Muschamp, Tigers Preparing for New QB

Auburn's defensive coordinator discusses his team's preparations for Saturday's Southeastern Conference football opener.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn's first-year defensive coordinator says he believes his players will be ready to face a physical challenge in their first road and conference game of the season as they take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Saturday.

""Mario Fannin has been playing running back for us (scout team) and has done a phenomenal job," Muschamp says. "It has been a good physical week and I think our kids are in the right mindset to go play a good, physical football game."

Muschamp notes that he is expecting a very different style of game than the opener vs. Washington State, a team that tried to scheme mismatches to make big plays vs. the AU defense. This week he expects the Bulldogs to try to overpower the Tiger defensive front man vs. man.

"This is real ball," Muschamp says. "This is the SEC. We are not playing the West Coast teams anymore. We are looking forward to getting back in the conference."

Even though this is game two for the Bulldogs, because starting quarterback Michael Henig was injured in the 15-0 loss, Muschamp notes the Tigers go into Saturday's game with questions about what to expect from the MSU offense.

In addition to the starting QB being replaced by redshirt freshman Tray Rutland, MSU's most effective running back in game one, Anthony Dixon, was injured in practice this week and will miss Saturday's contest. He rushed for 64 yards in the opener.

"It is the unexpected," Muschamp says of preparing for a new starter at QB. "You don't really know how Rutland will respond and react and what they will do with him. I don't think they will make wholesale changes, but they are going to do the best things that will make them successful.

"The kid is an outstanding athlete," he says of the 6-1, 221-pounder out of Decatur, Ga., and Tri-Cities High School. "He has a live arm. He walked into the first snap of college football and threw a 30-yard corner route on the money. That said a lot to me about what type of kid he is.

"We have some kids on our team who know him very well," Muschamp points out. "He is a guy that is certainly capable of being an outstanding player. We have got to be disciplined in our rush lanes to be able to hold him in the pocket a little bit and keep him off the edges. He is certainly an outstanding athlete. He is a 4.5 (40-yard dash) kid. He can really run. The first thing that jumps out at you is that he has a lot of velocity on the ball when he throws it."

One of the changes Muschamp has brought to the defense is a new grading system for his players. Instead of a percentage grade based on 100 percent being a perfect performance, the new coordinator is using a different system noting players are awarded "different points for different things."

"Obviously, a turnover, or a tackle, or a tackle for loss, or a sack or for a third down stop you get more points," Muschamp adds. "You get points taken away for missed assignments--not being aligned correctly, not having the proper leverage, the proper hand placement. We get very detailed with that as far as what we do because we want to be detailed with our players and we want them to play that way. It is a pretty broad spectrum of stuff that you get awarded for as well as points taken away."

Muschamp notes that in game one linebackers Karibi Dede and Will Herring scored well along with defensive tackle Pat Sims. Scores in the plus 20 range are very good and in the 30s are for "phenomenal games," Muschamp notes. His system is one he used at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins. "It is based on production," the coach says. "This is no different than the business world. You either produce or your don't. That is what we try to stress to our players.

"I think they understand what we are looking for," Muschamp adds. "We post production from every practice against the scout team, against our offense every day. The first thing we go over--who produced at practice, and who has played well, and who didn't produce and the kids understand it. They know."

Although Mississippi State was blanked 15-0 by South Carolina in the opener two nights before Auburn defeated Washington State 40-14 last Saturday, Muschamp says he has respect for this week's competition. "It is an SEC opponent, a quality opponent," he says. "They have got good athletes. Coach (Sylvester) Croom has done an outstanding job of turning that program around and they are headed in the right direction."

Auburn is looking for its sixth straight win vs. the Bulldogs. The teams will square off at 11:30 a.m. in a game that will be televised from Starkville's Davis Wade Stadium where Auburn's all-time record is 9-4-1.

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