Tuberville: MSU Will Be Ready for No. 4 AU

Merrill Johnson (55) at Thursday's practice.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn worked out in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts for 90 minutes in its final tuneup for what Tiger coaches are expecting to be a physical football test on Saturday morning at Mississippi State.

AU coach Tommy Tuberville says, "We have had good practices this week. Our guys are excited about the SEC. We worked more on the kicking game today than anything else--special plays that we put in.

"It has been good week," he adds. "I think everybody is kind of anxious to get back playing in the SEC. It is the first road game. We have got to be focused and know that winning on the road is very tough in our conference. We want to go over there and see if we can play a better game than we did last week."

Trips to Starkville used to be rivalry games for Tuberville when he was head coach at Ole Miss going head to head with former Mississippi State head coach Jackie Sherrill. The two were were not exactly friendly rivals. However, now that he is in his eighth season at Auburn and Sherrill is out of coaching, Tuberville says that is no longer the case. However, he says that he still expects to get Mississippi State's best shot with Auburn ranked fourth nationally in both bolls and the preseason favorite to win the conference title.

"You have to put it in perspective," Tuberville says. "When you are kind of the target of everybody else, you know you are going to get their best shot. As a head coach, you try to make sure everybody understands what they are getting into...All of that has kind of worn off about Jackie being there for years. Sylvester (Croom) has done a good job. They are going to be well-coached. It is going to be about going and playing another good game and worrying about ourselves and not worrying about who we are playing."

Tommy Tuberville watches his Tigers work out at Thursday's practice.

In the 40-14 opening night win vs. Washington State, the Tigers played most of the game without a middle linebacker because the Cougars were a pass-oriented team. The Bulldogs are expected to try to overpower Auburn with their running attack and that means more playing time for sophomore MLB Merrill Johnson, who is backed up by Chris Evans and Courtney Harden.

"It is going to be a physical game and Merrill is physical and he is a guy who is looking forward to Saturday," defensive coordinator Will Muschamp says. "He is going to play a lot more than he did last week. He better drink a lot of water tonight."

Junior noseguard Josh Thompson, who won praise from Muschamp and the the rest of the coaching staff for his play in his first Auburn start last Saturday, says, "I played pretty good for the first game and I think the defense played pretty good, too. I think the biggest place we messed up is not tackling as well as we should have. The effort was good. We have just got to do the little things right."

Thompson got off to an impressive start with a sack of Alex Brink on the opening play as Auburn's defense came out aggressively. "They started blocking me with one guy and then they started holding me," Thompson says. "Then they started with two and a bunch of holding happened, but it is going to happen that way if I play good.

"If there are two guys blocking me, I am pretty much doing my job if I just stay in there with them," the junior adds.

In other news:

*Although he isn't going to play on Saturday, Mississippi native Steve Gandy from Wayne County High School will be making the trip to Starkville with his teammates. Gandy is making a strong recovery from August surgery to repair damage from a compartment syndrome injury. Gandy says that he is making good progress on his recovery. On Thursday he worked out on an exercise bike and ran.

*Saturday's game will kickoff at 11:30 a.m. from 55,082-seat Davis Wade Stadium on the Mississippi State campus. Auburn's all-time record is 9-4-1 in games played in Starkville. Dave Neal, Dave Rowe and Dave Baker will call the action for the Lincoln Financial Sports television network.

*SEC Offensive Player of the Week, tailback Kenny Irons, says the Tigers are going into Saturday's game with the goal of being physical against the Bulldogs. "We want to be a dominant offense," he says. "To do that we have play hard and we have to beat them to the punch. I thought our offensive line did a great job. I give them a lot of credit for our success."

*Offensive line coach Hugh Nall says he saw some promising signs for his rebuilt group. "I thought we had a real good first night, but it wasn't perfect by any means. We have a long way to go to get to where we want to be."

Hugh Nall watches his offensive linemen at Thursday's practice.

*Nall says from watching video of Mississippi State's defensive front, the Bulldogs will offer a tougher challenge than they did in 2005 when Auburn won 28-0. "They are very, very quick. They are really, really sound technicians. We are going to have to pick it up pretty quick...Those guys really come off the ball and they are well coached with their pad level and their hustle. They gave up very few points (vs. South Carolina) and the only touchdown was a trick play."

*Quarterback Brandon Cox says he hopes to be sharper with his throwing in game two. "I missed a few passes that I should have made." Cox says he was pleased the Tigers scored 40 points in the opener, but adds, "If we had scored touchdowns instead of kicking field goals we would have scored 60."

*Offensive coordinator Al Borges says that true freshman Neil Caudle will be the emergency QB for the game in Starkville, but there are no plans to play him on Saturday. Both Caudle and fellow freshman Steven Ensminger are scheduled for redshirt years. "Steven is really having some back problems and Steven is healthy," says Borges, who notes he also considered taking scout team quarterback Jonathan Vickers as the number three QB behind Blake Field.

*Fullback Michael McLaughlin, who suffered an ACL injury in spring training, could see spot duty on Saturday in a "limited capacity," Tuberville and Borges note. "We aren't going to play him 40 plays or anything, but I think in goal line, short-yardage and those kind of things Mike was really having a good spring when he got injured," Borges says. "He was playing well. I don't know if he is full-tilt, but he is a little bit better every day. Hopefully we won't have to play him too much, but he serves a purpose. He is a tough kid and can do some of that dirty work."


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