The fourth-year Auburn coach said he liked what he saw out of his team, particularly the defensive and offensive lines where young players saw action and gave a good account of themselves against the formerly Top 10 ranked Tigers.
"Jay Ratliff probably played one of his better games," Tuberville said. "You knew Reggie (Torbor) was going to play full speed every snap being from Baton Rouge. Tommy Jackson, I would say, played one of his best games since he's been here. He played hard, he and Wayne Dickens both. I wouldn't put anybody over anybody but I would say yesterday those two probably played better than anybody."
On the offensive line Tuberville singled out Ben Nowland for his continued steady play as the only senior among the starting five for the Tigers. He said that while Nowland is invaluable as the center and quarterback of the line, one player has become just as important because of his versatility and ability to play a number of different positions.
"Monreko Crittenden is a big key for us," Tuberville said. "If he can continue to play two positions and be productive then we have a chance to get better playing with those young freshmen at either guard or tackle. Monreko has a load on him but he played probably his best game yesterday as an offensive lineman and he played the entire time.
"I'm proud of the offensive line. They've gelled a little bit, but they have a lot of room for improvement. It just takes a while when you are learning new schemes and new players playing beside you."
One player whocould depend on Nowland, Crittenden and company up front this weekend is sophomore running back Victor Horn. After stints at linebacker, wide receiver, running back and fullback his first three seasons on the Plains (including a redshirt season), Horn is now back at running back. Injured for the majority of the 2002 with a high ankle sprain, he will now move to third team behind starter Ronnie Brown and back-up Tre Smith because of a strained hamstring by Chris Butler. While his talent is evident, Tuberville said there is more to playing running back than just running the ball and that is what the coaches have to be concerned with this week regarding Horn.
"He's got the ability," Tuberville said. "The light has to come on and he has to make some plays. He'll get all kind of reps this week because we practice three tailbacks hard. He'll get a good evaluation in practice and there is a possibility that he might play. The one thing that you don't want to do is put a tailback in there when you throw the ball and him not knowing who to block and you're quarterback go down. That's what you get concerned about, pass protection."
Preparing to face a talented quarterback in junior Eli Manning, the Tigers will once again have to step it up in the pass defense department this week in practice. After facing just one passing team in the last month, Tuberville said this would be a big test for Auburn's secondary Saturday.
"They got exposed a little bit in the Florida game and that concerns us going in and playing a guy that is just as good a passer as (Rex) Grossman," Tuberville said. "This is a big test for them this week. This will be a final exam getting ready to go into the final three games. I'm sure they'll see 40 or 50 passes Saturday."
One thing Tuberville is sure of is getting a tough game out of the Rebels. With parity becoming more and more evident with every passing weekend, playing on the road becomes a daunting task no matter where you play. That is especially true in Oxford where a team awaits that can score at a moment's notice even though the Rebels have struggled in two road losses the last two weeks. Fresh off their best performance of the season, Tuberville said Sunday that his team is working harder than ever to make sure it is not the next victim in what has been a strange year.
"Everybody now, because it's coming to the end, what you're going to see the next few weeks is a survival of the teams that have the most depth," Tuberville noted. "They are going to be the most consistent. I don't think you've seen an end of the surprises. With four weeks left there are going to be a lot more surprises on both sides of the conference."