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MONDAY, JANUARY 1, 2007
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Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville addresses his team after a Cotton Bowl workout in Dallas.
AP photo by Todd Van Emst
Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville addresses his team after a Cotton Bowl workout in Dallas.

Hit the
ground running

Auburn won’t forget rushing attack today

By Bradley Handwerger
bhandwerger@decaturdaily.com· 340-2462

DALLAS — The game plan for Al Borges will be pretty simple in today’s Cotton Bowl — establish the run, stay out of long yardage downs, and then hit on play-action passes.

Borges, Auburn’s offensive coordinator, isn’t worried that Nebraska defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove knows this.

Today when No. 10 Auburn (10-2) hits the field against No. 22 Nebraska (9-4) after a 43-day layoff, Borges will give the Cornhuskers a heavy dose of Kenny Irons, some Ben Tate, a little Carl Stewart, and a hint of Tre Smith.

“We feel like we can exploit anybody if we can run the ball well,” Borges said. “If you’re running the ball well, and they’re committing people from the back end of their defense to the run, that naturally leaves some opportunities for some single-coverage match-ups that you like to think you have a chance at winning.”

Cosgrove and his defense know what’s coming at them.

The Cornhuskers allowed opponents to rush for more than 110 yards in five of their final six games, including 267 yards to Oklahoma State.

But in Nebraska’s most recent game, it limited Oklahoma to 42 yards on 28 carries.

Nevertheless, Nebraska will face an Auburn team nearly at full strength for the first time since August.

It just so happens that Auburn played its best game of the season in its opener.

The Tigers walloped Washington State 40-14, rushing for 293 yards on 44 carries. Irons played his best, gaining 183 yards, including his season-long run of 58 yards. That also marks the last time Irons took the field with his health at near 100 percent.

“Obviously, they play well when they’re hurt,” Nebraska defensive end Jay Moore said. “Hopefully, they don’t play better when they’re fresh and healthy because that would be a big change.”

However, Auburn will have to deal with one big change — no Brad Lester, who will sit because of an undisclosed violation of team rules. He ranks second on the team with 510 rushing yards and leads with 10 touchdowns.

“Brad is a big part of the offense,” Stewart said. “He can score from anywhere. It will be a big loss for us.”

With or without Lester, Auburn used the 43-day break to get healthy. All that’s left for Auburn is to put together its best game since September.

“Our experience, that’s going to go a long way, just being healthy will go a long way,” receiver Courtney Taylor said.

“You got Kenny healthy, Brandon healthy. The sky’s the limit for our offense.”

No. 10 Auburn (10-2) vs. No. 22 Nebraska (9-4)

When: Today, 10:30 a.m.

Where: Cotton Bowl Stadium at Fair Park, Texas.

Line: Auburn by 2.

TV/radio: FOX Sports will carry the game, and WZDX-54 will broadcast it locally. FM 98.3, AM-730 and AM-1450 are scheduled to have radio coverage.

Players to watch: For Auburn, look for running back Kenny Irons and quarterback Brandon Cox. If Irons is truly healthy, he should put on a performance that will send him flying into the 2007 NFL draft. When healthy, he’s one of the most fun players to watch. And if Cox is truly healthy, he may put together one of his best performances since playing well against Washington State in the opener.

For Nebraska, it’s quarterback Zac Taylor. Taylor was the Big 12’s offensive player of the year. If his line protects him well, Auburn’s secondary could endure a long day as he is a pinpoint passer.
Key matchup: Auburn’s offensive line vs. Nebraska’s defensive line. The Cornhuskers defensive line was their strength this season, while Auburn’s offensive line struggled at times. If the Tigers front five performs like it did in the second half against Florida, Cox should remain OK. If that group performs as it did against Georgia or LSU, you might see Cox carted off on a stretcher.

Weather: Cool and sunny with a high of 55.

Last meeting: Nebraska 41-7 on Oct. 2, 1982.

Prediction: Auburn 24, Nebraska 17.

Bradley Handwerger, Daily Sports Writer

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