Auburn, Ala.--Coming off a physically demanding 7-3 victory over LSU last weekend you could expect a letdown this week in practice for the second-ranked Auburn Tigers (3-0). Instead Coach Tommy Tuberville says his team has been very focused in practice this week with the goal of improving its play on both sides of the ball.
That focus was again evident on Thursday morning as the Tigers wrapped up preparations for Buffalo with a practice in shorts and shoulder pads that lasted just under two hours. Tuberville says that he feels like his team will come to play this weekend after the week they've put in on the practice fields.
"It was a good finish to a good week of practice," Tuberville says. "The guys practiced hard again today. They had a good tempo. Overall accessing the week, after looking at what we started at the beginning of the week we finished on a great note. Mentally the guys were mentally and physically ready to practice each practice. We worked mostly on the kicking game today and the game plan. We didn't have as much contact today as we've had the last few days.
"It's hard to get back and have that much contact after a physical week like that," he adds. "We have a lot of contact every week so that helps our guys. I think the physical two-a-days helps our guys rebound quicker than they normally would and we've played two games that were fairly physical too. We've tried to pull back on them but it's hard to pull back the reigns on a young horse. That's the way I look at this group. They are fired up and ready to play another game."
Injuries have been a concern this week for the Tigers as quarterback Brandon Cox, running back Kenny Irons, linebacker Karibi Dede and cornerback Jonathan Wilhite have all missed practice time this week with bumps and bruises. Tuberville says Thursday cleared up many of their situations for this weekend.
"Brandon took all the snaps with the ones," Tuberville says. "He's ready to go. Wilhite will not play. We'll hold him. Kenny did not take any snaps. He'll be dressed and available, but it doesn't look like he'll be 100 percent. Karibi practiced."
Getting healthier, Brandon Cox is all smiles as the Tigers get ready for the Bulls this weekend.
Without Irons and Wilhite the Tigers will go with Brad Lester at the starter at tailback. Defensively both Patrick Lee and Jerraud Powers have worked with the first unit at cornerback in Wilhite's absence. Defensive coordinator Will Mushchamp says that they'll look at film Thursday afternoon to determine which player will get the start but both are expected to see extensive action Saturday.
Installed as a 42-point favorite over Buffalo, Auburn is expected to have little trouble with the Bulls this weekend. That may be the general consensus outside of Auburn's athletic complex but inside the coaches and players are taking this game very serious. That is evident when offensive coordinator Al Borges talks about the health of Cox. Instead of holding him back to make sure he's ready for South Carolina next week Borges says they are getting him ready to go this weekend.
"He's gotten better every day," Borges says. "We've tried to handle him with kid gloves. Today we had him go through all the third down package and a little bit of short yardage and goal line. We didn't over extend him. Hopefully in a couple of days he'll hit his stride. He can keep getting treatment and hopefully he'll be back to full speed."
It's obvious that Tuberville and his staff have put a lot of time and effort into getting the Tigers ready for Saturday. That may not mean a lot of time on Buffalo's strengths and weaknesses as much as Auburn's look at itself on both sides of the ball. Either way Tuberville says this is an important game for the Tigers simply because it's next on the schedule and he's not concerned about winning big to impress voters or the country. He just wants to win and move on.
"I just hope we win by one point," Tuberville says. "Everybody looks at some of the games that are not as profiled as some of the others. People have been looking at us like ‘why are you playing Buffalo?' well why is Ohio State playing Bowling Green. They went into overtime. Everybody has games to play and we have no qualms about our schedule. We'll match ours up with anybody's from top to bottom.
"We want to go out and win but the biggest thing is to improve. If we have an opportunity to play some of our depth and to try to get some of those guys ready for down the road because they are going to need to play. The number one focal point is to be focused when we play this game and play as good as we can."
With the hay in the barn as far as this game goes, the Auburn coaches will now hit the road to evaluate prospects during games. Several coaches left following last night's practices and will be watching games tonight. Tuberville will also be on the road as well with games on Thursday and Friday. He says this is an important time for the coaches because later in the year it gets tougher to see games because of the schedule.
"A couple left last night and I'm going out this afternoon as will a few tomorrow," Tuberville says. "We've just got a lot of games to evaluate so we try to go out Thursdays sometimes and Friday on non-conference games. Next week we'll get to go out Friday after our Thursday night game. We try to knock them out as soon as we can because later in the season there are more conference games and no open dates. You have to take you opportunities when you get the chance."
Auburn will have a short walk-through on Friday afternoon before leaving for the team hotel in LaGrange, Ga. Kickoff for Saturday's contest is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. and there is no television.