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Auburn needs pick-me-up against Florida Atlantic

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AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - What Auburn's battered defense needs is a pick-me-up game against an offense that is really struggling.

Florida Atlantic got here just in time.

The Tigers (2-1) get to take on an offense Saturday night that might make their problems look insignificant - if they didn't have six straight Southeastern Conference games looming.

Trouble tackling? Florida Atlantic (0-2) ranks last in the country in rushing offense.

Giving up way too many points? The Owls have been outscored 85-3 in their first two games.

Bedeviled by third down troubles? Florida Atlantic managed just one first down against Michigan State.

It certainly seems like a chance for Auburn's young defense to work on some deficiencies and rebuild confidence.

"I think the game plan is to beat them, beat them bad, let them know," freshman defensive tackle Angelo Blackson said. "That's really the emphasis. We're all mad about the loss (to Clemson). Coach said, `You've got to put it on somebody else.' We're going to put it on them."

If ever there was a week for defensive tough talk, this is it. The Tigers need a big boost after getting torched for 624 yards against Clemson in a defeat that ended a 17-game winning streak.

Howard Schnellenberger's Owls continue their murderer's road trips. First Florida, then Michigan State and after an open date now they travel to the defending national champions.

Schnellenberger isn't sugarcoating the situation facing his players.

"They know that they're going into this game with a very small chance of winning," said Schnellenberger, an Alabama assistant under Bear Bryant from 1961-65. "But they know they go into these games playing against teams that could give us a great lesson in how to play this game of top-of-the-line football.

"This is not a portion of our schedule that we tell our players that they're competitive and have an equal opportunity to win."

Score a touchdown? Maybe.

The Tigers rank last in the SEC in the four major defensive statistical categories: scoring, total yards allowed and defending both the run and pass.

Coach Gene Chizik said poor tackling was just the most obvious of the problems. The offense has still been potent, just not dominant. Chizik thinks the Tigers' issues are fixable. This week would be a good time to start with four straight games with ranked SEC teams awaiting - three on the road.

"It's not really about Florida Atlantic, really and truly," Chizik said. "This is a game where we've got to improve some things in practice, and go out on game day and execute the things that we feel like we need to improve on. So, it really wouldn't matter who we're playing. It's very obvious that we need to play better all the way around as a football team. Florida Atlantic just happens to be the next opponent."

And the Owls have problems of their own after their opening mismatches.

Platooning quarterbacks Graham Wilbert and David Kooi combined for 26 passing yards against Michigan State, which held Florida Atlantic to 48 yards.

Running back Alfred Morris, who gained 2,320 yards the past two seasons, has managed 37 on 24 carries.

As SEC defenses go, this might not be such a bad one to face. But Blackson and the Tigers know opposing offenses might have that mind-set these days, and don't especially like it.

"It's going to be so big," Blackson said. "Teams are looking to put up tons of yards on us. We've really got to take a stand. I think the emphasis for this game is we're not going to let up because of the team they are. We're going to play them. They're coming into our home. We're going to try to get it over with fast."

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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