Tigers Finish Preparations For Georgia

Auburn put the wraps on the Georgia game plan and defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads talks about getting healthier on defense.

Auburn, Ala.--The Georgia week is always an exciting one for the Auburn Tigers and this one is no different.

It's especially true for first-year defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads. Preparing for his first game against the Bulldogs he said you can see the difference in practice and said it's nice to see the defense still working and learning in his scheme.

"It was good," Rhoads said. "It was very spirited as you would expect and as it should be. This football team is still learning. We've still got enough young players that are out there, but as we continue to adjust to the new system and find out all the intricacies about it we're still learning. I saw them doing that. That's good work and good preparation for this game."

Auburn's players will wear helmets with a logo honoring associate athletic director for academics, Virgil Starks, who died after last Saturday's game.

One of the more intense rivalry games in the country, the Auburn-Georgia series has a long history and is one of the games that players target every season. Rhoads said while there has been a difference in practice at times, it still comes down to doing a job on the field.

"I saw talk in the effect of that, but that's doesn't last very long," Rhoads said. "You've got to work. As soon as the whistle blows and coaches start yelling it was right back to work and preparation.

"Believe me, I know the importance of this game and the next game. I also know the importance of Tennesee-Martin and Louisiana-Monroe.

"I'm going to coach my tail off and I'm going to expect the players to respond on every Tuesday and every Wednesday," he added. "Is this game emotional to the players and the rivalry to the conference? Absolutely it is. We'll take the field ready to play, but the preparation has to be outstanding no matter who the opponent is. I think we worked hard in that regard."

Sen'Derrick Marks works against Tyronne Green.

Struggling on defense in recent weeks without starting defensive linemen Antonio Coleman, Sen'Derrick Marks and Tez Doolittle healthy and available at times, Rhoads said the difference in having those players back practicing and ready to go has been huge for the team.

"I think it's probably immeasurable how much it helps," Rhoads said. "You can't play great defense without being good at the line of scrimmage. Having all those bodies back certainly makes us better at the line of scrimmage. Those are good football players. They need to be out on the field for us to be successful and they need to be out on the field healthy for us to be successful.

"I think they are as close to 100 percent as they are going to get," he added. "I don't know if they could rest a month and be any closer than they're going to be for this football game. The bottom line is they are what they're going to be and they have to go out there and be productive."

Another defensive player that is practicing and ready to go is linebacker Merrill Johnson. Despite breaking a bone in his hand, Rhoads said the senior linebacker will play Saturday and play full speed. That's also the case for junior cornerback Jerraud Powers. Playing the entire game last week, Rhoads said it was good to get Powers back on the field in a game situation before facing the Georgia Bulldogs this week.

"It was huge," Rhoads said. "As we talk about the success of the passing game (for UT-Martin), a great deal of it was on him. A great deal of it was some stuff we were going to give and stuff they were going to throw and catch whether he was 100 percent or not. Other stuff was caught coming out of breaks that had some success against him. That's knocking off some rust and getting crispy with what he does. That comes from repetition. I can throw it out all I want in practice, but until he gets back on the field live it doesn't play to the level he needs to play it."

Just like they've done all week the Tigers spent a good amount of time Thursday focusing on the kicking game. Coach Eddie Gran said that sophomore kicker Morgan Hull would be Auburn's kickoff man against the Bulldogs after performing well throughout the season and in practice. Coach Tommy Tuberville added that he liked the look of the team and he feels like they are prepared for Saturday.

"We worked a little bit more on the kicking game today," Tuberville said. "There was good enthusiasm. The intensity was good. We're ready to play.

"These weeks are easy for coaches because the guys enjoy getting ready," he added. "The game means something to them for years to come. This is one of those games that will stick with them. They'll remember all of it. It has been a real good week. It just gets better after this one."

On the offensive side of the ball wide receiver Montez Billings is questionable for Saturday's game because of a broken nose suffered in the UT-Martin game last week. Tuberville said he has practiced some this week, but hasn't been full speed.

Kickoff for Saturday's game is set for 11:30 a.m. CST and can be seen regionally on Raycom Sports.

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