Offense Looking To Finish Season With A Bang

Auburn's offense has struggled to put up numbers in 2006 as in the previous two seasons, but coordinator Al Borges is hoping a healthier team will mean better results.

Auburn, Ala.--With injuries to several key performers and a rule change that cut back plays for every team the numbers were down for Al Borges and the Auburn offense in 2006.

Finishing well below his first two Auburn teams in terms of points scored and yardage, Borges says that when everything is considered the team performed well enough through adversity to help the Tigers post an 10-2 record going into the New Year's Day Cotton Bowl game in Dallas.

"It's quite an accomplishment for the kids," Borges says. "They had a strong enough will at times to pull through some really close games. That was a big part of our success in light of the fact that we had to battle through a lot of physical problems.

"We had a lot of guys get hurt and even the ones that played a lot of times weren't full strength. It's a heck of a deal to be able to win 10 games especially in this conference."

Cox hasn't put up big numbers this season, but has played solid football with the exception of the Georgia game.

Brandon Cox, Kenny Irons, Timmy Duckworth, Joe Cope, Cole Bennett and Courtney Taylor. All of these players are starters and veterans on Auburn's offense and all missed significant time or played through pain in 2006. Because of that Borges says that it was tough at times to get things done offensively.

"It was hard," Borges says. "When you have some of your key players injured, your quarterback plays most of the season injured, your tailback plays the whole season injured, you lose your starting tight end, and you are patchwork on the offensive line at times. Then you lose Courtney for the Alabama game. You have to be resourceful. We're lucky we have some talent here and filled the holes pretty good. Whenever you lose high profile front line players you usually take a hit. To come out how we did is pretty good."

The obvious difference in the play of the Tigers in 2006 as opposed to 2005 is at quarterback where Cox struggled with knee and ankle injuries for much of the season. It showed in his numbers or did it? This year he completed 153 of 250 passes for 2,087 yards and 13 touchdowns with nine interceptions as a junior. Last season Cox was 177 of 306 for 2,324 yards with 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions in only 11 games. Borges says one bad game takes away from what was a solid year for Cox playing through pain.

"Other than the Georgia game I think Brandon played solid," Borges says. "He didn't have any magnificent games, but he helped us win a lot of games. He played the position the way the position needs to be played. He's proven again that you can win with him at quarterback in this conference."

When looking a the offense closely the running game is where the Tigers struggled in 2006 thanks to injuries to Irons, Cope and Bennett. In 2005 Auburn's offense rushed the ball 317 times for 2,329 yards and 28 touchdowns while averaging 4.8 yards per carry. This season Auburn ran the ball 275 times for just 1,860 yards and scored 20 touchdowns. The yards per attempt went down a half-yard from last season. That is where the offense lost its luster from 2005.

Irons is averaging 4.7 yards per carry this season on 174 attempts.

Irons and Brad Lester combined to carry the ball 288 times for 1,331 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. Not a bad total but a far cry from what they had done the year before. Irons alone rushed for 1,293 yards and 13 touchdowns. With Lester's totals thrown in the duo had 1,632 yards and 18 TDs in 2005 on just 26 more carries. The lack of explosion in the running game proved to be as much or more of a problem for the Tigers this season.

Auburn has a chance to improve the numbers one more time as the team should be as healthy as it has been all season whey the Tigers take on Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day. That's good news for the Tigers.

"For guys like Cox and Courtney and Kenny it's just huge because they have a chance to heal up," Borges says. "We'll try not to beat them up too much at practice so when we get to the bowl site they'll be ready to go."

Senior guard Tim Duckworth picks up sophomore tailback Brad Lester. Both players contributed to the offense this year even though they have had injury problems.

Before the Tigers get to the bowl site they'll have approximately a week of practices in Auburn beginning on Dec. 14. That's the time for many of the young players to get a jump on spring practice. Quarterbacks Neil Caudle and Steven Ensminger, athlete Mario Fannin, wide receivers Tim Hawthorne, Alex Rose and Terrell Zachery, and tight end Michael Goggans will all get a shot to show what they can do. Borges says it should be fun to see those guys in action for extended practice time for really the first time since the season started.

"We'll approach it a little bit like a spring practice for a while until we get into our game plan," Borges says. "This will give us a chance to see some of these kids that have been out the scout team for the last few months run our offense and defense. That's good because we can coach them up close and personal and get back with them. We're going to get a prelude to spring practice. That's great because we can get those kids up to speed and a few days we wouldn't get if we weren't in a bowl."

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