Coach Getting a Kick Out of AU's Performance

Tommy Tuberville discusses, in depth, the successes his team has had in the kicking game this season.

Auburn, Ala.--Tommy Tuberville has emphasized the kicking game since he arrived at Auburn for the 1999 season. Nine games into the 2006 football campaign, the head coach says this year's performance is the best he has seen from his Tigers in his eight seasons at Auburn.

"The one area that we need to talk about more and more as the year goes on, and the reason that we won eight games, is the consistency of our kicking game," he says. "I am really proud of that. We have three seniors who are handling all of the kicking chores and it has been fun to watch these kids grow up together, especially John Vaughn and Kody Bliss, coming from the same high school, which is very unusual."

Vaughn leads the SEC in scoring with 8.6 points per game. He is first in field goals made per game and second nationally at 1.89. He hasn't missed a PAT and has made 17-20 field goals.

Clark has kicked off 49 times this season and 38 have been touchbacks. Nobody else in the SEC is close to that level of performance.

Bliss is averaging 46.5 yards per punt this year, far better than anybody else in the SEC. "John is leading the conference in field goals, becoming the all-time leading scorer here at Auburn," Tuberville notes. "He didn't get off to a great start, and he has not been as consistent as he would like to have been over the last three years, but this is the year he has been waiting on. He has really kicked well. He has gotten his confidence up.

John Vaughn, and his holder Matthew Motley, watch a field goal. Vaughn has the school record for most points scored with 295 and most field goals made with 47.

"He changed up his technique over the summer and you can just see the difference in his confidence and his kicking," Tuberville notes. "It just goes back to last week, kicking the three field goals and enabling us to get another win. He has been able to do things that we would have hoped he could have done, but again, field goal kickers are a little bit different. They struggle a bit at times, but this year he has been real consistent. It has been good to see him finishing up his senior year the way that he would have hoped."

Auburn's coach says he has been particularly pleased with what he has seen from walk-on kickoff man, Matt Clark. "What a story for him," Tuberville says. "I actually cut him a few years ago. You can only have so many kickers on your team. I told him to keep working on your own and sometime you might work your way back.

"Last year, we started off against Georgia Tech and we couldn't get one close to the 10-yard line, much less to the end zone. We thought we would bring him back and give him a chance. He has been our kicker ever since and done a tremendous job. He is leading the country in touchbacks. I think we have only had 11 opportunities to return in nine games, and that is unbelievable. He gets a lot of height, he has got a very strong leg, and he is athletic and he has a lot of people (pro scouts) looking at him."

Clark was playing intramural football last season when he asked to rejoin the team. He won the starting job and did an excellent job, finishing second in the SEC in touchback percentage at 53.1 percent. He has improved that number to 77 percent going into Saturday's home game vs. Arkansas State.

Auburn is leading the SEC in kickoff returns with Tristan Davis the featured return man. The Tigers are averaging 26.1 yards per return.

"Tristan Davis is doing a tremendous job on kickoff returns," Tuberville says. "I think Tim Carter was the last guy that just really was in the rankings and I think Tristan is close to the top if not the top of the SEC in kickoff returns. Tristan is a fun guy to watch. In the last three games I think he has had at least one of over 40 yards, which is very good in college football. All of these guys have been a factor in what we have been doing.

"We have been struggling in both parts offense and defense to some degree, but the kicking game, other than the Arkansas game, has been there for us," Tuberville says. "As I have told them going into this week, they are going to have to continue to do that for us to be successful in the last three games because we lean on that field position and those three points when asked."

The only area of the kicking game that needs improvement is punt returning. The Tigers are ninth in the SEC with a 7.6 average with sophomore receiver Robert Dunn handling that assignment. However, the punt team was huge in Auburn's victory over Florida as a blocked punt for a touchdown sparked AU's second half comeback over the Gators.

"We are more of a block team," Tuberville says. "Because of what we have done offensively, we are trying to put more pressure on punters. Listening to Ole Miss and the talk in the papers last week after our game, they ran the rugby punt because we had been pressuring so many punters, maybe not getting a hand on one, but forcing some bad kicks. They were going to sprint out and kick it away from our block guys. We are very good at blocking. Our returns, it is hard to be good at both. I think Robert has done an adequate job. He has not really had a lot of opportunities. We have forced a lot of bad punts. But again, that has been part of our mentality this year, to try to force bad punts, keep them in the hole, get good field position and go from there."

In Auburn's victory over Ole Miss, Vaughn kicked the go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter and added an insurance field goal in the final minute.

Matt Clark has proven to be a valuable senior for the 2006 Tigers.

"We kicked a field goal to go ahead (by six points) with 30 seconds left and most people would squib it (the ensuing kickoff) being a little bit afraid because the only way we can lose is if they run a kickoff back," Tuberville says. "But we lined up and kicked it out of the end zone. That is a tremendous weapon, and I am really proud of all those guys and Eddie Gran for all they have done. Gran has been our special teams coach for seven years and has just done an outstanding job. He studies it and works at it during the offseason. He always brings in new ideas.

"We can look at one thing that has gotten us to this point of being ranked in the Top 10 for most of the year and being able to compete with almost everybody and that has been because of special teams," Tuberville contends. "They have been there each week and, hopefully, they will continue to do that."

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