Auburn Offense Passes First Test

Forty points and 484 yards without a turnover against Washington State was enough to make Tommy Tuberville content.

Auburn, Ala.--The only glaring weakness on opening night versus Washington State for the Auburn offense was failing to convert on third downs. The Tigers converted just 3-12 tries and were forced into kicking five field goals.

"We got off to a slow start and didn't play as consistently as we wanted to in the red zone," says head coach Tommy Tuberville. "Our third down attempts the last few years we've been first in the conference. No. 1. Obviously this time it looks like we're going to start out in the middle of the pack. We made some bad decisions on third down."

Twice on third and short quarterback Brandon Cox threw behind the intended receiver (Prechae Rodriguez and Cole Bennett), but Tuberville says it's not something that can't be fixed.

"Brandon played a solid game, but we didn't get the play run to the right side of the line of scrimmage a couple of times and he threw it behind the receivers on third down," Tuberville notes. "Those can be worked out with fundamental things like footwork."

For the game Cox completed 11-18 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown. He was also sacked four times, which is a bit high for only attempting 18 passes. However, King Dunlap and Jonathan Palmer were replacing long-time starters Marcus McNeill and Troy Reddick.

"The tackles competed and did very well--even better than what we would have expected the first game mentally and physically," Tuberville says. "They've got a chance to be much improved."

The interior of the offensive line includes three senior starters who helped pave the way for Auburn's 293 rushing yards versus the Cougars.

"Our offensive line was physical and that's what we were striving to get in two-a-days," Tuberville notes. "It worked out that way. We got a lot of yards rushing and a lot of that had to do with our running backs, but is started with offensive line. We created a new line of scrimmage most of the time. I'm very, very proud of (Ben) Grubbs, (Tim) Duckworth and Joe Cope and the things they had to put up with the two big defensive tackles inside. Those guys were tall and quick."

Tailback Kenny Irons rushed for 183 yards on only 20 carries. He had runs of 42 to start the first half and 58 to start the second half and finished with a 9.1-yard average. Irons was tackled just once behind the line of scrimmage. He also caught three passes for 40 yards, giving him 223 all-purpose for the game.

Tuberville says that Irons graded out at 99 percent for the game.

"He's so much more mature at playing running back, knowing that there's more to it than running with the ball underneath his arm," Tuberville says of his senior back. "He does a great job of that as we saw and he got a lot of yards after contact. He stepped up and made some good pass protection blocks, caught a screen pass and made a big run after that."

Also coming through on opening night in the backfield was sophomore Brad Lester. He scored Auburn's first touchdown of the year on a 34-yard screen pass where he had to make one defender miss and then out-raced another to the corner of the end zone for the score. Lester also darted around as the backup tailback to Irons with six carries for 37 yards and another touchdown.

Lester reaches the ball out past the pilon for the Auburn touchdown.

"Brad is a role player and we feel like he could be a starter for us at tailback," Tuberville says. "He's in a situation where he can learn from Kenny, as Kenny did from the other guys ahead of him a couple of years ago. Brad gives a good change of pace and he's got good hands."

Irons and Lester give the Auburn offense a potent one-two punch and both offer different strengths.

"It'll be a different look each week from our backfield with who's playing and who's not," Tuberville says. "It's good to have Brad back there making plays."

Lester is also a weapon on kickoff returns, but didn't get an opportunity on opening night.

Tuberville says that the tight end trio of Cole Bennett, Tommy Trott and Gabe McKenzie played consistently and did a good job despite not catching a pass.

After losing three of the top four receivers from last year, there isn't much experience at the start of the 2006 season behind senior Courtney Taylor. Tuberville says after looking at the film that the wideouts did some good and some bad.

"Listening to coach Knox evaluate the receivers it was really a bright spot for us," he says. "We didn't get off a couple of jams down near the goal line, but we ran good routes. We ran precision routes, we didn't make as many mistakes but we didn't throw the ball but 18 times. Other than that I thought they did real good in the passing game. Blocking could be a little bit better."

Auburn turned the ball over five times in last season's opening loss to Georgia Tech. Against Washington State the Tigers had zero.

Tuberville has won all seven of his SEC home openers since his first year at Auburn in 1999. The Tigers will have a good chance to extend that streak to eight, but Tuberville says that the Bulldogs defense will still be tough.

"We've watched them on film already," he says. "They come off the football, they make things happen and they played a very good game in their first game on defense. They're very active and most of their players are back from last year. They understand what they have to do to play in this league and it'll be a good challenge for us. They'll have a couple more days to rest than our guys. We'll have to come up with a good game plan and I was very impressed with Mississippi State on defense in their first game."

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