Tigers Put Finishing Touches On WCU Game Plan

The Auburn Tigers put the wraps on the game plan for Western Carolina Thursday evening with a spirited two and a half hour practice in shorts and shoulder pads.

Auburn, Ala.--After recovering not only from a game Monday night but an all-night flight home and a tough Tuesday without much sleep, Coach Tommy Tuberville said that his team has responded well this week in practice.

"We've had two pretty good practices considering the circumstances," Tuberville said following Thursday's workout. "We've still got some guys beat up a little bit, but it looks like most everybody will play or will be able to play. We haven't decided yet on some of them. We'll wait and see.

"We got a lot done," Tuberville added. "The game plan is in. We're going to have a team meeting as a group like we normally do on Thursday nights. We're trying to get in our game week mode. Tomorrow we'll kind of rest up. It will basically be an off day except for traveling to the hotel. We'll get a little rest, get up Saturday and get after it."

The injured that are still questionable at this time are center Ben Nowland, defensive end Reggie Torbor and linebacker Dontarrious Thomas. All three took part in some light practice time on Thursday, but only Thomas appears to be close to a sure bet to play on Saturday when the Tigers kick off the home opener at 4 p.m. against the Catamounts.

Nowland, recovering from both a knee and ankle sprain suffered Monday night, is fine according to Tuberville, but he may still be held out of the game if he's not 100 percent. The same is true of Torbor, who sprained an ankle against USC and had it heavily taped in Thursday's practice. Thomas hyperextended his knee in the game, but has made progress in the past 24 hours.

Something the fans will see on the field is a more complex offense than the one the Tigers unveiled Monday night. Holding back a good portion of the offense to avoid overwhelming the players early, coordinator Bobby Petrino has installed more offensive sets and plays for the coming week and Tuberville noted that you'll be able to tell a sizeable difference in what fans saw Monday night and what is coming this Saturday.

"We've got about 15 or 20 percent more in that we will run this game compared to what we ran last week," Tuberville said of the offense. "It will be an obvious difference in what you will see and what they do defensively so there will be a lot of different things that we will run."

Defensive end Jay Ratliff prepares for Thursday's practice while tight end Robert Johnson waits in the background to get into the action.

One player whois very anxious to play Saturday's game is defensive end Jay Ratliff. A tight end when he arrived on the Auburn campus, the 6-5, 253 sophomore earned his first career start on defense Monday night and while he says it was fun, he's ready to play in front of the home folks this week in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

"I think we're going to improve a whole lot," he noted. "We messed up on some little assignments (against USC). With a couple of mistakes we just beat ourselves. I think we'll definitely improve."

A newcomer to the defensive side of the ball this spring, Ratliff missed almost all of the session after hurting his knee in the first contact drill of the first full pad practice day. Back this fall bigger and stronger, Ratliff won the starting job at end over Bret Eddins and said it didn't really hit home until he walked out of that tunnel Monday night in the Los Angeles Coliseum.

"Going into the game I was very nervous and very excited," a smiling Ratliff said. "I was kind of shaky at the beginning, but as the game went on I got more comfortable. Playing the tight end position my mind was kind of always on the crowd. But on defense my head is in the game, it was like the crowd wasn't even there. That helped me out."

"I think I gave great effort," Ratliff said of his first game on defense. "I know all my assignments but like I keep saying, 'I have to get better on my technique.' That's my biggest point right now."

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