AUBURN, Ala. — With the weather forecast calling for scattered thunderstorms and a 40 percent chance of rain Saturday night, Auburn head coach Gene Chizik didn’t mind practicing during a downpour Wednesday night.
“We were able to play in some sloppy conditions and had to focus more and do the things that you don’t normally get to do,” Chizik said. “This is the first time we’ve really had to practice in any weather conditions that weren’t conducive to game day.”
The Tigers spent most of the preseason practicing in sweltering conditions, but rarely did they do so in the rain. On a few occasions when it rained, they moved indoors to the John H. Watson Fieldhouse adjacent to the outdoor practice fields.
Tuesday and Wednesday showers gave them an opportunity to focus on several issues.
“Ball handling and ball security issues,” Chizik said. “Then when you’re out here and it’s raining, you’ve got to focus. You can’t be thinking about the rain or how wet you are and all those things. From a focusing standpoint, too, that was good.”
Chizik doesn’t want a potentially damp field to change anything Auburn does, especially on offense.
“The pace should stay the same,” he said. “Again, those are the focusing issues that I’m talking about. There shouldn’t be a change in any way, shape or form at all if they’re focused.”
Tight end Tommy Trott remains day-to-day after injuring his right knee in the first half last Saturday, although Chizik said the senior “felt good (Wednesday) in terms of just kind of moving around.”
Safety Drew Cole will not play. The sophomore had to be carted off the sideline after injuring his left ankle on a kickoff in the first quarter against Mississippi State.
Things are looking better for two other players. Although he hasn’t gone full speed, wide receiver Tim Hawthorne has expanded his role in practice. The junior has been sidelined since the end of summer with a broken bone in his right foot.
“He’s getting better,” wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor said. “My big deal is him having confidence in landing on it, jumping on it and coming out of breaks. ... When the trainers and doctor turn him loose, I’m going to put him back out there and see what he can do.”
Defensive end Antoine Carter, meanwhile, continues to recover from a knee injury that’s kept him out of action so far. The junior has practiced, hoping to get build up his endurance for when he’s cleared to play in a game.
“I’m hoping that he comes in and hopefully he can pursue to be an every-down guy,” defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said. “That’s the deal. It all depends on how everything holds up and the mental thing of taking on blocks and the banging and the practicing. It’s going to be a challenge, but yeah, I’m hoping as we get on down in the thick of the season he can help us win.”
West Virginia runs a unique 3-3-5 defense, with three down lineman, three linebackers and five defensive backs, which gives Auburn’s offensive line something else to think about this week.
“It can be a real challenge, just because it’s different from what other people do,” offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said. “The more you do it the more you understand what the defense is trying to do when they’re attacking this gap or attacking that gap.”
Although it’s a strange look, the Mountaineers will still typically send a four-man pass rush by adding a linebacker to their front. It’s not completely foreign to Auburn. Mississippi State used the scheme on occasion last week.
“They’re going to get to a four-down front somehow some way every play,” said Auburn center Ryan Pugh. “It’s different because that’s what they do. Most teams do that as their second option, but this is what these guys do and they’re very good at it.”