Originally created 11/07/02

SEC notebook



Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville isn't afraid to call this week's game exactly what it is - a glorified tune-up for Georgia.

Tuberville's Tigers play host to Louisiana-Monroe (2-7), a team that has been beaten handily by North Texas (41-2), Tulane (52-9) and Arkansas State (33-21).

Tuberville won't deny that this is a great time for a cream puff.

"Mentally, we need to relax a little bit," said Tuberville, whose Tigers (6-3, 4-2) are in the thick of the Southeastern Conference West race. "Emotionally, you don't have to get as prepared for this game because it is not a conference game."

Things will be different next week. If Georgia beats Mississippi on Saturday and Florida beats Vanderbilt, the Bulldogs will head to Auburn looking to win their first SEC East title.

The Tigers will be well rested.

"We're not going to emotionally push these guys this week like we will going into the Georgia game," Tuberville said.

INJURY WOES: South Carolina's receivers produced few big plays in last week's 18-10 loss to Tennessee, and its defensive backs gave up too many.

A spate of injuries in those areas doesn't make things any easier this week. At receiver, Andrea Gause is out at least three weeks after undergoing knee surgery; Michael Ages (collarbone) is doubtful; Ryan Brewer (ankle) is questionable; and James Adkisson is recovering from having his eye poked againstthe Volunteers.

At cornerback, Taqiy Muhammad (shoulder) and Dunta Robinson (elbow) are banged up as well.

"At wide receiver and defensive back, we're pretty decimated," said South Carolina coach Lou Holtz, whose Gamecocks play host to Arkansas on Saturday.

GETTING PHYSICAL: Tennessee is a more confident team heading into Saturday's game against visiting Miami, and the Volunteers' improved running game has a lot to do with it.

The Vols (5-3, 2-3) pushed South Carolina around in last week's 18-10 victory, rushing for 241 yards on 54 attempts. That was a sharp contrast to the week before against Alabama, when Tennessee was held to 59 rushing yards in a 34-14 loss.

The Vols also struggled against Rutgers (94 yards) and Florida (99 yards), but they showed no evidence of those woes against the Gamecocks. They chewed up more than 8 1/2 minutes off the clock on a decisive, 90-yard touchdown drive that saw them rush on 15 of 17 plays.

"Our kids were embarrassed, to be honest with you," Vols coach Phillip Fulmer said. "I think there was confidence gained as we went on. That fourth-quarter drive was very impressive."

PERFECT TONIC: Alabama was a team in disarray heading into last year's game against Mississippi State. The Crimson Tide were 3-5 and some were questioning whether coach Dennis Franchione had the program on the right path.

They beat the Bulldogs 24-17 that day, and since then they've won 11 of 13 games. Alabama (7-2, 4-1) plays host to Mississippi State (3-5, 0-4) again on Saturday, and few are doubting Franchione this time around.

"A lot of people were saying it was the same old Alabama team as the year before, and our players were not buying into that," Franchione said of last year's win. "We came from behind to win in the fourth quarter, and it kind of provided a spark for us to get going this way."

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or larry.williams@augustachronicle.com