Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers continued preparations for Saturday's game against the Ole Miss Rebels with nearly a two-hour practice in shorts and shoulder pads on a cool Wednesday evening on the Plains. Coach Tommy Tuberville says the day was a good one for his team as it gets ready for yet another SEC showdown this weekend.
"We've had good practices so far this week," Tuberville says. "We're looking forward to getting back to the game field after a very tough setback last week. We're a much improved football team than we were a month ago. We're starting to get some guys back healthy, which enables them not only to play, but to practice which is important. Young football teams have to practice well to get better. I'm proud of the effort. They have worked hard."
That work is beginning to pay off in the form of getting some of the injured players back on the practice field. True freshman offensive lineman Ryan Pugh, safety Aairon Savage and linebacker Merrill Johnson all practiced well and Tuberville says they should be able to help against the Rebels with Pugh possibly starting again depending on how Coach Hugh Nall feels he has looked in practice.
"Ryan Pugh looked good today practicing," Tuberville says. "We're glad to have him back. He and King (King Dunlap) both will play. He'll also play some center. Savage, it was good to have him back running around good. He's just about 100 percent, which is really good because Eric (Eric Brock) is just about out of fuel after playing almost every play the last two weeks."
"He practiced today at center," Tuberville says. "Jason is not 100 percent and probably won't be the rest of the year. If Ryan can come back and have another day like he did today, it would be good to get him in the game and give Jason a few plays off."
After some problems in the kicking game last week against LSU, Tuberville says the Tigers spent some extra time in that department on Wednesday. With Robert Dunn's status for playing this week still up in the air although he is practicing, true freshman Chris Slaughter is expected to again return punts this week. Tuberville says it was important to get some extra work in because of what Ole Miss does in that department.
"We worked on a lot of the kicking game today because Ole Miss does a lot of different things in the kicking game," Tuberville says. "We wanted to make sure we had everything covered."
Several players wore orange non-contact jerseys in Wednesday's practice including safety Zac Etheridge and wide receiver Montez Billings. Etheridge has been bothered by a sore shoulder for the past few weeks while Billings bruised his ribs during the LSU game. Tuberville says they did that just for precaution.
"They have been beat up so much the last few weeks," Tuberville says. "They went full speed, but when you put those on, you don't somebody to make a hero out of himself and run over them. It's just for precaution."
The toughest thing this week for the Tigers may be getting back up after such an emotional game last week. Combine that with a long month of travel with games at Florida, Arkansas and LSU and you have the makings of a classic trap game. Tuberville says he's not worried about that from a physical standpoint, but emotionally this will be a test for a young football team.
"Each week I'm concerned, winning or losing, because we're so young," Tuberville says. "We've got so many guys that have never been through college football and the situations we've been through. I was very concerned after the Florida win, coming home and playing a much improved Vanderbilt team that had played very well. We played probably as good as we could play. Now we're looking at the other side of the spectrum, playing one of the best teams in the country on the road and playing very well, but losing in the last couple of seconds.
"Now we come home and play a team that didn't play very well last week and got beat by 30-something points by a team that we beat on the road a couple of weeks earlier. You worry about the mindset of your players. I don't think there's any doubt our guys will come to play well and play hard. There is always that factor of wondering what type of mental preparation, will they do 48 hours before the game. As a coach that's what you worry about."
Auburn faces an Ole Miss team that has been bad on both sides of the ball this year, but particularly on defense. Currently the Rebels are last in the SEC in both rushing and passing defense. Tuberville says despite their numbers, he expects a tough game out of Ole Miss this weekend.
"Our guys are excited about playing Ole Miss," Tuberville says. "They've got a good football team in terms of playing hard. They have good schemes and are very well coached. We're looking forward to the challenge."
The Tigers will practice Thursday morning, putting the finishing touches on the game plan, before heading out of town Friday afternoon for the night. Kickoff for Saturday's game is scheduled for 5 p.m. and is a pay-per-view game only.