Dallas, Tex.--Day two of practices in Dallas went off without a hitch as the 10th-ranked Auburn Tigers (10-2) practiced for two hours in full pads as they prepare to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers on New Year's Day. Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp says that he likes the way the team is going about business this week while continuing to put in the gameplan for the Cotton Bowl.
"I think we've had good preparation," Muschamp says. "We had good preparation in Auburn. They have been very tough, physical practices. We've had two really good days back to back here in Dallas. The kids have got, in my opinion, the right mindset. We'll see on game day."
Deciding to do things different this season in the bowl game Auburn only put about half of the gameplan in for the Cotton Bowl before breaking for Christmas, choosing to install the rest once the team arrived in Dallas. Muschamp says that has been a good move in his mind because it has kept the team very focused this week on the field and that's always a good thing.
"When you play in a bowl game it can get stale to them repping the same thing over and over and over again," Muschamp says. "When that happens a lot of times I think your kids can lose focus. We've kind of tried to throw a little bit more at them out here to keep it interesting for them because you see the same film over and over again. Our first five practices in Auburn were all fundamental practices. We didn't even talk about Nebraska. We worked on Auburn and getting better and being more fundamentally sound in what we're trying to do."
Linebacker Coach James Willis talks with back-up strongside linebacker Patrick Trahan during Thursday's practice.
One of the things Muschamp and the defensive staff have worked on during bowl practices is how to overcome the losses of linebackers Kevin Sears and Tray Blackmon because of suspensions. The first-year coordinator says that he feels good about the guys that will take over for Sears and Blackmon because they've done it before and have proven they can play at this level.
"Merrill (Johnson) has been a productive player for us this year," Muschamp says. "He's done a good job when he's been in there. He's a guy that is certainly capable of playing and doing the job. Chris Evans has done a good job of picking up some snaps behind Karibi (Dede) at mike and we've got to be ready for that situation if it happens. Chris is looking forward to the opportunity."
Another player that is practicing at linebacker is sophomore Steve Gandy. Out for much of the season after having emergency surgery on his left leg because of bleeding under the muscle, Gandy is working behind Johnson on the weak side and Muschamp says he can do the job if needed.
"It was good to get him the time off," Muschamp says. "He needed that. He's still not where he wants to be physically but you can't tell him that. He's going to work through it."
Thursday the Tigers practiced on SMU's practice fields instead of in Gerald J. Ford Stadium. Working on all phases of the game getting ready for Nebraska Auburn continues to look healthy as quarterback Brandon Cox is moving better than he has all season. Also wide receiver Courtney Taylor is looking good and is hoping to finish his career on a high note.
The Tigers will have a chance to take in a great sporting event Thursday night when they take in the Dallas Mavericks game against the Phoenix Suns. That follows an evening eating steak at the Beef Bowl. Auburn will practice at 11:30 a.m. Friday at SMU.