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Running backs ready for Florida

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Auburn averaged just 93.5 yards rushing in its first two games, a little more than half of what the Tigers averaged a year ago. But AU faced a couple of tough defenses in those two games and has been without the services of suspended tailback Brad Lester this season.

Fortunately, sophomore Ben Tate and redshirt freshman Mario Fannin have stepped up their play just in time for AU’s trip to Gainesville this Saturday.

In last Saturday’s blowout win over New Mexico State, Tate and Fannin both eclipsed the 100-yard mark as AU rushed for 229 yards, its best output of the season.

Todd Van Emst
Tate is averaging 86.2 yards per game.

“Ben’s tough. Ben’s getting better and better,” said AU head coach Tommy Tuberville. “He’s kind of deceptive. I’m proud of him. I’m proud of him and Mario.

“Even though we’ve made a lot of mental mistakes, they’ve gotten better as runners.”

Tate, who’s started all four games this season, leads the team with 345 yards and two touchdowns on 73 carries.

“This is only my fourth real game of being in there and playing,” said Tate. “That’s what people don’t realize. I definitely improve each game. I’m constantly learning. All I can do is get better each game.”

Tate’s biggest issue has been maintaining his patience on running plays.

“Sometimes we run a toss and I don’t have patience with my line,” he said. “I try to tell them, ‘You guys can’t keep running to the sideline because I can’t keep running to the sideline because I’m not getting anywhere.’ I get impatient with them and decide to outrun them. That’s just something I’m working on.”

Tate had his best game against NMSU rushing for 111 yards. He gives a lot of credit to AU’s upgraded offensive line, which featured three true freshmen last week, for his development.

“The line, they’ve got the young guys out there now and they’re definitely coming off the ball,” said Tate. “When that happens that helps me get into the secondary a lot better and exploit my talent and be able to show my speed and get to the corners.”

Fannin got off to a frustrating start, missing the first game because he wasn’t entirely up to speed on his pass protection, and fumbling three times in the next two.

The week before the NMSU game, Fannin toted a football to class and around campus to remind him of ball security.

Todd Van Emst
Fannin is averaging 5.7 yards per carry.

“I did that every day,” said Fannin. “Some teachers were asking why I was doing that. Some of them watch the games so they understood.”

The strategy worked. Fannin rushed for a career-high 103 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries against the Aggies, including a 67-yard touchdown run at the end of the game.

Most importantly, he held onto the football.

“They tried to strip it a couple of times and they couldn’t get it,” said Fannin. “That boosted my confidence.”

That confidence boost and the improvement of both backs couldn’t have come at a better time for the Tigers. Lester’s suspension lasts one more game so AU must rely on Tate and Fannin to get it done against an athletic Florida defense.

“It’s going to be a great experience,” said Fannin.

Quick Hitters:

***Tate on his running style:

“I’m a guy, I wear on the defense. I pound you, I pound you and then I break the long ones off at the end. Ten carries for me is just getting warmed up.

“People might not think I can get the corner but as you see in every game I’ve got the corner, I’ve got around people. I’ve got that deceptive speed. It might not look fast until you get out there and run with me.”

***Fannin on the freshmen offensive linemen:

“Ramsey, he’s a good pulling guard. He came around there and knocked some folks on their butts. We saw that in practice. Pugh did a great job on the left side. He has a lot of talent.

“The freshmen stepped it up big time. I think we have a lot of mature freshmen who are getting to play this year.”

***LB Tray Blackmon practiced again Thursday and is probable for the UF game.

“Tray practiced better today, looked better,” said Tuberville.

***RB Tristan Davis also practiced Thursday but his status for the UF game is uncertain.

“Tristan practiced well,” said Tuberville. “He’s going to need another 48 hours. We’re going to run him again tomorrow, try to get more work done on that leg.”

***Punter Patrick Tatum returned to practice Thursday after missing a couple of days due to a death in the family. Ryan Shoemaker will be AU’s starting punter this week.

***Auburn practiced for 90 minutes in shells Thursday as they wrapped up preparations for their first road game of the season at Florida.

“We went a little longer today,” said Tuberville. “They had a lot of things to go over after practice yesterday that they didn’t feel like we had down good enough. Feel good about it now. Good practice. It’s been the best week of practice we’ve had.”

***Auburn will depart for Gainesville Friday afternoon, flying out of Columbus, Ga., and spending the night in Ocala. Kickoff for Saturday’s game is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT and will be carried on ESPN.

“Guys are excited about going on the road, something different. Four weeks at home is too long. Now, we’ll have some true tests on the road. This will be the first one.”

Auburn upset Florida last season, giving the defending National Champions their only loss. But Tuberville doesn’t expect that to factor into Saturday’s game.

“They got a different team. We got a different team,” he said. “Different players, different scenario. They’re playing good, we’re not playing good. Obviously, we’ve got a lot more to prove than they do.”

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