Auburn, Ala.--Playing a Thursday night game at home on ESPN is something that Coach Tommy Tuberville isn't fond of doing but on the road it's an entirely different story. This week the second-ranked Auburn Tigers take to the road to play South Carolina in Columbia and Tuberville says it's a huge game for both teams and the SEC in general, a chance to show off for the rest of the country.
"I think it's a good opportunity for both teams," Tuberville says. "We've played several Thursday night games over the years. I think it's good for your school and good for your football team. It breaks the daily routine of what you do and how you do it. After this game it won't be a full week of an open date but it will give us some semblance of having a couple of days off before the next game. I think it's good for our conference.
"Whether we deserve it or not, we're a pretty high ranked team playing on Thursday night and that probably doesn't happen that often," he adds. "I think it will enhance us and help our recruits that we've been talking to. I know they are excited about watching us because most of them have games or have something else to do on Saturdays and aren't able to watch our games a lot of times. I think it will help us in a lot of areas playing this game."
The one disadvantage to playing a Thursday night game is the amount of preparation that must be bunched into three days of work. Normally the Tigers use Sunday as a day of light running and take Monday off before getting into the brunt of preparation on Tuesday. With everything thrown forward two days Sunday became Tuesday this week and Tuberville says he was pleased with how his team responded.
"We started yesterday and you always wonder about the change of your schedule but yesterday was a very good practice," Tuberville says. "I was real proud of our players. They came out and did a good job. The coaches were prepared. We actually came out and had a very good practice…it was a good physical practice. The guys understand what they're getting into going on the road."
The positive news for the Tigers is on the injury front as Tuberville says everyone on the team with the exception of Cole Bennett will be very close to full speed for Thursday night. Running back Kenny Irons and quarterback Brandon Cox both practiced Sunday and looked to be moving well. On defense Karibi Dede is close to full speed while Jonathan Wilhite ran around and should be ready for Thursday also.
Cornerback Jonathan Wilhite is expected back after straining his hamstring against LSU two weeks ago.
Amazingly this will be Tuberville's first trip to Williams-Bryce Stadium since the opening game of the 1986 season when he was on the staff at Miami. In his 12th year of coaching in the SEC, Tuberville's teams have never faced South Carolina on the road but he is familiar with the foe across the field.
Tuberville and Gamecock coach Steve Spurrier will be facing each other for the seventh time with Spurrier holding a 4-2 advantage in the series. Known for his innovation on offense, Spurrier brings a different dimension into this year's game with the running of Syvelle Newton something different. Tuberville says that one thing they know is they'll get a fight out of the Gamecocks because they've shown a lot of improvement in recent weeks.
"We're playing a football team that has won its last two games," Tuberville says. "We're playing them at home. We have not been to South Carolina in a while. It will be a good environment, a SEC environment. We know that we have to go and concentrate and try to be consistent. They have a football team that has changed a little bit. Coach Spurrier is more of a drop-back guy but because of injuries and some things that have happened he's inserted a quarterback that is very mobile and makes plays and moves the chains.
"The last couple of weeks have shown that they can put points on the board," he adds. "They are using their wide receiver Rice (Sidney Rice) a lot more with this quarterback so we've had to adjust. We'll prepare for both quarterbacks as we go into this game but we'll look at more of what they've done the last couple of weeks."
On the other side of the ball the Gamecocks are a totally different team than the one Auburn torched last season for 48 points. To open the season they shut out Mississippi State and a week later held Georgia in check for much of the contest. Tuberville says Auburn has to be prepared for a defense that is playing very fast and aggressive.
"Defensively this was the game last year they changed and went to a more conventional defense with Tyrone Nix," Tuberville says. "He's done a good job. They move their guys around quite a bit. They are more fundamentally sound that they were a year ago and it has made them a better defense. They play hard. They are well coached. They have had an injury or two on their defense but they have plugged them in and kept right on moving forward."
Trying to improve on both sides of the ball after a lackluster performance in a 38-7 victory over Buffalo, Auburn will try to improve to 5-0 and keep their SEC Western Division and national championship hopes alive in the process. Tuberville says it's too early to worry about things like that because this team has to first strive to improve.
"Our team needs to focus a lot better," Tuberville says. "We need to be more consistent. We need to prepare ourselves for a very tough and physical game in a hostile environment. We're excited about going back on the road with the last two wins being here at home."