AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - The Auburn Tigers don't have to look hard to find the weak spots in their offensive performance in the opener.
That would be passing, blocking and running.
The 17th-ranked Tigers figure an offensive line with four new starters can get its act together. The tailbacks can hit holes faster and find more room to run. And quarterback Brandon Cox can make better decisions and fewer mistakes.
``We've got a lot of room to get better in all areas of the offense,'' coach Tommy Tuberville said Tuesday.
Fullback Carl Stewart put it more bluntly.
``We've got a whole warehouse full of room right now,'' he said.
And that is good news, considering they still managed to beat Kansas State 23-13 on Saturday despite the offensive deficiencies that helped limit the Tigers to 9 points in the first three quarters.
The problems weren't altogether unexpected. Along with the young line, tailback Ben Tate was subbing for starter Brad Lester, who remains suspended indefinitely because of lingering academic issues.
Tate ran 23 times for 82 yards and felt at times like he was running into a brick wall.
``Yeah, but I just kept running hard, hoping that I would break through some time,'' Tate said. ``It didn't really happen the way that I wanted to. I just kept running hard and trying to encourage the linemen.''
This is not a new problem. The Tigers gained just 178 total yards against Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl - another defensive-oriented victory.
There was no great mystery in what Nebraska and Kansas State tried to do. They put extra defenders on the line to force Cox and Auburn to beat them passing.
Eventually the Tigers did that, when Cox hit tight end Gabe McKenzie for a 3-yard touchdown with 2:01 left to cap a successful drive through the air.
Tuberville is expecting South Florida (1-0) to take the same approach Saturday night.
Before that touchdown pass, Cox had taken a beating. He was sacked five times, hit frequently, and intercepted twice. Cox said he was ``a little fuzzy'' after a hard hit in the second quarter.
``They hit our quarterback and we didn't run the ball well enough to keep the pressure off,'' offensive coordinator Al Borges said. ``That's always our nightmare.''
So how can the offense prevent a repeat of that shaky performance?
``That's the million-dollar question,'' Tuberville said. ``You're always looking for guys to make a play and break a tackle and go 30 yards downfield. It seems like right now we're so concerned about executing that some people are not ad-libbing enough to make a play. We don't have imagination.''
Tuberville said it could be time to insert redshirt freshman Mario Fannin into the game to give Tate some relief and force the defense to contend with a different style runner.
Besides the sophomore Tate, the Tigers started a freshman and redshirt freshman on the offensive line.
``We've got so many young guys that are playing that will be so much better in a few weeks,'' Tuberville said. ``But we don't have a few weeks.
``There's no time for slow feeding, so to speak. We've got to give it all to them in a couple of bites. Then they've got to absorb as much as they can and try to help us win games. Hopefully it's enough.''
TIGER TALES: Tuberville said the verdict remains out for another day on the status of injured defenders Tray Blackmon and Jonathan Wilhite and kicker Wes Byrum. They were limited in practice. ... Backup quarterback Steven Ensminger has transferred to Louisiana Tech and will begin classes later this week, Tuberville said. The redshirt freshman is the son of Auburn assistant coach Steve Ensminger. ``He feels like his opportunity there with the offense that they run and what they have at quarterback will give him an opportunity to possibly play sooner,'' Tuberville said. ``I tried to talk him out of it, but this is his decision, his life.''

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