Auburn, Ala.--A week filled with bad weather and broken up practices is now in the books for the Auburn Tigers (9-2) as they prepare for Saturday's Iron Bowl against Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Although the weather disrupted Auburn this week offensive coordinator Al Borges says it didn't bother his unit in the least because they continued to practice well.
"One thing we learned about halfway through this season is how to practice," Borges says. "We would be up and down sometimes during our practices but even win, lose, or draw about halfway through our offense learned to practice so much better. We haven't had a lot of bad practices. We really haven't. For the most part by the time we get to Wednesday and Thursday we practice pretty good. We've just got to put it together when we play."
Putting it together on the field means first and foremost not turning the football over. After having just 10 turnovers in their first nine games this season the Tigers have struggled to maintain possession the last two games with seven interceptions and a fumble that killed the offensive flow. Borges says that's something that absolutely, positively can't happen again this week.
"Taking care of the ball is number one," Borges says. "We can't turn it over. That's the big thing. In nine games we didn't have any turnover issues. It kind of caught up with us a little bit. They were very few and far between. In these last two for some reason they just cropped up. We've talked a lot about it. I think turnovers can be fundamental issues whether they are fumbles, how you are holding the ball, whether the quarterback is getting his feet set. When the ball is getting tipped there's not much you can do about that. I'm talking about just finishing all your throws and doing those kinds of things."
This week much of the talk about the offense has centered on the play of quarterback Brandon Cox. Normally a steady player for the Tigers, Cox has turned the ball over entirely too much for Borges and his own liking the last two games. Borges says that although he's been banged up this season Cox has looked good throwing the ball this week and that's a good sign heading into Saturday.
"He's really good," Borges says. "He's determined to redeem himself. The one thing I can say for Cox in the two years I've had him (as a starter) is that he's had very few bad games where you walk out and say "he didn't play very well at all". He's always been very steady. He's had some games better than other games. Really I can think of maybe three games, the bowl game last year, the Georgia Tech game where really that was a decision-making deal and still learning, and then the last game.
"He hasn't played a lot of bad games," he adds. "The reason he doesn't is because he processes things so well. He sees it and he generally fixes it. As long as he get the opportunity to make the reads and see the throws then he's usually pretty good."
Auburn is hoping for a performance from Cox similar to the one he had last season at Georgia.
Borges says for the most part Cox has played well even in the last few games. Unfortunately he's also had a few plays each game that haven't worked out as planned. That's the hazard of playing such an important position where Borges says you have to play close to perfect or it negatively affects everyone around you.
"Sometimes it's only like two or three plays," Borges says. "He may have 60 plays in a game and be fundamentally perfect on 58 of them. Those two that he's not, it's not like when the guard steps wrong or when the safety or linebacker takes a bad step, when the quarterback takes a bad step it affects the accuracy of his pass. All of the sudden all hell breaks loose."
Going into Saturday's game the biggest question mark for both teams may be confidence. Struggling in their own ways both teams are looking to finish out the season on a high-note with a victory in the biggest game in the state. Borges says that this week the coaches have spent plenty of time talking to them team just to let them know they have confidence in their abilities and play as a team. This weekend Auburn is looking to play a complete game, something that hasn't happened too often this season. Borges says that's always the goal of the team each week and it's no different this time around even with the weight of the Auburn family squarely on their shoulders.
"We've tried to express to them regardless of what happened in the past we're completely convinced that they are very capable and that we believe in them," Borges says. "That's not something to motivate them because it's true. I think they feel that too. There's a reason we've won nine games and there's a reason we've lost two. We've got to understand why both things happened and as long as the coaches believe in the players and the players believe in the coaches, we still have the talent to win the game and there's no reason why we can't."