After not being cleared to play in the opening two games, he caught one pass during spot duty at Syracuse. He became a larger part of the offense last week at Vanderbilt with four catches for 87 yards.
“I would say that I am about 90 percent right now,” he says. Willis injured his ankle in preseason practice and was playing very well at the time. “After a game it bothers me and I would say that at Sunday’s practice I was 70 percent,” Willis notes. “The day off on Monday helps and I am back close to 90 percent by Tuesday’s practice.”
The 6-1, 184-pound junior from Jacksonville, Fla., caught 27 passes for 352 yards last season and played well down the stretch. After a strong spring performance, he was expected to be one of the focal points of the 2001 offense, however, the injury situation has changed that during the early part of the season.
He could be one of the more important Tigers on the field on Saturday as Auburn entertains Mississippi State for a 6 p.m. kickoff. With Auburn 2-0 in SEC play, a victory would keep the Tigers at the top of the divisional standings and would bury the Bulldogs at 0-3 in the league. Considering that this has developed into a less-than-friendly rivalry since Jackie Sherrill took over as head coach in Starkville, it is a given that the Tigers would be thrilled to put the Bulldogs out of the league race.
If Auburn is going to win on Saturday, Willis and the Auburn receivers will need to deal with Mississippi State’s physical and aggressive defense. With the Bulldogs playing man-to-man coverage on the wideouts and often blitzing the quarterback, Willis will have the responsibility of quickly shaking the MSU cornerback who is covering him to give Jason Campbell a target to throw to before the blitz can get to the redshirt freshman quarterback.
“I am sure they are going to bring the house to get Jason,” Willis says. “Mississippi State definitely tries to be intimidating out there. They try to push you around and hit you hard. We have to get ready for the most physical game we have played so far.”
After losing four straight games to the Bulldogs, Willis says there is no way that Auburn will be overlooking MSU even though the Bulldogs were blitzed 52-0 by Florida last week. “Florida is special,” Willis says. “Everybody plays differently against different teams. Just because Florida did that to them doesn’t mean that Mississippi State is a team to take lightly. This is a new week for them and a new mentality. It is going to be a tough game. For Mississippi State it is now or never so they will be playing extra hard.”
Inside the Auburn Tigers Magazine and Football Newsletter