The session that lasted an hour and 40 minutes got a thumbs up review from head coach Gene Chizik. "It was a good practice today, good tempo today, I was really pleased with it," he said. "I?thought the focus was there."
This week's opponent, the Ole Miss, is ranked 24th in the AP poll and 22nd in the coaches' poll. "Obviously, we have our work cut out for us," Chizik said about this the SEC West matchup. "We will continue to hopefully practice this exact same way because it has been really positive. We have got to go execute Saturday to win the game. That is the bottom line."
Chizik said he isn't sure of the status for this week's game on a pair of players who are trying to bounce back from ankle injuries. Zach Clayton, a defensive lineman, was in for just three snaps vs. LSU when he re-injured his ankle. The coach said the junior is "day by day" on whether or not he will be available for this week's game. "Just the same old aggravation he has been dealing with the last month," Chizik said of Clayton's problem.
Onterio McCalebb, a freshman tailback who has not been full speed since being injured vs. Ball State, is still working to regain his quickness although he has played every week. "Everybody can see he is knicked and bruised with that ankle still a little bit and with him we have to play it literally by ear and it is really day by day with him," Chizik said. "Those ankles, when you are a running back, are kind of a slow process."
Chizik said that junior Mario Fannin could see more playing time if needed this week.
The most improved aspect of the Ole Miss football team since last year is the pass defense. Kodi Burns threw for 319 yards vs. the Rebels last season. This week Ole Miss is ranked 14th nationally in passing yards allowed per game at 166.9. The Rebels have surrendered just three passing touchdowns.
Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said it is imperative that the Tigers have success throwing the ball downfield this week so what he says is a strong Ole Miss front seven "can't just load up on the run."
Going into game five at Tennessee the Tigers were averaging 265 passing yards per game. Auburn threw for 235 vs. the Vols and their numbers have dropped to 133 vs. Arkansas, 75 vs. Kentucky and 81 vs. LSU.
One of the reasons that Ole Miss has had success defending the pass is a strong rush. The Rebels have made 17 quarterback sacks in their past five games. Senior linebacker Patrick Trahan and junior defensive end Kentrell Lockett lead the Rebels with four sacks apiece.
Trahan, who spent two seasons at Auburn, dropped out of AU after having academic problems. He resurfaced in junior college and then transferred to Ole Miss.
Auburn senior cornerback Walt McFadden knows Trahan well and said the two were supposed to share an off-campus apartment when Trahan left AU.. "Actually, I?am still pretty upset about that because he left me with all of the rent," McFadden said. "I had to pay a fine for that so hopefully he can try to get that back this weekend."
Trahan and his mother were critical of Auburn's coaching staff blaming them for his academic troubles while at AU. McFadden, who said he still stays in touch with Trahan, said, "He hates that he had to leave. He made a big mistake trying to lie his way out of things, but he said it was a good lesson for him to learn and he is happy where he is at now. That was a move he had to make for him to learn."
In other news:
*Chizik and special teams coach Jay Boulware said the Tigers are still trying to stabilize the situation on getting a punt returner who won't fumble the ball. Philip Pierre-Louis had a muff vs. LSU that cost the Tigers a field goal just before halftime. "There are not a whole of avenues to turn," Chizik said. "We have to get a guy back there we can trust and count on. That is something we have obviously been very sporadic at. We just continue to really work and harp on the things to get a guy back there we can count on." Unless things change, Pierre-Louis will return punts again this week., Boulware said.
*Boulware said he was unhappy with a pair of short kickoffs in the LSU game designed to keep the ball away from LSU speedster Trindon Holliday. "We wanted to put it outside the numbers and it ended up dropping inside the numbers with short hang times on both of them so we didn't execute either one of those kicks very well and obviously that hurt us, but the punter (Clinton Durst) did a great job." Boulware said that Durst executed the game plan by kicking the ball out of bounds to prevent punt returns. "We didn't give them an opportunity, whether it was Holliday or the other kid back there to return any."
*Auburn holds an 11-2 record in games played vs. Ole Miss at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn's only losses came in 2003 (24-20) and 24-17 in overtime in 1999.
*The Auburn offense has struggled to convert third down and long situations into first downs.. Auburn has faced third and 11 or more yards on 19 occasions this season and has come up short 17 times. Dropping back to 7-10 yards the Tigers are converting at 26.5 percent. The percentage is 40.7 in the 4-6 yards range and 69.4 percent for three yards or less.
*Auburn opponents are converting at 50 percent for three or fewer yards on third downs. The rate is 45.8 percent for 4-6 yards, 32 percent for 7-10 yards and 17.6 for 11 yards or longer.
*Ole Miss is ranked second this week in third down offense and defense. The Rebels are converting 41.3 percent of their opportunities and allowing opponents a 23.4 conversion rate.
*Saturday's game will kick off at 11:21 a.m. and will be televised regionally by the SEC Network with Dave Neal, Andre Ware and Cara Capuano calling the action.