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

GatorinAthens

April 20th, 2010
12:04 pm

If you ain’t a Gator, you’re Gator bait!

george

April 20th, 2010
12:10 pm

Bruce we are 15-5 against tech since the late 70s. I guess they really do dominate us huh? If you want to use the logic you are using we have dominated Florida who just continues to MURDER to the poor little puppy dogs year after year. So what the hell is your point?

Delbert D.

April 20th, 2010
12:17 pm

“we have 4 teams we schedule. One is the ACC Champion, one is Colorado, a solid Big 12 opponent and two are cream puffs.”

Colorado was 3-9 last year, which doesn’t fit with a label of “solid”. However, Georgia plays them in Boulder, and Colorado has a bye week after playing Hawaii. Maybe they will be “semi-solid?”

Denver Dog

April 20th, 2010
12:21 pm

So who had the better year, Bama or Auburn. Miss State or Ole Miss, Tech or Ga, Carolina or Clemson, Kentucky or Louisville? Just asking!

5IML

April 20th, 2010
12:22 pm

BAMA will crush Auburn in this year’s Iron Bowl but subsequent ones will be very competitive. For reference, BAMA overlooked Auburn last year and fell behind but pulled it together.

Denver Dog

April 20th, 2010
12:23 pm

Delbert, Colorado doesn’t hold a light compared to Charleston Southern, Coastal Carolina, or Jax State. You are sooooo right.

Charlie Bama

April 20th, 2010
12:24 pm

You’re right, Tony. Auburn has to believe in Auburn before they can compete in the SEC and consistently deliver the 9-3 seasons they expect and deserve. And the strength of coaching at Auburn has most definitely improved. That’s the spark Aubies needed to believe in Auburn. Trouble is, the BullDawgs feel like they’re in the same place, and LSU thinks it’s their territory, too, and even Arkansas can realistically claim top of the 2nd tier of SEC teams. You guys fight it out — should be fun to watch. Gators, see you in the Dome in December! Roll Tide

Ed

April 20th, 2010
12:27 pm

Georgia has the best offense in the SEC.

AJ Green, best WR in NCAA, Wooten/T King/Troupe/Durham–all over 18 ypcatch? Ealey/King both over 5.0 ypc and O-Line get SEC best 240+ a game over last 5 games (5th best in NCAA in rushing)– Branden Smith averaging over 12 ypc–best in SEC, O-Line 2-3 deep at every position, Orson Charles/Lynch/White–best set of TE’s in NCAA–all over 15 ypcatch, Georgia averages 28-32 points a game, this year will be up around 35 and over 400 yards a game of offense, just too many weapons.

QB Situation?
We have 2 great QB’s ready to go right now that can pass AND run, both Elite 11 (Murray over 5000 yards of offense and 60 td’s), and one of the 7 Parade All-American QB’s coming on campus in 4 weeks, Hutson Mason, nice 6′ 3” Pro Style QB will be BETTER than Mett, threw for 4500 yards and 55 td’s and 72% accuracy his Senior year in High School.

Delbert D.

April 20th, 2010
12:32 pm

Denver Dog – That’s something of a head scratcher. The Buffs gave up 54 in a loss to Toledo (yeah, it was football, not basketball). Jax St. lost to Ga. Tech by 20, FSU by 10 and E. Illinois by 8. Coastal Carolina and Chas. Southern…well, those games are just plain embarrassing scheduling.

Delbert D.

April 20th, 2010
12:43 pm

Ed – Whoa…don’t hyperventilate, you’ll pass out.

The running game was a mixed bag last year, much better at the end. There are *two* QBs in the mix (Great? Not yet, by any stretch). Mason probably won’t play this year, because a) he doesn’t get any reps until summer camp, and b) he did *not* play in a pro-style offense at Lassiter; they passed 90% of the time, and he took no snaps under center. He is a project for next year.

Who’s coming on campus for visits doesn’t translate to “Georgia has the best offense in the SEC” for 2010.

Gator88

April 20th, 2010
12:44 pm

Dawgs-I was reading the Orlando Sentinel today. Steve Addazio blew into town since Corch Urban Meyer is resting and Gators homer/hater Mike Bianchi had an interesting topic-would the Gators accept or want Addazio. Which isn’t the point, the point is….if I’m a Dawg fan…..and I look at Richt and the staff….and I look back at the results of the last few years….can I or could I sit there and honestly say “Coach Richt will lead us to a National Championship”? I don’t think anyone can honestly answer that question with a YES. And if you can’t (like I don’t think Gators could with Addazio) say YES to that..then why is he still there? One thing I have seen over the years is he is horrible with clock management and pressure and makes horrible gametime decisions. Good recruiter, good motivator, not a tool……probably but that just don’t “get er dun” all the time. Just a though…

...

April 20th, 2010
12:51 pm

I like Auburn much more than Bama.

george

April 20th, 2010
12:55 pm

Ed are you on Crack too?? Murray has never played college football and Logan Gray is beyond horrendous! Do you really think a true freshman will come in and have a prayer in sept. Get real

GatorinAthens

April 20th, 2010
12:56 pm

You tell em Gator88. Every Bulldog fan could use some incite from a Gator fan. We’re put on this Earth to let other fans know that they are inferior and second rate. Other fans in the SEC should bow before us and kiss our rings. I read the Orlando Sentinel too. I’m glad Urban Meyer put Jeremy Fowler in his place. Mike Bianchi is next. That short, bald hack needs to stick to writing about the Orlando Magic and leave the Gators alone before he loses half his readers. Work em, Silly Gators!!!

TigerMeat

April 20th, 2010
12:56 pm

Hey GatorinAthens, you’ve had a lot of success in the last 5 years. I’ll give you that, but when is the last time you beat Auburn?

GatorinAthens

April 20th, 2010
12:59 pm

Not sure TigerMeat. I’ve only been a fan for the last 5 years. Anything before that is ancient history to me.

Crystal Ball Man

April 20th, 2010
1:02 pm

Auburn will beat Alabama. The Tide will miss all of those D players and the studs on the OL. Ingram will be tough, but can’t carry the team back to the MNC.
UGA will lose to Auburn the first game, but take them down in the SECCG for the SEC title. UGA’s D will be better than any of their rivals wants to imagine. Belin and Lakatos are the real deal as far as D coaches. Look for the pups to swamp the Gators in Jax also.
UF will lose 4 games and end up in the Outback Bowl. No Tebow = no MNCs He carried the team and pulled victory out of the jaws of defeat many times. Without last season’s D, they’re done.
UT…program in shambles, season doomed…thanks to Kiffen
GT…see UT….talent gone, no recruits coming in, coach is a cry-baby….season doomed, PJ gone in 2 years.

lemon drop

April 20th, 2010
1:02 pm

72% of Georgia fans think Richt will win a National Championship either in 2010 or 2011. Most think 2011 will be the year. This was done in a poll by Bill King.

You have your naysayers, but they’re a VERY small minority, and no real college football fan takes them seriously considering Richt’s success and track record, going back to FSU and his 5 National Championship games there.

Of course Richt already has coached in 5 National Championships, more than any other coach in the SEC, and has 2 National Championship rings, but I suppose you mean as a head coach at Georgia. Over tha last 9 seasons, he’s been the most consistent in the SEC in top 10 finishes.

Interesting, Richt’s best finishes (both ranked in top 3 in 2002 & 2007) have come after his worst years (2001 & 2006). So 2010 SHOULD be a National Championship run, I’d be very surprised if Georgia doesn’t make a run with a VASTLY improved defense and VASTLY improved running attack.

The thing that drives you nuts about Richt is he keeps beating himself with dumb stuff–penalties, turnovers–especially against Florida.

——————————————————————-
It’s like the guy doesn’t know how to correct stuff that need to be fixed (penalties, turnovers, losing to Florida, arrests, etc.).
——————————————————————-

http://blogs.ajc.com/junkyard-blawg/2010/02/20/are-dawg-fans-bcs-title-hopes-for-2011-realistic/

TigerMeat

April 20th, 2010
1:03 pm

Fair enough. I wish we still played y’all every year– great rivalry back in the ancient times. I don’t know why UGA has such a hard time beating the Gators. Seems pretty easy to us, especially during these last few years.

Delbert D.

April 20th, 2010
1:08 pm

“Crystal Meth Man” is a better pseudonym.

Ed

April 20th, 2010
1:10 pm

Don’t think Richt’s worried about the 3 QB’s we have. Branden Smith can play Wildcat too, so that’s a 4th option. Murray had a great Spring according to Richt, and Gray has shown good improvement. We only need our QB’s to get 200 yards a game, and Richt does that every year, no matter who’s playing QB. Not a concern. We have 2 passing wizards on the staff. It’s the lack of running game and turnovers that killed us last year. Hopefully, we’ll get that fixed. The QB’s are relative to the SEC East competition, and we stack up as good as anyone, if not better.

Ed

April 20th, 2010
1:17 pm

The whole QB thing gets a lot of attention, because you’d think the passing game is the key to winning the SEC. But it’s not.

Arkansas won the passing stats, and went 7-5.

Defense and turnover margin is the key to winning the SEC. In the Spring scrimmages, the offense still threw a lot of interceptions, and Csrlton Thomas fumbled a lot. But the defense seemed to be forcing a lot of that, so we’ll see. I think the defense will force 2 turnovers a game this year, maybe more.

If we pull a Saints move on defense, and go from worst turnover margin to best in 1 year, and lead the NCAA in forced turnovers, we could win it all. That’s MUCH more important than passing stats.

Bruce mac

April 20th, 2010
1:23 pm

Georgie boy, I guess in Auburn 1970 is in the last ten years. You are just too funny. Get ready for azz whoppin number 8 out of 11 clown.

Sugarboy

April 20th, 2010
1:25 pm

The SEC West is so much better than the East that it is impossible to predict the winner right now. I could even see the winner of the West with 2-3 losses. Every team will be improved, except Ol’ Miss, but never bet against Houston Nutt when his teams are picked to finish last. In the East, Florida and Georgia will fight it out with the other 4 struggling to become bowl eligible.

Kmba74

April 20th, 2010
1:33 pm

@Bruce Mac! He’s Woodson son. If Georgia have the best defense somebody should tell them. As for Auburn they lookn at 8-5 again this year. You can’t get far in the SEC with a week defense. The Tigers need to raise the Roof(DC) out of the Plains.

#1 BAMA FAN

April 20th, 2010
1:40 pm

That ain’t no crystal ball man……it’s a crack bong! RTR

Zach

April 20th, 2010
1:42 pm

Tony,
Good article, I love the way we played last year. Everyone on that coaching staff has brains, which is more than can be said for the last administration. Honestly though, I underwhelmed by Ted Roof. I don’t want to hear about how the defense was thin, or we were out there too much or whatever. Roof says he coaches fundamentals, and we got handled last year in the trenches and in one on one tackling situations.

I’ve really been calling for Roof’s head since day one. I don’t think he knows what he’s doing at all, but i guess the staff has faith in this guy. We’ll see. Despite that, I couldn’t be more excited about Newton or the offense in general. We’re going to play in some fun games this year.

Gerald Tinnon

April 20th, 2010
1:50 pm

With 23 seniors and a thin junior class, AU better do something this year because next year will be a struggle.. But, there are so many schools in the SEC with so much more talent than Auburn and much better coaching staffs that is hard to see the Tigers do much but stir up a few dust clouds. A 9 win season would be a monumental accomplishment.

George P Burdell

April 20th, 2010
1:54 pm

Looks like another mediocre year on the Plains….

5IML

April 20th, 2010
1:58 pm

I’ve never seen the posts so optimistic (and unrealistic).

With one small adjustment, Auburn and Georgia will both be undefeated and will play each other in BCS championship game. (There are fewer things wrong with this statement than some of the crazy stuff you guys are saying.)

At best: Auburn is a 7-win team. UGA is a 9-win team. Neither football team will play in Atlanta this December.

tiger7_88

April 20th, 2010
2:02 pm

RAMBLE ON! said: “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.”

Overall record: AU 42 wins, GT 41 wins
Last 25 games: AU 17 wins, GT 8 wins

Dream on, little mosquito.

Ed

April 20th, 2010
2:02 pm

Never seen so much cynicism, with one adjustment, Georgia will win it all.

The Saints did it in one year, guess you don’t like reality too much.

Who Dat?

April 20th, 2010
2:05 pm

Ed,

The reality is the Saints have Drew Brees, Auburn has Caudle and Roof.

Ricky

April 20th, 2010
2:08 pm

Richt heard the same negative people come out after his first 2 nad seasons, back in 2001, and then again in 2006. They predicted all this doom and gloom. Total negativity. They were all wrong of course. Richt finished #2 in 2002, and #3 in 2007. So much for the negative ones.

Really, the negative pundits and pessimitic naysayers of doom and gloom is nothing new to Richt, he’s heard it all before, and still around, the mos tenured coach in the SEC. He’s the one guy you don’t want to bet against in the SEC.

Ask Meyer. He scheduled his bye week for Richt instead of Saban.

quaildawg

April 20th, 2010
2:13 pm

As an Auburn fan not only should you be concerned about Roof and the D but if you watched the UGA vs. AUB game you have to question Malzan’s play calling ability. AUB had UGA on the ropes early (14-0)had great field position and should have delivered the knockout but Malzan must have hit the bottle early because his play calling from there in STUNK…and against FreeWillie no less?!!! And that pass completion to the OT…That was priceless!!! Yeah for all the stats Aubbie ran up through the season that game was one where if I were a Aubbie fan I wonder about how far we (Aubbie) has to go. Don;t go printin them NC, much less SEC Champ, bumper stickers and T-shirts just yet.

Ed

April 20th, 2010
2:15 pm

The problem with all the naysayer and doom and gloomers is:
1) Richt’s already proven he can turnaround from a terrible year, to #2 or #3, in one season, he’s done it EVERY TIME IT’S HAPPENED AS A HEAD COACH AT GEORGIA.
2) He brought on a defensive turnaround guy who took the Colts form 3-13 in one year, and the Browns from 4-10 to 10-4 in one year.

Both Richt and Grantham have PROVEN they can do this, both have done it more than once.

Richt’s done it every single time he’s ever had a bad year.

To think otherwise, is to show a lack of common sense.

5IML

April 20th, 2010
2:15 pm

Ricky,

Meyer scheduled his bye week before Richt instead of Saban because UGA is a division rival, not out of some sense of respect for Richt. Meyer’s past actions (e.g. the last timeout a couple of years ago) have not indicated much respect for Richt.

I’m sure everyone respects Richt personally, but I doubt many fear him professionally.

SaintsLSU

April 20th, 2010
2:19 pm

Well said, Who Dat?

Ed

April 20th, 2010
2:21 pm

The Saints had Drew Brees the year BEFORE they won the SUper Bowl too, remember? And they couldn’t get it done that year because of their turnover margin.

They made 1 adjustment, and Superbowl.

5IML

April 20th, 2010
2:22 pm

Ed,

Auburn and Georgia have way more than just one adjustment to make.

Anonymous

April 20th, 2010
2:30 pm

Weagle, weagle, . . .!

Ricky

April 20th, 2010
2:30 pm

If Meyer doesn’t fear Richt, knowing how Richt’s responded EVERY TIME he’s EVER had a bad season, then he’s not real smart. But since he scxheduled his bye week this year against Richt, we know he fears Richt, and he should fear him, sonnsidering how Richt respond to bad season the next year. But if you’re right, Meyer is not a smart coach. Fear is the beginning of wisdom, if Meyer doesn’t fear Richt, he’s not real smart.

KR

April 20th, 2010
2:34 pm

Chizik has exceeded expectations, but don’t expect an appearance in the SEC championship game this year, for a few reasons:

1) Malzahn. He gets ahead by surprise factor, but good coaching staffs adjust and start reeling him in. On the other hand, he hasn’t really shown any ability to adjust his game plan on the fly. Maybe Newton is our football savior, but I’m not buying it until I see something in actual game situations on the field.

2) Roof. I lived in NC when he was head coach at Duke. Duke’s fans’ expectations are so low it is almost impossible to fail to meet them. And yet, ol’ Teddy did just that. From what I saw last year, someone will have to teach Roof the fundamentals of football defense before he’ll be able to teach anyone else.

3) Saban. He’s not unstoppable, but you have to catch him first. Chizik is gaining ground in recruiting and the team’s work ethic, but there is still some catching up to do. Auburn could conceivably beat Bama this year (heck, last year was close), but I think UA will still win the West, even if AU were to step up and beat them.

EASTsiders

April 20th, 2010
2:41 pm

Auburn will beat UGA this year.

Tim Tebow cries like a little baby

April 20th, 2010
2:44 pm

Before 1992, Florida was the Miss St of the SEC East. Oh, and he never and Urban have never beaten Auburn. Just sayin….

5IML

April 20th, 2010
2:47 pm

Ricky,

Urban scheduled his bye week before the UGA game because he probably sees UGA as Florida’s stiffest competition in the east. It has nothing to do with Richt. In the tradition of his two predecessors, he owns Richt.

rebman76

April 20th, 2010
2:49 pm

There’s one thing we know about the SEC West . . . The last 7 or 8 years, it’s been a crapshoot. Everybody has a shot to win the division. An example of this is 2003, LSU and Auburn (With Jason Campbell, Cadallac Williams and Ronnie Brown) were supposed to battle it out for the right to go to Atlanta. Ole Miss, with Eli Manning, snuck up on teams and nearly upset LSU to go to Atlanta.

BAMA- is loaded no doubt about it. The issue I see, IMHO, is defensively. I dont care who you are, losing 9 starters hurts. these guys will have to jell quickly. A big game against Penn State (Which should be site of ESPN College Gameday) is huge early on.

Arkansas – Their offense is going to be good. Is their defense going to be able to catch up to the offense. This teram could be this year’s Ole Miss. A lot of hype surrounding the team. How will they respond?

Auburn – Honestly, i don’t know a lot about Auburn. A lot of talk is focused of Cam Newton. If their defense isn’t as good (as most of you say on here) Can Auburn score enough to win a 42-38 type of game?

LSU – The Tigers are the wild card here. They have a lot of talent. Their question is can Jordan Jefferson be the man this year. When Les Miles says things like “replacing Jefferson,” it makes me wonder if Jordan is capable of running this team.

Miss. St. – QB play is going to be big for the Bulldogs. Chris Relf and Tyler Russell are going to have to move the ball to make State successful.

Ole Miss – offensive line is the main issue. that and QB. Tyrone Nix has built a pretty good defense over in Oxford but the offense has got to be there for the Rebels to win 6,7 or 8 games.

Ed

April 20th, 2010
2:49 pm

It’s really simple folks, you can try to make it complex if you want to, but it’s not.

2 Keys to Richt’s Season:
1- Richt is 40-3 when he gets a 100 rusher
2- Richt is 15-0 when Georgia commits no turnovers

Does other stuff matter some? Sure.

But if Richt does those 2 things, Richt wins 93% of the games.

5IML

April 20th, 2010
2:50 pm

Recently, BAMA has scheduled its bye week before LSU because Saban probably considers LSU as BAMA’s stiffest competition in the west, not because he fears (or respects) Les.

5IML

April 20th, 2010
2:54 pm

Rebman,

GameDay will be in Tuscaloosa for the Penn State game but Penn State will not be any good. They lost a lot on both sides of the ball including their QB who was the key to everything. If we can average more than 20 yards per punt, it will be a blowout.