Oct. 16, 2007
After two days away from the practice fields, the No. 18 Auburn football team worked out for two hours Tuesday morning at the practice fields behind the Athletics Complex in preparation for Saturday's SEC Western Division showdown with No. 5 LSU.
The practice was the first of the week for Auburn, which took Sunday off after returning from last Saturday night's win at Arkansas at approximately 3 a.m. Head coach Tommy Tuberville said during his weekly press conference that the team was in need of a mental and physical break, although preparations for LSU had begun prior to Tuesday's practice with film study and meetings.
"We are looking forward to another huge challenge this week," said Tuberville. "I'm proud of our team. We have improved. The biggest thing I'm proud of as a coach is that we have kept up our intensity and focus. We are starting to look like a football team each week, not just in the game but in practice."
Auburn (5-2, 3-1 SEC) will visit LSU (6-1, 3-1 SEC) Saturday at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge in a game that will kick off at 8 p.m. CT and be nationally televised by ESPN. LSU suffered its first loss of the season last Saturday at Kentucky, 43-37 in triple overtime, while Auburn enters the contest on a four-game winning streak. In five of the last seven years, the winner of the Auburn-LSU game went on to represent the West in the SEC Championship game.
It will be a battle of the SEC's top two defenses, as LSU is ranked first in the conference in total defense (223.1) and scoring defense (14.1), while Auburn is ranked second in each category (279.0, 15.6). The Auburn defense shut down a potent Arkansas offense last Saturday during a 9-7 win, holding the Razorbacks to 67 yards rushing, which was 271 below their average, and just 193 yards of offense, which was 314 yards below their average. The effort earned Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp the honor of National Defensive Coordinator of the Week by the Master Coaches Survey.
Auburn returns to the practice fields Wednesday afternoon at 5 p.m.
Quoting Auburn Head Coach Tommy Tuberville -- Oct. 16, 2007 Press Conference
"We are looking forward to another huge challenge this week. I'm proud of our team. We have improved. The biggest thing I'm proud of as a coach is that we have kept up our intensity and focus. We are starting to look like a football team each week, not just in the game but in practice.
"We have good leadership on the team. We have guys stepping forward. We are starting to have more fun in practice. It's always fun when you're winning, but even when we lost a couple of games, the guys were eager to get back to practice to get better. It's fun to see that as a coach. Our coaches have done an excellent job of changing things around, finding more about the team each week and trying to bring the best out in what we do best. We've worked on our weaknesses and just going and playing. It really doesn't make a difference who we play. We are just trying to get better and have fun and make the team better.
"LSU is a good football team. This is always a great game, one of the better ones in the conference. Even nationally, it's picked up a lot of interest. We always expect a tough, hard-fought game against LSU, especially when you go on the road. Their fans really get into it. Our players enjoy going down and playing in Baton Rouge. It's always an interesting game. Both teams play really hard, and it won't be any different this week.
"They have got a good football team. They had a slip up last week, but we all know how that is. There are going to be very few teams that aren't going to lose a game if any. There are a lot of good teams in our conference. They went on the road and played a very good football team in Kentucky that played well, and they still almost pulled it off in three overtimes.
"We've got a challenge, obviously, playing against two really good quarterbacks, a lot of running backs, speedy receivers and an offensive line that is much improved. Then you go to their defense, and they are leading in almost every category in the conference and even in the country. We know we have to play a complete game. We have to play better than we have been.
"Again, we are kind of like the `Cardiac Kids,' we play just good enough. We've got to get out of that mode. We need to play well on offense, and we can't lean on our defense as much as we have been. We are going to have to do a lot better this week. We are excited about another SEC game. This game always has big implications, and I'm sure it will have them this week also."
On doing enough to get by...
"Well, that's my philosophy knowing that you have to play well on defense and in the kicking game on the road. If you don't play good defense on the road in this conference, you better be good on offense. So we played our defense, but we need to change our mentality on offense. We know we are going to have to score more points down the stretch. We are going to have to make more plays. We were a little bit more open during the Florida game, but that was by design. I thought Al (Borges) and his coaches did a good job getting points on the board early. We have to get more points on the board early. I thought the first half of the Vanderbilt game was our best. In the second half, we basically scored a defensive touchdown taking an interception down to their 3- or 4-yard line. We can do that.
"I think a lot of it is our philosophy and our mentality and our coaching. The thing you try to do when playing football or any other sport is to have more points than the other team. It really doesn't matter how many more, it's just have more. We have weaknesses as everyone else does. We are going to have to stay away from them and build on our strengths. Sometimes when you play teams like LSU, you have to do more things to score more points. They are much more well-rounded in everything that they do. When we play bigger games like this, we seem to play better. We had a great and physical practice. We are going to do that. Very few teams probably have as a physical practice as we do. We are still in the middle of the `Youth Movement' of trying to get these guys better who are playing for the very first time. It's kind of coming around. When you have several game plans going into a game, you have to pick one out and see if it's going well and how we are playing on both sides. If we feel like it gives us a chance to win, we will go one way or the other."
On playing better in big games...
"I don't know whether we play better. I think we play more consistent. I think guys are focused a bit better. This year, they have all been big for us because we haven't been really a good team for four quarters. I think if you look back at several games then we look like a pretty good football team. We beat Florida down there. We looked pretty good at times, and at times we didn't. We made a lot of mistakes. We coached hard on those mistakes. We turned it over about 10 times in the first few weeks. We've gotten a little bit better at that. When you go on the road, you have to almost be perfect. If you look back at last week at how we coached and played, it was pretty close to being perfect in getting a win. We made a couple mistakes and fumbled. We had penalties and gave up a couple of big plays on defense on their one drive. You can be pretty much satisfied when you play a good team like Arkansas. Focus and intensity has been our theme all year long no matter whether you play on the road or at home. When you get your team going, you have to know a lot about them. One thing I know about this team is that they have fun playing. When they have fun playing, it's usually going to make a difference in how much focus and the things they put in the game."
"Merrill (Johnson) is playing. He is doing well. He played one play last week. The reason for that, we could have played him more, but he didn't know enough about the game plan and we were playing so well there was no reason to play him. (Tray) Blackmon is obviously doing much better. Aairon Savage practiced some today. He's probably a few days away from being able to play in a game like this. Ryan Pugh, did not practice. He says he is going to practice tomorrow. That might be stretching it a little, but he wants to play. We will look at him tomorrow and see what he can do. We are just fortunate to have him back. Finally, we got a little bit of a break in terms of not having an injury that could have gone for several months and not just a few days or a week or so. Quentin (Groves), practiced today. He is still a little sore. The guys in front of him are playing well. He is still 70-80 percent, and we are not going to play a guy who is 70-80 percent ahead of guys who are 100 percent and playing well. There is not a lot of drop off there in terms of making plays. When we get him back 100 percent, we know its going to be a luxury to have him because we know we will that much more depth."
On the comparison of LSU's defense and Auburn's...
"I think they have played a lot more consistent than we have this year. They haven't given up the big plays. They have a lot of speed. We are built in the same mold on speed and quickness. They play a four-man front. We play more of a three-man front. We don't blitz a lot and neither do they. They lean a lot on fundamentals, and they do a good job of that. We are trying to do the same."
On simplifying the offensive line...
"You can't simplify the offensive line. It's pretty complex, but these guys have picked it up pretty well. We make very few mental mistakes on the offensive line. We have had some physical mistakes but the mental mistakes have been good. We have ranked out an average of 90 on each guy on the mental aspects the last few games. These guys like playing with each other. They help each other out. That's been a big key to our success this year. We haven't scored a lot of points, but we have protected Brandon (Cox) better, especially when people have blitzed, and we have been able to run the ball a little more consistent each week."
On exploiting weaknesses from the Kentucky game...
"LSU played against probably one of the better passing teams in the conference. We faced him (André Woodson) a few years ago, and he was good then. I can imagine how much better he is now. You can't tell a lot by watching on film, but they have a lot of confidence in Kentucky on being able to throw and run the ball and make plays. There are not a lot of weaknesses on LSU's football team. The weaknesses are not evident. People are going to make plays on you. I don't care how good you are on defense. I'm sure they are disappointed on the amount of points they gave up last weekend, but that's going to happen when you're on the road playing against good teams."
On having the much needed off day on Sunday...
"We needed that. We needed a day off. I noticed it last week, and we had talked about it. I thought about challenging them before the game at Arkansas that if we won the game they would get Sunday off, but I didn't want to put it on that. When we had the lead at half-time, I told them that if they won the game that I was going to give them Sunday off, and they about ran over me out of the dressing room. A little motivation never hurts sometime. We are not as physically spent as we were mentally. These guys need a break. They didn't get to bed till 4 am, and it's going to be worse this week. They need to be able to get mentally away from football and the coaches for 24 hours, and I think that helped. They came out today for practice fired up and ready to go and had a good practice."
On physical practices after the first few losses...
"The reason we did this wasn't punishment. We knew we were going to have a lot of younger guys playing. We knew that you can't get your fundamentals intact unless you practice. Football is a game that you have to practice, push, shove and hit. You can't do it against just the scout team. We have our best guys going against our best guys on both sides of the ball. It's a lot of competition, and they enjoy it. They look forward to the beginning of practice. When you practice in the morning, you have to wake them up so we do a few drills early. On Tuesday practice, we do a lot of three on three, one on one, two on two. There are guys screaming and hollering just kind of to get the blood flowing and get mentally right for the rest of practice. The coaches do a really good job of waking them up. I think its been a big factor for us."
On LSU quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Ryan Perrilloux...
"It's a lot like we do. We don't play Kodi (Burns) nearly as much but Perrilloux is a guy who can run, and he can throw it. He's a good athlete. They have the luxury of having two guys that are very dangerous. Both know the offense. Both are different, and they use them that way. Gary Crowton, the offensive coordinator, I've known for a long time. He's a very good coach. He has been around and understands the passing game and the running game. I think he's done an excellent job with both of them. It's hard to balance with two quarterbacks. They have done a really good job of handling both of them and getting the best from both of them."
On the old Tray Blackmon...
"You could see it in his eyes a little bit. He felt a lot better about pushing off. Tray is a tough guy, and you can see if he is having a tough time with a sore ankle as much as he loves contact, that he was struggling a bit. He looked a little bit like the end of last year in how he played and how he moved around. If we can keep him out there going, he will get better each day."
On the last few years with LSU and low scoring games...
"Defense. I think for years they have stressed defense. We have stressed defense. When you put two good teams together, unless there are a lot of turnovers, there are not a lot of points scored. I would imagine that it would be close to the same thing. We are playing good defense. They are playing excellent. The kicking game is always involved. It's an exciting game. It's a game where both teams are going to be ready to play. We don't have to do much in terms of motivation. Our guys will be ready to play when they get there Friday afternoon, but we are going to have to wait until late Saturday night."
On Will Muschamp being fired up on the sidelines...
"I stay out of his way, especially when the team has done well, and they are coming off of the field. I've thought about doing the same thing, but I have to think about the other side of the ball, too. Will does a good job. He coaches hard from the time the ball is kicked off to the end. He takes it personal, and the players like that. He will get in their face, and he will grab them. They know that he is out there for them, and that's fun to see. You can do that more with defense. Offense is more finesse-type side of the ball and defense is more of just getting after it and hitting somebody and making plays. He's right there in that as all the coaches are, and it's been fun to watch."