Auburn, Ala.--A physical road game didn't take much out of the Auburn Tigers as Sunday's practice was upbeat and energetic with a Top 10 battle with LSU on the horizon for the Tigers. Coach Al Borges says it was pretty easy to see the difference on the field Sunday that for most Sunday practices the team has.
"You could tell the knob got turned up a little bit," Borges says. "Even on Sunday the kids are still recovering from the game but you could tell the intensity knob has been turned up. I'm sure that will carry over for the whole week."
With the mood upbeat the Tigers began preparations for the LSU Tigers. Ranked third in the country in the latest poll, Auburn will face a LSU team that comes in riding high with a number six ranking. Auburn is relatively healthy for the match-up as everyone is expected to be ready to go for next Saturday's game.
The only injury of question in the Mississippi State game was to cornerback Jonathan Wilhite. The junior suffered a sprained knee while making a tackle on big Anthony Dixon and left the game. Wilhite says that he felt fine on Sunday and did some running to make sure everything felt fine. While he reports a little soreness, the Louisiana native says he'll return to practice on Tuesday and will be ready to go.
Jonathan Wilhite says he'll be ready to face LSU Saturday.
Looking back one last time on the victory over Mississippi State, Borges says there were plenty of positives to take out of the win but also some questions as well. One of those involves the running game where the Tigers ran for just over 100 yards against an aggressive Bulldog defense. Borges says it was a combination of things involving the blocking of everyone from the linemen to the tight ends to the wide receivers. It was also about the backs not hitting the right hole at the right time. In the end he says it was a total team effort but they'll work to get better this week in practice.
"I think about the same thing now as I did after the game," Borges says. "We didn't run the ball like we would like to because we've got to do a better job of finishing on blocks. We got some hats on some hats because we made very few assignment errors in terms of knowing who to block. We've just got to shore up some fundamental things in our running game and I think it will show up later in our results."
The positive that came from that situation was the development of the passing game. Needing something to offset the MSU defense, Borges turned to Brandon Cox who in turn looked to senior Courtney Taylor for help. The result was a big day for the offense and for Taylor who is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2005 season.
"I was happy with our ability to get the ball to Courtney Taylor," Borges says. "He caught nine balls and some crucial third downs. They were of the mind that they were going to make the quarterback beat them and I think the quarterback did that as much as anybody. It's nice to know that if they do stop our running game and people are really obsessed schematically with stopping our running game that we have some answers."
Cox also used the tight end position to his advantage early and often in Saturday's game. With no catches out of the position against Washington State in the opener the Tigers changed that against the Bulldogs with both Cole Bennett and Gabe McKenzie catching passes. McKenzie caught four passes on the day for 42 yards and a touchdown. Borges says that it wasn't necessarily a plan going into the game but when it became apparent they were being ignored the Tigers successfully exploited the situation.
"It's funny because that's what they were giving us," Borges says. "It just so happens that Gabe was the guy open on a lot of them. It's nice to know that position is productive in our passing game because that was an emphasis in the off season was to try to get our tight ends more involved. We didn't really at all the first week. Yesterday we did so it was nice."
This week Auburn will need to both run and throw the ball effectively against a LSU defense that is first in the league in scoring and total defense. Borges says that's always the goal and it has never been more important than this week.
"It's a worry if you can't throw the ball," Borges says. "If you run the ball and that's all you can do then that's the ultimate nightmare, when there's no answer to not being able to run. Just like if pass the ball and there's no answer to not being able to pass. The name of our game is balance. We start running the ball but when we're the most effective is when we possess the ability to do both."
Not consumed with stats, Borges says that in the end it won't matter what happens on the stat sheet as long as the end result is positive for Auburn. "Whatever it takes to win," Borges says. "If it means rushing for 100 yards and throwing for 200 or rushing for 200 and throwing for 100 I don't care as long as the end result is a ‘W'."
The Tigers will take Monday off before returning to practice Tuesday morning. Kickoff for Saturday's game is scheduled for 2:30 and can be seen on CBS.