VanGorder Praises Tide As AU Opens Practice

Brian VanGorder

Auburn began on-the-field preparations on Monday evening for Saturday's road trip to play No. 2 ranked Alabama. Comments from Auburn's football coaches plus news and notes are featured in the report.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers began preparations for their final game of the season with an hour and a half workout under the lights on Monday evening, their normal day off during the football season.

With no classes on the Auburn campus, the NCAA 20-hour rule limiting the amount of time coaches can spend with their players at practices and in meetings is not in effect.

Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler noted that was a very good thing as he begins preparations for his first chance to coach in the Iron Bowl when the Tigers travel to Tuscaloosa on Saturday to take on in-state rival Alabama.

Also coaching in the game for the first time will be Auburn's defensive coordinator, Brian VanGorder, who noted he liked the energy he saw as the Tigers worked out in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts.

"I think both teams will recognize the greatness of the game, the pageantry of the game and the excitement for our state and naturally I think that carries over to practice," he said.

Alabama's offense is averaging 428.5 yards per game with 219.1 coming through the air. Asked what he has noticed on video of the Tide, VanGorder said, "They are solid everywhere. They don't have a weakness. They are solid in their run game, solid with a veteran quarterback and a good corps of receivers."

The coach noted the Tigers face a difficult challenge on Saturday. "They are very good up front," he said of the Tide's offensive line. "They are big, execute very well and are very well coached."

Alabama's one-two running back punch featuring Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon has combined for 1,679 rushing yards in 11 games. VanGorder said it is "critical" that the Tigers do a good job of preventing yards after contact. "They are big, strong backs," he pointed out. "Tackling has been our Achilles heel for us this year. This is another challenge. Hopefully, we'll get better in that area."

Commenting on Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron, Auburn's defensive coordinator said, "He appears to be a solid leader--a veteran who understands philosophically what Alabama expects of their offense. He does a great job in managing the game, making proper checks and throwing the football. He has 21 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. He knows how to manage a game and win."

Alabama's style of play is similar to LSU's, a team Auburn held to 12 points, but VanGorder noted that the big difference is that McCarron is a tested veteran while quarterback Zach Mettenberger was making his first start for LSU in the game at Auburn.

The Tigers are scheduled to return to the practice on Tuesday and will have two more practice sessions after that before heading to Tuscaloosa on Saturday.

Safety Starter: Trent Fisher made his second college start in the 51-7 victory over Alabama A&M on Saturday in place of Demetruce McNeal. VanGorder said it is still to be determined if Fisher or McNeal will get the start this week.

Trent Fisher is a sophomore who earned a scholarship after walking on.

Commenting on Fisher, the coach said, "He is a football player. He loves the game and he competes hard. He is very much into everything we are doing detailing his work and such. As far as this week goes we will take a look at all of the guys and see who does the best job of digesting the plan and being able to execute and what kind of passion they carry during practice."

Fisher returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown vs. Alabama A&M. It was the first pick by an Auburn safety or cornerback since the Samford game in 2011. The only other interception for the Auburn defense this year was by linebacker Daren Bates vs. Clemson.

Ready for Action: The Tigers held middle linebacker Cassanova McKinzy out of Saturday's game to allow an ankle injury time to heal. With the Tigers off from practice on Sunday, how did McKinzy look on Monday night?

"Cassanova is moving around good out there," VanGorder said. "He looked healthy." The coach added he is not sure how much playing time the true freshman will get in his first Iron Bowl game. "He is a young player who has got to get a grip on the game plan and be able to go out and execute," VanGorder said.

Leader By A Longshot: Emory Blake has 47 catches for 733 yards this season. No other Auburn receiver is remotely close to the senior in number of catches or receiving yardage. Onterio McCalebb is second on the team in receptions with 17 and Philip Lutzenkirchen, who has missed the last five games with a season-ending injury, is second in receiving yards with 139.

Emory Blake is a senior from Austin, Tex.

Blake personally has 11 more receiving yards than the combined total from Lutzenkirchen, C.J. Uzomah, Trovon Reed, Onterio McCalebb, Sammie Coates and Quan Bray, who are ranked two through seven in receiving yards this season.

Commenting on Blake, offensive coordinator Loeffler said, "Emory has had a very good season. He is a solid player who catches the football well and understands the system. He has been a pleasure to be around every day at practice."

Mason's Yardage Total: Tre Mason needs 80 yards to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the season. His 86-yard run vs. Alabama A&M was the longest rushing play for Auburn since Brent Fullwood raced 88 yards vs. Mississippi State in 1986. Mason is averaging 6.1 yards per carry as a sophomore.

Tackle Or Guard: Loeffler said it is still to be determined if Chad Slade will return to his right guard spot this week or make his second start at left tackle in place of Greg Robinson. With Robinson demoted to second team last week, Christian Westerman made his first start at guard.

The coach said both Westerman and Slade did good things on Saturday, but left room for improvement with their performances. Loeffler added it was important to get Slade work at tackle and Westerman game action at tackle with the Tigers short on healthy bodies at those positions with the exception of players being redshirted.

OMac: Onterio McCalebb is the second player in SEC history to rush for 2,000 yards (2,589), 1,000 kickoff return yards (1,287) and 500 receiving yards (609). "It is kind of neat because there are a lot of people out there in the world who dream to do things like that," the senior said.

McCalebb celebrates a touchdown run last Saturday.

Tigers Vs. Tide: Alabama leads the all-time series 41-34-1, but the Tide has defeated the Tigers just once in eight games between the two teams played in Tuscaloosa. Alabama won last year's game 42-14. Auburn won 28-27 on its last trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2010.

TV Coverage: Kickoff for Saturday's game is set for shortly after 2:30 p.m. CST on CBS. Verne Lundquist will do the play by play, Gary Danielson is the analyst and Tracy Wolfson is the sideline reporter.

Radio Coverage: In addition to the Auburn Network coverage around the region, the game will be broadcast on Sirius Channel 135 and XM Channel 204.

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