Players, Coaches Like Preparations for UGA

Jeffrey Whitaker

Comments from Auburn's offensive and defensive coordinators plus key players are featured in this AU football practice report.

Auburn, Ala.--Players and coaches labeled Tuesday night's practice a lively one as the Auburn Tigers worked out for two hours putting in the game plan as they prepare for their oldest football rival, the Georgia Bulldogs.

Defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker noted he was so fired up about being back on the field he got scolded for tackling a teammate to the ground, which is a no-no when the team is practicing in shoulder pads, helmets and sweat pants as was the case on a cool and rainy evening.

Whitaker, who has been sidelined the past three weeks with a back injury, said he was certain he will be able to return to action for Saturday night's game vs. the Bulldogs.

Freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace noted he liked what he saw during the offensive part of the practice. "Overall, I think we had a pretty good practice tonight. We got some things cleaned up. Tonight was a lot of fun actually. It was a good practice."

Commenting on why it was fun, Wallace said the Tigers "ran through the plays smoothly" as they prepared for fifth-ranked Georgia. "Everybody was on the same page. It was really exciting. Everybody seems very excited about this weekend."

Wallace, who will be making his second college start on Saturday night, figures he will be the No. 1 target for the Georgia defense because he is an inexperienced true freshman. "Of course, and why not?" he said of the expected attention. "From what I think about Georgia they are going to come for me and I am going to have to make some plays on Saturday. That is what is going to come down to.

"We are going to have to be able to run the ball some, but it is really going to come down to whether or not I am going to be able to make the plays that need to be made."

After watching video of the Bulldogs' defense, Wallace said he is impressed and pointed out that he has "to grow up quick" to be ready to play the 8-1 Bulldogs.

"Their whole defense is very talented, I must say that," he noted. "They have a lot of very good athletes."

The quarterback added, "Their secondary is really good. We have to continue to just press forward."

Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said one of the best things about Wallace's performance in his first start was how he improved during the course of the game.

"He started out slow," the coach pointed out. "There were five mistakes in the passing game he had in the first half, all which are correctable. He will learn from those mistakes, two of which probably had opportunities to score, but in the second half it was really refreshing to watch a guy who struggled in the first half be able to rebound and play a very good second half."

Commenting on the Tuesday practice, Loeffler said, "It was great. The atmosphere was great. The weather was perfect. The players were extremely excited for the opportunity to play Georgia. They understand the great rivalry we have with them and they are excited to play."

Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder agreed with Loeffler about the weather and the practice. "It was nice ball weather," the coach said, noting he liked the energy he saw from the Tigers on Tuesday night. "The guys were positive.

"They certainly recognize this as a big game as part of the long, storied history of battle between the two schools," said VanGorder, a former defensive coordinator at Georgia. "I?think they respect and appreciate that, and I think they know they are playing against a great team--that usually helps."

Commenting on what he saw from video of Auburn's 42-7 victory over New Mexico State, VanGorder said, "I thought our defensive line played better. That was the best part of our game."

He said that during the game he was concerned about the pass coverage, but said after evaluating it on video it was better than he expected. "We had some real tight coverage at times so that was better," he pointed out.

Brian VanGorder

The coach said he was unhappy about several of the running plays the Tigers gave up as well as a 51-yard pass play that set up the visitors' only touchdown.

"The overview is we got up and played with some energy and had some good performances from players who are still developing and ascending," he said. "That is the positive."

VanGorder said that tackle Gabe Wright showed improvement as did another sophomore defensive tackle, Angelo Blackson. The coach added that it was good to see Dee Ford contribute at end.

Gabe Wright

"Gabe Wright has really improved his game," the coach noted. "He is the one that really jumps out for me right now. I thought Angelo took a step in the right direction. He had a couple of real productive plays. He is still not what I was hoping he would be following an injury."

Ford said after Tuesday night's practice that he felt quick on Homecoming because of fresh legs. He has been limited in what he can do because of an injury to his lower abdomen.

Asked how important it is to the defense to have Ford on the field contributing, VanGorder said, "It is a difference--a big difference. He has battled injuries all year and has not been 100 percent."

Young Linebacker: With junior middle linebacker trying to recover from an ankle problem, true freshman Cassanova McKinzy is getting plenty of work in practice this week. VanGorder said he likes what he is seeing from McKinzy.

"The rookie linebacker is working hard--it is important to him," the coach said. "Every minute he can get up here and watch film he is doing it. He wants to do well and for me that means a lot, but certainly he is young and learning and can't do all the these you would like to do, but he is not the only one."

Wright said he saw signs of improvement from himself in the Homecoming game, but added he still has work to do. A high school star in Columbus, Ga., he said the UGA game is important to him and others on the team from Georgia, but they aren't alone.

"I believe it is special for those Georgia guys," he said, adding that considering how the season has gone the opportunity to upset the No. 5 team in the nation is a big deal to everybody on the Auburn roster.

Trending: Auburn leads the series 54-53-8, but Georgia has won seven of the last 10 games and Coach Mark Richt is 7-4 vs. the Tigers. Richt's overall record in Athens is 114-39 (.745 wining percentage) with a 68-31 record in SEC games. He is ranked fourth in winning percentage among Division I coaches behind Urban Meyer of Ohio State, Bob Stoops of Arkansas and Gary Patterson of TCU.

Richter Scale: Georgia's head coach has had good success winning on the road in the SEC. Richt's record in league road games is 40-11 in his 12 seasons in charge of the Bulldogs.

Three-And-Outs: One of the reasons for Georgia's 8-1 record this season is the defense has had some success getting off the field quickly. The Bulldogs are averaging 5.5 three-and-outs per game, which is third nationally behind Florida State (6.6) and TCU (6.22)

Spoiler Role: With Auburn sitting at 2-7 overall and 0-6 in the SEC, the Tigers will try to play spoiler on Saturday vs. a Georgia team looking for its second consecutive berth in the SEC Championship Game and fifth overall appearance in the game.

Under the Lights: Gene Chizik said his Tigers are looking forward to playing a rivalry game at night, on national television at home in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Under Chizik the Tigers are 16-7 in games that kickoff at 5 p.m. or later and 10-3 in home games under the lights.

Injured Tigers: Chizik said that cornerback Chris Davis (concussion) is questionable for the Georgia game while tight end C.J. Uzomah is definitely out this week with a broken bone in his finger. Chizik added it will be "touch and go" whether or not the sophomore will play again this year.

Quarterback Clint Moseley, who suffered an ankle injury on his third play of the Texas A&M game, is making progress and may be ready for backup duty if needed this week.

Tigers On TV: Saturday's game will be televised by ESPN2 at 6 p.m. CST. Mark Jones will handle the play by play, Brock Huard will be the analyst and Allison Williams the sideline reporter.

Tigers On Radio: In addition to coverage by the Auburn Network on stations around the state, the radio broadcast is available on Sirius Channel 92 and XM Channel 196. The game is also being carried on stations around the country on the Touchdown Radio network.

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