Tigers Preparing For Murray's Aerial Assault

Erique Florence

An Auburn football practice report features news, notes and quotes about the Tigers and their preparations for this week's Georgia game.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn assistant coach Tommy Thigpen said his safeties will be tested on Saturday as Auburn and Georgia square off in the SEC's oldest football rivalry.

"They have a tremendous team with a lot of talent," Thigpen said after his Tigers finished Wednesday night's practice preparing for their road game at Georgia.

"We think this quarterback (Aaron Murray) is probably as good as we have seen," the coach said. "He is right there with the kid from Arkansas, Tyler Wilson."

Thigpen said he expects to see Murray challenge the Auburn safeties with nine or 10 long passes on Saturday at Sanford Stadium in Athens. "This kid throws the deep ball as good as anybody we have seen. He has thrown 25 touchdowns, which is tremendous.

"He has got some receivers who can stretch the field and this tight end (Orson Charles) he has...he makes it happen," Thigpen said. "The tight end can stretch the field as good as a wide receiver and it puts tremendous stress on your safeties. We have to be right on our landmarks."

Orson Charles

Thigpen added that Charles has improved as a blocker this season and said that the UGA junior is the best tight end the Tigers have faced during the past three seasons.

Commenting on Auburn's safeties, Thigpen said, "They have gotten a lot better. We are trying to get more of a rotation. We are trying to put 14 (Erique Florence) in the game more. Neiko (Thorpe), when he plays man coverage, he is as good as any. We have got to keep focusing on tackling and getting lined up right."

Tommy Thigpen

The Tigers had their first open date last Saturday and used it for two full practices and a walk-through, but mainly to rest and recharge. Thigpen said the off-week was also an important one for young players like Florence and Smith to focus on mistakes they have made in earlier games and study how to get better.

He pointed out that Florence just missed getting an interception on a deep fade route vs. Ole Miss. "If he was in position with just a little better technique, he probably would have picked it, but he got out of phase and he knew exactly what he did wrong," Thigpen said.

In addition to developing Florence and Smith as safeties, getting them into the game gives rest for starters Demetruce McNeal and Thorpe, who also play on special teams. "My whole focus is we just have got to keep a rotation where guys aren't playing 20 plays on special teams and 70 plays in a game," Thigpen said. "We are trying not to wear them down for the last three games."

Head coach Gene Chizik said he liked what he saw on the practice field Wednesday night as the Tigers worked for more than two hours in shorts polishing details for the game plan.

"We have had a really good week of practice so far," he said. "It is going to be a fun game. We have another day of preparation, which we definitely need, but they have been really, really focused. Practice has gone real good. We still have a few things we have got to clean up, but other than that I feel real good about where we are at."

Chizik said there is a "fine line" on how to handle an extra week in preparing for a game, noting the Tigers have tried to not do too much on the field work while also getting extra practice time going back to last week. The Tigers haven't played a game since defeating Ole Miss a week ago last Saturday. "I think we have a good plan," the coach said.

In Auburn's last road game at LSU the offensive line struggled allowing quarterback Clint Moseley to be sacked six times in his first college start. Junior offensive guard John Sullen said he believes the group has improved since the LSU game. "Our chemistry gets better week by week," he said.

One of the reasons for the improvement is better communication up front with the same starting five on the offensive line the past three games. To prepare the offense for playing in loud visiting stadiums, the Tigers have piped in music at their indoor facility and pumped up the volume.

Sullen said sound level can get even louder than the crowd was at LSU. "We can't even hear ourselves think most of the time," he said of the indoor practices with music. However, Sullen noted the noise has helped the linemen learn to focus on communication and assignments.

The junior guard noted that he and his teammates will be challenged this week by the Bulldogs. Asked what Georgia's defensive front looks like on video, Sullen said, "Like a Georgia defensive line. They are big, they are strong, they are physical and they are fast. You can't take anything from them. They are great players. They are athletic."

John Sullen is a starting guard for the Tigers out of Auburn High School.

Sullen said he is looking forward to Saturday's game as his Tigers head to Sanford Stadium in Athens as nearly a two-touchdown underdog vs. 7-2 Georgia. "I don't back down from a challenge and love it when people doubt us," he said. "It is just a motivation thing for me."

Sullen also said he is expecting a physical game on Saturday for the 115th renewal of the SEC's oldest football rivalry. "Every time we play each other it is going to be just boom, boom, boom," he noted.

Kickoff for the contest is set for shortly after 2:30 p.m. Central time with national television coverage on CBS. Sullen said he expects Auburn fans will see a more polished offensive line group wearing Auburn jerseys. "I feel every week as a unit we have gotten better."

Sullen points out that offensive line coach Jeff Grimes lets the players know they still are far from being a polished product. "You can't satisfy Coach Grimes--it is impossible," he said. "We just get as close to satisfying him as we can."

Auburn officials announced on Wednesday that they will honor Pat Sullivan at a ceremony prior to next week's Homecoming game as the Tigers play Samford at noon. Sullivan is head coach of the Bulldogs and was the 1971 Heisman Trophy winner as a record-setting quarterback for the Tigers on the 40th anniversary of the accomplishment.

The ceremony will take place 25 minutes before kickoff. "Obviously, this is very humbling," Sullivan said. "I really appreciate (Auburn AD) Jay (Jacobs) inviting my teammates back because I know I won the award because of their help. I'll also look forward to having our Samford team there and to them being able to share in it.

"It doesn't seem like it has been 40 years, but I appreciate all of the kindness that everybody has shown me," Sullivan said." I will also really appreciate Jean (his wife) and our kids and grandkids being there and being part of it."

Sullivan passed for 6,284 yards with 53 TDs from 1969-71 at Auburn and set an NCAA record for touchdown responsibility with 71.

"We are thrilled to have the chance to honor Pat Sullivan on the 40th anniversary of his Heisman Trophy," Jacobs said. "Coach Sullivan is and will always be an Auburn football legend, but more importantly, he is a class act with the utmost character and integrity. Recognizing Coach Sullivan along with many of the players from his era will be a special moment for the entire Auburn family."

In other news and notes:

*Chizik said that junior wide receiver Emory Blake isn't full speed yet, but continues to make progress as he recovers from an ankle injury. Blake said he was 75 percent of full speed for the Ole Miss game. Wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor said that Blake looked good in Wednesday night's workout and is expecting a good performance out of the team's top receiver.

Emory Blake

Blake is fifth in the conference in receiving yards per game with his average of 57.7. Jarius Wright of Arkansas is the SEC leader with 101.5 per contest. Blake is 10th in receptions at 3.4 per game.

*Michael Dyer will enter Saturday's game 11 yards short of reaching the 1,000 mark for rushing yards. Dyer is averaging 109.9 yards per game and if he reaches that average he will surpass his freshman season total of 1,093 yards.

*Barrett Trotter is ranked seventh in passing yards per game with 126.1 per game. He is 10th in the SEC statistics for total offense at 129.9 yards per contest.

*Cody Parkey is ninth in the SEC in scoring with 6.8 points contest and Dyer is 10th with 6.0 per game.

*Parkey is fourth in the SEC in field goal percentage at 79.6 percent with 11 makes in 14 tries.

*Special teams coach Jay Boulware said the Tigers are preparing for facing talented returners on Saturday such as Brandon Boykin. In addition to having the first team offense and defense go head to head at times in practice, the Tigers have gone full speed on some special teams drills with the best going against the best.

*The Tigers have been working on shoring up the kickoff return unit, which had performed well until having a poor performance at LSU. Boulware said the team made strides in that area vs. Ole Miss in game nine, but is still not satisfied.

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