Head coach Gene Chizik and a variety of Auburn assistant coaches said the Tigers' practices the past two days have been good ones as they try to bounce back from a loss at Arkansas. Tommy Thigpen, the safeties coach, said that he believes this is the best week of practice the Tigers have had so far this season.
"I am really, really proud of our focus and I think guys got re-tracked and re-focused in on what we need to do," Chizik said Wednesday night. "We have had two good days of practice."
Chizik ordered the full pads workout on Tuesday night that matched the first team offense vs. the first team defense to give the coaches and players "fast ball looks."
"We had to up the tempo some and do a little bit more (best vs. the best) and a little less scout team," Chizik noted, adding, "I feel like we weren't as physical a football team as we needed to be last week."
Starting cornerback Walt McFadden is still questionable for the Kentucky game after reinjuring his knee at Arkansas last week. "We have tried to be real smart about how we are using Walt," Chizik said. "He has practiced and been out there, and is obviously limited. Again, that is a day-by-day situation...We will see how things unfold as days go by."
If McFadden doesn't start, cornerbacks coach Phillip Lolley said to look for Demond Washington to take the senior's spot. Lolley noted that the junior cornerback has made significant strides since he joined the team earlier this year as a juco transfer and is ahead of schedule on where the coaches expected him to be."
Ben Tate, who is coming off his career-high rushing game with 184 yards vs. Arkansas, said he expects to see the Tigers get off to a better start this Saturday against Kentucky than the Tigers had at Arkansas.
"We just didn't come ready to play," Tate said. "It took us a while to get going. We didn't execute in the first half."
The setback against the Razorbacks dropped Auburn's record to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the SEC. Tate said it was very disappointing, but added, "This loss could be a blessing in disguise. It could give us a wakeup call and let us know that we are beatable. Good teams rebound and it is about rebounding."
Tate leads the SEC in rushing with his average of 120.7 yards per game. Against Arkansas he had his longest run of his collegiate career, a 60-yarder for a touchdown in the third quarter.
"Once I got open I wasn't going to let anybody catch me," said Tate, who noted that he hopes to surpass his 184 rushing yards total in a game during the second game of the season.
Is gaining 200 yards in a game a realistic goal for the senior? "That is definitely a possibility, but it isn't about me," said the tailback, who noted that he is receiving good blocking from the offensive line and receivers. "It is about working together as a team to be successful," he pointed out. "If we do that, all of the individual things will come as part of the team's success."
Freshman running back Onterio McCalebb is averaging 73.2 yards per game, which is sixth in the SEC. He reinjured his ankle in the Arkansas game, but said he expects to play vs. the Wildcats. "It was sore on Saturday, but it is better and I expect to play Saturday night."
In other news and notes:
*Junior kicker Wes Byrum twisted his ankle and has had it in a boot this week to speed the healing process, but he is expected to kick field goals this week. Byrum has made 11-12 this season.
*Freshman offensive tackle Aubrey Phillips, who was not medically cleared to play when arriving at AU this summer, has left school and returned home to Memphis. It is not known when, or if, he will return to Auburn and if he does whether or not he will be medically cleared to play. He originally signed with FSU, but transferred to Auburn over the summer. Chizik said, "We will play that by ear. Right now he is not here."
*Defensive lineman Zach Clayton, who has been sidelined with an ankle injury, is getting closer to being cleared for action, but his position coach, Tracy Rocker, noted that hasn't happened yet, but added that the junior is making progress and could be back soon. Rocker said the Tigers need Clayton, who can play all of the defensive line positions.
*Wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor said on Wednesday night that redshirt freshman Philip Pierre-Louis is now working as a backup receiver to Terrell Zachery. Louis was suspended from the team over the summer. He returned on August 17th and saw his first action the past two games as a punt returner.
With Bart Eddins playing well at guard the previous week, the Tigers' depth situation on the OL is better, Grimes noted. He said that another backup, Jared Cooper, is making progress at center and is moving into the number two role at that position with Eddins, formerly the number two center, getting more work at guard.
*Linebacker Eltoro Freeman, who missed the Arkansas game due to what Chizik said were personal "issues," is "day by day" on when he will return to game action, according to the coach.
*Despite losing three fumbles vs. the Razorbacks, the Tigers are still among the nation's leaders in turnover margin. Auburn's turnover ratio is plus 1.0 per game, which ties the Tigers for 15th nationally. Auburn has forced 14 turnovers and has turned the ball over eight times.
*With nine interceptions the Tigers are tied for eighth nationally in that statistic.
*Kentucky head coach Rich Brooks is in his seventh season in charge of the UK program. He has a 34-44 mark in Lexington. Brooks, who is in his 25th year as a college head coach, is 0-2 vs. the Tigers.
*The Kentucky at Auburn game will be televised by ESPNU at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. It is available on XM radio channel 200 and 216 on Sirius (Best of XM package subscribers).