Diamond And Tigers Prepare For Tide

Tight end Lorenzo Diamond and defensive coordinator Gene Chizik talk about the challenge facing the Tigers this weekend.

Auburn, Ala.--Senior tight end Lorenzo Diamond has seen everything the Auburn-Alabama rivalry has to offer. From the upsets to the big wins this series has had it all in the last four seasons and the fifth year promises to be just as exciting for the Mississippi native.

"This is the most important game of the season right here," Diamond said. "Alabama, the Iron Bowl, that's what you come to Auburn University for. This game has been huge every year. When we win or they win it has been a big deal around here and I'm sure it always will be. It has a lot of significance to it."

Significant this week is the injury situation for the Tigers. Tuesday Coach Tommy Tuberville said that both starting tailback Ronnie Brown and fullback Brandon Johnson are doubtful for Saturday's game. With Carnell Williams already out for the remainder of the season with a broken bone in his leg, Auburn will turn to true freshman Tre Smith this Saturday to get the job done. With 318 yards rushing this season, Smith has proven to be an exciting back but now he must play on the biggest stage of his life to this point.

"It's tough but I think we've got another good running back back there in Tre," Diamond said. "We just have to open up some holes for him like we've done Ronnie and Carnell. He has the talent to run the ball and we have all the confidence in the world in him. We just have to do the same things we did for Ronnie and Carnell for him."

Lorenzo Diamond

Little-used senior Michael Owens could also get a shot at tailback this week, his former position, while walk-on fullback Marshall Thornton is working with the first and second units on offense. Owens, the Class 4A Player of the Year at Deshler High in 1998, rushed for 2,126 yards and 31 touchdowns as a senior and could provide a spark for the Tigers this week if needed. He has rushed for just 68 yards on 13 carries this season. Thornton has made a name for himself as a fierce blocker but has seen action in just two games this season on offense.

Smith, Owens, and the running game will be important this week as the Tigers face the top-ranked defense in the country led by the front four of Kindal Moorehead, Jarret Johnson, Antwan Odom and Kenny King. Giving up just 84.1 yards per game on the ground and 244.3 total yards, Diamond said Auburn must be able to run the ball this weekend to come away with a victory.

"We can't dictate our offense off their defense," Diamond said. "We have to be able to establish the run, bottom line. That's what we do best. We run the ball. That's what we're going to have to do no matter who's at running back. We're going to have to push them off the line and open up some holes. I think we're going to throw it around a little bit though."

Marshall Thornton could see action this week at fullback for the Tigers.

A double-digit underdog this weekend for the 2:40 p.m. kickoff on CBS, the Tigers have their backs against the wall facing Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Even though the highest ranked team has won 39 of 44 games in the series dating back to 1955, Diamond said being the underdog doesn't really matter in this game.

"That means absolutely nothing," Diamond said. "They have a good program and we have a good program. It's going to be a dogfight. We don't really worry about underdogs or if we're favored to win the game, we just go out and play. We leave that up to everybody else to decide what the score is going to be. We just go out and play and put points up on the board and see what happens."

Practicing for nearly two and a half hours inside Jordan-Hare Stadium on Tuesday, the Tigers continued preparations for Saturday's game. Putting in the game plan on both sides of the ball while juggling injuries to key players, Auburn focused on mental work and the kicking game with Alabama waiting this weekend.

"Today I thought went well," Coach Gene Chizik said following the practice. "You worry about being able to respond after a game like that one but this is Alabama week. They were great and ready to practice and ready to play. They are excited about the game as we (coaches) are."

While the injuries are well documented on offense, defensively the Tigers are beat up but everyone is expected to play. Cornerback Roderick Hood sprained an ankle against Georgia and linebacker Karlos Dansby did likewise but both had some limited practice time Tuesday and appear on track to play this weekend. The same is true of defensive tackles Demarco McNeil and Spencer Johnson, who came through Saturday's game in good shape.

The middle of the defensive line will be important against Alabama Saturday because of the powerful running game they possess. Averaging 216.5 yards per game on the ground, they have the ability to hit you with the option outside but they do most of their damage up the middle with the draw play. Leading rusher Shaud Williams is the beneficiary of most of those calls and Chizik said that play would be a key to this weekend's game.

"It's a play that's successful because it can hit so many places in there," Chizik noted. "Defensively you have to be very disciplined to hold and maintain your gaps on that draw. It's a great play for the tailback because they don't really ever give him a place to be. He waits back there and he gains vision on everything and then he hits a crack. That crack could be all the way on the other side of the formation or right in front of him, it just depends. They're just waiting for somebody to lose their gap or misfit their gap and that thing just breaks out of there. It's a very, very good football play because you have to be so disciplined to play that play."

The Tigers will practice Wednesday and Thursday in Auburn before heading to Tuscaloosa Friday afternoon. Auburn has never lost in Tuscaloosa in three meetings between the two schools and has yet to give up a point to the Crimson Tide there.

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