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A spirit that is not afraid

Masoli's versatility biggest threat to Tigers

As the No. 1 Tigers prepare to head to Ole Miss, coach Gene Chizik said the team's focus is on opposing quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.

"He's extremely talented, extremely dangerous with both his arm and his ability to make things happen with his feet," Chizik said. "A lot of his plays that you'll see he's extremely effective--it's the break in the pocket, getting out in space, and either at that point, choosing to run the ball or hitting some of those big targets he has at receivers."

Chizik said another part of Masoli's threat is his ability to react under pressure.

"Any sight of trouble, they take the ball to the perimeter because he can," Chizik said. "We're doing our best to pull him up and trying to take away some of what we call these windows that he's able to create for himself where he can see. That's going to require some push up the middle and trying to contain him on the perimeter with our ends. That's a tall order because he's really good at it."

The Rebels (3-4, 1-3 SEC) enter the game after a 38-24 loss to Arkansas hampered by rain delays. Though Masoli threw for 327 yards, including three touchdowns, coach Houston Nutt said his team's overall performance resulted from a lack of offensive consistency.

"Not having the same starting offensive front from week to week has been tough," Nutt said. "Injuries have put us behind. Chemistry is everything at every position, but especially at the offensive line."

Despite Masoli's success, Auburn junior quarterback Cam Newton said he's confident in the Auburn defense.

"(Masoli is) an elusive guy, and he's a guy that's fun to watch also," Newton said. "Just with what he can do, it's scary for defenders and for me just looking at it on the field. Our defense will have an excellent week of practice like they've been having, and we should be successful."

Defensive coordinator Ted Roof says he's seen a positive change in Auburn's tackling, often cited as one of its biggest flaws.

"I thought there was a big improvement," Roof said after practice Sunday. "I thought we tackled better, but we still have a lot of room for improvement. There are a lot of things we have to work on."

On the other side of the ball, the Rebels are sixth in the nation in rush defense, allowing only 125 yards per game.

"They can run," said offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. "They really run to the ball well, and they gang tackle. Their interior defensive linemen are extremely talented, physical and fast, and they do a good job within their scheme."

Though the difference in the teams' records is obvious, Chizik said he won't let Auburn's place in the spotlight distract the team.

"I haven't really stepped back to really think about it a lot to be honest with you," Chizik said. "As I say every week, we can be happy with the result, but we shouldn't at all be satisfied with where we're at. We're still in search of trying to play a game of four quarters, which we haven't done yet, in my opinion."

Auburn vs. Ole Miss kicks off at 5 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2.

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