Auburn's Tuberville sounding like an underdog

AUBURN -- Tommy Tuberville, head coach of the No. 6-ranked team in the nation, is talking like an underdog this week even though his Auburn Tigers are a 15 1/2-point favorite over Washington State. "They have a lot more starters returning than we do ... our challenge going in is trying to keep up with that experience."

Kickoff is Saturday at 4:45 pm Pacific Time at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Because the Cougars have more returning starters, he says, they "probably will have an opportunity to perform at a higher level ... and be able to play their offense or defense maybe a little bit more consistently. That's our challenge going in ... trying to keep up with that experience they have and put a game plan together that our guys feel comfortable about against a team that is a little bit different that what we normally see."

"They are a little bit more wide open than we see in this league," Tuberville notes. "They have a very good defense. They have a very good defensive lineman (All-American candidate defensive end Mkristo Bruce) that is probably going to have an opportunity to attack our inexperienced offensive tackles so there will be some games within the game this week for our young guys playing against some of their more experienced players."

"If I could say anything about Washington State, over the years I have watched them and how they have done things and the thing that they do the best is they keep doing the same things over and over, and their players kind of grow up in their system." Tuberville says. "They haven't changed much on offense or defense in many years so their players will come in here pretty confident in what they are doing. We'll get their best shot as hopefully they will get ours. We'll see what happens."

"They have won over the years," Tuberville says. "I can remember (former WSU coach) Dennis Erickson won by running the football, but also being able to throw it. Same thing with (former WSU coach) Mike Price, same thing with Coach Doba.

"Last year they had an excellent running back, and I am sure they will have one again this year in an offense that is predicated on obviously spreading the field, being able to create running lanes, but also being able to run play-action passes off those running plays and throw short passes, but also be able to take advantage of a good wide receiver, which they do have, a guy that can get open and make plays and run after the catch."

Washington State rushed for 212 yards per game last season and passed for 277 so offensive production was not an issue. The problem was on defense where the Cougars gave up 289 yards passing per game and 153.5 on the ground.

"I think that just looking at their team, the first game of the year there is always a lot of guess work on the coach's part about players and the positions they play and what they can do," Tuberville says. "(Some players) didn't play much last year, but now we are putting them in a spot and can they play? They have a lot of starters back. They have a lot of guys returning from last year's team.

"Although they didn't have a great season, they were very close on some games," Tuberville says. "Their players learned. They learned how to play the offense and defense."

With hot and humid weather in the Auburn area this week, Tuberville says he's getting two groups of players ready to play. "We know that we are going to have to play as many players as we have on our team, not just this week, but the next few weeks because the next two games after this are at 11:30 and at 2:30, so we are trying to get everyone ready to play on the first two-deep, and we'll play all those guys going into this game Saturday night.

Tuberville also made these points on Wednesday:

*(Commenting on his team's high national ranking): "We haven't talked much about it. Our players understand there is no reason for it, it is just a prediction, a projection, and we have a puzzle to put together as coaches. Each year the puzzle is different, you have different pieces that you have to put different places. I can remember in 2004 I thought we had a lot of pieces of the puzzle that weren't there and we ended up winning all of our games so you never know how those are going to work out.

"You never know if you are going to find enough of those pieces and a lot of it depends on the other puzzle that you are playing during the week, how many pieces do they have in the right spots, and are they going to be ready to play their young guys that they are going to have to fill in. Predictions are great, it gives everyone something to talk about during the month of practice in August, but that's all they are. We are going to try to play the best we can, as Washington State will. Hopefully, it's a good football game and both teams are healthy and ready to play, and it's the first game of a long season for both teams."

*(Commenting on the status of suspended linebackers Kevin Sears and Tray Blackmon, who were potential starters) "They will miss this week and we will take it one week at a time. It is going to be several weeks, and they're practicing. They will start practicing some with the scout team next week. They still have a price to pay to get back and be a part of the team on Saturdays, but they are a part of the team in everything other than that."

*(On not playing well in opening games in recent seasons) "We haven't talked about that much. We take the same approach each year, which is try to get the guys in the right positions, try to come off a good spring practice each year, put a game plan together and hopefully we play well. Last year, it was as much my fault as anyone's that we didn't do some things against Georgia Tech, but you have to give them credit. They came in and played well. They executed better than we did and they got the win.

"Again, when you go into your first contest, you are playing against yourself as much as you are playing against the team on the other side, because it's new. We don't have preseason games. We've had some scrimmages, as Washington State has had, but you really don't know how your team is going to react in certain situations until you get out there and get to playing. So it's all new. There are a lot of new faces on each side. They will have some new faces, we'll have some new faces and we'll see how those guys react in success and sometimes situations where they are not successful."

*(On the importance of starting quick) "You have a game plan and you go in and you understand that both teams are going to be up and ready to play, and ready to hit somebody other than their own teammates. And openers are always funny. They could start out fast and the offenses could be ahead of the defenses, or it could be the other way around so you just don't know how you are going to start. But again, we have SEC play next week, we're going to go in, we have a game plan, and we are treating this like an SEC game. We are going to try to play as hard as we can, and hopefully when we come out of it we played a good game."

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