AU Making Progress on Injury Front

A report from Wednesday evening's Auburn football practice is featured.

Auburn, Ala.--Calling this week's SEC showdown vs. LSU a "players' game," Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville says that he likes what he saw at his team's two-hour practice that concluded under the lights on Wednesday evening.

"The guys practiced hard," Tuberville says. "We had a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm and they are looking forward to it. They know it is going to be a major challenge. They always get up for games like this. This is not a coaches' game here, it is a players' game. They understand that and are looking forward to it."

Tuberville also notes that the news on the injury front is mostly positive.

Starting safety Aairon Savage is expected to return to action this week. "Savage is looking pretty good, he's back," Tuberville says. "He is not going to be 100 percent, but he is pretty close.

"Merrill Johnson (linebacker ) is a lot better this week," Tuberville says. "Blackmon (linebacker Tray Blackmon) is a lot better. It looks like we have a lot more depth starting to come back.

"We worked a lot today on the kicking game," the coach notes. "Obviously last week, and in the weeks past, we haven't been as strong as we needed to be so we stressed that quite a bit today.

"Offensively, we are just looking for consistency there. We are trying to do more against our defense to give them a better look in terms of game situations. Hopefully, it will help. Hopefully, it will help our defense."

Defensive end Quentin Groves, who has been sidelined with three dislocated toes, is expected to play vs. LSU after missing the past two games. "He is not 100 percent, but he looked a lot better today than he looked last week."

Starting left tackle Ryan Pugh watched the practice, but didn't work with the offense, Tuberville says of the freshman who suffered an ankle sprain last Saturday at Arkansas. "He's doubtful," the coach says. "He will make the trip. He is doing pretty good on it, but when you miss the first two days it is kind of hard to learn the game plan."

King Dunlap, who opened the season as the starter, would get the start at left tackle if Pugh doesn't play vs. LSU. "King has done fine," Tuberville says of the senior who started the first three games. "He is competing. He is doing good, working hard. He had a little time off and has fresh legs. It is good to see him back out there. He is jumping around. He is excited about being the starter again."

King Dunlap picks up tailback Brad Lester after a touchdown run.

The Tigers are looking for a fifth consecutive victory on Saturday night against an LSU team that is looking to bounce back from an upset loss at Kentucky last Saturday. The Bayou Bengals fell victim to a UK comeback and lost 43-37 in triple overtime.

"We knew going into the season, number one, it was going to be a very tough non-conference schedule with Kansas State and South Florida to start the season," Tuberville says. "We knew we were going to be very young in some areas and it was going to take us time to grow up and really learn what kind of football team we had.

"Unfortunately for us, in the two losses we had we turned the ball over 10 times and you can't do that against good opponents. Since then, that's the biggest change. We haven't turned the ball over as much. We have played more consistently on offense.

"Our defense continues to get better and our kicking game has been a pleasant surprise with two young freshmen kickers and punters," Tuberville adds. "In our business, you keep sawing wood and try to get better every week. You can't worry about winning or losing, you just have to try to make your team better and our players and coaches have done a good job of that."

One of the reasons for Auburn's winning streak is the enthusiasm and talent three true freshmen offensive linemen have played with this season, Tuberville says. Lee Ziemba has started all seven games at left tackle. The winning streak began in game four vs. New Mexico State when Chaz Ramsey took over for Mike Berry at right guard and Pugh moved into the starting lineup at left tackle in place of Dunlap, who suffered a minor elbow injury in the Mississippi State game.

"I didn't think we competed very well on the offensive line and because of that we made some changes," Tuberville says. "We started three true freshmen offensive linemen the (fourth) week of the season and put a couple of guys on the bench. We competed better. We protected the quarterback better. We were more mentally focused as a unit.

"When you are playing offense, you have to have 11 guys playing together as a group. Two or three guys doing their own thing, or not doing the right thing, obviously you are not going to have success. I think the biggest reason for our success now is we are playing more as a unit."

Tuberville says that the two upperclassmen in the starting offensive line are doing a good job. "There is no doubt that Jason Bosley, our center, is a big part of that because our center makes a lot of decisions at the line of scrimmage. He dictates blocking schemes. Jason has been there and done that.

"He was a part-time starter last year with injuries (to Joe Cope) and got better as the season went along. We thought we lost him for the season a couple of weeks ago in the Vandy game, but he bounced last week and played well against Arkansas. Tyronne Green, the same thing. I think both of them are playing with a lot more intensity with these young guys because these young guys sometimes don't know what to do, but they do it at full speed and they don't want to look like on film like they are going 3/4 speed. I think it has really increased the intensity of everybody."

In other news:

*Tuberville says the Tigers "probably doubled the reps" for a second straight Wednesday practice working the first offense vs. the first defense. "I think it helped our offense last week and hopefully it will help them this week," he says.

Early Doucet

*LSU standout wide receiver Early Doucet, who has been sidelined with an injury, is expected to see significant playing time this week after getting in for just one play at Kentucky last Saturday.

*Tuberville says avoiding turnovers is essential for his team to have a chance to knock off LSU. Auburn is minus nine in turnovers in its two losses and plus seven in its five wins. LSU holds a 12-5-1 lead in the series in games played in Baton Rouge and is 21-19-1 in games played vs. Auburn.

*Tuberville says the punters, who have slumped in recent games, had a good day on Wednesday. Ryan Shoemaker is expected to start ahead of Patrick Tatum, but that is subject to change, the coach says.

*With LSU ranked fifth in both major polls this week, Auburn is looking to win its 10th game in its last 11 matchups vs. Top 10 ranked opponents. LSU is ranked fourth in the initial BSC ratings.

*Auburn is the fifth Top 25 opponent for LSU this season. The Bayou Bengals are 3-1 in those games after the triple overtime loss to Kentucky last week.

*Tuberville says his team is looking forward to Saturday night's nationally televised showdown. "Our guys are fired up. We are playing pretty right now on defense. Our kicking game is coming around some. We didn't show a lot of improvement on offense last week, but I thought we played physical.

"This will be a game we are going to have to play above and beyond the call of duty," he says. "We always look forward to the LSU game. It is always a big matchup for both of us and it is usually a great game."

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