Tigers begin practice for Auburn

LSU head coach Nick Saban has allowed his player to celebrate a win for 24 hours before shifting their focus to the next game. The Tigers didn't have much of a problem with that, for two basic reasons: Their last game against Utah State wasn't very memorable, and Auburn will come to Baton Rouge for LSU's SEC opener Saturday night.

"I don't think the Utah State game is a game we'd particularly like to dwell on much," Saban said at his Monday press conference. "I think we did some good things in the game, and I think there's some thing that obviously need to be corrected."

With that in mind, Saban took his team to the LSU practice fields at 3:15 p.m. Monday. The Tigers dressed out in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts on a steamy afternoon in Baton Rouge, working primarily on correcting some of the mistakes they made Saturday night against the Aggies.

"We had some errors on special teams that could have been disastrous in the game," Saban said. "Those are probably the things that we'll be most concerned about."

Indeed, the punt team was first on Michael Haywood's agenda when his special-teams players showed up on the Ponderosa. Two of Haywood's special-teams players — coverage man Chad White and return man Domanick Davis — weren't at full speed Monday. White sat out completely with an unspecified injury, while Davis dressed out in a red no-contact jersey.

Davis' absence, of course, made room for free safety Ryan Clark and receiver Josh Reed to try their respective hands at running back punts. Neither was particularly successful.

"They struggled in the (last) game, and that could have been a real problem for us, but we were able to overcome that and we were really pleased about it," Saban said.

Clark muffed consecutive punts Saturday night. Reed called a fair catch on another punt and watched as Utah State killed the ball inside the LSU 5-yard line.

"We're very hopeful that we'll have Domanick Davis back this week," Saban said. "He's going to practice for the first time. He's been such a key guy for us in terms of being a … phenomenal return specialist. We didn't realize how much we missed him when he wasn't there."

Three other players — left tackle Terry Phillips (knee), defensive end Kenderick Allen (calf) and cornerback Robert Davis (knee) — stayed out of practice Monday. Saban said Robert Davis' injury, a stretched ligament in one of his knees, is the most serious. He is questionable for Saturday.

"He may be a week or two," Saban said. "It depends on how much swelling (occurs) and how quickly he gets back his range of motion. We'll just have to play it day to day."

ON TO BUSINESS

As for the Auburn team Tommy Tuberville will bring to Tiger Stadium, Saban said he thinks Auburn is as good as it's ever been, despite the fact Tuberville lost a slew of skill players to graduation and the NFL.

"I think (they're) a lot better team than what people thought coming into the season," he said. "Sometimes, when you lose your star players or they go out early for the (NFL) draft or whatever … people just assume that you're not going to be as good."

Instead, the visiting Tigers have rolled to a 2-0 record that included a 27-21 win over Mississippi in their SEC opener Saturday. Although fullback Heath Evans, tailback Rudi Johnson and receiver Ronney Daniels left for the pros and quarterback Ben Leard graduated, Auburn is fifth in the conference in scoring offense and rushing yards per game.

"Same plays, different guy carrying it," Saban said. "Same offensive line. They probably didn't get enough credit for (Johnson's) success."

Auburn is also breaking in redshirt freshman Jason Campbell at quarterback. In his first college start, Campbell completed 16 of 28 passes for 214 yards and one touchdown in Auburn's 30-0 win over Ball State. Against Ole Miss, Campbell was 15-of-19 for 142 yards with an interception. He came to Auburn last year and asked to take a redshirt because Auburn's starter, Leard, was a senior.

"Jason Campbell might not be throwing the ball as much (as Leard did), but he made a really significant improvement from his first game to his second game," Saban said. "He played really well against Ole Miss."

The Auburn defense — particularly its front seven — has been impressive since its first game thus far. Ball State never reached Auburn territory in their season opener, and the Rebels didn't cross the 50-yard line until the third quarter Saturday. Allowing just 55 rushing yards per game, Auburn is 10th in the nation in run defense.

"This is a very, very good team we're playing," Saban said. "It will be an interesting challenge for us, to see how we get ready to play this game. It's an important game because it's our first conference game. But (it's) not like some would try to make it out to be, that it's the end-all to the season."

TOMMY, CAN YOU HEAR ME?

Asked what he thought of Tuberville's track record and philosophy, Saban let out a previously unknown secret Monday afternoon.

"I tried to hire him once, when he was the defensive coordinator at Miami, to coach our linebackers in Cleveland," Saban said of his stint with the NFL's Browns. "He had a good job and was ready to get a head coaching job. Shortly after that, he got the Ole Miss job."

Tuberville, the Rebels' head coach from 1995-98, will look for his fifth straight win over LSU, a streak he started with the Rebels' 36-21 upset win in '97.

In last year's game, the first-ever SEC contest for Saban, Johnson ran for 139 yards on 36 carries and a touchdown in Auburn's 34-17 win over LSU. Auburn won the SEC Western Division.

"He did a fine job there and he's certainly done a good job at Auburn. He's won every place he's been," Saban said.

"I know some people question his maverick style, but to me, that's his style and he's been successful with it. So it's certainly not for me to criticize it. You go with what's got you there. He's won with all those tricks and going for it on fourth down. It's worked for him, so more power to him."


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