Auburn, Ala.--Looking for a way to slow down a powerful Arkansas rushing attack while also improving on offense themselves, the second-ranked Auburn Tigers (5-0) practiced for two hours in shorts and shoulder pads Wednesday in preparation for Saturday's showdown at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Despite the loss of two starters on offense due to injuries, Auburn is a pretty healthy football team after five consecutive weeks of games. Coach Tommy Tuberville says his team had another good day of practice and is looking forward to Saturday's game.
"We had a good practice," Tuberville says. "There was a lot of life. It has taken a while to get going again after getting back to our routine after the Thursday night game. It was a little different and it takes a toll on the players and coaches because you have to jam two games in a short period of time. Our guys rallied back and we've had a good two days of practice. One more tomorrow morning and we'll finish up. Everybody looks healthy and strong and running around."
The news continues to be positive surrounding junior cornerback Jonathan Wilhite. Out the last two games with a strained hamstring suffered against LSU, Wilhite is back working with the first unit and should be on the field Saturday against Arkansas. That is good news because reserve corner Walter McFadden practiced Wednesday with a soft cast covering his lower arm after injuring it in practice. While he could go the cast would hinder his ability to play on the outside.
Saturday's showdown with Arkansas features the only two undefeated teams in SEC play in the Western Division. That makes the game even more important for both teams as the winner has the upper hand on a trip to Atlanta for the conference championship game. Tuberville says there's no doubt this is a big game because the winner would control its own destiny.
"All SEC games are important and this is important because it's still early in the season, Tuberville says. "You want to have an opportunity, no matter what team you are in the conference, to control your own destiny. We're not to that point nor is Arkansas. We'll play this game and who ever wins will be the only undefeated team in the West and basically you won't have to look over your shoulder you can look straight ahead."
Big Kevin Sears should see more action this week as the Tigers concentrate on stopping the Arkansas running game.
Linebacker Kevin Sears has been back two games following his suspension to start the season but has yet to become an integral part of the defense to this point. Facing an Arkansas team that is very physical running the football, Tuberville says that this could be the week to see the big senior back on the field more.
"You never know until the ball game and how it goes but we're going to do some things for the running game that we haven't done in the past," Tuberville says. "He'll play inside and outside linebacker which he did before this year. You worry a little bit about the offenses you're playing when you play defense but you really worry more about yourself. It's about getting people in the right spots and getting them to play good technique and fundamentals and reacting to the ball and feeding to each other."
Getting Sears back on the field more is one of the many things Tuberville says the Tigers are trying to do in order to improve the play of the defense. Last week's outing against South Carolina was good enough to get the job done but Tuberville says they are looking for ways to improve their play on the field.
"Every week is a different week," Tuberville says. "You're playing different players and different coaches with different philosophies. Your players are the ones that have to rally and execute. It's all about execution. We didn't execute very well last week and they took advantage of some things we didn't do. The week before that we weren't ready to play defensively. That's what it basically comes down to. You can't look at any one game and compare it to the game your about to play. This is a whole new game with a different set of players."
Auburn will have its final practice Thursday morning and head out of town on Friday to the team hotel. Kickoff for Saturday's game is scheduled for 11 a.m. and can be seen live on CBS. It will be Auburn's second appearance on the network this season.