Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Auburn vs. Ole Miss: The Strive for Consistency Continues

Blame it on what you want. Lack of depth. Penalties beyond belief. Chris Todd’s arm is done. Ted Roof has no clue what he’s doing. Maybe Chizik bit off more than he can chew. Yeah, at this point, in the midst of a three game losing streak, those have all been thrown around with reckless abandon.

If you take a closer look, can you really pinpoint one thing that has gone wrong?

Sure, there’s the offense that couldn’t be stopped by the Chicago Bears through Week 6, and couldn’t punch the ball in the end zone twice against Kentucky.

They’ve fumbled inside the five with the game on the line, committed false start penalties on drives that could’ve altered the season and Guz Malzahn’s bag of tricks doesn’t look so magical anymore.

The defense has been night and day in terms of when they decide to make a stop, but with four scholarship linebackers, the position that tends to anchor a defense, much more can’t be expected.

There are players playing out of position every week, and when the competition became harder per say, the defense got exploited.

Neiko Thorpe for example has been picked on by opposing quarterbacks in the past few weeks, but what defensive back won’t get occasionally get burned when he’s on the field for as long as he is, and having to make tackles that should’ve already been made in the backfield?

When they’ve shown flashes of brightness, they’ve turned right around and made foolish mistakes that cost them ballgames. Putting together four quarters of consistent offense and defense has been virtually nowhere to be found.

They are still the Auburn Tigers. They are still the same team who battled with everything they had in front of 87,000 rain soaked fans against West Virginia in a game that many thought would set the tone for the season.

This is the same team that took Mississippi State out to the woodshed. Yeah, the same MSU team that had Florida at its wit’s end last Saturday. This is still the same Auburn team that went into Tennessee with some 25 plus players on the road for the first time, and came out victorious in stylish fashion.

In Knoxville, the offense was still there. Onterrio Mccalebb was at least somewhat healthy. Now, the offense has seemingly disappeared, along with Mccalebb, who darted out of bounds on one of his three carries last week after a seemingly short gain that could have been much more.

Right now, things aren’t like anyone expected after a 5-0 start.

That is anyone except Gene Chizik. He told you everyone from the get go they needed to realize what the Tigers would be up against this season. Chizik said depth would play a huge factor, and you were crazy to believe it wouldn’t with the toll the SEC takes. He didn’t expect an SEC title.

Did he have thoughts of one after Week 5? Probably so.

Did he think things would go as south as they did so quickly? Probably not.

What he did know, was that when you have as many things against you as the Tigers do this year, things can’t be good forever. Arkansas finally oppressed that.

With Ole Miss rolling into town for the proclaimed “Navy Nightmare,” Gus Malzahn will look to fool his old boss in Houston Nutt, and get the Auburn offense back into form.

Ole Miss has turned it on as of late, and seemingly destroyed Arkansas last week. Stopping Dexter McCluster will be key, as the Razorbacks saw too much of the back of his jersey last week.

If the Tigers can shut him down, they have a very good chance at stealing this one from the Rebs.

Jevan Snead is a capable quarterback, but one also prone to make the mistake throw. Auburn would love to pounce on that like they did in the early weeks, and provide a spark that the defense has so desperately needed lately.

Ben Tate has been constant for the Tigers, but with a banged up Mccalebb, Mario Fannin will look to enter the picture more this week.

Something must give for the Tigers to improve on offense, and Malzahn will look to have fresh look on Saturday morning.

Auburn won’t let this season go down the drain. It’s not over. It starts again on Saturday at 11:21 am.

Gene Chizik will have them ready, and after three weeks of underachieving, hopefully will be ready to execute for four quarters of football.

With just four games left, this marathon is far from over. Bowl eligibility is on the line, and one big win could spark this team to a highlight reel finish.

As the players know, this is Round 9. What do October wins get you? Respect. The
Auburn Tigers will look to take that word to heart Saturday and get back in the winning column.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Auburn Vs. Kentucky: Gut Check Week For Chizik and The Tigers

While last week did not go the way Tiger fans hoped, take a step back and realize not all is lost.

Arkansas is a much better team than they received credit for, and the defensive schemes they threw at the near unstoppable Auburn offense proved to be extremely successful despite being ranked last in the SEC in total defense.

Auburn has a chance to get back on track this week, and with Kentucky coming into town, they have a chance to do that in a huge way.

The Tigers are still barely outside the Top 25, and technically hold their destiny in their own hands.

Win out, play for the SEC Championship. While it’s a tough task, and one that may not be feasible, no many expected to be able to say that after Week 6 of this season.

The Plainsmen have been able to do this with a defense that has been living on the wild side all season, and in Fayetteville last week, that was finally exploited.

A team cannot live off of turnovers alone, and when you don’t get stops, you won’t win games. It’s not that there isn’t any talent for Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof to work with; he just doesn’t have much “healthy” talent to throw out there.

Freshmen are being rushed to take on even more hefty roles than they originally thought, and any time you take a glaring four scholarship linebackers into a road SEC contest, one is just asking for trouble.

Eltoro Freeman, a highly touted linebacker who was expected to make a significant impact this season may finally be back this week. Chizik has yet to officially announce that, but he is back practicing after not traveling last weekend.

The Defense could take another significant hit this week with secondary leader Walter McFadden possibly sitting out after suffering an injury last week.

Luckily, the Kentucky Wildcats aren’t exactly a group that strikes fear into teams. While they always seem to surprise one team every year, it will be tough from here on out without injured starting quarterback Mike Hartline, who will miss the rest of the season with a torn MCL.

Kentucky had a chance to knock off South Carolina in Columbia last week had Hartline not gone down early in the second half. The Wildcats fell 28-26 in a game they held the lead in at halftime.

While this doesn’t mean Kentucky will be a pushover win, it does give Auburn somewhat of a sigh of relief. This is exactly the type of game the depleted Tigers need to get back on track.

A night game, on the Plains, nationally televised, and with a something left to prove are all the right reasons for the Tigers to come out Saturday night and show the country the first five weeks were no joke.

Auburn better get ready, because after this, it becomes an uphill battle. LSU, Ole Miss, UGA and Alabama will take advantage of mistakes even more hastily than Arkansas did. Like Coach Chizik said to the team after the loss last Saturday, “This can be the best thing to happen to this team, or it could be the worst.”

We’ll find out how the Tigers respond to their first bit of adversity Saturday. From what we’ve seen so far, Auburn knows how to make adjustments, and one should expect them to do just that.

It only takes one game to get back on track, just ask Florida about their two national championship seasons.

This is the week the Tigers make that adjustment, and this is the week the Tigers prove to the country that we won’t lay down in the second half of the season. As Gene Chizik would say, go out and “DO WHAT WE DO.” The rest will take care of itself.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Auburn vs. Arkansas: 2006 spelled disaster, will this week be the same?

Opening up your road schedule with an SEC win is never something to complain about, especially with a team that carried 27 players on the road for the first time ever.

Not only was it their first time on the road, it was the first time in overwhelming Neyland Stadium.

If you’ve never been to Knoxville, trust me, that place is loud. Regardless of how powerful the Vols are, the crowd alone can sometimes be enough to will Tennessee to victory.

Last Saturday this was not the case, as a stronger Auburn squad continued their offensive success in a 26-22 “misleading” victory over the Vols. While the scoreboard may have seemed close, for those who watched the game, you know otherwise.

A touchdown as time expired, coupled by an Auburn defense giving up more fourth quarter points led to the final tally.

The Tiger victory led to some eventual respect, with a front page story on about the jump into the national rankings. While Auburn sits at 5-0, this is no time to get complacent, as Gene Chizik knows.

Facing a much improved Arkansas team on the road will be yet another tough task for the Tigers to embark upon.

The Razorbacks have showed promise at times, losing a shootout to UGA, yet being dominated in Tuscaloosa by Alabama.
Bobby Petrino’s squad bounced back quickly, thwarting Texas A&M’s hopes at victory last week with a 47-19 blowout win.

Armed with 6 foot 7 quarterback Ryan Mallett, the Razorback offense is ranked 7th in the country in passing offense and will no doubt be the toughest unit the Tigers have faced thus far through the air.

The Tiger defense has been somewhat susceptible to the big pass play this season, ranking dead last in the SEC in first downs allowed.

Despite that, they still rank in the Top 10 in passes intercepted, even without intercepting a ball from Tennessee’s pick-prone Jonathon Crompton last week.

If Auburn wants to win in convincing style this week, a few forced turnovers may be key.

While there’s always the chance of an SEC upset, the Tigers are the better team. Arkansas has the home crowd on their side, and Auburn hasn’t always performed well in morning games.

This year, that is completely out of their element after opening with four straight night games.

Arkansas has played the role of Auburn spoiler before, knocking the number two Tigers out of national title contention in 2006 with a 27-10 lopsided loss.

The similarities this time around? An unranked Arkansas team, a 5-0 ranked Auburn team, and an 11 am start time.

The Tiger’s aren’t ranked in the Top 5, and certainly aren’t on anyone’s short list for the national title, but no matter how you cut it, an Arkansas victory could derail this Tiger team.

Sure, the 11 am start has the potential to spell disaster, but not this time around. Gene Chizik will once again have his team ready to roll, even if it means making halftime adjustments to come back and win the game as we have seen so many times before.

We all know Auburn’s offense will score, and Gus Malzahn’s unit has the capability to hang an astronomical amount of points on Arkansas this weekend.

If they can shake off the early morning rust, expect them to do just that.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Auburn vs. Tennessee: Can the Tigers become Road Warriors?

After a Saturday of solid, yet less than inspiring football against an overpowered Ball State squad, the Tigers head north to invade the Land of Lane known as Vol Country.

While Auburn is no Florida, Lane Kiffin has given Auburn credit this week for the way they’ve performed so far, opposed to the way he’s spoken out about Urban Meyer and the Gators.

Lane Kiffin knows he doesn’t have the tools to succeed quite yet. Given time, he just might. Gene Chizik, well, let’s just say he was told he didn’t have the tools to succeed. So far, he has.

The Tigers have no plans of letting up now. The mistakes that have continuously haunted Auburn in prior weeks have been special teams, as well as getting the defense off the field on third downs.

The coaching staff vowed to shore up the punt protection unit after a near costly punt block error against MSU, and through two weeks, they have lived up to their word.

Other than that, special teams have been below average at best. Going into Neyland Stadium at night, with a talented, yet very young team will require near mistake free football. One small blunder on special teams could turn the entire game around.
Both teams understand that.

Kiffin will be ready to pounce on an Auburn mistake, and Chizik will work to prevent them.

On paper, the Tigers have a better team. Offensively, Auburn has firepower that is incomparable to many schools in the nation. While the running attack has seen a dropoff in recent weeks, Chris Todd has played smart and efficient after two average outings to open the year.

It will be very interesting to see how Todd responds to the Volunteer crowd with the expectations as high as they are on the Plains for a 4-0 Auburn squad. Having a Heisman candidate to deal with on defense in Eric Berry will be another interesting task for Todd to undertake.

Jonathan Crompton, the UT signal caller, who was once the “future of Tennessee Football” has yet to find his niche in Knoxville.

Prone to interceptions, Crompton’s turnover numbers are a huge concern to Kiffin and the Vol nation. It will be an even bigger dilemma in facing a Tiger defense that is fourth in the country with eight interceptions in four weeks.

The Volunteers will look to capitalize on Auburn’s shaky special teams, while the Tigers will look to put pressure on Jonathan Crompton and force him into bad decisions.

This SEC East vs. West tilt has the makings of a heavyweight bout, but it’s just another night of the best college football in the country.

The Tigers and Vols will go under the lights in front of a national audience with two new head coaches with everything to gain Saturday night.

While Lane Kiffin tends to boastfully voice his opinion more than other coaches, that doesn’t always translate into victories on the field.

We all know Gene Chizik is very guarded and methodical in what he says, and so far, that has led to success on the field for the Auburn Tigers. Look for another victory this week in Knoxville.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Entering the Ball State game, Chizik still proving the doubters wrong

Three weeks have come and gone, and of those three weeks, Auburn Tiger fans have been all smiles.

The fans were smiling through a monsoon none the less; as they watched their team take a haymaker to the face on the first two West Virginia drives, only to respond with a 41-30 victory.

Following the end of the 2008 season, many feared the worst for the Tigers coming into this year. They feared that regardless of whether Coach Tuberville came back or not.

He didn’t, but that didn’t change the outlook for most college football analysts everywhere.

The 2009 Tiger team would have a little talent, but after the 2008 debacle, who would be able to coach this bunch back to a Top 25 caliber season.

Enter Gene Chizik. “We need a leader, not a loser!” That’s how Coach Chizik was greeted upon his arrival to the Auburn airport by someone who was obviously poorly mistaken about Coach Chizik.

Sure, you could base “loser” off his Iowa State track record, but Gene Chizik is a man of impeccable character, and to judge someone like that before knowing the situation he inherited was unfair.

I guess that going undefeated as a defensive coordinator not once but twice wasn’t at least a little proof of that.

That Auburn “fan” who said that surely can’t be saying the same thing now. While Chizik is a defensive mind, he had enough trust and guts to go out and hire Gus Malzahn, who evidently is an offensive mastermind.

An anemic 2008 Auburn offense now has the ability to respond when things go sour, and they can actually give the defense a break.

This year’s defense isn’t as strong as year’s past due to depth issues, but with an offense that ranks near the top in the NCAA, it may not always have to be.

The Auburn offense hasn’t had this kind of success since Al Borges first two years on the Plains, and that eventually turned bitter. Malzahn is the man with plan, and every aspect of his offense has a plan.

That plan right now is keep a balanced attack- the one that rushed right through Louisiana Tech and Mississippi State, yet struggled to run against West Virginia, so they passed their way to a victory.

The differences that Malzahn has made are extraordinary, but it all comes back to the top.

Chizik instilled discipline into these young men, not just as players, but as true Auburn men, on and off the field.

This week should be a walk through as Auburn enters into a hostile environment at Tennessee next week.

Not so fast says Gene Chizik, as any seasoned coach would. ``We’ve got to get refocused. We have to worry about Auburn,’’ said Chizik on playing a 0-3 Ball State team.

So, has Chizik just inherited a good situation and some talent that many didn’t know the Tigers had and gotten lucky? Some outside of the Auburn family may be prone to say that, but it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Yes, he does have some talent. All SEC schools do, or they wouldn’t be playing there.

This is the Auburn team picked to finish next to last in the SEC West, the one that was ranked below MSU in Sports Illustrated’s college football preview.

Did he inherit this talent and it just all of sudden became a different team compared to last year? Absolutely not.

The Tigers have leaders, and players that listen to those leaders. Freshmen have stepped up into larger roles, as well as leadership roles, which is a far cry from last year.

Chizik infused a will in them that regardless, they will fight until the end.
He gave them a staff that would facilitate them to make the necessary preparations and in-game adjustments to be successful.

He couldn’t have done this alone, but by stepping up and hiring the staff he did, he enabled himself to be able to succeed.

This happened on and off the field, it’s happening now, it happened when he got off that plane in Auburn, and it continues to be seen by every Auburn fan and potential recruit considering Auburn University.

Like Malzahn’s offense has a plan, so to does Gene Chizik, and his overall plan is one that is a blueprint for success.

For example, Chizik put his assistants in Tiger Walk, a far cry from zero assistants being in there prior to his hiring.

Tuberville brought up the front of Tiger Walk, Chizik brings up the rear. He does it by not just smiling and shaking hands, but acting like a linebacker about to play for the national title.

When the fans see an energized Gene Chizik, it speaks volumes.

Not that Tuberville’s style was wrong, he is one of the men who made Auburn great, but Chizik had to put his own stamp on things.

Gene Chizik has an assistant in Trooper Taylor that is unlike any other. How many coaches run around the stadium with a towel trying to get 87,451 people on their feet, in the rain much less? Not many, that’s for sure.

How many head coaches will actually let an assistant do that? I think we know the answer to that. Chizik blends his business like approach with something that the players and fans can relate to on so many levels.

So far, there hasn’t been anything not to like. Regardless of whether Auburn finishes the regular season 12-0 or 7-5, Auburn fans are proud to call Gene Chizik our football coach.

As he reminds the players all the time, “This place was made great way before you got here”. Chizik knows that, and preaches it.

He believes in tradition, passion, and winning. He believes in Auburn. Auburn fans believe in him.

While Auburn will be too much for the Ball State Cardinals this weekend, Coach Chizik still will take things week by week.

The Tigers may face some bumps and bruises along the way, but Coach Chizik will have this team ready to bounce back when it happens.

It just won’t happen this week.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Auburn Vs. West Virginia: Put Up or Shut Up

Louisiana Tech was a solid team, and one that was much better than they receive credit for. Mississippi State was more of the same, and much improved from the past few years. West Virginia is a horse of a different color.

So far, the revamped Auburn football team has mixed a steady dose of the new offense with a more than respectable, yet expected defense.

Each week the Tigers have encountered some problems, usually in the first half, but have made the necessary adjustments to put the game away.

When you score 37 and 49 points in back to back weeks, you’re obviously doing something right.

Neither game was in the books going into the half, and if not for some gutsy two minute offense before heading to the tunnels, Auburn would have been in a flat out dogfight both weeks.

That fact alone is something that proves this team is different. While they’ve set themselves apart from the woes of 2008 in the first two weeks, they haven’t proved anything yet.

Auburn has yet to encounter a quarterback that knows how to truly direct an offense, and Jarrett Brown is more than capable of doing that for the Mountaineers.

A bigger version of Pat White, Brown is a much better passer, but can still make plays with his feet.

It doesn’t hurt having a top tier running back like Noel Devine in the backfield either. At receiver, Jock Sanders make a nifty target to throw to as well.

While Devine’s numbers haven’t been gaudy thus far, he’s a player capable of going to the house on any given play.

He showed that last year on an Auburn defense that was more than gassed in the fourth quarter.

Auburn and WVU both have striking similarities when it comes to making halftime adjustments.

In a 21-20 halftime battle with East Carolina last weekend, the Mountaineers came out inspired and pitched a shutout in the second half.

The Tigers have done the exact same thing in back to back weeks and put both games away early in the second half.

While piling up rushing yards has been a strength for Auburn thus far, they will face a very capable Mountaineer D this weekend.

While Liberty and ECU aren’t quite quality opponents, WVU shut them down well enough to rank 33rd in Total Defense through Week Two.

This will be a true test for both teams, but the Auburn defense will be the one looking to answer the call this week.

Sure, they’re the Auburn defense, a unit that is always steady and dominant. But, once again, WVU brings a full arsenal of weapons onto the Plains.

If Ted Roof’s unit can step up and play consistently, Auburn shouldn’t have too much trouble with West Virginia.

It will be a battle, but being an SEC defense, I expect Auburn to elevate their play and show why they’re ready to compete now.

Special teams have also been a major weakness for the Tigers, and Chizik as well as special teams coach Jay Boulware have vowed to fix those problems.

Though Auburn hasn’t been locked in a close game yet, this Saturday could be their first, and one small mistake on special teams could lead to a loss.

Either way, if Auburn can continue to run the ball like they have been, and compliment it with smart play from Chris Todd, the Tigers should stay on a roll.

While WVU may have better skill players and game changers, the Tigers have a better overall unit.

It’s going to be a heavy weight bout, and Jordan-Hare is sure to be ready for WVU. We’ll see some big plays on both sides, but at the end of the night, Toomers Corner will be flowing with toilet paper once again.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Top Recruits To Visit The Plains

All along we’ve heard about prep recruits Lache Seastrunk and Trovon Reed’s relationship. They’re good friends, would love to play together, both like Auburn, etc.

This Saturday, Auburn gets their chance to court a part of the formidable duo.

Trovon Reed, a four-star receiver from Louisiana, will join a host of big recruits that will be visiting the Plains this weekend.

Not only is this Saturday a turning point for the Auburn football team in 2009, it could be a turning points for many years to come.

The atmosphere that this game is sure to have is one that a recruit couldn’t ask more from. Auburn and West Virginia both come in at 2-0, and Auburn has a bad taste in their mouth after last year’s thrashing in Morgantown.

While WVU doesn’t feature last year’s incredible QB talent in Pat White, they may have an even bigger threat at the helm this year in Jarrett Brown, at least with his arm.

Either way, a Saturday night date with ESPN2 game always sets the stage for exciting football.

Most Auburn fans have seen the video quoting Lache Seastrunk during Big Cat Weekend where he called out Coach Nick Saban, but we haven’t heard a ton from Lache since then, at least formally.

Some have said he still favors Auburn, but USC and LSU will make more than a strong push for his talents.

If Auburn can impress Reed, look for Seastrunk to follow suit. It’s a not a given that they will go to the same school, but it’s a definite possibility.

Trovon Reed may not even be the highest profile recruit on campus this weekend.

Michael Dyer, one of the few five-star running backs in the 2010 class will also be on campus. ranks him behind Seastrunk and South Carolina prep back Marcus Lattimore who will be visiting Auburn on October 31st versus Ole Miss.

Dyer has come out before and said Auburn was his number one, and that still appears to be the case. He may fit the bill of a true running back more than anyone on the 2010 list, and the Tigers would love to have him.

Gene Chizik and his unique staff have brought more recruiting splashes to the Plains in their short tenure than Tommy Tuberville ever considered doing.

Though the odds are heavily against them at landing the top three RB’s in the country, they are in the running for all three.

This weekend is not necessarily a deal breaker for the Tigers, but it is very significant. A convincing win over the West Virginia would be a huge boost for this weekend’s crop of recruits.

It won’t be the only weekend that top talent makes its way to the Plains, but this weekend has a chance to set the stage for the rest of the way.

The Auburn offense has been leaps and bounds better than most anticipated thus far, and landing players like this could only mean one thing: it could get scary good.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Auburn vs. Mississippi State: It Won't Be Another 3-2 Game

After seeing his Tiger offense rack up 556 yards of total offense in last Saturday’s opener against Louisiana Tech, Offensive Coordinator Gus Malzahn had this to say: “We were disappointed that we put the ball on the ground twice,” Malzahn said. “Those were big plays in the game. We also had two holding penalties that were critical on offense. Those are the things that stand out to me (after watching game film). We made some mistakes, but they are correctable, if we work hard.”

Trust me, they will work hard to correct this. After all, “Work Hard Work” is the coined phrase of the Gene Chizik regime. This isn’t to say they won’t fumble the football, but it won’t be because they haven’t worked to discipline themselves to hold onto the football.

The fumbles were more carelessness than anything, as they didn’t occur on big hits or above average defensive play. If the Offense can clean this up, they have an opportunity to do even greater things than last week.

Defensive Coordinator's will now have their hands full with the Tigers, seeing as how many people weren’t sure if Malzahn’s system would actually work. Through Week One, it definitely has.

Last year’s baseball like score of 3-2 saw a stingy Auburn defense hold the Bulldog offense scoreless. Auburn totaled a respectable 315 yards of total offense to MSU’s 116 yards.

With a revamped staff in Starkville, starting with former Florida offensive prowess Dan Mullen, the Bulldogs are a completely different team.

Though it was Jackson State, MSU opened up with a 45-7 victory where they tallied 410 yards of total offense while operating under a two quarterback system.

Playmaking quarterback Chris Relf was the leading rusher for the Bulldogs while completing 7 of 10 passes. Tyson Lee, the 2nd part of the quarterback tandem has been limited in practice this week due to shoulder soreness.

MSU will also return senior starting running back Anthony Dixon, who was suspended for Saturday’s opener.

Opposed to last season for both teams, the Tigers and Bulldogs have some firepower on the offensive side of the ball. This means that defensively, we will see at least somewhat of a different game than last year.

Being as how great SEC defenses are, neither team may put up near 40 points like last week, but it will be an exciting game to watch. Both teams acquired new head coaches, and have virtually changed the program in every aspect.

Auburn and MSU will both have the opportunity to throw kinks in the rough SEC West, and the bright spots they showed last week proves they will be no pushover to anyone.

The Tigers are the better team, though MSU is not far behind. Look for the Eagle to fly high once again, and Auburn to be too strong on both sides of the ball for the Bulldogs.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Back to Back Victories for the Tigers: On and Off the Field

It’s a done deal for LaDarius Owens. The nation’s seventh best outside linebacker, and number two on The Birmingham News Super Seniors list committed to the Auburn Tigers on Sunday.

Many thought this would happen long ago due to his ties with Auburn University. His uncle, James Owens, was the first African-American to play football on scholarship for the Tigers.

Highly touted, and extremely talented, Owens will bring an array of talents to the Plains, and could make an immediate impact in 2010. With a linebacking corp that already seems depleted, the commitment of Owens is huge for the Tigers.
The Bessemer, AL native out from Jess Lanier High School chose Auburn over in-state rival Alabama, LSU, FSU and Tennessee among others. He says he won’t be visiting other schools.

Owens is an Under Armour All-American and ESPN150 recruit standing at 6’2 and 225 pounds. He’s also a hybrid player, as he can line up at the defensive end as well. Either way, he’ll find a way to wreak havoc on opponents with his 4.5 second speed in the 40 yard dash. He finished with 92 tackles and 16 sacks last season.

After seeing Auburn’s dominating win on Saturday, many top recruits could begin to take notice. Early in the season is crucial from a recruiting standpoint, and Auburn couldn’t have taken a bigger stride forward than they did on Sunday.
When Owens signs that dotted line in February, hopefully he won’t be the only Tiger signee labeled as “one of the nation’s top recruits.”

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Passion Renewed: Auburn Improves to 1-0

Sitting at halftime of Auburn's 2009 season opener, many fans may have been wondering if this was another 2008 repeat. It obviously was not.

In the first half, Auburn made some stupid penalties that kept them from dominating the entire first half and let Louisiana Tech stay in the football game.

If you paid close attention to the way things went for the Tigers though, you had to have at least some clue that this team is different, and will continue to be different.

Not only was it evident that the players were ready, but the fans were even readier. From the Friday SGA Pep Rally, to Saturday's Tiger Walk, it all had a different feel than last season.

Tommy Tuberville, the former face of the Auburn program always led the Tigers into the stadium during Tiger Walk. Gene Chizik, he brought up the rear. He did it a fashion that may be unrivaled in all of college football.

Chizik wasn't just all handshakes and smiles. In his business suit, the Auburn leader was yelling and throwing his hands up like a linebacker in his prime. If that didn't show you something, maybe the pregame flying of the eagle did.

Not that it played any impact on the game itself, but when the the Auburn Golden Eagle flew around the stadium for the first time in 2009, you could feel the passion in the air.

Not just students, but fans of all ages brought a different level of intensity to Auburn on Saturday night. Despite the fact that Jordan-Hare wasn't completely sold out, La Tech may have thought it was.

If not for a few unfortunate penalties, Auburn would have kept La Tech out of the end-zone. 37-13 certainly isn't anything to be ashamed of, especially over a team that won the 2008 Independence Bowl.

The differences from this season to last?

1. 556 yards of offense: That's right, almost 600 yards of offense. Two players with over 100 yards rushing, against a La Tech team that was ranked 13th in the country in Run Defense last season. When La Tech gave us the ball back before the end of the second half, AU found themselves within field goal distance two plays later. Tuberville would have taken a knee and gone to half in a tie. Not Chizik. 13-10 and some huge halftime momentum may have been the turning point in the ball game.

2. Chris Todd's arm: He made the short throws, the long throws, and overall some pretty solid decisions. It helps to have Malzahn on your side as well; when Todd came within inches of throwing a pick on an out route, Malzahn calls the same play, but changes the route to an out and up, leading to the longest play in Auburn Football history.

3. Wes Byrum: After a phenomenal freshman season, Byrum found himself struggling with field goals and occasionally point after attempts that proved costly for AU in 2008. In game one, Byrum's PAT's were right down the middle, and kicked three field goals that were no walk in the park.

4. North and South Football: The bread and butter is back, albeit out of the shotgun set. Gone are the sideline to sideline runs that proved to be virtually useless in 2008, and in it's place are runs that proved quite successful Saturday.

5. The O-Line looks like an O-Line: The weight and the aggressiveness is back. Todd had time to make throws, the running backs had time to find gaps, and even though it wasn't an SEC defense, the offense clicked on all cylinders.

If Auburn can clean up the penalties, and hold on to the football better, this team will improve each week.

Malzahn appeared to not miss a beat from Tulsa to Auburn, and his offensive mind baffled yet another defense.

Depth didn't prove to be much of an issue this week, and hopefully that will be the case all season.

It's a new year, a new coach, and a new team. This is Auburn Tiger Football, and we're no pushover. We're back, and we're not going anywhere.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Chizik Week One Press Conference: “We know we have to run the football.”

After listening in on Coach Chizik’s first game week interview as Auburn Head Coach, what all did we learn? Turns out not much, considering we already knew most of what would be said.

Freshman will contribute, and they will contribute in a large way. He said that 10-12 frosh should expect to play immediately. That includes freshman Daren Bates, who was listed as first string at safety, at least until Mike McNeil returns from his injury.

On the O-Line and running the football: “We know we have to run the football…We feel good about the O-Line….So, we are going to lean on them, and not just because of the experience. Because we think they have a chance to be a good offensive line, we're going to test them the first game….We've got some experienced tailbacks, some experienced guys who've had their hands on the ball.”

Some wondered how much Malzahn’s offense would actually implement the run originally, but the past few months it has been made very clear. It sounds as if Auburn will run the ball a lot in Week One.

Chizik on Bates: “We force-fed him football in two-a-days to see what he could mentally handle.” He went onto say that the staff feels very confident with where he is.

On Kodi Burns: “We’ll see Kodi a good bit. He’s really adapted well and will definitely have a role for us to win games.”

Another interesting tidbit is the omission of Antoine Caldwell from the depth chart, where Chizik said he won’t comment on injuries. Hopefully we can learn more about that in the next few days.

The last question asked was the statement he made when he first came to Auburn about the team regaining it’s “swagger”: "I don't know. I think that you find out on game day.”

Chizik didn’t mention the fact that OL Coach Jeff Grimes still isn’t sure about backups for the offensive front, but Chizik sounded very excited about the strides they have made. It should be interesting to see the changes in this unit from last season.

As I talked about in my La Tech preview, Chizik acknowledged what a great opening opponent the Bulldogs will be, and really stressed what a threat KR/WR Philip Livas will be.

All in all, Chizik didn’t give away too much information for Week One, yet sounded confident as always. He’s got to be itching to get on the field and prove all the nay-sayers wrong. In four days, the Auburn Tigers will get that opportunity.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Wildcat Dynamic

The term "spread offense" strikes fear in the hearts of most Auburn Tiger fans after the disastrous 2008 season. When a team isn't built to run the spread, it obviously can't be successful.

Former Auburn Offensive Coordinator Tony Franklin may in fact have been an offensive guru—his stats at Troy were off the charts. The Trojans had the right personnel to fit his style opposed to the Tigers.

Who's to say that given the right group of players, and some time to smooth it out, he wouldn't have been successful? Tuberville's staff never gave him that chance, and now none of those coaches will have that opportunity.

We won't get the answer to what could have been with the Tony Franklin offense, but we will soon find out what the Gus Malzahn system is all about.

In a way, Malzahn and Franklin have some similarities. Both have offenses that many high school teams have picked up over the years, and these offenses are known for racking up offensive numbers.

Franklin sells his system to schools, while Malzahn wrote a book that preaches his own style. While Franklin gets another chance at MTSU this season, Malzahn is the man who hopes to put up gaudy numbers for the Auburn Tigers in 2009.

His book, titled Hurry Up No Huddle — An Offensive Philosophy, can give you some what of an idea of what to expect this season. Watch some game film from his 2006 Arkansas team. A team that was underrated, despite having two of the tops tailbacks in the country, went all the way to SEC title game under Malzahn's direction.

Malzahn's style is a much better fit for Auburn, because the idea behind it is a run-first mentality. Last season, the mix of running and passing was no where to be found for the Tigers.

One thing that college football fan's didn't necessarily expect see from the 2006 Arkansas team was a formation known as the Wild Hog. Malzahn has long been known for having this within his repertoire, and he utilized it in Fayetteville like no other.

The Wild Hog saw Heisman runner-up Darren McFadden finish the year with three touchdown passes. Three different non-QB Razorback players had completions that season out of Malzahn's offense. What an interesting dynamic to throw at a defense that already has to focus on the running ability of a player such as McFadden.

In 2009, the Auburn Tigers will look to match that success. Since the quarterback race has already been decided, and last year's signal caller Kodi Burns has been moved to receiver, that adds another possible wrinkle into the Tiger offense.

Burns can throw, and he's quite the athlete with a good combination of size and speed. Whether he takes the snaps out of the Auburn version of the Wildcat formation, or is just another body on the field, the options are endless as to what he can do.

Malzahn has showed before what he can do with a versatile player, so look for him to do that again. Even though he hasn't labeled a starting QB for the Auburn Wildcat set, he has numerous options.

Mario Fannin, a versatile tailback/slot receiver for the Tigers is another capable candidate, along with speedy freshman receiver Emory Blake. Either way, this part of the offense is a breath of fresh air to the Tigers.

The Wildcat has picked up steam all across the nation, from the NCAA to the NFL, so defenses are having to prepare for even more than just the traditional spread offense. The last two seasons, Malzahn directed one of the nation's top offenses, routinely putting up over fifty points a game and 500 plus yards of total offense at Tulsa.

We've heard good things so far, and coupling the mastermind beind the Tiger offense with a very athletic recruiting class, we can expect big things from the Auburn offense very soon. The Wildcat is here, and for now, it's not going anywhere.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Don't Sleep On La Tech: Auburn Football Season Opener

We all know what the opening weekend in college football usually brings. Excitement and hype for every team across the country that embodies fans and players alike.

Lately, that first weekend has brought something else to fans who least expected it. Upsets. Appalachian State over Michigan? C'mon, who saw that coming. Alabama over Clemson by such a significant margin last season? A little more plausible, but still unexpected.

Auburn Football has been on both sides of the upset spectrum the last few seasons, beating teams that they weren't expected to beat, but dropping some games that cost the Tigers chances at bigger and better things.

The non-conference schedule the Tigers are accustomed to playing has a little different feel this season. It's not uncommon for the Tigers to play one, maybe two higher-profile opponents, and fill the rest bottom of the barrel programs.

As UT-Martin tried to show the Tigers last year, those bottom of the barrel teams can give you quite the scare. Ask Nick Saban about Louisiana-Monroe.

Not many know what to expect from the 2009 Auburn Tigers, and while the schedule may not be daunting, don't expect the Tigers to walk all over anyone.

Louisiana Tech, a team that Auburn has trounced in the past, will roll onto the Plains for the September 5th opener. Not only will this be Gene Chizik's first game as new head coach, but it has the opportunity to the set the tone for the new era of Auburn Football.

This season though, La Tech will be no pushover. Lets not forget that they also have some recent experience in opening up with a win over an SEC team. They did this to Mississippi State in 2008.

Coming off an 8-5 season where the Bulldogs won the Independence Bowl, the expectations are unusually high for Coach Derek Dooley's squad.

If you think back a little bit, Dooley's name was thrown around for the Auburn job early in the coaching search.

His team can play a little football. They return sixteen starters, including WR/KR specialist Philip Livas. Livas is an explosive player who was named an Honorable Mention All-American last season.

He could create some havoc and uncertainty with an Auburn team that hasn't been tested and may have some new faces on special teams due to the lack of depth the Tigers have dealt with.

Bulldog tailback Daniel Porter is on pace to become the top rusher in Louisiana Tech history after having rushed for more than 1000 yards in each of the last two seasons.

Where it may get dicey for La Tech is on the defensive side of the ball. They allowed 273 yards a game through the air, and just over 100 on the ground. Not shabby numbers considering the WAC is known as an offensive conference, but this is the SEC, and the players are a lot more talented.

With the new offense being implemented, Auburn should have the tools to run and throw right past the Bulldogs in the season opener.

All in all, the Tigers are a better team. They're better than the MSU team from last season, and they're better than Louisiana Tech this season.

If you know anything about Gene Chizik at all, he preaches preparation, and having his team lose out of the gate to a capable yet lesser opponent isn't likely. The Tigers are too determined to allow something like that to happen.

A close game is a definite possibility, but look for the Tigers to put this one in the win column.

With Gene Chizik, Mum's The Word


Since Gene Chizik's arrival on the Plains, Auburn fans have ultimately seen a face lift of a team that finished a woeful 5-7 last season.

Chizik hired a top-notch staff, who has gone after top-notch recruits, which has produced top-notch fan support. Expectations aren't as high for this season as they are for the future, but a lot of weight has been thrown onto Coach Chizik's shoulders to produce in the short term.

Having seen Chizik speak at SEC Media Days, he's not one that is going to keep a crowd entertained. In fact, some even labeled him as boring.

Anyone remember how cautious Nick Saban was leading up to last season at Alabama? Very much so. No one expected an unranked Alabama team to have the season they did.

No one expects an Auburn team that Sports Illustrated ranked the sixty-fifth best team overall to have that type of season either.

The one similarity that Saban and Chizik have for now though, is the ability to be guarded about the things everyone wants to hear the most.

In case you weren't aware, Auburn had a very intense quarterback race up until last week. Did Chizik give any inclination as to who the man would be? Of course not.

Not until the day it was decided did we learn who would be the signal caller for the Tigers. Do we have a second string QB? Maybe, but Chizik won't let you know that.

Under Tuberville, you were usually free to come and watch fall practice. Now, take a stroll past the fields and you'll be politely asked to move along. Media member access? Twenty-five minutes, max.

When it comes to talking about depth, he usually says the same things over and over. He talks about the fine line they deal with having low numbers, but he's hesitant to elaborate more than that.

When tailback Eric Smith was arrested on assault charges Saturday night, Chizik was short and clear on that situation. "This a family matter between Eric, myself and our football team."

In the ensuing questions, he was peppered with more about the situation. I wouldn't say that the media hit a nerve, but Chizik wasn't budging on his stance of not talking about the subject.

At one point, he even asked to move on and talk about football. He's hard-nosed, and straight to the point, even though that may not be the one you want to hear.

It's too early to put out a verdict on Coach Gene Chizik, especially with the situation he inherited. It makes it even harder given the information that Chizik gives us on a day to day basis, which is nearly nothing at all.

Is it because he doesn't even know how he wants to handle some situations? Saban was guarded in the same way. I'd say he knew what to expect, he just didn't want the rest of the world to know.

SEC Coaches usually know what they're doing. That means that saying nothing at all may just be a good thing for Auburn fans.

For Gene Chizik, we won't know until after the season whether his dry tactics will lead to success on the field.

We all know the old virtue that reads
"It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt." Lane Kiffin learned that the hard way, and it's apparent that Gene Chizik won't be doing the same.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Kodi Burns: The Definition of an "Auburn Man"

In this day and age, nothing really surprises me anymore. With the state of the economy, the way the youth generation has begun to change, and other things that just aren't the way they used to be, I feel justified in saying that.

Thursday night, I wasn't surprised. I was flat out shocked. So you're thinking, "Wow, you're shocked Chris Todd is the starting quarterback?"

No, not at all. I believe he's the man for the job.

So, you're thinking "Oh, so you must be shocked that Kodi Burns was moved to wide receiver?"

Nope, still not it.

How many of you Auburn fans were looking forward to steam rolling opponents on offense in 2008 after seeing Tony Franklin's offense throttle the Clemson Tigers in the Chick-fil-a Bowl? Okay everyone, put your hands down, myself included.

I was overjoyed with how it looked, and how the true difference in that game was Kodi Burns, the future of the Auburn Tigers.

We all know how 2008 went, and it wasn't how the Auburn Nation had hoped. It can't be the way Kodi Burns envisioned it either.

Head Coach Gene Chizik decided to move Kodi Burns to the wide receiver position for the good of the team. Picture this. A player goes from being directly in the spotlight of a prime time SEC team to being just another one of the receivers.

How would you respond? In most cases, the response wouldn't be pretty. Well, Kodi Burns is apparently not "most cases."

I've honestly never seen anyone respond the way he did. The after-practice media session could have been a nightmare for him. Then he goes and handles it like this.

"The coaches chose to go in another direction. I worked really hard. I tried to prove myself. Obviously, things didn't work out. But I believe God has a plan for me. They went with Chris. That's a good thing. It's a good thing for the team. I'm 100 percent behind him. Chris Todd is the quarterback and I have no problem with that. It was a great year and a great competition. I really appreciate the coaching staff," said Burns.

Wow. Impressive, to say the least.

Then Chizik says, "Kodi's a very talented young man and he's an Auburn man to the bone—very unselfish." That's how you earn the respect of your Coach.

On top of that, he then goes and gives a speech to his teammates about how he's behind all of this 100 percent? Even better. Sure, he admitted to being really disappointed, but who wouldn't be?

"Let me tell you something. He was unbelievable tonight. After we had the team meeting, he wanted to say some words to our team—truly, truly inspirational, very heartfelt. It was a tough day," said Chizik.

On Auburn University's campus no matter what the situation, you'll hear people talking about being an "Auburn man." While there may not technically be any laid out rules to qualify for that status, look no further than Kodi Burns.

Chizik followed with this. "He showed truly who he is today—just a guy with a lot of character and what a great competitor. Again, he's a true Auburn man. He wants to help Auburn win games. That showed today."

I'd say it showed. The world could use more people like Kodi Burns, and with support and unity like this coming from the Auburn locker room, things can only be looking up.