Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville held his weekly press conference this morning and discussed what his Tigers will face when they travel to Gainesville Saturday night to take on third ranked Florida…
“It’s good to get back in the SEC this week. We’ve had a couple of good practices. After last week’s game, we’ve gained some momentum. We played a little better last week. Our mentality this month has been less about who you play and more about yourself.
“We have a lot of work to do. Some guys are getting better. We know the situation in front of us. We have to get better in a lot of areas quickly.
“We’re not great on offense right now. All you have to do is look at the SEC statistics and see we’re ranked pretty close to the bottom. We have to do better than that. We need to get better at blocking, catching the ball, throwing and all the things we need to do to sustain drives.
“Last week we did score some points. A lot of them came from defense and special teams. You need those, too. But if we’re going to win, we have to win together as a team. That’s the way it’s been for the last four or five years. We have to continue to do that and thrive off each other. That’s been our motto.
“It’s going to be a tough assignment. I really like the attitude of the team. We worked hard today. We’ve worked on a lot of things. We’re trying to work out a system for two quarterbacks. Brandon Cox is our starting quarterback, and Kodi Burns will see some playing time.
“We’ll continue to work on him to give us another option as to how we attack a defense. We’re trying to improve each week and take them as they come. It’s going to get pretty tough for the next five weeks.
“Our leaders are stepping up. Our coaches are pushing them very hard. Today’s practice was probably the toughest we’ve had. When you win games, you want to put your players’ feet to the fire. You want to make sure they keep getting better and work harder. After last week’s win, we have done that and will continue to do that tomorrow.
“We still have some guys that are banged up. Merrill Johnson did not practice today and will not play Saturday. Tray Blackmon practiced some. Tristan Davis was back for the first time. He’s not 100 percent because he hasn’t practiced very much. He’s gained a little weight.
“It looked like he had been off for Christmas dinner for a couple of weeks. We were able to get him back on the field. He was cleared by the doctors in Birmingham, and it will be good to have him back.
“Our offensive line is doing well. They are competing each day. We’ve got two groups that are fighting each other every day for playing time. That’s what you want. That’s what we need to have to get better for the rest of the season.
“On defense, we’re starting to get some guys back healthy. Aairon Savage needs to be 100 percent for us to have the opportunity to be the defense we want to be. He gives us speed. He gives us a guy in the backfield who can cover receivers, tight ends and backs. He can play in the nickel and dime defense. He’s improved each week.
“Our kicking game is something we can brag a little bit about. Going into the season, we were a little skeptical about it. We have two punters that are really going to compete for the next two months and make each other better.
“Patrick Tatum had a death in the family and wasn’t at practice today. Ryan Shoemaker is punting at practice for the next couple of days. We’ll have to see how that works out by the end of the week.
“Wes Byrum failed to get some of his kicks high enough last week. He had one blocked. We’ll work on that. It’s good to see him back. We had those kickoffs in the end zone which was great to see. It’s going to help the entire team to have a starting point on the 20 instead of somewhere around the 40.
“Florida is a very good football team. They are very young and playing with a lot of momentum. They won on the road last week. They didn’t quite perform as well as they would have like in some areas, but they came out with the win. That’s the sign of a good football team.
“They have a lot of speed. They’ve got as many athletes on the field as we’ll see all year. They haven’t changed a lot since last year. They do a lot of things not just offense and defense, but also in the kicking game. They try to make plays in every phase of the kicking game. They are a well-coached team.
“I don’t think any of our players have been down there. It’s going to be new to them. All SEC road games are tough. The fans are really into it. We expect a very tough game on and off the field in terms of the crowd noise and the home field advantage.
“As I said many times, our fans won that game for us last year with how they got our players motivated and brought them back in the second half. It will be a very good game. We’re looking forward to it.
“It’s the first road contest of three over the next four weeks. We have our hands full. But again, we have to worry about ourselves and try to go down there and play better.”
On Florida Quarterback Tim Tebow…
“He’s very competitive and knows what he wants to do. He’s up to a challenge. A lot of people questioned his throwing ability last year. He can throw the ball very well. He has a lot of weapons around him. He uses them all.
“They have a good offense they built around him. It’s not the usual offense that you see, but it fits him very well. He has numerous people around him that he can use. He can use himself.
“A lot of times last week, he chose to use himself and he got the job done. The big thing about him is he loves the game and is very competitive. When you have that in a quarterback, then you have something special.”
Do Mike Berry and King Dunlap have to earn their spots back?
“Yes. We gave them the opportunity to start Sunday. The competition is good. We started three true freshmen last week. We’re going to start the ones who are going to know the game plan and be the most productive.
“Last week, we played a lot of offensive linemen. I would imagine we will continue playing them. I think it will be better for the entire line to play seven to nine a game. It will help us in the long run.”
On competition between punters…
“We were hoping to have that this week but with Patrick Tatum’s situation it’s going to knock us back a little bit. Both will travel. We will probably go down to who’s kicking best in pregame.
“With Ryan Shoemaker coming in last week and kicking a 62-yarder after being on the shelf for three weeks impressed me. He’s a competitor. We’re very fortunate Patrick came our way.”
Do you see a scenario where both would come into a game?
“We’ve done that before. We had one guy kick short and the other kick long. Sometimes there are advantages to that, sometimes not.”
What is your outlook on the young guys going into “The Swamp?”
“We tell our guys to think about how tough it is for other teams to come into our place and play. You know how hard you play when you have your fans behind you. When you go on the road, you’re going to take 10,000 fans, 70 players, 15 coaches, a few cheerleaders and sometimes your band.
“You have to take it as a challenge to focus more. On the road, it doesn’t take a lot to lose it. If you make a mistake, there’s no bench to crawl under. There’s nowhere to hide.
“You have to face the reality on the road. You’re going to suffer the consequences sometimes when you make mistakes because there are only a few people that you can turn to.
“It takes a very special person to play consistently on the road in this league. Our coaches do a good job of preparing our players. You want to talk about it some.
“You have to know how much to talk about it. Challenge them. You let them know they won’t just be playing the team. They will be playing an entire stadium. It’s hard on the offense.
“We have a lot of new guys going on the road for the first time. We will be doing our whisper drill. We won’t be able to hear the snap count. We have to do those little things to help us become better.”
Would winning at Florida be a signature win? What would a win at Florida do for the season?
“We have a lot more games. If you win on the road in this conference, it’s usually a `signature’ win. It’s hard to do. We’re playing a top 10 team. They haven’t lost since they lost to us last year. I’m sure they will pretty pumped up for that. They are the defending national champions. You only get one shot. We’ll take our shot this weekend and see what happens.”
How versatile is Eric Brock?
“We’re not in great shape at linebacker, in terms of injuries. He has the size. We’ll put him in situations where we feel he can be successful. You never want to put a defensive back in a linebacker position if you don’t think he can handle it. He can do it.
“He’s an older guy. We’ve played a lot of linebacker-type looks with our safeties. We’ll roll them up into the box to try and stop the run. It’s a little different when you’re not rolling up but lining up there.”
When you face a team you lost to the year before, do you use that as motivation?
“Not normally. Florida only lost one game last year. They dominated us in the first half, and they just didn’t finish the game. As we tell our guys, you can’t do that on the road.
“I’m sure they were disappointed. They made some mistakes in the kicking game. They gave us a couple of big plays and some calls went against them that possibly could have gone the other way. That’s motivation for them. They have us in their house. They are on a roll.
“They have looked at the film and probably have said, `We have a great opportunity to beat this team.’ We haven’t really been a good football team all year. We’ve been hit and miss and haven’t played an entire game.
“For us to have a chance to win this game, we’re going to have to play much better and play for four quarters. They know that. The effort will be there. We just have to go down and execute.”
How do you think Brandon Cox will play?
“Brandon has been good against good teams. In his career, he’s made a lot of good throws. I look at quarterbacks and how they throw on third downs. He did well last year on third down in big games. You’re going to be in that situation a lot versus good teams.
“They’ve given up some big plays. They gave up a couple last week, but there’s a lot of talent back there. They are well-coached a do a lot of things. They change it up. Sometimes when you do a lot of things, you make some mistakes. Last week, Ole Miss was able to take advantage of those things. I’m sure that’s something Florida will work on this week.”
Are you still evaluating how you can use Kodi Burns?
“Kodi is our second-team quarterback. We know we can run a few different things with him than we can with Brandon. He still runs the same offense as Brandon, but there are a few things he can do better.
“Since we’ve taken the red-shirt off of him, we’re going to use him. Hopefully, he gives us an advantage. Maybe not in this game, it might be next week or the week after that. We’re going to use our players and their talents in the way they need to be used.”