Auburn, Ala.--With two weeks left in a 12-week regular season without a break, the fifth-ranked Auburn Tigers (9-1) took a break on Sunday for the second consecutive week to rest some of the older players for the annual games against Georgia and Alabama. After watching film and sitting in on position meetings, the older players were given the day off while the younger players practiced for almost an hour in full pads.
On the injury front the Tigers are a little beat up but otherwise are in pretty good shape after two and a half months of straight football. Tailback Kenny Irons played just a handful of snaps against Arkansas State on Saturday before taking the afternoon off to rest his ankle. He says he'll be ready to play this week and hopes he's closer to full speed.
Safety Eric Brock suffered a sprained left ankle against the Indians that forced him out of the game. The junior iced the ankle all day Sunday and says he's hopeful he'll play against the Bulldogs on Saturday. Without him the Tigers will look at Lorenzo Ferguson in the one spot at safety and also several other players including Jerraud Powers. Fellow safety Tristan Davis was held out of Saturday's game with a strained hamstring but should be back this week.
Up front on offense center Joe Cope held up well in his first game back after suffering a knee injury in the win against South Carolina. Cope played the majority of snaps at center with Jason Bosley also getting in the action. Cope says he's anxious to play against Georgia this week now that he's gotten the rust off. Quarterback Brandon Cox is limping slightly after getting a bump on the knee Saturday but should be fine for Tuesday's practice.
That's good news for an offense that continues to try to find a rhythm and put more points on the board. Each of the last two weeks the offense had gotten better and better on the field moving the football but had struggled to score touchdowns in the red zone. Saturday once again the Tigers failed to produce in the red zone mostly because of turnovers and penalties. Coach Al Borges says the game was just plain sloppy on offense and watching the film only solidified his first thoughts.
"We had very, very sloppy play at times," Borges says. "There was some superb play of times but some really sloppy play. We fumbled on third and short and that takes us out of one drive. We throw an interception after getting a turnover, that takes us out of another drive. We jump off sides on the one-yard line and that takes us out of another drive. We throw another interception inside the 20-yard line that takes us out of another drive. We had so many opportunities to score so many points but because of sloppy play we didn't take advantage of it. With the games coming up we can't afford that. It's really disappointing because I felt the last three weeks we had improved offensively. I don't know how much we improved this last one."
Offensive tackle King Dunlap leads tailback Ben Tate into the hole.
One area the Tigers did improve in was getting the ball down the field in the passing game. Six different receivers caught passes for at least 16 yards in the game with both Lee Guess and Montez Billings using the deep middle to stretch the defense. Borges says that's something this offense has improved in but the name of the game for the passing game is still using the underneath stuff to control the football.
"We've been increasingly aware the last few weeks of trying to get it down the field more," Borges says. "We're going to continue to do that to try to get some big chunks with our passing game. Brandon is really good at throwing the ball underneath the defense and part of our offense and style of play is that we're not afraid to throw the ball underneath the defense. You can't do that every snap so we're always trying to manufacture opportunities to create some big plays. We actually did in this game pretty well we just didn't finish some drives."
This week the Tigers will face a talented and athletic Georgia defense as they try to earn their 10th victory of the season. If Irons is unable to go full speed Saturday the running game could fall into the hands of sophomore Brad Lester and freshman Ben Tate. Borges says that's something that the coaching staff is comfortable with after the way they've played this season.
"Our offense doesn't change with our tailbacks," Borges says. "Not one thing changes, nothing. A quarterback change might be different and if more than one receiver got hurt that might change but it's nice to know you've got some guys that can do it. You don't have a huge drop off."
Auburn will take Monday off before returning to the practice field Tuesday morning. The kickoff for Saturday's game is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. and can be seen on Lincoln Financial Sports.