Wet Tigers Prepare for Mountaineers

A report on Auburn's practice features comments from players and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.

Auburn, Ala.--After taking Monday off, the Tigers were back on the football practice field for what players and coaches said was a spirited two-hour plus session putting in the game plan for Saturday's game vs. West Virginia.

The Tigers opened the practice in a driving rainstorm working in full pads on their middle field, which is artificial turf and can rapidly drain water even in a downpour like happened on Tuesday evening.

The Tigers come into game three on a hot streak offensively. New coordinator Gus Malzahn noted that the offense did some good things in the 49-24 victory over Mississippi State. "I was real pleased with our guys up front, how physical they played and how hard they played," he said. "We did make some mistakes and we are still learning.

"Our guys are starting to play fast," Malzahn added. "They are starting to understand what we are talking about so I was happy with our pace, but at the same time we have got to correct--especially on what are our foundation runs are and our passes. We have got to correct the things where we made mistakes."

Senior Tommy Trott, who plays H-back, is considered "day to day" by Gene Chizik on his status for the West Virginia game after suffering a knee injury vs. Mississippi State. Philip Lutzenkirchen, a true freshman who caught his first college pass last Saturday, would likely fill that spot if Trott can't go vs. the Mountaineers. Lutzenkirchen's 13-yard reception on a pass from Kodi Burns was the tight end's first college touchdown.

Philip Lutzenkirchen catches a touchdown pass from Kodi Burns vs. Mississippi State.

Commenting on whether or not Lutzenkirchen is ready for a bigger role, Malzahn said, "He is going to have to be. He has got a lot of talent and he is getting used to college football, the demands from a physical standpoint and a mental standpoint, but he is going to be a very good player for us. We are going to need him to step up very quick."

Lutzenkirchen, a highly recruited prospect last fall who signed with the Tigers in February out of Lassiter High in Marietta, Ga., said, "I have been trying to get used to doing a lot more work than I have been doing the past two weeks. I am just really trying to make it seem like there isn't a void where Tommy left."

Lutzenkirchen said in high school he was mainly a "large slot receiver" so learning to block has been his major adjustment. "I guess they are finally--I wouldn't say comfortable, but a little bit more comfortable where my blocking is at. That is the main difference, the blocking."

Malzahn said to look for senior Gabe McKenzie to contribute at Trott's spot after making only brief appearances so far this season. "He will play some, too. He didn't go through spring so he is still learning. Each practice it seems like he gets more comfortable."

Malzahn said that juco transfer Jay Wisner will help the Tigers at the H-back spot. Wisner caught his first Auburn pass last week as did Lutzenkirchen.

"He has done a good job," Malzahn said of Wisner, who is originally from Montana before playing juco ball at Saddleback in California. "He does a lot of the dirty work that kind of gets overlooked. He is a physical player, he is football smart, he understands defenses and leverages. He had a solid game for us."

Malzahn's offense has been good in the red zone through two games, something that was an issue for the Tigers last season. Auburn has converted eight of nine trips inside the opposition's 20-yard line into points with seven touchdowns and one interception. The only non-conversion came on a fumble by Ben Tate vs. Louisiana Tech.

"That is really a bright spot," Malzahn said. "We have worked extremely hard in that area. "If you can run the football that sure helps and we have been fortunate enough to be able to run the football down there and that has really helped us early."

Junior Josh Bynes is a returning starter at the middle linebacker spot.

Linebacker Josh Bynes said Tuesday's practice was a good one. "Rain motivated us even more," he said. "It was pretty fun to play in the rain. It brought a lot of excitement to us."

Bynes said the Tigers are expecting a tough challenge from West Virginia on Saturday night. "They are going to be fast, they are going to be quick and of course they still have about the same caliber of quarterback and they have the same running back from last year."

Auburn led 17-3 last year at West Virginia, but was dominated in the second half as the home team won 34-17. "They were executing their plays well and we just got out-physicaled," Bynes said, who added that is something the Tigers remember and are determined to not let happen again this year.

In other news and notes:

*Malzahn said he thought the players were able to handle the rain on Tuesday "pretty well." He said, "They were able to focus and finish practice on a pretty strong note." The long-range forecast for Saturday is for a 50 percent chance of thundershowers.

*Auburn officials are expecting a sellout crowd for the West Virginia game.

*Kickoff for Saturday night's game is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. CDT with coverage on ESPN2. Mark Jones will do the play by play with Bob Davie the analyst.

*Junior tackle Lee Ziemba led the offensive linemen in knockdown blocks vs. Mississippi State with 9 1/2. Junior center Ryan Pugh was just behind with nine and was followed by senior tackle Andrew McCain with six, Junior guard Mike Berry finished with 4 1/2 and junior guard Byron Isom had three.

*Commenting on Auburn's freshman receivers, Malzahn said he is seeing progress. Going into the season, freshmen DeAngelo Benton and Emory Blake were pushing for starting spots, but have seen very limited playing time in the first two games.

"I think they are still learning. Like I said, we throw a lot at them. You can tell probably just by watching them we do a lot of different things and we ask them to adjust a lot. I feel like they are getting more comfortable and confident. Like I said, we expect those guys to step up and hopefully in the near future."

*One of the points of emphasis for the defense under new coordinator Ted Roof is turnover margin. Through two games the Tigers are averaging plus 1.0 per contest with four takeaways and two turnovers.

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