"It was very upbeat, they had good energy in practice and I thought overall it was a solid practice," Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. Unlike the previous Tuesday, the Tigers had a full pads practice.
The coach said he liked what he saw out of true freshman Quan Bray, who has moved up to the first team at wide receiver with Trovon Reed out with a shoulder injury suffered on Saturday night vs Florida Atlantic.
"He has got a great opportunity," Malzahn said of Bray, who played quarterback last year at Troup County, Ga., High School. "He was real excited today in practice and was really locked in.
Malzahn said the fact that Bray has seen action at wide receiver, as a wildcat quarterback and a kickoff returner is a plus as the Tigers prepare for a South Carolina team ranked in the Top 10 nationally. "Anything like that helps,"?Malzahn said. "He has actually been on the field in the heat of the battle--ball security and all of that. You are always concerned about young guys. He has a solid job of that.
"He is a competitor," the Auburn coach added. "I really don't think the moment is too big for him like it is for some freshmen. He has got a chance to be a very good player."
Malzahn, who said the Tigers need to improve their timing as well as the consistency of the run blocking and pass protection, noted that the Tigers are getting excellent play from wide receiver Emory Blake. The junior has become Auburn's "go-to" receiver.
"Emory is one of those guys who has been in the heat of the battle in big moments and we know how he is going to respond," Malzahn said. "I feel like he is getting better each game."
Blake moved into a tie for eighth place on the Auburn career receptions for touchdowns list with a 10-yard catch against Florida Atlantic on a pass from Barrett Trotter in the first quarter. "That was a perfect throw by BT and that is something we practice a lot," Blake said of the play on Auburn's second possession of the game.
The junior has 12 touchdown catches for the Tigers, which ties him with Ronney Daniels (1999-2000), Tyrone Goodson (1993-97) and Freddie Hyatt (1965-67). The record is 29 set by Terry Beasley from 1969-71, a mark that no other player has seriously challenged.
While Blake is having a strong junior year, the offense's production is down. The Tigers are averaging 373.8 yards per game compared to 499.2 per contest last season. Blake projects that improvement on the horizon.
"You see very similar signs to last year," he said. "We are close--very, very close--and I feel like if we start executing every play we will get there. Everyone needs to do their job every play.
"It's crazy because Malzahn always says, ‘One person will mess up the play,' and that is what it has been. If we have one mess up here, the play doesn't work. If we have one guy mess up there, then the play doesn't work. Everyone else is doing their job. Most of the time it is just one guy away from executing the play perfectly."
Like Blake, Trotter said the key for the offense to play better this week is for all 11 players to properly execute their assignments. "I think it is just one or two things every play somebody is not executing,"?he said. "It is not always the same guys, it is just kind of different every play. We just have to make sure we all get on the same page."
With the Tigers winning twice last year vs South Carolina, and the second meeting being a 56-17 blowout victory at the SEC Championship Game, Blake predicts the Tigers will have the full, undivided attention of the Gamecocks this week. "I feel like they are going to be ready for us," Blake said. "You know they are going to prepare real hard and they are hungry to get a win against us."
Emory Blake runs for yardage after catching a pass vs. Florida Atlantic.
This season Blake leads the Tigers in catches with 16, receiving yards with 317 and receiving touchdowns with four. One of his teammates who will be looking to step up and improve his numbers this week is true freshman Quan Bray, who is filling in for Trovon Reed, who is out with a shoulder injury.
"Quan is more than capable," Blake says. "He has been behind Trovon this whole year and has had a great mentor ahead of him. As long as he doesn't get the jitters and just plays the game the way he knows how, he will be fine."
In the secondary South Carolina features 6-1, 193 junior Stephon Gilmore, a returning All-SEC cornerback who will likely be assigned to cover Blake. "He is very aggressive," Blake said of a player who is known to take risks and sometimes pay for that approach.
"Darvin (Adams) did a very good against him last year," Blake said. "Maybe he won't play as aggressive this year so we will see what he does when he comes out there."
Saturday's game vs. South Carolina is the first in a four-game stretch against opponents currently ranked in the Top 20. South Carolina in ninth and 10th in the major polls. "I love it," Blake said of the challenge awaiting his team. "Everyone is going to be watching us every week and it is just another chance to shine and show everyone what we are about."
In other news and notes:
*Defensive end Nosa Eguae agreed with Malzahn that the Tigers had a productive practice on Tuesday night. "It was great," he said. "Guys were flying around. Guys were excited to be out there."
The redshirt sophomore, a second-year starter, said he is looking for the challenge of playing four straight Top 20 teams beginning this week with South Carolina. "This what we wall signed up," Eguae said. "This is competing at the highest level."
*Malzahn said he is impressed with how freshman Kiehl Frazier is developing in his role running the wildcat formation for the Tigers. "He has impressed and he really handled himself and really ran the well inside last week, and protected the football," Malzahn said. "He is a real calm kid and we are just trying to expand his package each week and add to it, but so far so good with him."
*South Carolina is trying to go 5-0 for the first time under Coach Steve Spurrier. The Gamecocks have opened 5-0 just five times in the 118 years they have field a football team. The last time was in 2001. Spurrier has a 48-33 record in his seven seasons as head coach in Columbia.
*Spurrier has had success vs. Auburn as head coach with a 10-7 mark, but is 0-4 vs. the Tigers in his current job at South Carolina.
*South Carolina's 2-0 record in SEC play marks just the third time in its 20 seasons as an SEC member the Gamecocks won their first two league games.
*Over the past 10 years South Carolina has posted an overall winning record of 64-52, which is the eighth best of all SEC teams ahead of Ole Miss, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. Auburn is 89-31 during that stretch, which is the third best record of SEC teams behind LSU (96-26) and Florida (92-30).
*In addition to television coverage on CBS with Spero Dedes, Steve Buerlein and Otis Livingston calling the action, The Auburn Radio Network call of the game can be heard on Sirius channel 220 and XM 199. It can also be heard nationally by the Touchdown Radio network with Frank Frangie, Gino Torretta and Roxy Bernstein doing the broadcast.
*Auburn leads the all-time series with the Gamecocks 8-1-1 and has won the last six times it has played South Carolina. Saturday's game will be just Auburn's third appearance in Columbia where the Tigers are 2-0.
*Malzahn said the Tigers improved in game four with their third down conversions, but still have work to do in that area. The lack of third down conversions has slowed the pace on offense, which is a key component to AU's success.
*Getting tight end/h-back Philip Lutzenkirchen back this week will be important to the offense, said Malzahn, who noted the junior is like a coach on the field. It took three players to replace him when he was held out last week vs. FAU, Malzahn noted.
*After practice cornerback Ryan White said it is important that the defensive backs be physical and get their hands on the wide receivers early in the game on Saturday vs. the Gamecocks. He said that South Carolina star receiver Alshon Jeffery is having problems getting open against physical, press man coverage.
White also said he expects a loud, in-to-the-game type of crowd atmosphere at Williams-Brice Stadium because Auburn is coming, the team that beat the Gamecocks twice last season.
*Tailback Michael Dyer had praise for South Carolina's defense after practice noting the Gamecocks are athletic up front and in the secondary. He noted that Auburn's offensive line had a good night in practice working on picking up the South Carolina blitz schemes.
*Malzahn said the hope is to increase Dyer's number of carries, but to do that the Tigers need to hold the ball longer than they have in the first two games. Auburn has averaged only 59.5 offensive plays per contest. Dyer said as many times as the Tigers need him to run the football, he is willing and able to handle the load, noting that he is a back who gets a better feel for the game and becomes more effective the more he plays.
*Talking about the offense's performance last Saturday night, Dyer said the Tigers went out on the field overconfident and had to pick up their intensity level after leading just 10-6 at halftime.