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

Reptiles Rule

April 20th, 2010
2:57 pm

“GatorinAthens” that’s a pretty good tongue-in-cheek routine you got going there, looks like most on here didn’t quite catch that. Pretty cute, even for a Dawg…Anyway, I watched a bit of the Auburn spring game mand was impressed at some of the speed and execution that was on display. I laudhed when they first hired the Chizz, as did 99% of you out there did. But, I was impressed at some of the progress they made last year and they could be competitive in the West this year and surprise us some more. But for the time being, think it’s gonna be Bama and Florida in the East unless something weird happens.

The Richt Report

April 20th, 2010
2:58 pm

Richt is somewhere near an 85% to 90% winning record in the SEC against marginal opponents.

Richt is sub-.500 against the elite of the SEC.

War Eagle

April 20th, 2010
3:06 pm

Of all the articles I see Gator fan comment on, this is one I think they would stay away from. Especially with the recent record against Auburn.

newman

April 20th, 2010
3:06 pm

Ed, you are insane. Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson are the two best running backs in the nation. Alabama has a better line and better quarterback. Julio Jones will be drafted above AJ. I’d say that is the best offense in the SEC and possibly the nation.

The machine that is being built in Tuscaloosa can’t be stopped.

rebman76

April 20th, 2010
3:08 pm

I understand what you are saying,5IML, but it still is an important game for Bama as well as Penn State. I think Bama wins but the beginning of the season is when you find the mistakes and correct them before conference play starts

Gator88

April 20th, 2010
3:20 pm

Hey, no doubt Auburn has owned the Gators in the last few years. AS we see we line up for our annual loss to an SEC west opponent every year

“lemon drop”: Good points on Richt. I don’t count his FSU days too much but good point. Also, in the grand scheme of things hasn’t Richt had 2 pretty bad years in a row? The other thing is I think that outside the SEC , UGA and especially Richt are well liked in the media. This has probably lent itself to some overinflated hype on the recruits they have landed as well as some higher rankings-especially early on-of somewhat mediocre teams that do have some talented players.

If the Dawgs wanna keep Richt around-that’s fine by me. That alone should be a warning sign…..

“GatorinAthens” – funny stuff whoever you are!!!!! You gotta love the passion babeeeeeeee (said like Dickie Vitale)

Bruce mac

April 20th, 2010
3:27 pm

So newman, not only are you a genious prognosticator of SEC football you are an NFL scout. Wow man you can do it all. It looks like maybe Bama will never lose a game again and they will rename Alabama, SABANVILLE.

Bernie Mac

April 20th, 2010
3:30 pm

Gator88

April 20th, 2010
3:34 pm

“Ed” – most coaches win if their teams don’t turn the ball over…………………

“Ricky” – be ready to pass around some of the Richt Koolade after the meat of the SEC schedule

Volfans-where are you all?

Double A

April 20th, 2010
3:39 pm

I think Auburn and GA Tech will be two of the most disappointing teams in the country in ‘10.

Chizik’s personality seems so fake.

5IML

April 20th, 2010
3:42 pm

Bruce,

“Ville” means town so we will not rename the State of Alabama “Sabanville.” We are considering “Sabanland.”

Win something.

NoGaGator

April 20th, 2010
3:51 pm

Ricky -

What’s Meyer’s record against Richt?

What’s Zook’s record against Richt?

What’s UF’s record against UGA the last 20 years?

What’s Richt’s record in the SEC the last 3 yrs?

And UF and Meyer fear UGA and Richt?

Ed

April 20th, 2010
4:23 pm

Keep it simple.

Richt is:
1) 40-3 when he gets a 100 yard rusher
2) 15-0 when Georgia commits no turnovers.

Not complex.

Bernie Mac

April 20th, 2010
4:27 pm

NoGaGator please look up the phrase “rhetorical question”

jumbeauxtiger

April 20th, 2010
4:30 pm

Ed

April 20th, 2010
4:23 pm
Keep it simple.

“Richt is:
1) 40-3 when he gets a 100 yard rusher
2) 15-0 when Georgia commits no turnovers.

Not complex.”

This is the result of fundamentals and the team that does these better usually wins the game.

Anyone that has ever been around Saban knows he preaches this which is why he is successful.

Geaux Tigers
Go SEC

Ricky

April 20th, 2010
4:34 pm

Richt is 4-0 against Auburn, Meyer is 0-2 against Auburn. Isn’t this thread about Auburn?

TrueCrimson

April 20th, 2010
5:29 pm

Auburn is (and should be)more concerned about defense than quarterbacks. Alabama is an incomplete team until they find a reliable punter and place-kicker. Aside from Florida and Alabama being the leaders of their respective divisions, the SEC is wide open this season. I can’t wait to get it started!

RTR!!!

Pinebark

April 20th, 2010
5:41 pm

Please edit your blog before you post it. Every article you post has multiple missing words!

Punt BAMA Punt

April 20th, 2010
5:52 pm

I actually like how everyone is underestimating Auburn this year. I think any team or any writer/commentator who takes them lightly stands a good chance of being beaten and embarrassed, respectively. This Auburn team has more heart, raw talent, desire and great coaching that will take them to the SEC W and SECC. BAMA’s record at home in bryant denny is 1-4 and BAMAs record in Jordan Hare is 3 -7. BAMA has ALOT of catching up to do at home and away. My prediction is that Auburn stuns the blammer nation and goes 5 – 1 away this year…You heard it here first – IMHO…

Adam

April 20th, 2010
6:01 pm

I actually would prefer Logan Gray. He’s total team. He ouwld probably help us be more likely to win a Xhampionship, where Murray might be more likely to win a Heisman.

Gray will do anything for this team, love the guy.

LOL

April 20th, 2010
6:36 pm

“puntBAMApunt” are you joking. “BAMA has ALOT of catching up to do at home and away.” That statement is exactly why Alabama makes fun of you.

“On games played at night, but starting during the day, on even days of the month, auburn owns Alabama (not counting the last 2 years or when Bryant was the coach or when Alabama wears crimson).”

Your mighty team was 3-5 in the SEC, I know, you were close to beating the Dawgs and beat Alabama for 58 minutes, and shouldn’t have lost either game but, b/c the refs cheated and you had only 62 players on scholarship,etc,etc,etc.

newman

April 20th, 2010
6:41 pm

Bruce Mac- Your right, I really don’t think Alabama will lose a game this year. I don’t see anyone that has the talent and coaching that Alabama has. Not only the physical tools, but the work ethic and mental toughness the players possess. Listen to the interviews, the players sound like CNS. The day they got back from Pasadena they were watching tape, it just doesn’t stop. Alabama has started a run that will be historic. It sucks that Auburn has to be in the limelight of it.

Tim Tebow cries like a little baby

April 20th, 2010
6:59 pm

“I really don’t think Alabama will lose a game this year. I don’t see anyone that has the talent and coaching that Alabama has. ”

Famous last words.

Tide Rising

April 20th, 2010
7:16 pm

Nice to hear people sing our praises and say nobody can beat us this year. Not so fast my friends. I think we’ll have a great team again but we’re far from invincible. Kicking game is horrible and the kicking game is so much more important than what people think. I think in the spring game our punter averaged 35 yds a kick which is horrendous. This hotshot freshman punter coming in the fall better be all he’s cracked up to be or we will have one huge, glaring weakness to contend with all season.

As for AU I think they have a really good season 8-10 wins with 10 being a possibility if Cam Newton plays as big as his legend has already grown. If not then 7-8 wins. I think AU has a good season and then drops back down next year. Hard to have a great year after losing 23 seniors. I also think that if the Auburn offense lights it up this year that Malzahn is gone to a good head coaching job somewhere and that AU is back to square one with a new off coordinator and losing all those seniors in 2011. In the meantime at least there is optimism down on the plains and the tigers have some momentum to build toward future years.

One other serious issue is AU getting whipped in the recruiting wars. It doesn’t speak well of your town when one of the very top rated safetys in the country in Auburn high school’s Dee Finley goes to Florida or when the top defensive end in the state from Auburn high school and a national scout.com top 100 player commits to Bama this past weekend. AU better start winning some of these recruiting wars. The tigers took 32 commits this past class but after factoring in that they can actually only bring in 25 the class doesn’t look so hot after all. Their average commit certainly wasn’t as highly rated as that of their big rivals in Bama, UGA, LSU, or UF.

Tide Rising

April 20th, 2010
7:22 pm

Georgia has had a decent ooc schedule the last couple years but this year it certainly dropped. Some of you have mentioned Colorado as a respectable team. Nope. They are terrible. 4 straight losing seasons including 3-9 last year which is downright pitiful. 6 losing seasons in 10 years sandwiched around one 7,8,9 game winning seasons and one single double digit winning season back in 2001 I think where they won 10 games. They are a mediocre program at best playing in what is the worst division in bcs college football in the big 12 north.

YELLOW HAMMER

April 20th, 2010
7:27 pm

hey ramble on , BAMA’s the reason G.T left the S.E.C . ole bobby dodd and his traveling bunch of sissy’s could’nt take them beat downs no more.

Punt BAMA Punt

April 20th, 2010
7:30 pm

Yep, LOL, lots of catching up to do…BAMA is a loser vs AUBURN in Tuscaloosa and in Jordan Hare. Facts ARE FACTS…. Go ahead everyone, just keep overlooking AU at your own demise….lmao

YELLOW HAMMER

April 20th, 2010
7:36 pm

keep talking little bro.—36-0 your last visit

Punt BAMA Punt

April 20th, 2010
7:37 pm

26 – 21 your last visit…I like the trend, yellow hammer!!! Facts are still facts – Bama is way behind!! lmao

YELLOW HAMMER

April 20th, 2010
7:45 pm

we’ll be ready for ya’lls 5 minutes of school yard football this time

Punt BAMA Punt

April 20th, 2010
7:49 pm

interesting because you Bama was behind or it was tied for 58.5 mins….hmmm, 5 mins? And, we had the last play into the endzone…hmm, yep, sounds school yard to me…lmao…LOTS of catching up to do from the last 15 years of Auburns reign over Blammer nation…11 – 4…yeah, talk to me when you even get close to .500….

YELLOW HAMMER

April 20th, 2010
7:57 pm

talk to me when you get 13,sorry 1

YELLOW HAMMER

April 20th, 2010
8:00 pm

Punt BAMA Punt

April 20th, 2010
8:01 pm

there you go lying again…you DONT HAVE 13 only by your “new math”….being owned by Auburn in the modern days of college football must sting a little….PS, NEWSFLASH, that January game Bama played for the NC was an intersquad scrimmage without McCoy – period. Bama beat a TRUE freshman QB – whoop di freakin do…lmao…its a push to 2010 – big asterisk….lmao

YELLOW HAMMER

April 20th, 2010
8:03 pm

and ya’ll were A.P.I then ….. lmfao, you barners are all the same

Punt BAMA Punt

April 20th, 2010
8:03 pm

Punt BAMA Punt

April 20th, 2010
8:05 pm

case closed…now well see ya in our homeaway staduim in Nov for your beatdown…lmao…peace out all! remember to keep underestimating AU !

Auburn ? JOKE

April 20th, 2010
8:05 pm

YELLOW HAMMER – You are way above this punk, let it go.

jumbeauxtiger

April 20th, 2010
8:25 pm

TR, Hawkins would have been gone this past season but the university couldn’t afford to pay him off and hire another guy. The Buffs are mediocre and would be hard pressed to win one conference game this season if they were in the SEC.

Geaux Tigers
Go SEC

Damon Evans

April 20th, 2010
8:48 pm

If I hear one more person complain one way or another about Georgia’s out of conference schedule I’m going to lose my religion. The last two years it was too hard and now this year it’s too easy. I’ll be happy if Georgia wins at a percentage they have the last 10 years. I decided to take a page out of Florida’s book and schedule weaker out of conference opponents. You do NOT get style points for playing tougher opponents away from home anymore.

Tide Rising

April 20th, 2010
8:56 pm

Punt Bama Punt,

Not sure where you get the crazy idea that AU has won 11 of the past 15 against Bama. More like 9-6 over that span and 9-7 for AU over the last 16 games. We’re 10-10 over the last 20 years and that includes the 6 game winning streak when Bama was hit pretty hard from probation. You must just make your facts up as you go along.

Tide Rising

April 20th, 2010
9:02 pm

jumbeauxtiger,

Nice to hear from you. CU has to be disappointed at how things have gone since Dan Hawkins came. After building Boise into a national name I would have thought he would have had some success at CU but I guess not. And I think we can all agree that out of the 6 bcs conference divisions the big 12 north has been the worst division for years. Usually whoever has won that division won it by default. There have been years where I think the 4th or 5th best team in the sec west would have won the big 12 north. At least Nebraska is getting better in a hurry but other than that the football there is terrible.

NEXT#14

April 20th, 2010
9:12 pm

ARGUING ON THE INTERNET WITH A “barner” IS LIKE A RETARD WINNING IN THE SPECIAL OLYMPIC’S….HE’S STILL RETARDED!!!

Punt BAMA Punt

April 20th, 2010
9:18 pm

Good one NEXT! But I think you just proved that you are the retard…lmao… NC***************

Tide Rising

April 20th, 2010
9:32 pm

Punt Bama Punt,

At least you acknowledge that AU winning 11 out of the last 15 is total BS. Or do you? Cause you know some people never let the facts get in the way of their argument and when you were spouting BS about AU winning 11 out of the last 15 I just naturally figured you for one of those people.

NEXT#14

April 20th, 2010
9:34 pm

MMMMMOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO,LOSER,MMMOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Auburn E

April 20th, 2010
10:07 pm

Auburn, with a new QB and a better D, will win 9 games this year and go to a good bowl game–mark it down! In 2011, when bama is down, Auburn will win the SEC. They are building a powerhouse on the plains.

Tide Rising

April 20th, 2010
10:17 pm

Auburn E,

So Auburn is aiming for 2011? As Tony noted Auburn loses 23 or 24 seniors after this year and has a thin junior class that will be seniors in 2011. In 2011 Bama will have jr and sr recruiting classes that were back to back no. 1 ranked recruiting classes in 2008 and 2009. I hardly think 2011 will be a down year at Alabama, especially in terms of pure talent. Not saying we will win it all or anything like that. Just saying that from a talent standpoint we will have back to back no. 1 ranked recruiting classes as our upper classmen players. Jes sayin…

idiots

April 20th, 2010
10:27 pm

will the two idiots who keep talking about Urban Meyer scheduling when he has a bye week get a brain and learn something about college football like the coaches have ABSOLUTELY NO SAY on when their bye week or any game is scheduled.

bama.cheats14of.last17years

April 20th, 2010
10:33 pm

Tide Rising,
you must be clueless as to what recruiting classes and stars usually yield on the playing field!
LOL!!!!