Tigers Focusing On Themselves For Homecoming

Comments from Gus Malzahn and players are featured as the Auburn Tigers returned to the football practice field preparing for their sixth game of the season.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers began installing their game plan on Tuesday evening as they look for their fifth football victory of the season this week.

The Tigers worked for two hours in pads in the session at the football complex that featured full contact drills on a cool fall evening.

Coach Gus Malzahn's team will take on the struggling Western Carolina Catamounts at 1 p.m. CDT on Saturday in Auburn's annual Homecoming contest. The Tigers are a huge favorite against an FCS (I-AA) opponent that comes into the contest with a 1-5 record.

Running back Tre Mason said the Tigers don't plan to be slackers this week as they look to improve their record to 5-1, even though this game looks like a mismatch. "Every week is important," the junior said. "You have to respect your opponent. There are a lot of upsets that happen in college football.

"We will take this week to get better like we do every week," said Mason, who is leading the Tigers in rushing yardage (415) and rushing touchdowns (five). "We will look forward to getting better in all aspects of the game, coming together as one, playing together and fixing all the little corrections we need."

Tre Mason is looking for his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season.

Mason rushed for 77 yards on 21 carries vs. Ole Miss and added 62 yards on three receptions. The victory over the Rebels improved Auburn's record to 2-1 in the SEC. They will return to league play a week from Saturday with a road trip to face nationally-ranked Texas A&M on Oct. 19th.

Asked what the Tigers are doing to not overlook this week's opponent, Mason said, "It is not really tough because the coaches have been preaching that for a long time now--take it week by week. We're not worried about them (Texas A&M) right now. They are not even on our mind. We are worried about Western Carolina and us getting better.

"It is not tough to manage," said Mason, who added, "Of course, there is going to be a little thought in the back of your mind, but nobody is really thinking about that right now."

While Auburn was defeating Ole Miss 30-22 at home on Saturday the Catamounts were falling 42-21 on the road to UT-Chattanooga.That was the 24th consecutive Southern Conference loss for the Catamounts.

Western Carolina head coach Mark Speir said his team has a "monumental task" on its hands with a game at Auburn. "Our players will be excited this week to go down there and play," he said.

"We are taking a pretty beat up team, especially on defense, down there," Speir pointed out, noting he and his staff have decisions to make on whether or not to sit out key players who are not full speed this week so his team will have a better chance to win their five remaining Southern Conference games.

Speir pointed out the goal for his team this week is to find a way to get better. Malzahn echoed Speir when asked what he wants to see from his football team.

"I know I keep sounding like a broken record, but I'm looking for us to improve," Auburn's head coach said. "It doesn't make any difference if we are playing Ole Miss or Western Carolina. We are going to go about it the same way. We are going to have the same approach to practice with the same intensity, and we are going to worry about us. That is what we need to do.

"We haven't arrived yet," Malzahn added. "We have got a lot of work to do. We have got a lot of areas we can improve on and that is going to be our message."

Defensive tackle Gabe Wright, who made two of Auburn's six sacks last Saturday, agreed with his head coach. "The most important thing is to work on ourselves," Wright said. "We're a team that is striving to get better."

The defensive tackle noted that Western Carolina does some of the same things scheme-wise that Texas A&M does so that should help the Tigers prepare for their next conference game, but he added, "We are definitely not overlooking our next opponent."

Malzahn and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said that being able to keep fresh players on the field at the tackle and end positions has been a big plus for the Tigers' defense this year and it helped Auburn knock off Ole Miss.

Gabe Wright made his second start of the season vs. Ole Miss. He also started the opener vs. Washington State.

Wright agrees with the coaches. "I think that is one of the best things that we have got this year," he said. "We were talking about that today in the weight room. The most snaps you will probably see are 36 to 40. I know from last year, and my freshman year, if you are a starter you are probably going to get 60 to 70 snaps.

"Our rotation is really unbelievable," the junior added. "I think it is one of the things that keeps guys fresh. Just knowing you can tap out and the next guy is going to give his all is really not a problem in our locker room."

Auburn's pass rush left a lot to be desired last year, but the Tigers are showing signs of getting much better with that part of their defensive play under the direction of Johnson and defensive line coach Rodney Garner.

"There is no better pass coverage in the world than four-down linemen, or three-down linemen, that can get pressure because then you can drop multiple people," Wright said. "If we can get pressure with four guys or let the guys play man or let the guys just zone up, then I'm pretty sure we can compete with the best of them."

Wright noted that anyone who follows college football realizes that FCS (Division I-AA) teams have had success this season and previously in defeating FBS (Division I-A) opponents. "There definitely won't be any overlooking from Auburn this week," he said.

In other news and notes:

*The only TV coverage for Saturday's game is pay per view. Andy Burcham will handle the play by play while former Tiger football and baseball player Gabe Gross will be the analyst.

*Malzahn said on Tuesday that the Tigers plan to continue to work Johnathan Ford at cornerback. The true freshman made the move from running back in preseason to bolster the secondary after Jonathan Jones was injured. Jones was back in action for game five vs. Ole Miss.

Johnathan Ford was impressive in preseason drills at running back before making a move to defense.

"We said we were going to move him over there this season and we will talk after the season about where he is at, but he is making progress," the coach said. "He has a great attitude. He is a very good athlete and we think he is going to be an outstanding player."

*Another true freshman, Jeremy Johnson, has yet to play this season. With starting quarterback Nick Marshall dealing with a knee problem this week and Jonathan Wallace the only other scholarship quarterback on the team since Kiehl Frazier changed positions, could Johnson see action in game six?

Asked about that on Tuesday, Malzahn said that Johnson is getting "a lot of reps" in practice and is improving, but the coach didn't say for sure if the Tigers are going to redshirt the quarterback.

"We have Jonathan (Wallace), who is getting a lot of reps in practice, too," said Malzahn, who noted that he hopes to be able to give Wallace and backups at other positions playing time this week.

*Auburn has a 2-0 all-time record in games vs. the Catamounts. Coach Pat Dye's Tigers took a 55-6 victory in 1986 while Coach Tommy Tuberville's 2002 squad dispatched the Catamounts by a score of 56-0.

*Western Carolina's only victory this year is a 30-23 victory vs. Mars Hill, a Division II program from the South Atlantic Conference. Against Division I-A Virginia Tech in game two this season Western Carolina fell 45-3. WCU's other Division I-A opponent, Middle Tennessee State, defeated the Catamounts 45-24 in the season opener.

*The Tigers have a chance to improve their statistics this week. Auburn is eighth among the 14 SEC teams in total offense at 426.6 yards per game and 13th in total defense allowing 444.4 yards per contest.

Auburn's 28.8 points scored per game ranks 10th among SEC teams and the Tigers are third in points allowed giving up 22.0 points per outing.

Senior To Redshirt


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