Tigers Put Finishing Touches On Bowl Game Plan

A report on Auburn's final practice of the 2002 football season is featured.

Orlando, Fla.--Tommy Tuberville said it is time for the Tigers to put their game faces on after wrapping up on the field preparations with a light workout on Monday at Thunder Field next door to the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium.

On Wednesday the Tigers and Penn State Nittany Lions will square off at noon CST (1 p.m. local time) in the Capital One Bowl game.

Tuberville says that he told his team that they are going to have to play very well to knock off the 9-3 Nittany Lions. Penn State quarterback Zack Mills, a 6-2, 215 redshirt sophomore, echoes Tuberville in saying that Penn State is going to have to play well to knock off the Tigers, who he called a talented opponent.

"We are going to have to be smart with the football," Mills said. "We can't turn over the ball, which is a big thing to emphasize after not playing for so long. Obviously, we have to get Larry (tailback Larry Johnson) involved and get him his yardage and we have to be successful throwing the football."

Mills said that accomplishing those goals won't be easy because he is particularly impressed with the athleticism of the Auburn front seven. He notes that the linebacker corps of Mark Brown, Dontarrious Thomas and Karlos Dansby is tall, athletic and fast, noting that number 11 (Dansby) has really caught his eye.

Karlos Dansby

The Tigers come into the bowl game a very healthy team. Offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino said, "It looks like we are about as healthy as we have been in a while." Starting guard Monreko Crittenden has flu-like symptoms, but is expected to play. Everybody else expected to play in the game will be full speed with the possible exception of fullback Brandon Johnson, who is close to 100 percent as he battles to recover from a high ankle sprain.

The bowl game will be the Auburn finale for Petrino, who will take over duties as head coach at Louisville. Offensive line coach Hugh Nall, who looks to be the leading candidate for the offensive coordinator's job, said on Monday that he is definitely interested in the post if it is offered by Tuberville, who said that he will announce his pick not too long after the bowl game.

Defensively, the Tigers are healthy. Freshman noseguard Tommy Jackson has missed some practice time, but Tuberville said after Monday's practice, "He is 100 percent now.

"Our guys are mentally sharp," Tuberville noted. "It was a good practice. It was the first hot day that we have had. The players got a little bit concerned about how hot it was and said, ‘Was it going to be hot like this on Wednesday?' We will have to wait and see." The Tigers worked out in the sun on Monday with temperatures in the 70s. Rain is forecast for New Year's Eve, but by game time the weather is expected to clear with the temperature at 72 for kickoff.

"It has been a fun week," Tuberville said. "Now it is the time to lay back a little bit and take them off the rides and get them away from the entertainment and get our mind on the game."

Tuberville and Penn State coach Joe Paterno will speak at a Kickoff Luncheon at noon on New Year's Eve at Auburn's team hotel, the Renaissance Orlando Resort, and that wraps up the bowl festivities prior to the game.

Auburn's coach said that he expects his Tigers to give a good account of themselves on Wednesday. "Every ball game we played in November we played better each week," he said. "Our older guys did a good job of preparing all of our players for all of our rivalry games--the Georgia and Alabama games. They have done a good job this week preparing them to play in this game. All of our players who are playing basically played here two years ago. We are a much better team than we were at the beginning of the year. We are a much better team than we were two years when we played here. Hopefully, we play like that.

"Whether we win or lose, the goal of this game is to play well and kind of kick us off into the new year," Tuberville added. "We have got a lot of these guys coming back. Hopefully, we can learn from this bowl game and possibly get to one that might mean a little bit more in the near future."

Tiger Ticket Extra: Penn State's players wrapped up the amusement park circuit on Sunday while some of Auburn's players were going to make the rounds one last time on Monday after practice. Penn State got a head start on their Florida vacation, arriving almost a week before the Tigers in St. Petersburg, Fla., where the Nittany Lions practiced and made trips to the beach and to the local attractions in that city. PSU's Mills said, "Most of us just plan to rest up, focus on the game and spend time with our families if they made the trip."

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