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No. 10 Auburn trots out new offense against ULM

AUBURN – Louisiana-Monroe left the Auburn Tigers giddy on the Warhawks’ last visit to the state.

All it took was an upset of the 10th-ranked Tigers’ hated rival, Alabama. They won’t be so happy if the Warhawks can pull off an even bigger stunner Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Auburn will trot out its new quarterback — whoever that might be — and a spread offense that has been all the rage on the Plains since offensive coordinator Tony Franklin arrived for last season’s bowl game.

Just in case that’s not enough, the coaches have been hammering home an improbable message: Remember Alabama. The Warhawks’ 21-14 win over the Crimson Tide last season left half the state snickering and the other half crimson-faced.

“There were a lot of happy faces in Auburn,” said quarterback Kodi Burns, who might or might not start. “I’m pretty sure any time we lose they’re going to be happy. That’s just the way it goes.

“That lets us know that if Monroe can beat Alabama, then they can definitely come in here and beat us.”

Then again, the Warhawks are 26-point underdogs. They’re also 0-15 all-time against ranked teams, have been blown out in the previous six meetings with Auburn by an average of four touchdowns and have won only three of the previous 33 games against Southeastern Conference teams.

Still, remember Alabama? Auburn’s coaches do.

“We hear it 24-7,” Auburn defensive end Antonio Coleman said. “They’ve been saying it for two or three weeks: ‘These guys beat Alabama. They beat your boys down the road. They’re going to come in here and try to whip you, too.’ They’re trying to drill it into our heads.”

Warhawks coach Charlie Weatherbie doesn’t need to constantly remind his players of the upset.

“You don’t really talk about it,” Weatherbie said. “You’ve got enough people talking about it around here. It’s something you try to build on. It’s something you can’t live in the past on. That was last year. We’ve got to try to find a way to have a great year in 2008.”

The most intriguing part of the game for the Tigers is Franklin’s new offense, a marked departure for a traditionally run-oriented team. Burns and Chris Todd are both likely to get their shots on the field in a long-running quarterback competition, but coach Tommy Tuberville is keeping the starter a mystery.

Auburn also has a new defensive coordinator in Paul Rhoads but doesn’t figure to make the same wholesale changes. Not so, the offense.

The Warhawks are no strangers to the system that features a no-huddle, hurry-to-the-line mentality and loads of shotgun snaps. They faced it twice when Franklin was at Troy, losing both games but allowing a respectable 24 points in each.

ULM defensive back James Truxillo said the big difference from Troy will be better athletes.

“It’s a hurry-up offense,” Truxillo said. “They don’t huddle after each play so they’re trying to wear you down and just quick-game you so you’re not set. We’ll be ready for it. We’ve seen the same offensive coordinator so it won’t be a big deal to us.”

Likewise beating an SEC team in the state of Alabama. Been there, done that.

The Warhawks visit Arkansas next week and Mississippi later in the season. They know that beating one SEC team can be dismissed as a fluke, but two would be a trend.

“If we can beat them,” Truxillo said, “it would be for real.”

Auburn sputtered to open last season, losing two of the first three games. That’s why Tuberville has made coming out of the gates strong a high priority, especially with a defensive depth chart littered with freshman backups.

“We wanted to reiterate to all of our team, ‘Hey, let’s get going. Let’s play from the beginning and let’s don’t start in the middle of the season,” Tuberville said. “And that’s coaching, too. That’s myself. So we put a big emphasis on being better out of the shoot.”

Incidentally, Auburn wound up going undefeated the last time it opened a season with ULM, in 2004. That was a 31-0 win.

The Tigers are picked to win the SEC Western Division.

“There’s no doubt that Auburn’s a heck of a football team,” Weatherbie said. “We don’t have to play perfect but we can’t give them anything. We can’t beat ourselves. We can’t turn the ball over offensively, and defensively we can’t give up the big play.”