One of the top things is the lack of time for fundamentals in recent weeks because of the rushed schedule involved in playing four games in just 18 days. Head coach Tommy Tuberville said that is something they will address this week in practice on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Offensively, the line has continued to get better and had its best performance of the season against the blitzing defense of Joe Lee Dunn on Thursday. Playing a pair of freshmen at strong tackle in Marcus McNeill and Taylor Bourgeois along with first-year full-time starters Danny Lindsey and Mark Pera, the group has a lot left to work on to get better during the season said Tuberville.
"They have made significant improvements in their assignments," he said. "The thing that we have to work on with our offensive line is technique. That's one of the drawbacks of playing all those games in a short period of time. We didn't have enough time to work on technique, all we did was put in a game plan. Now that we're going back to seven days at least between each game we'll have a couple of days to work on technique. I think our offensive line, if we can stay healthy, will really start coming around once we start working on the little things."
Another spot on the offense where youth is in order is at wide receiver where freshmen Anthony Mix, Devin Aromashodu and Ben Obomanu have made a big impact on the 2002 Auburn Tigers in a short period of time. Never was that more evident than Thursday night when the trio combined for four catches, including a pair of touchdowns by Mix and Obomanu in the second quarter that really set the tone for the Tiger passing game.
"I think all those guys have done good," Tuberville noted of his freshmen receivers. "Mix, Aromashodu and Ben have really taken advantage of most of the opportunities they've had. Anthony had the one drop in the Southern Cal game that hurt his confidence a little bit, but you can just tell by the play he made the other night--you don't make that as a freshman--he's got natural ability. You really don't count those guys as being freshmen other than the fact that they're going to have to learn on the run. Their athletic ability is really going to overshadow any mistakes that they make."
Defensively, the end position continues to be one of concern for the coaching staff. The return of Reggie Torbor in triumphant fashion Thursday night lessened some of that as did the play of true freshman Kyle Derozan in limited action. Now with the added depth of Mayo Sowell at the position, defensive end could become a solid position for this Auburn defense. Still with all of the players available, Tuberville said Torbor is the guy they look to and he proved that this week.
"That's one of the best performances for a guy that hadn't practiced in two weeks that I've ever seen," Tuberville said of Torbor. "The guy had not really practiced. You have to go through some things to get on the field because it's not fair to everyone else practicing. Reggie toughed it out and went through some things in practice that we made him go through and he was able to play. Now we're trying to get him healthy. He's better right now than he was at this time last Sunday, but he's not 100 percent."
Tuberville said he saw some positive signs from his team Thursday in Starkville after falling behind early in a tough environment. Playing a lot of first-year players on both sides of the ball, the Tigers have improved in almost every area since the opener at USC and must keep getting better because a hard-nosed Syracuse team is waiting next on the schedule.
"We're growing up a little bit," Tuberville noted. "We've still got a lot of young players. I think our receivers have gotten better. I think we're an overall much better team than we were a month ago or three weeks ago. This will be another good test for us. This is not their first rodeo. They've played a lot of good football teams on the road over the years. They know how to prepare for games like this. I think it will be a great football game."