Tigers Turn Attention To Gators

Head coach Tommy Tuberville and defensive end Mayo Sowell comment on the defensive performance against Arkansas and the upcoming game with Florida.

Auburn, Ala.--After watching the film from Saturday's debacle against Arkansas, coach Tommy Tuberville said that the effort the team gave was as good or better than any the Tigers have given this season.

Still Auburn was decimated by the Hogs, and in particular on the defensive side of the ball. Dropping from second to tenth in rushing defense in the SEC after giving up 426 yards on the ground, Tuberville noted that the plan the coaches had going in and the adjustments they made throughout just didn't get the job done.

"We tried some things on defense that didn't work," he said. "Last year we kind of sat back on our heels and didn't make plays against Arkansas and they did the same thing. This year we went in and were more aggressive. We got to the right spots, we just didn't make tackles. The players are trying to win games, the coaches are trying to win the game, the plan just didn't work."

Defensive tackle Spencer Johnson continues to be hampered with a sprained ankle and played sparingly in Saturday's game. Linebacker Dontarrious Thomas wasn't moving well on Sunday because of a sprained knee that has bothered him since early in the season. Both will likely be held out of some practice time this week and are doubtful to be 100 percent by Saturday's kickoff. Defensive tackle DeMarco McNeil is fine after getting helped off the field Saturday. He was hit in the back of the head with a helmet during a play, but later returned to the game.

"We really won't know a lot until after tomorrow's treatments," Tuberville said on the overall health of the team. "But it looks like most everybody has a chance to be back. There are just four or five guys that are beat up a little bit. It was a very physical game on both sides and we knew it would be that way. We're just going to have to get everybody back as healthy as we can and get ready for the Gators."

Defensive tackle Wayne Dickens takes a break during Sunday's practice.

Because of the health of Johnson and McNeil, who is still not close to his old self following knee surgery in the offseason, the middle of the Auburn defense is searching for some playmakers. While true freshman Tommy "T.J." Jackson turned in perhaps the best effort of anyone on the defensive side of the ball Saturday, coach Don Dunn needs another player to take up the slack as well. That player could be redshirt freshman Wayne Dickens. A Florida native, he has plenty of incentive to play well this week against the home state Gators.

The performance of the tackles will be big because Miami, Ole Miss and LSU have shown the way to beating the vaunted Florida attack. Put pressure on quarterback Rex Grossman up the middle and make him throw with the knowledge that he's going to be hit and you have a chance to make some big plays on defense. In his last two starts the former Heisman Trophy candidate has thrown eight interceptions in two Florida losses. For the season he has 14 interceptions and 11 touchdowns. Getting pressure could be the difference in winning and losing for the Tigers on Saturday.

"I think the key to him is you can put him in certain situations he will beat himself," defensive end Mayo Sowell said. "We're going to try to get some pressure on him. We're going to try to beat him some. We're going to try to get a little bit of help from him, too."

Some people look at Saturday's performance as a possibly indication of another late-season slide by the Tigers, but Sowell doesn't see it that way. Almost to a man, the Tigers say this is a different team from last year and the Birmingham native said all Auburn has to do is look back to last season to see what can happen if a team gets hot at the right time.

"I think this could be the up point of our season," Sowell said. "Last year LSU lost to Florida at home (44-15) and lost to Ole Miss (35-24) the next game and then they came back the rest of the season and finished real strong. They went undefeated the rest of the season and won the SEC Championship. It's another gut check. We can end on a high starting this week."

Auburn will take its customary Monday off before returning to the practice fields on Tuesday. The team will practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before heading to Gainesville on Friday afternoon. Kickoff for the game is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. Central time and can be seen on ESPN.


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