What a difference a year makes at Auburn

 Auburn, Ala.—It is known as an “Ah-ha!” Moment.

In Life it is when get our first job or buy our first house or experience the birth of our first child. That is when realize that our parents, who we were sure for so long didn’t have a clue, were pretty smart people after all.

“Ah-Ha!”

In college football it is the moment when players and fans who are justifiably skeptical, start believing that a new coaching staff ACTUALLY knows what it is doing. For players it is a moment when, after wandering in the dark, the light finally comes on.

“I think we had several of those last season,” said Gene Chizik, who on Monday wrapped up his second spring practice as the head coach at Auburn.

The mood here a year ago was decidedly on edge. Chizik, a former defensive coordinator at Auburn and Texas, came here after two years of building at Iowa State yielded a 5-19 record. Chizik pointed out that the record didn’t reflect the progress that had been made. All some Auburn fans could talk about was that number (5-19) and worry that this group of coaches would be in over their heads, given the juggernaut that was building in Tuscaloosa.

“This time last year compared to right now is night and day,” said offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. “This time last year, these kids had been through so much that we had to Dr. Phil a bunch of them. We had to bring them along slowly. Now we can just coach them. It’s a lot different.”

In short, everybody has bought in to what Chizik and the staff are selling because in 2009, they saw evidence that it will work.

 The Tigers started 4-0 and in each of the first four games had to come from behind to win. In those four games Auburn rolled up 2,105 yards of total offense (526.5 avg.) with a quarterback (Chris Todd) who couldn’t throw a ball in spring practice because of a bad shoulder.

In the fifth game Auburn went on the road to Tennessee and recorded 459 yards of offense against a Monte Kiffin defense.

“It was the fact that we won but it was also the way we won,” said Chizik. “This team showed some resiliency. They learned to just keep playing.”

Then the tough patch came. There were three straight losses to at Arkansas (44-23), Kentucky (21-14), and at LSU (31-10). There was a very good home win against Ole Miss (33-20) followed by two more gut-wrenching SEC losses at Georgia (31-24) and Alabama (26-21).

“There are good coaches in this league and there came a point where they began to identify some of our weaknesses,” said Malzahn. “We just had to play through it.”

But there were things to build on and reasons to be encouraged.  In Athens, Auburn was in position to tie the game late but couldn’t stick it in the end zone to force overtime. Auburn had Alabama on the ropes at Jordan-Hare on the day after Thanksgiving. The Crimson Tide needed a touchdown with 1:24 left to pull out the win.

“We’re not into moral victories or pats on the back,” said Chizik. “But we played well enough to put ourselves in position to win those games. One defensive stop or one more offensive play and we win. Our team learned from those games.”

Auburn also learned from its 38-35 overtime win over Northwestern in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day. Auburn had the game in hand, leading 35-21, only to see the Wildcats force overtime.

“We had that game won a couple of times but our guys didn’t panic when Northwestern made its run,” Chizik said.

So Auburn finished 8-5, giving Chizik the second-highest number of wins ever for a first-year coach at Auburn (Terry Bowden went 11-0 in 1993). Not bad when a year ago, a lot of people were predicting a disaster.

“For what we wanted to get done our first year, for the foundation we hoped to build, we believe we got a lot accomplished,” said Chizik. “And now we move on.”

So what about year two? Alabama, the state rival, has now won a national championship, which does not go unnoticed here. But there are tangible reasons to expect another good season at Auburn.

The offensive line returns four of five starters and will be again be a strength. Running back Ben Tate, the SEC’s No. 3 rusher (104.7) is gone but that opens the door for senior Mario Fannin (Lovejoy, Ga.) to have a big year.

Most of the real buzz this spring has been about transfer quarterback Cameron Newton. Newton, who began his career at Florida, then transferred and won a national junior college championship, is a splendid athlete at 6-6, 247. Chizik insisted yesterday that the quarterback position is still a four-man race headed into the summer. I believe Newton is the guy and he can do a lot of things in this offense that Auburn fans haven’t seen before.

The defense, which finished 11th in the SEC last season (374.08 ypg), remains a big concern. The Tigers are thin at several positions, especially linebacker. The Auburn defense was on the field for 945 plays last season (35 more than any other team in the SEC) and too many guys played just about all of them.

“My guys gave me everything they had,” said defensive coordinator Ted Roof. “We have to keep working to build our depth.”

This is not complicated. Auburn just doesn’t have enough players right now to compete for the championship and long term there is still a bunch of work to do on that front. There are 23 seniors on this Auburn team. Behind them the junior class is very thin. If you believe the experts, Auburn put together a very good recruiting class last February. Chizik and his staff need at least two more like it to get back into the discussion for the SEC West championship.

“There are always things we felt we could have done better but the first year was a good first step towards where we want to go,” said Chizik. “Now we have to go recruiting and identify some guys who can help us.”

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164 comments Add your comment

KidRay

April 20th, 2010
9:06 am

GatorinAthens

April 20th, 2010
9:09 am

The Gators are the best!!! Work ‘em, Silly Gators!!! I’ll cut and paste an article from the Gainesville Sun soon. That way everyone will know what’s going on with the Gators. You know, America’s team.

{->JusSayN

April 20th, 2010
9:12 am

I figured about 2 more years for Auburn. One top 5 recruiting class doesn’t spell SEC champ let alone National. But they are on the right track. I think?

Mike Kolen

April 20th, 2010
9:16 am

Defense, still a long way to go. And as Belotti said calling their spring game, poor tackling still. Not sure if Roof is the guy who can get the AU D up to snuff.

SEC RULES

April 20th, 2010
9:18 am

Gatorinathens 32-13!

Griffin Dawg

April 20th, 2010
9:20 am

Mario Fannin is very very very fast – If AU had left him in against UGA it may have been a different final score.

Miles

April 20th, 2010
9:21 am

Tuberville ACTUALLY knew what he was doing as well…Auburn will be tough this year, but they won’t be ‘Bama…Malzahn has a long way to go before he becomes worthy of his job…

JB

April 20th, 2010
9:27 am

Auburn a lot like my Dawgs……they will play some pretty good football, but need to take it up to another level. The past 2 years has put some doubt in the back of every Dawg fans mind.
2003 to 2007 with Richt, I felt we could win every game played, including Florida. New coach’s and new players and Richt back involved in the offense gives new hope. Us, like Auburn, are still a recruiting class or two away from getting back to 11 wins. I’m encouraged just by the new defensive coach’s in Athens. Grantham will make us aggressive again, and we have the speed and players to do it.

5IML

April 20th, 2010
9:30 am

Auburn’s defense will be horrible again. End of story. Look for a 7-5 season, at best.

Cam Newton is not yet the savior Auburn fans believe him to be. He has the potential but he’s not there yet.

GatorinAthens

April 20th, 2010
9:33 am

Sure wish I could read Pat Dooley in this paper or listen to Brady Ackerman and Chris Doering on the radio here in Athens talking about my Gators.

MikeP

April 20th, 2010
9:35 am

All you Gators: Quiz: “Name the only SEC team that Urban Meyer has never beaten?” Your answer would be AUBURN!

When are you coming back to our lovely little village? We’re always delighted to see you.

GatorinAthens

April 20th, 2010
9:40 am

Take care of Alabama and Georgia every once in a while and get back to me Auburn Fan.

Otto

April 20th, 2010
9:42 am

Auburn was paper thin in depth for their defense. It will improve this year, the question is how much.

Jake

April 20th, 2010
9:46 am

Look forward to the early match between SC and Auburn Game.

Gen Neyland

April 20th, 2010
9:47 am

GatorInAthens : Guess you’re refering to Latin America.

Gotta wonder what with Auburn’s successful recruiting year, will they place in the Fulmer Cup this summer..? Nonetheless, Cheesestik woke up the drabs on the plains. Good luck to ‘em…

JB

April 20th, 2010
9:48 am

Florida has great players, no doubt. Lot’s of new players and coach’s and they will need to ” jell” as a “team”. They have the players to win 10 “without” jelling, but to be great again they will need some work, IMHO. Auburn will win 8 again, and My Dawgs have a lot to prove. Lot’s of “newness” in Athens this year. That “newness” could go either way.

SimpleDawg

April 20th, 2010
10:16 am

Lizard in Athens….sounds like you need to move.

Awbarn’s lack of depth on defense must be a sign that they’re not getting much talent out of LaGrange, Americus, and Columbus……which is where they’ve mined most of their really good players in the past.

Whatever happened to the ‘Ho’ Limo? Did the Vol freshmen steal it?

RAMBLE ON!!!

April 20th, 2010
10:22 am

I wish the SEC wasn’t scared to let GT back in the 80’s. It would be nice smacking Awbarn around again on a regular basis.

I say have the ACC trade GT for USC. UGAg would never win the SEC championship again.

This way, we could have a winning record in basketball again…well, maybe.

lemon drop

April 20th, 2010
10:29 am

1) Auburn can’t play a lick of defense and Ted Roof won’t help, his defense last year was in the niddle of the field n every way. Defense wins in the SEC.
2) Auburn can score, but scoring won’t do it in the SEC, ask Arkansas who led the SEC in scoring but went 7-5 because they couldn’t play defense.
3) The defense gave up 40 points like Florida and Alabama in their Spring games, only Georgia’S defense held the offense to 24 points, and we have the best offense in the SEC, so that’s saying a lot.
4) Richt is 4-0 recently against Auburn, they just can’t handle Richt

Bulldog59

April 20th, 2010
10:38 am

Chizik is intense and focused, and he knows the game. He can get Auburn back to the top level of the SEC West, but not with Ted Roof running the D. TD pointed out, although they started 2009 at 5-0, they were trailing the first 4 teams,La. Tech,MSU, WVU, and Ball State, not exactly a gauntlet of top talent in the NCAA. Give Roof an early pass….new coaches, new schemes, etc., but this year, Chizik needs to see improvement or make a change for 2011. Don’t make the mistake UGA did.

SaintsLSU

April 20th, 2010
10:40 am

Auburn will be about the same as last year. Maybe 8-4 regular season. Problem for them is that LSU, Arkansas, and Auburn are all in a log jam chasing Bama. AU seems not quite on the level of LSU and Arkansas. Not to say those two look like world beaters. I still have questions about Jordan Jefferson, and Ark’s D needs to develop this season, which sounds a lot like AU’s problem, but Ark has an future NFL QB running the show. And I have no doubt my Tigers will have their hands full when we travel to “the Barn” in October, but overall I see AU as 4th in the West.

SimpleDawg

April 20th, 2010
10:42 am

Ramble….we can always count on you for plenty of stupid comments. You never disappoint. And if you want to play Awbarn so badly, just drop Jacksonville State and Weber State, and add Awbarn….no need to lust for something you don’t have….like a female companion. But I’m sure you have that in hand.

j

April 20th, 2010
10:58 am

SimpleDawg,

I wouldn’t be talking wih that high scool schedule UGAY put out this year. There is really only 2-3 games that are possible to lose. Then agian, Kentucky looks to be better this year!

Bruce mac

April 20th, 2010
11:01 am

Gator in Athens, Bama is America’s team now. 91,000 in Tuscaloosa for A Day, now that is fan support. You will get to see America’s team first hand in 2010. You and 100,000+ crazed maniacs.

george

April 20th, 2010
11:02 am

Lemon drop are you on some sort of crack. Georgia has the best offense in the SEC?????????? That might be the most absurd comment of the entire year so far. cant wait to hear you try to explain that one.

GatorinAthens

April 20th, 2010
11:05 am

Bruce, you’ll be just like your brother Bernie after The Fightin Gators leave town!

Bruce mac

April 20th, 2010
11:06 am

J, we have 4 teams we schedule. One is the ACC Champion, one is Colorado, a solid Big 12 opponent and two are cream puffs. Then we play eight games in the toughest conference in America. Now, what is your team and what is there schedule?

Bruce mac

April 20th, 2010
11:07 am

Who is Bernie? I think Gators have good shot, but Bama is King until further notice.

NoGaGator

April 20th, 2010
11:09 am

lemon drop -

Did you really say UGA’s offense is the best in the SEC? I don’t think even Patrick, as twisted as he is, would attempt to claim that one.

Then again, it is spring, where optimism abounds. After all, UGA’s going to win nat’l championships the next several years because Richt kicked Mettenberger off the team. Gotta love that twisted spin logic

Chester Copperpot

April 20th, 2010
11:17 am

Razzle-dazzle offense and no defense?

Auburn needs to move to the Big 12 South.

GatorinAthens

April 20th, 2010
11:18 am

Bruce, don’t act like Bernie Mac isn’t your dead brother!

george

April 20th, 2010
11:18 am

SEC west is gonna be wide open this year. If someone can slip up and beat bama it could be interestring. Here is how I see it.
miss st- will be much better and will beat a couple teams who they should not
ole piss- down a lot this year and will win 7 or 8 games at the most.
LSU- complete unknown but I am still not sold. I think they win 8-9 games. Tough schedule. At UF,AU, ARK, and UNC in atl. That unc game will be huge for LSU and we will find out a lot about them right away.
ARK- think they are a little overhyped honestly and will be interestring to see if mallet is 100 percent come fall. All sources say he will be but who knows. Think they win 8 or 9 as well. Tough road games as well at UGA,AU and USC.
Auburn- Tony is right depth is still going to be an issue especially on d but this team has talent all over the place along with prob the top coaching staff top to bottom in the sec. I think they win a minimum of 9 games prob 10 if they get any breaks whatsover. Auburn also has a scheudle that just sets up for some sort of run. It is very possible that the tigers will be 6-0 when ark comes to au middle of october. There are some key games in sep including thurs night to starkville which could be a serious trap game with USC and Clemson. next. Not sold on Clemson with their qb prob going pro in baseball and USC is always a crapshoot. I think ole miss on the road is also a huge potential trap game coming off ark and lsu games at home. Overall I think 10-2.
Bama- will not see much of a drop off this year except maybe on d where replacing 9 starters. But we all know bama just reloads. Fairly easy schedule I think they go 11-1 or 10-2.

Overall I think the winner of the iron bowl plays in the SEC champ against UF.

Serious?

April 20th, 2010
11:23 am

george:

“the top coaching staff top to bottom in the sec.”

That’s a good one!

george

April 20th, 2010
11:26 am

name one who has better?

GatorinAthens

April 20th, 2010
11:26 am

viningsdawg

April 20th, 2010
11:28 am

The Tigers scare me. Great chemistry, everyone believing in one direction, and some good coaching will help them. It would not suprise me to see Auburn win 9 games.

RAMBLE ON!!!

April 20th, 2010
11:29 am

haha, Bruce mac said “Colorado, a solid Big 12 opponent”.

that’s a good one, I guess this year when you play them, they won’t be on a 15 game losing streak.

Good one.

Bruce mac

April 20th, 2010
11:29 am

George, George, George, since Bama will win the West every year until Nick retires, that was an easy prediction. What you really are saying is that Bama will beat Auburn once again. What was it last time 36 to 0 or something? That sound about right.

Bruce mac

April 20th, 2010
11:32 am

Ramble, we didn’t schedule them last year and historically they are a solid Big 12 opponent but I think you know that. You are just upset because GT scheduled noone at home and you have to pay for your season ticket for one game. Sorry man.

george

April 20th, 2010
11:34 am

lost 7 out of 10 times to auburn and only won ONCE ever on your home field and now it is a given that bama will beat auburn. good logic.

RAMBLE ON!!!

April 20th, 2010
11:35 am

Our home schedule does suck this year, but I’ll be in Athens watching Roddy Jones run for 16.4 yards per carry again.

#1 BAMA FAN

April 20th, 2010
11:35 am

Hey Ramble On….Look at the schedules for 2011 & 2013. I don’t know what weeks but you got BAMA. Please finish the stadium when we have to come to Atlanta because we can bring 55,000 fans.RTR

george

April 20th, 2010
11:36 am

Georgia fans talking about a tough schedule is always good for a long laugh. How many years did it take you idiots to go west of the mississippi again?

Bruce mac

April 20th, 2010
11:38 am

George, you don’t think it is almost a given in 2010? Ramble, it is possible but either way it will be fun in Athens. I think Tech will be good again but they did lose a lot of talent.

Bruce mac

April 20th, 2010
11:40 am

George, we play Tech every year. How are you doing against them in last ten years sir? And for that matter how are you doing against UGA? I guess when we play Auburn we are still not playing anybody, huh?

jumbeauxtiger

April 20th, 2010
11:43 am

Auburn has a good coaching staff and if they continue to recruit well they will be a contender by 2012 if not sooner. They have some really good assistants so I think keeping most of that staff together is the long-term key for the Tigers.

Geaux Tigers
Go SEC

RAMBLE ON!!!

April 20th, 2010
11:44 am

I look forward to smacking Bama around again.

Kmba74

April 20th, 2010
11:48 am

Offense sell tickets n get u on ESPN. Defense wins Championships! Look at the last 4 NC games. The team with the best defense won.

01HAWK

April 20th, 2010
11:55 am

And the process continues. Headed towards another top 5 recruiting class. Maybe the nations best. Even stole one that is from AUBARN. Now that is funny.

Pettway committed Monday morning to Alabama head coach Nick Saban, becoming the 10th prep commitment – and fourth in the past three days — toward a 2011 Crimson Tide signing class that is already rounding in shape to be one of the nation’s best.

TUSCALOOSA — Alabama has had a flurry of football recruiting activity the past few days, as it picked up a commitment this morning that followed another one on Sunday.

D.J. Pettway, a 6-foot-3, 255-pound defensive end from Catholic High School in Pensacola, Fla., committed to Alabama today.

Jabriel Washington, a 5-foot-11, 165-pound athlete from Trinity Christian Academy in Jackson, Tenn., committed on Sunday.

Those commitments followed two on Saturday, from defensive back Hasean Clinton-Dix of Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Fla.; and defensive end LaMichael Fanning of Auburn High School.

Alabama’s now has commitments from 11 players for its 2011 signing class:

>> Shannon Brown, LB, Adel, Ga. (Cook High School)
>> Brent Calloway, LB, Russellville
>> Daryl Collins, WR, Gadsden City
>> Quinton Dial, DE, East Mississippi Community College
>> Hasean Clinton-Dix, DB, Orlando, Fla. (Dr. Phillips High School)
>> Malcolm Faciane, TE, Picayune, Miss.
>> LaMichael Fanning, DE, Auburn
>> D.J. Pettway, DE, Pensacola, Fla. (Catholic High School)
>> Marvin Shinn, WR, Prichard (Vigor High School)
>> Jabriel Washington, ATH, Jackson, Tenn. (Trinity Christian Academy)
>> Danny Woodson, WR, Mobile (LeFlore High School)

Bruce mac

April 20th, 2010
12:01 pm

Is Danny Woodson related to former Bama QB?