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October 3, 2012- -
AUBURN -- The Tigers' defense fared well against LSU's grind-it-out attack two weeks ago.
Yet spread offenses have been a doozy to defend.
Clemson, Mississippi State and Louisiana-Monroe averaged 442 yards of offense in their games against Auburn this fall using attacks that rely on spread concepts. The team's next challenge adds another layer of complexity - Arkansas can use different kinds of attacks in the same game.
"They can get in the big packages ? and they can also do something like Louisiana-Monroe does, you know, spread you out, four of five wides and isolate you," assistant coach Tommy Thigpen said. "It's space. Guys have got to make plays inside the tackles when they're running. It's different. When everybody's congested in there, you've got big running backs who can make plays in those tighter spaces, but now you get a guy that's smaller. you've got to be a little more athletic up front."
Tackling has been an issue for the Tigers so far this season. Things improved during the LSU game, but it's unclear if that's a function of Auburn thriving because of a more favorable matchup or tangible improvement.
Thigpen offered a third possibility Wednesday night: Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's ability to hide mask shortcomings.
"We do things to hide those flaws. Brian does a good job of blitzing and rolling guys down in the box," Thigpen said. "So you don't know how many guys are going to be in the box, how many times we're going to be calling what we call the 'max defense'. We have a good idea of what down they're going to run the ball. He does a fantastic job of the situational runs for us."
WIDEOUTS IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Coach Gene Chizik has spent the past two weeks clamoring for significant improvement from the Tigers' wideouts.
He didn't exactly offer a glowing review after practice Wednesday.
"They've still been very inconsistent," Chizik said. "I still think group has to step up. Everybody has to up their level of play when it comes to our passing game. That starts with the O-line and protection with them and the backs. Again, it goes to the accuracy of the quarterback and the receivers being able to catch balls when they get opportunities -- without missing big opportunities, which we've done."
The inference, of course, is that wideouts coach Trooper Taylor needs to improve his production as well. That doesn't bother the fourth-year assistant, who said he appreciates Chizik's candor.
"I don't want him to tell me I'm doing a good job when I'm not," Taylor said. "I want these guys to work hard and get better. Everybody at some point in time needs that encouragement or prodding. If he tells me that and I go out and work harder, that means I was cheating him before. I haven't changed the approach I've taken with these guys at all. The deal is to try to make sure I simplify and make it easy for these guys so they understand a new offense and what the demands are for them."
Taylor also said Sammie Coates, who typically works on the outside, may get a chance to play inside against Arkansas. That will require an adjustment.
"It's a different world, because you're working off linebackers and strong safeties as opposed to corners," Taylor said. "Sometimes different teams drop a defensive end. You really have to be physical in the slot. Your routes being precise, timing-wise, can be the difference in the ball being tipped up and getting intercepted because in this league, you tip a ball up, it's going to get picked."
BLAKELY IN LINE: Chizik said Wednesday that tailback Mike Blakely, who was effective in games against Mississippi State and ULM before earning no carries against LSU, is part of the Tigers' plan for Arkansas.
"We always plan on playing all the backs and sometimes as the games unfold, there are reasons we do or we don't," Chizik said. "Mike's had a good week of practice. Well, two good weeks. We've got a lot of confidence in him. He'll get his share of time."
Chizik clarified Wednesday that Moseley remains the top understudy, but hinted that Wallace is making a strong case for promotion.
Asked to explain how Wallace had forced himself to a higher position on the depth chart, Chizik said "just because he's kind of started to mix in there some in situations."