Booker Ready For Visit To Starkville

Comments from Auburn defensive tackle Dante Booker and notes from Tuesday's football practice are featured in this update.

Auburn, Ala.--Dante Booker has been through a lot in his unusual college football career and he will add a new experience to his list this week with a road trip to Mississippi State.

Playing in Starkville for the first and only time of his career, the senior defensive tackle has already been well schooled by teammates on what to to look for on Thursday night.

"I expect a hostile environment," Booker tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "I hear a lot about Mississippi State and how they like to talk and like to rant and like to rave. We're just going to go out there and play football. I know our guys are up for the challenge to go on the road and compete.

"We lost close to USC and I think we want to get that out of our minds by going on the road and playing another tough team and beating them. I think we're going to work hard to try to do that."

Dante Booker

Booker, who didn't play high school football but tried the sport at three other colleges before arriving at Auburn last summer, has been one of the more improved players on the Auburn defense this season.

MSU quarterback Kevin Fant is coming off a career-best yardage game in which he threw for 336 yards and three touchdowns in an easy win over the Jacksonville State Gamecocks on Saturday in Starkville. Add in receivers Ray Ray Bivines and Terrell Grindle, who each had over 100 yards receiving that night, and you have the makings for a dangerous Mississippi State offense. That makes it imperative for Auburn to get pressure on the quarterback, something they've struggled with the first three games.

"They have some pretty explosive guys at receiver, but they also have some good running backs," Booker noted. "They're a real physical team. Because of that it's going to be vital for us to stop the run. The pass rush is always important and the coaches this week have been talking about pass rush. It's important for us to get to the quarterback."

Practicing for just over an hour Tuesday in shorts and helmets, the Tigers continued to polish the game plan for the Bulldogs on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the focus continues to be on getting ready for a gambling Mississippi State defense while defensively the Tigers are preparing for a more balanced State attack following the return of Fant last week after a suspension for the first game of the season. Running backs coach Eddie Gran said following the practice that he was pleased with what he saw out of this team working on very little rest this week.

"It's been a real short turnaround, but they came out on Sunday and did a nice job and the tempo was good," Gran noted. "They understand the importance of going on the road in the SEC. It has continued on. Yesterday was a good practice, too, and we eased it up a little bit, moving it under the lights. They kind of had a little bit of spark to them because they know that's the way the game is going to be Thursday night. I think they've accepted the challenge. The biggest thing is just getting their feet back underneath them and getting them ready to play. We went out today for an hour and did what we had to do because this is a Thursday practice for us. We're right on schedule."

On the injury front fullback Jake Slaughter is questionable for Thursday night's game after spraining a knee on the first play of the Vanderbilt game. The backup to starter Brandon Johnson, who has also been bothered with injuries to both shoulders, Slaughter says that he's hopeful he can play when the Tigers travel to face the Bulldogs.

"I've been doing some therapy on it and hopefully I'll be able to play Thursday night," Slaughter said. "I haven't been able to practice with the team, but I've been with the trainers doing some therapy. I have been upset with that, but hopefully today I'll be able to join the team."

Jake Slaughter

Gran said that the injuries to Johnson and Slaughter leave the Tigers vulnerable at the position heading into Thursday night's game. Although both practiced Tuesday and could be OK for the game, he said they're not going to know how they respond to the injuries until they get that first hit or action in the game.

"We're not looking real good at fullback," he said. "But we'll see how it goes. Brandon will go some and Mike (Owens) is ready to go. Jake is still hobbling along, but they say he's supposed to be full speed. We should have them all 100 percent, but right now we're injury-prone if you will at that position." The other scholarship fullback, Victor Horn, is still recovering from a high ankle sprain.

One player definitely not expected to see action in the game is wide receiver Joe Walkins. Recovering from a deep tissue injury to his thigh, the redshirt sophomore has missed nearly four weeks of practice time and coach Tommy Tuberville said that's too much to make up in just three days of practice time.

"Joe Walkins will not play," Tuberville noted. "He's ready to go, but we like for them to practice a week before. He's just too far behind to pick up the things we're doing so he won't play. He's running full speed, he's just too far mentally behind to catch up."

The Tigers will practice Wednesday afternoon in Auburn before flying to Starkville later in the day. Kickoff for Thursday night's game is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN.

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