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Auburn Football Practice Report; Tommy Tuberville Previews The Vanderbilt Game

Oct. 2, 2007

AUBURN - The Auburn football team continued preparations for Saturday's game against Vanderbilt with a practice that listed a little more than two hours Tuesday morning at the practice fields behind the Athletics Complex.

Auburn is coming off a 20-17 upset at then-No. 4 Florida last Saturday that improved its record to 3-2 and 1-1 in the Southeastern Conference. But head coach Tommy Tuberville stated during his weekly press conference following practice that the staff is making sure the Tigers stay hungry and continue to work to improve.

"We have some major challenges this week after a big win at Gainesville," said Tuberville. "One of the biggest challenges you have in sports is after you have something good happen to you, bouncing back and being hungry to make things happen. It's not our first time winning a big game. Our coaches know how to get a team prepared. We will be prepared."

Auburn will play Vanderbilt (3-1, 1-1 SEC) on Saturday for the first time since 2003. The Tigers have won 12 straight in the series and all seven games played at Jordan-Hare Stadium. But the Commodores are coming off back-to-back wins over Ole Miss and Eastern Michigan and are averaging 350.5 yards of total offense, while holding opponents to just 279.0 yards per game.

Auburn's 1957 National Championship football team will be honored at Saturday's game, recognizing the 50-year anniversary of the Ralph "Shug" Jordan-coached championship team. To commemorate the half century anniversary, Auburn will wear their white jerseys and pants, while the helmets will be without the AU logo and will have gray facemasks, similar to those worn during the 1957 championship season.

The game will kick off at 11:30 a.m. CT and be televised by Lincoln Financial Sports.

Individual tickets to the Vanderbilt game are currently available for $45 apiece. To purchase tickets log on to or call 1-800-AUB-1957.



Auburn will return to the practice fields Wednesday afternoon at 5 p.m.


"We have some major challenges this week after a big win at Gainesville. We have a big challenge in playing our third SEC opponent. Vanderbilt is much improved. I'm sure they are fired up after watching the way we played. Another challenge is we have to get better and try to improve. Another challenge is trying to get in over that game on Saturday. One of the biggest challenges you have in sports is after you have something good happen to you, bouncing back and being hungry to make things happen. We challenged our players. We didn't have a great practice. We did a few extra things to make sure we had their attention because sometime you tend to think about things that happened 72 hours ago or more. A lot of things are in front of the coaching staff this week. It's not our first time winning a big game. Our coaches know how to get a team prepared. We will be prepared. The thing we need to do is go out there and practice and worry about ourselves and not worry about anybody else. It's what we have been trying to do all year long. We have a lot of room for improvement. We didn't play a great game Saturday, we played a good game. If we would have played a great game, it wouldn't have come down to a field goal. We didn't come out the second half as hungry or intense as we should have. We put the finishing touches on a great first half, then we kind of went through the motions and gave some opportunities up. We didn't take advantage of our opportunities, so they turned it in to a ballgame at the end. We don't have that instinct yet that we need to finish off, and sooner or later we are going to try to do that or we are going to be able to do that."

"One thing that we are concerned about is we have had a lot of bad luck this year in terms of injuries. We have persevered. Our coaches have done a good job of getting younger players ready to play, but it's getting to the point now that its getting pretty serious with all the injuries and guys that are out half speed, three quarters speed not being able to practice its hard to improve when you don't have guys out here practicing. As I have said, this is a team sport. Guys don't just come out there for a couple days during the week and get ready to play on Saturday. You have got to be intense. You have got to be into it, and it's getting to the point that it's really serious. We don't have the depth that we had earlier in the year. You look at Saturday night on their last drive, our defense went out on the field. Half of them were second-teamers that went out there and stopped them. That's good, but now second-teamers are going to be starters and who is going to be behind them? Nobody, because we don't have the depth. So, it's getting to the point in our season where we are going to have to have a little luck on our side in terms of injuries and getting guys back on the field so we can have the ability to get better. A few guys are coming back. Merrill Johnson practiced today. Tray Blackmon is getting better. We still have a lot of wounded that are out. We will work through that as we always have knowing that we have four tough conference games in a row, two at home and two on the road back-to-back. We have to play better in order to win either of those games than we have in the past. Saturday night was a great game, but it's over with and done so let's move on and get better."

"Vanderbilt is a much-improved team. Bobby Johnson and his staff have done a great job. They have good skilled players. They have good lineman. They have a solid defense. They have been running the same thing for last three or four years. They have had a little bit of bad luck over the last few years, but it looks like the luck is changing in their favor. They are making plays, they are keeping guys healthy and they are playing with a lot of confidence. When you have a lot of skilled players as they do, then you will play with a lot of confidence. They are competing with everybody. Again, Bobby and his staff have done a great job.

"We are going to go in this weekend worried about what we can do, what we can control and try to get better. Hopefully, we can get some guys back so they will be able to improve in practice and not just getting them back for game situations."

On Brad Lester...
"He won't start. He will have a role to play. This is the first game of the season for him. First games are usually tough because you're not in playing shape even though he has been practicing. Ben Tate and Mario Fannin will play ahead of him, but he will get some. Depending on how he does and how he handles the situation is to how much he has the next week. We are glad he's back. The other two guys have put in a lot of work. I was really impressed with our pass protection last week. They were able to keep blitzing linebackers and defensive ends from getting to Brandon allowing him to throw the football. Brad has been away. He wants to earn his way back. He has been there before so he knows how to handle the situations he will face. We just need to ease him in just to see how he will play and let him know he has a role to fill."

On Quentin Groves...
"He went this morning for his X-ray and I haven't been updated on it. We will just have to wait and see how that turns out."

On Auburn's coaching staff and winning big games...
"We don't treat them any different. Our philosophy helps us in terms of big games. We don't have a change in practice time or intensity. We talked about going on the road. Our style of play fits playing in big games, especially on the road. We are a running team so that doesn't bother us too much in terms of crowd noise. We have won a lot on defense and the kicking, game and you can do that out in the parking lot. This staff has done a great job. We have won a lot of big games, so have other teams. We pride ourselves on trying to get guys to play the same every week. It's almost impossible to get them to play with the same intensity every week. To see them play with the intensity of Saturday night didn't catch me by surprise, but you never know how a young team is going to react especially on the road. They took it as a major challenge. I think it was fun to them.

"We had four home games in a row and that's too many, and we had five in a row a couple of years ago, and that's way too many. You need a break, and they looked forward and again they were embarrassed by the way they played early on. We looked at it as a challenge to prove to everybody that they were a great team. I told them they didn't have to play a great game to win as long as we play solid for four quarters, and we played pretty solid. We'd like to play better at times. This staff does a great job of getting them ready to play every week. Sometimes, the intensity has got to be there."

On Antoine Carter...
"Antoine has been an asset to a team that needs defensive linemen to step up. Very seldom will you see a defensive lineman play as a true freshman. He's pretty special. He has quickness and speed. We are thankful that we chose to play him early in the season. I think that's going to help him now that we need him to play more. He didn't grade out well early on, but the effort was there. He's going to get better and better."

On Rod Smith and his improvement since walking on...
"Well, anytime a walk-on makes any improvement is good. We knew that he would be good by his work ethic and as a walk-on, you better have a great work ethic. He is soft spoken, but he's tough. Saturday night his catches put us in situations to help us score 14 points. There were several third downs that weren't perfect passes. There was one at his knees and one on the sidelines that he managed to get one foot in bounds.

"He's learning. He's not as good as he will be next year, but we have to get him the ball. I was talking earlier about how we didn't get him the ball enough in the first few games because we didn't have time with the protection not being there. Rod's a good football player that's going to get better."

On wide receivers improvements...
"We talked about concentration as we have been all week with any game. When you go on the road even they noticed that somebody has to make a play. We told our offense you have to control the ball more because of how good they are on offense. If you don't hold on to the ball or you don't make plays then our defense will be on the field for 70-75 plays, and then we will be in some serious trouble. Everybody has to understand their role and the situation you're in whether you are playing at home or away. They knew the intensity that we would have to play. They knew the environment. I think the concentration was a lot better."

On the offensive line...
"They are getting better. I would grade them out about a C on their first road game. We missed some blocks. There were some times where we could have had some really big gainers. I think that had to do a lot with the hearing the snap count and getting down field like we do at home. We are real close at being an SEC-type line. We aren't there but Coach (Hugh) Nall has done a good job of moving guys in and out.

"We are going to change our offensive line this week. We are going to mix it up, and it could be that we have one or two new starters in the lineup. We just have to get it to where we can create competition in the lineup. If you have competition, then it's just amazing how much better both players get. Everybody wants to be a starter and we are going to give it to the ones that are trying their best, earning that position and making this team better."

On Sen'Derrick Marks...
"He was really not highly recruited. I had an opportunity to just go down and stop by the high school. One of the coaches talked a little about Sen'Derrick. We heard a little bit about him and fortunately for us, he was practicing basketball at the time. I watched him practice, to see how he handled the ball and how he jumped with his explosion. Before we left that day, we offered him a scholarship, and we were very fortunate that he decided to come here.

"He's a type of athlete that you need to play on the defensive line. He could probably play linebacker, he's that athletic. You could put him in the middle, not outside, but he could play in the middle, because of his lateral movement and his explosion. He's a bonus for us because he can play on the inside and outside on the defensive line. He has a tremendous attitude toward playing. He loves playing. Just the effort he gives on field goals. A lot of guys might think they have been out for 10 plays, they might take this one off. The effort he gave on that field goal gave us an opportunity to win that game. It put us in the situation to win that game of them having no points in the first half and 14 points for us, which was huge for us going in with the momentum.

"Sen'Derrick always has a smile on his face. He always comes in to work ready at practice to try and get better. He is going to be a special player the next few years for us."

On South Florida and their success...
"Go back and look at the press conference we had. I said that Kansas State and South Florida were going to win nine, 10 or 11 games this year. I knew our first two games were going to be as tough as anybody's in the country. We had a chance. South Florida won the game, but we turned it over five times. We should have won the game. We just didn't play enough in certain situations. I knew that game and the West Virginia game were the two they were going to point at. We had their best effort, and they got us. They'll end up being a top 10 team all year long.

"Kansas State, we know how they're doing. We watched them on film during the summer. We knew what we were in for. We knew those first two games were going to be something that we would find out pretty quickly of how good we were. We were fortunate enough to beat Kansas State. We took advantage of situations. Brandon came in, being the experienced guy that he is, to win it on the last drive, almost the last drive. It's no surprise at all that those two teams are doing well. They will just get better because they had really good athletes when they came in here.

On the kick catching interference call and timeout before the winning kick...
"I think people hated the halo rule, because it was so hard to enforce. Is he one yard, two yards, three yards? Now, you just have to give them a chance to catch it. There's a lot of catch and hits at the same time as long as they catch the ball, that's the rule.

"The time out situation, what can you do? When they gave the head coach the ability to call time-outs from the sideline, they put that in effect. I would have done it different. I would have done it before he kicked it and not let him have a free shot and warm up and kick it again. It's pretty tough. You think you've won probably the biggest game of the year, and you have to turn around and walk back. As I said earlier to some reporters, I started to go talk to Wesley (Byrum) during that time-out. I saw a smile on his face, and I didn't want to go interrupt his 'good feeling time' so I went back to the sideline and was a spectator like everybody else. You can't imagine what goes through a young man's mind when after he's kicked it, the feeling, and then you got to go back out there and do it again. It has to be tough. I don't know how you can change it. You have the right to call a time-out."

On the second kick...
"He didn't hit the ball near as good on that one. The first one looked like it would have been good from 60 yards, and that one looked like it would have been good from 43 yards which is where he kicked it from. He didn't catch all-of-the ball. He keeps kicking it like that, I might use my time outs every time right before he kicks one and bring him over to talk to him then send him out."

On Vandy's Chris Nickson...
"He was the high school player of the state. Vanderbilt saw a lot in him, and we did too, but we weren't looking for that type of quarterback at the time. He's a great athlete. He's a lot like Kodi Burns or (West Virginia's) Pat White. We've seen a couple but (Tim) Tebow isn't as a illusive and a lot of the same offense. The quarterback at South Florida, who isn't as quick but has the same mentality, a guy that takes control of the game, runs the ball when he needs to and can throw it, too. We've seen a few of those over our time. That's how college football is moving, to a quick quarterback who can move out of the pocket and not just a drop back guy."

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