On The Firing Line

This Auburn Tiger is expected to be busy dealing with Mississippi State's offense in AU's conference road opener in Starkville.

Auburn, Ala.--For a team with a reputation that lives or dies offensively with a power running attack, Mississippi State is putting the ball in the air with unusual frequency in their first two games of the 2002 season.

That fact has not gone unnoticed by the Auburn coaching staff, which is expecting quarterback Kevin Fant to throw the football early and often on Thursday night when the Tigers visit Scott field to play the Bulldogs.

"They are throwing the ball around a lot," says Auburn senior safety Travaris Robinson, who figures to be in the line of fire during the nationally televised contest on ESPN matching the 2-1 Tigers vs. the 1-1 MSU Bulldogs. "They have got some great receivers. They have got quarterback (Kevin) Fant. He is pretty good, too, so we have got to play fundamentally sound football.

Travaris Robinson is known to his teammates as "T-Rob."

"We haven't played a passing team like that," Robinson says. "The last quarterback we saw (Vandy's Jay Cutler), he was pretty good, but he was a younger guy." The Bulldogs are averaging 282 passing yards per game and just 103 on the ground after two games, a 36-13 loss at Oregon and a 45-13 home victory over Jacksonville State.

Fant missed the first game due to a suspension. In game two, he hit 15-26 passes for 336 yrds and three touchdowns with the longest an 89-yarder to Ray Ray Bivines. Terrell Grindle is the leading receiver with six taches for 173 yards. Kyle York, a redshirt freshman, has completed 20-40 passes for 228 yards and one TD.

Discussing State's early tendency to go for the long pass play, Robinson says, "They will definitely take their shots. They have got a guy (Bivines) who can run real fast down the field. They do a lot of play-action passes and throw deep. We just have to play fundamental, play sound. We have got to read through our keys. We can't just be biting up, taking the cheese."

Auburn coaches say this is a game that the secondary will really be tested, especially the last line of defense. Robinson agrees and adds, "It is a free safety type of game and strong safety type of game. Me and (Junior) Rosegreen should be busy on Thursday night. Their offense should give us a lot of opportunity to come up in the run fits and also to play some pass and some play-action pass. We have just got to go out there and continue to watch our game film and continue to work hard and get the little things right."

Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik says he likes the way that Robinson is developing at free safety, a new position after playing cornerback last year. Known to his teammates and coaches as T-Rob, Robinson is coming off a strong performance vs. Vandy. "I think I played pretty good," the senior says. "As a team, we all played good. We are still making mental mistakes that we don't need to make, but it will happen in the course of a football game. You are going to make mistakes so we just have to go out there correct them. We try to correct them week in and week out, and try not to make the same mistakes that we did the last week. This week, we are dedicating ourselves to not having any busts (missed assignments) out there."

Robinson is at his third position as a Tiger after originally playing wide receiver and then cornerback.

Working against Auburn's young receivers every day in practice, T-Rob says the group is making progress as is the entire offense. "The receivers were always fast, and good, but now they are starting to learn their routes more. And they are making more big plays for us. We really need that. We need that deep threat down the field. Also, we have got Carnell (Williams). We are just going to keep pounding the ball with him, get him 20-25 carries a game. That will slow down the game and give us, the defense, a chance to rest.

"We are just going to keep going out there and keep working hard," T-Rob adds. "Everybody is really excited about this year and wants to get to 2-0 in the SEC. If we win this game, we will be 2-0 before anyone ever plays an SEC game in the West. That is important to us."

Tiger Ticket Extra: With the game being on national TV, a win on Thursday would likely vault the Tigers into the Top 25. "It's a very good stage," Robinson notes. "We are not really worried about ranking right now. We are just worried about trying to win all of our SEC games." However, after losing to Southern Cal on national TV in the opener, T-Rob says that there is more incentive to play well. "This time we are going to show the world that we are really for real."


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