress out 98 of the 120 players on the roster. Before the end of the season, he says that the coaches plan to let every player dress out for at least one game.

*Tuberville says he believes college games this season will have a total of 10 fewer plays because of new rules that start the clock as soon as the football is marked ready for play on first downs and as soon as it is kicked off.

*Washington State plans to work out at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Friday evening. Coach Bill Doba's team, which was a disappointing 4-7 last year, has placed a strong emphasis on conditioning this summer as they prepare to take on an AU team that is expected to have excellent depth. Doba is beginning his fourth season as head coach of the Pac 10 school and has posted a 19-16 overall record.

*The weather forecast for Saturday's 6:45 p.m. game is promising. Only a 10 percent chance of rain is predicted with highs around 85 degrees with a game-time temperature forecast to be in the high 70s.

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